Back in 2014, I spent 4 months living in my converted Citreon Dispatch van. From a conventional perspective, most people might be embarrassed to admit they live in their car. For me, and I know for others out there, living in your van represents the ultimate freedom. No fixed abode, no plan to adhere to, just allowing friends, weather conditions and desire to dictate your next move.
I count myself lucky to have had the time and opportunity to commit to this lifestyle, even for a short period. I know that for most people, commitments to work and family mean that it is simply not possible to pack up and roam around on a whim. However, even with 4 walls and a roof over our heads there are valuable lessons to be learned from living with less. I'm not saying I find all of the below easy, but I am saying that bearing them in mind as much as possible has the potential to shift your mood for the better on a daily basis.
You don't need more space, you need less stuff.
I struggle with this one because I love stuff. Cute teapots and cuddly blankets and colourful scarves and kitchen gadgets. I'm not known for my minimalism, even though it's an ideal I aspire to. I have to admit though, there's just not that much you can fit in your van. Even if you're me and you try and hide some extra things in corners, you still can't bring that much. So you realise pretty quickly what's essential and what's not.
Now is a great time to spring clean, and for birthdays or times when you give a gift, you could make deals with friends and family to exchange "experiences" as presents instead, like a day out together somewhere, a trip to the cinema, a massage voucher (personal favourite), or yummy food.
Turn off the tv. And the wifi.
I never miss tv. I do however, crave wifi. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one out there, right? It's amazing to think that even a few years ago wifi was not at all the norm, and yet now we can't imagine living without it. So even though when we were in the van we got the chance to log on every few days, we still spend big chunks of time not connected. Use plug-ins like mindful-browsing.com to limit the amount of time you spend on websites that are a time-suck. Edit your Facebook newsfeed so you only get updates from your nearest and dearest, or things that really inspire you. When you meet your friend for coffee, leave your phone in your bag. Replace one of your tv watching evenings with a listening evening, there are so many good podcasts, and of course audiobooks out there.
Spend time outside.
When you live in your van you're outside all the time, because there's just not enough space to stay inside for too long at a time. In Ireland, we do have that rain to contend with, but I came across a quote, from none other than Bob Marley, that said "Some people feel the rain, others just get wet" so maybe even on rainy days, when you don't have to worry about anything else, throw on some wellies and a rain jacket and go feel the rain. Jump in puddles. Bring your kids or borrow someone else's so people don't think your crazy and you can pretend it was their idea. Then of course there are those gorgeous crisp winter days when you get that lovely dry air and blue skies. Drop everything and go outside, it really is that important. And when you get there, listen closely.
Look at the stars.
Even better, drive out of the city and then look at the stars. Try to spot some constellations. Just like sitting cross-legged in meditation, this is one of those activities that spans distances across space and time to connect humans with other humans. Just think how many other people have looked up at that sky, that are looking at it right now, and that will look at it in years to come. Look up there and remember how small and tiny we all are.
Follow nature's rhythms.
In the van, when you don't have electricity, you go to bed really early. You try and cook before it gets dark, and after that, you hit the hay. A lot of the time in the van we were in climbing areas where there might be a bar or something, and we'd spend a few hours there after nightfall. My sleep was so much better in the places where we couldn't do that. In the "real world" it's not that easy to do this all the time, your life schedule probably means you can't follow this that strictly, but there are little things we can all do. I installed flux so that the display on my computer changes colour as the evening goes on, giving me a cue that it's late and time to go to bed.
Ok ok I'm biased on this one. But try out some sport that puts you in close contact with the elements. Hill-walking, kayaking, surfing...there are so many. Recently, in conversation with a good friend, it came up that climbing wasn't really something you should dedicate your life to, but "just a pastime". Not on par with a job or profession. But, one of my climbing heroes, Lynn Hill said recently in an interview that "...climbing is just a pretext to understand ourselves, get closer to the people we’re with, and learn how to work together, learn how to become a better person through that process." As pretexts go, it's a pretty rewarding one.
Find something to be grateful for.
You don't have to live in a van to figure this one out! Gratitude seems to be a big buzz word at the moment, to the extent that it may start to become cliche. But I think it's on everyone's lips for a reason. It really works and makes you realise you don't have to sweat the small stuff. Try this next time you're having some trouble nodding off to sleep: think of everything you're grateful for that day. You can take this really far, like not just immediate gratitude, but also have it extend as far as gratitude to the people who picked the coffee beans that eventually made their way to your coffee cup, after having been carefully separated, roasted, packaged, ground and then brewed, all by different people in a whole chain of events. When you thank people during the day, really mean it when you say it. Humans are really good at sensing authenticity, and your gratitude will be reciprocated by the person who's day you just brightened.
Share your experience on living with less and the shifts it sparked for you.