In the little over a year since I bought my Toyota Sienna, readers have asked me to share photos of how I set up the living space. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to do so, but today is finally the day! I hope my setup can give folks some ideas for setting up their own vehicle for living and travel.
An important thing to keep in mind as you read this post is that I am NOT a full time vandweller. I was a full time vandweller for many years, but now I have a small travel trailer that stays in a small RV park in a small desert town. The travel trailer is my home base and home for part of the year. During the hottest part of the spring, summer, and fall I house sit and/or travel to cooler places. If I were living in a van full time, I would not have chosen a minivan as my van home. I have known people who lived full time in minivans (and even a few who lived full time in a Prius), but that life is not really for me. Where would I put all my art supplies?
The first thing I did to set up the living space in my Sienna was to take out most of the seats
For a while I left in one of the seats in the back row. It folded down completely flat, so I used it as part of the floor. I thought it might come in handy if I ever had to transport two passengers. The Man and I jokingly referred to it as “the punishment chair.” It would have been a pretty miserable place to sit on a long road trip. No one ever sat in it, and when The Man offered to build me a bed, it came out.
Taking out the seats was a bit of a struggle, even though the seats in the second and third rows were designed to come out and go back in. I read the manual repeatedly and tried following the directions, but I really struggled. Of course, there were tricks that the manual didn’t spell out. Thankfully, kind souls who’d figured out the tricks made YouTube videos showing how they removed the seats from their Siennas. I will be eternally grateful to those YouTubers.
The seats in the second and third rows of seating were latched into the floor in such a way that they could come out when desired and later go back in. This system makes it possible for seats to come out for hauling big items or in the case of vandwellers, creating living space in the back of the van. Unfortunately, the latching system leaves gaping holes and chunks of metal in the van’s floor. To solve this problem I ordered two packs of the 1 inch ProsourceFit Exercise Puzzle Mat. I chose bright blue to give my space a pop of color, but the mats also come in black. The mats are available in both 3/4 inch and 1 inch thickness, but I chose the 1 inch thickness so I could pad the floor well and protect myself from both the deep indentions and the metal pieces.
The exercise mats I used on the floor are pricey. The mats come in packs of six which are currently going for $49.99 at Walmart. The six mats cover 24 square feet which wasn’t quite enough to cover the whole floor of the van. I had to buy two packs. If you can’t afford to spend that much on floor covering, you could try other things like rugs, blankets, memory foam, or polyurethane foam from a mattress topper cut to size. Figure out what works for you to meet your needs without going over your budget.
My first bed in my minivan was made from two heavy duty 40 gallon tubs. I had one already, so it made sense to buy another one and put them together end-to-end to make a sleeping platform. I then put a piece of memory foam on top and called it a bed. The upside was I had plenty of space for storage inside the tubs. The downside was that sleeping on top of the tubs wasn’t always very comfortable. I had to carefully position my body over the gap between the two tubs, and the two inch memory foam wasn’t nearly as supportive as a real mattress.
Late last year when The Man was around for a visit, he offered to build a bed for my van. I bought all the wood, and he built me a very sturdy bed with room for storage underneath. It’s more narrow than a regular twin size bed so I can maximize space in the back of the van. It’s barely wider than I am. Instead of a mattress, I sleep on an piece of 3 inch Allswell brand memory foam mattress topper that was cut to size. (I bought this mattress topper for the bed in my trailer but when I was given a larger topper, I repurposed the Allswell one for my van.)
Because I wanted an area for storage under the bed, it’s too tall for me to be able to sit up in it. This detail would be difficult to deal with if I lived in the van full time, but it’s I can handle it since I’m only in the van part time. I bought a low-to-the-ground folding camping chair I can use in the van for when I want to sit up to read, write, or work on art projects.
Even with storage under the bed, I knew I’d need a place to keep things I use everyday and need to get my hands on quickly. I bought a plastic three drawer storage unit. Unfortunately, the choice that best fit my needs at the one and only place to buy something like this in the town where I live had wheels. Thankfully, the wheels sink into my exercise mat floor cover, and the storage unit does not roll around in the back.
In the top drawer I keep underwear, socks, masks, soap, face cleaner, washclothes, the case for my eyeglasses, my sleep mask, and other odds and ends. The middle drawer holds cooking and eating necessities like silverware, fuel for my stove, a cutting board, snacks, small spatulas, and other utensils. The bottom drawer holds items for creating collages and other art supplies.
When I slept on storage tubs, my cooler fit perfectly in the back of the van, on the floor created by the folded down “punishment chair.” When The Man built the bed, I had to lose that folded down seat and the floor it created. The cooler had to move up front and now sits between the front passenger seat and the bed.
I love, love, love pockets for organizing in the van. One of the best gifts I’ve been given for my minivan is a large set of pockets my sibling found at a thrift store in a large city. The 10+ pockets made from sturdy fabric allow me to store toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, zip ties, garbage bags, scissors, wipes, air freshener, clothes pins, incense, lotion, and other essentials neatly and close at hand. This pockets are so great! If you can’t find anything like mine, a shoe organizer with pockets might do the trick.
When I need some privacy in the van, I hang curtains. The curtains in the front are on a curtain rod that stretches across the car, but the other curtains hang on bungee cords, or I pin them with clothespins when I need them. I find it easier to hang the curtains when I need them instead of leaving them up all the time.
The front curtains were bought new. They are heat and light blocking curtains. I bought the least expensive black heat and light blocking curtains at Walmart, and they work well. I couldn’t find curtains that were short enough, so I did have to cut them to the appropriate length. All of my other curtains came from thrift stores. Half of my curtains are not curtains at all but large pieces of fabric that do the job.
You may have noticed that I don’t have my stove set up in my van. I seldom cook in the van. If I’m going to cook when camping, I set the stove up on a picnic table if I’m staying on a developed campsite, or I set up either my large or small folding table to use as a cooking area. If I set up the big table, my cooking table also holds my seven gallon water jug with dispensing spout. (The photos in this post were taken while I was on an overnight trip, so I brought water in a one gallon jug and left the seven gallon container at home.) I don’t like cooking in the van because I’m concerned my clumsiness is going to cause everything inside to go up in flames. I have used my stove to heat water in the van during inclement weather, but if I can’t cook outside I rather eat snacks than try to cook in the van.
I have more storage at the rear of the minivan, in the depression left when the folding back seats were removed. I keep my stove (shown in case with unfortunately placed upside down stickers), sleeping bag (in black compression sack), bucket, puppy pads (in green pouch), and tote full of handmade hats for sale under the bed. On the other side (not shown) I have my tote full of items for sale, my suitcase display of hemp necklaces, tall folding camp chair, small folding table, and sunshade umbrella. The low-to-the-ground folding chair fits between my camp stove and the hatchback door.
I think that’s everything I have to say about the set up of my minivan. Was there something you wanted to know about that I missed? Feel free to leave questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Thank you for reading. I hope this post was worth the wait.
I took all the photos in this post.