Tag Archives: van 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.

Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove, 22,000 BTUs

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.

 

 

 

I’m Not Going to Tell You What to Do

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I’ve spent the last few days reorganizing my van home. It looks awesome, and I will definitely write about it and share photos.

What I won’t do, however, is say that other folks “should” or “need to” do what I did.

In the almost four years of being a single female van dweller, many people have told me I “should” or “need to” do this thing or buy that thing or go this place. (I swear to god [in whom I’m not even sure I believe], if one more gray-haired man tells me I “need” solar, I am going to lose my shit!) I have a rebellious nature. If someone tells me I “should” or “need to” do something, well that something goes to the bottom of the list of things I have any interest in doing.

However, the main reason I am not going to tell you what you need to do is because I don’t know what you need to do. I don’t know how your van is arranged (or if you even have a van, for that matter). I don’t know what things you want to tote around in your van or RV or travel trailer. I don’t know what your physical limitations are. Maybe plastic tubs make you grit your teeth and shake your head, and maybe you can’t stand the colorful tapestries I can’t seem to live without. What you need to do, what you should do, is what makes you happy, and I don’t know what exactly that is.

Recently, one of my readers told me she wished I’d “write a book on how to live free and still make enough money to live !!!!!” I responded. “I couldn’t really write a how-to book on living free…because everyone’s needs and desires are different. All I can do is tell people how I live. Maybe I can inspire people to figure out how to make living free work for them.”

I feel the same way about the organization of my van. I’ll tell you what I did, and I’ll show you photos too. I’ll answer questions. (I love to answer questions. Questions show me people are really interested in what I have to say. Please always feel free to leave questions in each post’s comments section.) But I won’t even pretend to believe that what works for me is going to make sense for anyone else.

My welcome mat, a carpet remnant bought for $1 at a thrift store. I took this photo.