A few days ago I promised I wasn’t going to tell folks how to organize their vans. I’ll keep that promise because I know that what works for me may not work for somebody else. I’m a huge believer in folks working with what they have and what they can get free or cheap.
Recently on a Facebook groups I belong to, someone posted a video (that I didn’t watch) about how a person could do a van build for only $384 (or whatever), which is all well and good if that’s what someone’s into. But when I got my first van, I was homeless and had just enough money to purchase the van, buy insurance, pay for license and registration, and eat for a few days. I did not have not have $384 (or $38.40) to make any improvements to the van. I had a sleeping bag to throw onto the bench seat folded down into a bed. A friend gave me a shallow plastic tub that slid under the bed and that’s where I stored my clothes. I slowly added items (such as a stove, a cast iron skillet, curtains) to my home as I could afford them. Usually I shopped at thrift stores.
All this to say a wad of cash isn’t necessary for the beginning van dweller. (I know, a wad of cash is often useful. I won’t argue that. But “useful” and “necessary” are two different things.)
I think one of my most useful skills is the ability to figure out how to use what I have, what I’m given, and what I can get for cheap. I’ve used this skill to organize my van.
Last year, the Lady of the House gave me a big piece of cloth with three pockets on it. (I think it was intended to go over the arm of a couch or recliner and hold the remote control, the TV Guide, and other items useful to a couch potato.) She thought I could maybe use it in the van to hold things. I thought it was a great idea, but didn’t know where to put it. At first I rigged it so it hung from an 18 gallon plastic tub, but whenever I took the lid off the tub, my organization quite literally crashed to the floor. Then one day I was looking at the decorative pieces of wood on one of the van’s side doors and realized I could hang the pockets there and hold them to the wood with binder clips.
In these three pockets, I keep things I use regularly. Tape, scissors, soap, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, lighters, and pocket knives are all within easy reach.
I thought to use binder clips because I already had them around. I somehow (I don’t remember how or when) came up with the idea to use binder clips to hang curtains in the van. Large binder clips are the perfect size to hold curtains to the pieces of wood around my windows.
I could say that binder clips are the answer to problems with organization and everyone should attach thin, flat pieces of wood to their van and use binder clips to hang things there. But that would be silly and maybe expensive. Instead, think about what you want to hang. Then look around your van and figure out where you could hang things using inexpensive, easy to find items.
Another common household item I use to hang things in the van is shower curtain hooks. The top of the hooks fit remarkably well between the decorative wood and the wall. (My van is full of decorative wood, I am realizing as I write this.) From the bottom of the hooks I hang my mirror, jewelry, carabiners, and lots and lots of shopping bags. (I have a shopping bag holding my towel and toiletries. I have two shopping bags holding yarn and my round hat-making looms. I have three shopping bags holding dirty laundry. I have a hobo bag style purse I can grab when I need to tote around lots of stuff. All of these bags are hanging from shower curtain hooks next to the walls of the van.)
I want to brag a little about my paper towel holder. For the longest time, there was no good place to put paper towels in my van. A new roll of paper towels is fat and difficult to store. I usually just tossed rolls on top of a tub, which typically meant they were soon on the floor. But I hated to use paper towels that had been on the dirty floor. Yuck!
At the 2015 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) (read about it here: I had a discussion with other van dwelling women about paper towel storage. Using a bungee cord was suggested, and that sort of worked. Eventually (and sometimes it didn’t take long at all), the bungee cord would come unhooked, and I’d find the paper towels once again on the floor.
I got so of my paper towels falling down, I marched into a Stuff-Mart, determined to buy a paper towel holder. Much to my astonishment, I couldn’t find one in the store. I’d been looking at thrift stores too, but no luck. Apparently people with paper towel holder don’t part with them.
A couple of days ago, I stopped at a thrift store which was closed when it should have been open. To console myself, I poked around in the free box in front of the store. In the bottom of the box, I found a metal paper towel holder, complete with screws taped to the back. Yippie!
I tried to put the screws into the decorative wood above my plastic drawers. The wood was just a little too hard. I had to postpone my project for a couple of days, but finally, finally, I borrowed a cordless drill from a neighbor and got that holder hung. I hope taking this step finally keeps the paper towels off the floor.
I took all of the photos in this post.