Living the #Vanlife comes with a mental change as well as a physical change. Living small isn't just about space.
When Michael and I first started thinking about living the #vanlife, I was super stoked about reducing the items I owned and getting back to a more simplistic lifestyle. I read Marie Kondo's book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in preparation and ended up getting rid of 2/3rds of the things I owned. I started folding my clothes in a new style and got rid of everything that didn't Spark Joyinto my heart. (Side Note: Both of those books are amazing and I would recommend them for #vanlife prep)
The first week of being on the road I had a mini melt down because I didn't mentally prepare to live in a van. We were driving to Boulder Colorado and looking for a place to park, as we drove up a windy road overlooking the city we saw two separate police cars flashing their lights and giving tickets to people sleeping in their cars. We panicked and drove down to the nearest Walmart to park there. I didn't sleep at all. I was convinced at any moment the police were going to come banging on the door telling us to get out and give us a ticket.
We woke up in a startlingly bright parking lot surrounded by people. We panicked again and looked for a cafe to go and relax in. We picked the wrong cafe.
It was packed with people. It was one of those places that people line up out the door to get into because of their $5 breakfast deals and fast food. Tables were crammed together to get as many people in as possible and it was so loud I barely spoke to Michael the entire time. 3 cups of shitty coffee in I realized I needed out.
We decided to get out of the cafe and try to boulder at a place we heard of near by. Nature is a good way to relax right? Well...
4th of July weekend meant we struggled through traffic and parking for a good 55 minutes before we could make it out into nature. We finally started bouldering after getting lost and running into a bunch of people. 5 minutes in to our boulder session I freaked out.
I felt like my skin was crawling. Or too tight. Or too hot. Or too raw. People's eyes had been on me all day. I was bumping in to people left and right, acknowledging them, saying hi. Their voices were in my head and their noise was my noise. I had no time to myself or space to myself. I had no where quiet to go.
The only space I had belonged to someone else, or to everyone else.
Michael and I took a break and walked back to the van (Lyra). She was parked on the side of the road, barely fitting in the small space, her right back tire was poking out over the line. Even she had nowhere to be.
We took a moment to close all the doors and windows in the van and just lie down. With the doors closed, you couldn't hear the traffic going by, with the windows blocked you couldn't see the people outside. We turned our little lights on and just sat for a moment. This was our space. This was my space. I began to relax, my skin stopped burning.
Preparing to live the #vanlife takes a certain amount of physical preparation for sure. You have to down size and simplify. But there is a headspace you have to get yourself in to make sure you don't go slightly crazy.
Living in a van means you have to redefine your mental boundaries.
There is the van. And then there is everywhere else. For me Lyra is an extension of who I am, she's a physical manifestation of my 'fuck off bubble'. She shuts out the world when I can't do it myself.
The problem I was having was because I was treating living in a van like living in a house, and I was treating my house like a car. Get it? I'll explain.
When you have a house, your physical location of your house becomes a part of your home. Your neighbors and their houses are also a part of your 'home', the streets you drive every day become an extension of your home. When you live in a van, nowhere is home. Every road you travel on is new and unfamiliar. I know this sounds obvious, but think about it on an emotional level. This means that what you normally consider 'home' is now completely unfamiliar and new. Your mental and emotional 'home' is gone and replaced with a somewhat jarring alternative.
You can't just physically downsize, you have to mentally downsize. You have to emotionally downsize.
I was treating Lyra like a car in the sense that I would park a car anywhere and walk away from it; go about my business with no thought to emotional ties I had to the place I left. With Lyra, I needed to treat her like an extension of myself. Where would I like to be parked? Where would I feel comfortable hanging out? To answer those questions: mostly in nature, near my friends houses, or somewhere that gives me a good view of the things around me. I want to park by some trees so I can enjoy the shade, I want to park against a wall with the door facing our so I can have a good vantage point of my surroundings, I want to park somewhere with a view.
But it's more than just parking somewhere beautiful. It was super important to be able to shut out the world once I was in the van. I can not stress this enough.
With the doors closed I am home. With the doors open I am in a small terrarium that's on display for anyone to look in on. It's stressful.
One thing I notice is that cities generally make it feel less like living an adventure, and more like being homeless. Stick to nature, and stay with friends when you are in an urban area.
And make your van a homey place to be! You want to love where you live!