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 one 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 (with the exception of the one of Benjamin Franklin).