Tag Archives: organization

10 Things You Might Want to Know About Van Organization

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I’ve learned a few things about van organization in the last 3+ years (and the last 3+ months). I wish I’d known the following things before I started life as a van dweller. If you’ve not yet started a life of van dwelling, you may want to contemplate these things before you begin. If you’re already van dwelling, well, it’s never to late to learn something new, right?

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This photo shows how I use binder clips to attach things to decorative wood strips.

#1 If you have an old-school conversion van, look for anything decorative you can rip out to free up a little more room. In my van, the first thing to go was the last captains chair in the back. I can’t believe it took me over a year to rip out the pieces of wood housing cup holders and ashtrays (which I couldn’t see, much less use, because of the tubs and drawers pushed up against them). By ripping out those useless, stained pieces of wood, I gained six to eight inches, which is immense to a van dweller. BUT before you start ripping things out, try to imagine how you could use the decorative touches that are there. I use binder clips to hang things from flat strips of wood that maybe looked nice in 1992 when the van was new.

#2 If you live alone in a van, you may not need a double bed. If you have a bench seat in the back, the bed it folds down into will likely not be very comfortable unless you top it with several inches of memory foam or something similar. You might be better off pulling out the bed that came in the van and putting in something smaller, unless you’re holding out hope of getting laid. You’ll have to decide if you want more bed space or more space for stuff. (Of course, you could also store things on the double bed–I’ve definitely gone that route.)

#3 Your bed does not have to be built strong as a bunker. Sure, you want your bed to be sturdy, but My Rock Guy proved to be brilliant when he built my bed with no attached parts. When it comes time to vacuum back there, I can remove and replace all the parts quickly, without help. I can also move the bed easily if I want to try a new floor plan.

#4 Underbed storage is really helpful. I suggest putting your bed as far off the floor as possible while still being able to sit up without hitting your head. Store things you use less often under the bed.

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This photo shows both my underbed storage and the dishpan full of books wedged under there. Yes, that’s a paper cutter to the left of the dishpan full of books. Doesn’t everyone travel with a paper cutter under the bed?

#5 Containers typically need covers. Baskets may be super cute, but without a cover, the stuff inside is likely to end up on the floor. (My one exception was a plastic dishpan full of books  wedged under my bed. I’ve since bought a tub with a lid to put those books in, not because the books were ending up all over the floor, but because I needed the tub to lift my sloping bed.)

#6 I resisted for two years, but I find drawers really are easier to live with than using 18 gallon tubs for storage. Having to move the top tub to get to the bottom tub was a perpetual pain in my ass. Finding a place to set the top tub was often nearly impossible in my already overcrowded van. Locating an item that had settled to the bottom of an 18 gallon tub was usually an exercise in frustration. Yes, plastic drawers are stupidly expensive, but I think they make my life easier.

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This is my camp stove, set up in the van on a plastic tub for cooking. Usually my laptop backpack is on top of this tub, but the backpack is easy enough to move when it’s time to cook. When I’m cooking indoors, I always make sure a window is open. I’m also careful to keep flammables away from flame.

#7 You will probably want a flat surface in the van for cooking. Even if you usually cook outside, there will likely come a time when it’s rainy or too cold or the wind is blowing at gale force or you just can’t bring yourself to put on pants and you want (or need) to cook inside (even if “cooking” is simply heating water for instant Ramen). At such times, life is much easier if there is a flat surface on which you can set up your camp stove.

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This photo shows bags, jewelry, and my sun hat hanging from shower curtain hooks that I have wedged in between the wall of the van and decorative wood.

#8 Wall space can be utilized by hanging as much as possible. (This is another good tip from My Rock Guy. He says when he lived in vans, he stored his clothes in duffel bags, which he hung.) If my shower curtain hook method doesn’t work for you, you can figure out something else that will.

#9 Many people who live in small spaces have a rule that every item they own must have two purposes. This rule has never really worked for me. I can quickly name ten important things in my van that only have one use (sunhat, ice chest, stove, propane bottles, heater, Luci light, screwdriver, pee bucket, cast iron skillet, sandals…you get the idea…) I understand the reasoning behind this rule: you don’t want to haul around a bunch of stuff you don’t need. But I don’t think the “two use” rule is actually very helpful.

#10 You are probably not going to get your van arranged in the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing way on the first try. Trial and error will probably be involved. Maybe you’ll decide I’m all wrong and drawers don’t work nearly as well as tubs. Maybe you’ll decide the wheels on your ice chest take up too much space. (I took the wheels off my ice chest last month, after living with them in the way for over a year. I thought it would be a hassle, so I didn’t even try for the longest time. Taking them off turned out to be really easy.) Maybe you’ll decide you only need two pairs of pants and two t-shirts, so you only need one medium drawer instead of three large one. I suggest you give yourself permission to make mistakes, change your mind, and try new things.

Bonus! #11 It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. You’ll probably save money if you shop at thrift stores and garage sales before you buy brand new things. If you’re in a town with a Habitat for Humanity Restore, look there for household items that might work in your van. Have patience. If you can, give things a chance to show up cheap or free before you rush out and buy new stuff at full price.

I took all the photos in this post.

Where Do You Sleep?

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My bed is behind that curtain.

A question people frequently ask me when they see the inside of my van is Where do you sleep? I guess that’s because they expect to see a bed in there, but my bed is hidden behind a curtain.

When I was a vendor at the Bridge, I worked out of my van and kept the side doors open all day. I often saw tourist craning their necks, trying to get a look into my living space. The nosy tourists might have thought they were slick, but I knew exactly what they were doing. Some people with good manners asked if they could look in my van. These people I graciously invited to step behind my tables of merchandise and check out my home. I don’t mind people looking so much as I mind people looking without asking.

Each of my first two vans had a bench seat already folded down into a double bed at the time of purchase. While a double bed was quite luxurious, it was really more room than I needed at night. I usually used at least half of the bed as a haphazard storage area.

When I got my third van, there was no bench seat in the back, no sort of bed at all.

My Rock Guy’s friend had a grandiose plan of the bed he would build for me in the van. (He probably also had a plan for the  wad of cash he expected I would give him in exchange for his carpentry work.) My Rock Guy, however, told me not to waste my money.

My Rock Guy rummaged through the piles of building materials he had scattered on his land. He found a piece of plywood and cut it to fit across the width of the van. He also found three lengths of thick boards to hold the plywood off the floor. On top of the plywood, I put the folded-in-half double-bed-size piece of memory foam which had been given to me when I bought van number two. Once I added sheets and blankets, I had a bed. (You’ll thank me if you ever have to move a piano, My Rock Guy said of this easily disassembled bed.)

(After a few months, I decided I needed more storage space under the bed, so I bought a few 9 and 1/8 inch plastic tubs with lids. These tubs brought my bed up just about as high as it can go and still allow me to sit up and not bang my head on the weird, two-level low and lower ceiling above where I sleep. In the underbed plastic tubs, I keep extra food, jewelry making supplies, and other things I don’t need every day.)

One thing I really wanted in the new van was a curtain to hide my sleeping area. Maybe I’m weird, but it seems so…intimate…to have strangers gawking at my bed.

I found a cool sheet with a sort of 70s floral pattern at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. The sheet wasn’t priced. When I brought it up to the counter, the lady working said the price was $2. I told her I didn’t like it enough to pay $2, so she said I could have it for $1. I said I did like it enough to pay $1, and I bought it.

Since the sheet was too long, I folded it in half and pinned the two edges together. When I asked My Rock Guy if he had a curtain rod I could have to hang the curtain/sheet, he told me it would be much better to hang it on a bungee cord (which I already had). He was absolutely right! If the curtain were on a rigid rod, I’d have accidentally pulled it down many times. Instead of falling on my head whenever I unintentionally sit on the curtain or tug on it too hard, the bungee cord moves with my mistakes and stays in place.

While the curtain keeps people from seeing my bed, it also causes confusion about my sleeping arrangement. People look in my van, don’t see a bed, and ask (usually with a note of panic in their voices), Where do you sleep?

I was asked the question twice in less than half an hour on the last day of the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. (Read about the 2016 RTR here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/23/report-on-the-2016-rubber-tramp-rendezvous/.)

I’d driven my van up to the fire pit/seminar area to pick up the remains of the free pile (read about the RTR free pile here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/25/the-free-pile-at-the-rtr/) and drive everything to a thrift store in town. There was some confusion about who was taking what and when, and an older-than-I-am fellow offered to help me carry the large, heavy garbage bags full of free stuff to my van. I took him up on his offer. When I opened the side door, he not only hoisted in the bag he was carrying, he also let his nosy head follow it in so he could have a look around. Where do you sleep? he demanded. (Please note, this man was not a friend or even an acquaintance. He was just some dude I’d never talked to before, some dude helping me carry bags.) I answered, Behind the curtain, before I closed the door and hustled him away from my van home.

There was more confusion about who and when, and a woman showed up who’d also volunteered to drive the remains of the free pile into town. While she and I were figuring out who would make the trip, yet another woman showed up to help.

This second woman went right up to my open side door and started touching the cloth covering of the door panel, the decorative strips of wood, and my organizing pockets. She proceeded to ask me about every aspect of the door (while I was still trying to figure things out with the first woman.) I tried to tell her quickly that since the van is a conversion van, it came with the fuzzy panels and decorative wood, but before I could get the explanation out of my mouth, she’d stuck her head in my van and asked in a panic, Where do you sleep?

I refrained from saying, None of your business, nosy stranger!

For all of you who were wondering, here’s a photo showing where I sleep:

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The floral curtain has been pushed to the left. Notice the bungee cord it hangs on. Yep, that’s my Holly Hobbie doll and my teddy bear lounging in the bed. The striped green blanket is actually a down comforter from Germany I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center for about $6. I got the green striped cover at a Goodwill on half price day for $2.49.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Van Organization: Pockets, Clips, Hangers, and Holders

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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.

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Pockets are held onto decorative wooden pieces by binder clips. In the pocket attached to the bottom of the door, I keep rags handy, as well as the curtain I hang over my side windows at night.

(To read about how I used another set of pockets, go here:http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/25/the-free-pile-at-the-rtr/, and scroll to the bottom of the post.)

On the other side door, I’ve used binder clips to attach a dry erase board and a pad of sticky notes. The decorative wooden pieces also hold pens so I can always find something to write with. IMG_5636

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This photo shows binder clips holding up a curtain.

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.

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This photo shows shower curtain hooks holding a shopping bag (on the far left, barely in the photo), carabiners, a hobo bag style purse, necklaces,and a camping mirror.

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: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/21/the-rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-1-2/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/24/rubber-tramp-rendezvous-week-2-2/), 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.

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I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Van Organization: Tubs and Drawers

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A place for everything and everything in its place?

I’ve never been very good at living by these words of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin. Too often, the place for something I own has been on the floor or draped over a chair or tossed on top of some flat surface.  This problem did not begin when I started van dwelling; this problem has been with me all of my adult life. (As a child, I lived with two very controlling parents who forced me to keep my room neat and tidy. Is my messiness some form of rebellion I haven’t gotten over in the 30+ years I’ve been out of their home?)

But as a van dweller, being messy is a problem. There’s just not enough room to have stuff scattered everywhere. There have been so many times when I’ve literally had to clear a path through clothes (clean and dirty), balls of yarn, books, and bags of chips to get to my bed at night…and then I had to clear off the bed so I could sleep. I found it an uncomfortable way to live.

My first organizational endeavor was plastic tubs. You know the kind: 18 gallons with a lid that snaps shut. At IMG_5647one point I had six of these in the van, filled with clothes and books and shiny rocks and tools and automotive fluids and whatever other things I needed to contain. On the plus side, these sort of tubs are widely available and not overly expensive. On the downside, because I overfilled them, they were heavy to move, and to get to the bottom one, the top one’s got to go somewhere else.

After over three years of living in my van (three successive vans, really), it occurred to me in a flash of insight why people like drawers: the top one doesn’t have to go to a new spot so the bottom one is accessible. (It’s a bit embarrassing to admit it took me so long to figure this out.) Also, drawers aren’t so likely to become the (seemingly) bottomless pits that 18 gallon tubs tend to turn into.

So I went on a quest for drawers. I tried to avoid buying new ones at Stuff-Mart, but the thrift stores in the town I was in just weren’t providing for my needs. I found four small-ish (not tiny) drawers for about $5 and filled them with as much as they would hold. I was immediately hooked on how easy it was to get to the things within the drawers. I wanted more. So I went to Stuff-Mart and bought all the large drawers in the store. (There were only three large drawers in the store.) On my way out of the state, I stopped at a Stuff-Mart in another town and bought one more large drawer.

My next problem was that the drawers kept toppling. So I did some rearranging and put my heaviest items (books) in the bottom drawer. That seemed to help, until I got to Desert Babylon and had to start taking corners and pulling out of driveways faster. The drawer full of books wasn’t going anywhere, but the top two drawers were often flying, then crashing. Also, the top plastic tub in my stack of two was frequently ending up on the floor. Something needed to change. Bungee cords helped some, when I could remember to fasten everything before I hit the road. One friend suggested getting braces and bolting the braces to the floor and to the shelves, but that seemed like a lot of work. (Since the sloth is my spirit guide, the less effort, the better, is my motto.)

One day I realized the decorative wooden panels six to eight inches from the floor were stealing space and giving me precious little in return.

My van is a conversion van, converted in the early 90s. At some point before I owned it, there were probably a couple of captain chairs back there and a bench seat that folded down into a bed. (When I bought the van, only one captain chair remained in the back of the van, and the bench seat/bed combo was gone. After about six months, I ditched the remaining captain chair in exchange for more room.) The wood panel in question was on the side of the chairs at just the right level to put one’s beverage into the built-in cup holder or to knock a cigarette’s ash into the ashtray. But now there weren’t any chairs back there, and the wood panels were stealing precious inches I needed to house my stuff.

Inspired by the Divine Miss M, who removed every single piece of space-wasting plastic when she bought her minivan, I decided to rip out the panels. I was going to go after them with a crowbar (which I was going to have to borrow, since I don’t actually own a crowbar), but when the Lady of the House looked things over with me, she realized there were screws that could be removed. I used a screwdriver to get the screws out. Where I couldn’t use the screwdriver because of space constraints, a bit of brute force did the trick. Once the extraneous wood was removed, I think I gained six to eight inches in van width.

Not only did I push the large drawers up against the wall, I also put them as close to the cab as possible. So far, they haven’t toppled once.  We’ll see what happens when I get back to Desert Babylon.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 This photos shows the four large drawers I bought at Stuff-Mart (under the purple paisley tapestry), as well as the two (deep) drawer set I bought at a thrift store) (under the grey tapestry. On top of the two (deep) drawer set are two smaller drawers housing socks and underwear. In the bottom drawer under the purple paisley tapestry, my library is visible.

This photos shows the four large drawers I bought at Stuff-Mart (under the purple paisley tapestry), as well as the two (deep) drawer set I bought at a thrift store (under the grey tapestry). On top of the two (deep) drawer set are two smaller drawers housing socks and underwear. In the bottom drawer under the purple paisley tapestry, my library is visible.

This is what the drawers look like under the tapestries.

This is what the drawers look like under the tapestries.