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Transitioning to #vanlife one (less) item at a time

As of May 2020, I will no longer have an apartment. Or a house. Or a tiny house. Or a permanent place to live. My goal, eventually, is to have a super sweet van, where I intend to live. So. I will have a home. But it won’t be permanently located anywhere. It won’t be big. It won’t have a guest room, full-length mirror, space for a full set of dishes, a closet full of clothes I will wear once (or never tbh).

None of that lifestyle makes me worried. Concerned. Sad. To the contrary, I’m super excited. Ready. Honestly, I’ve been ready for what feels like forever. This will be the third time and hopefully the final time that I’ve gone very very small.  The first time was in my 20’s when I moved into a studio apartment while finishing my Master’s degree. The second was in my early 30’s during my doctoral studies when I wanted the freedom to travel and to move wherever I would get a job so I sold everything except for four boxes and two suitcases. And now, still in my 30’s, I pay rent for a beautiful apartment only to be there less than 60% of the year. And again, I have found myself wondering again why it is that I own all of this shit, why I have a second bedroom with a bedroom set that no one has ever slept in. It also has a desk I never use, and, until last week, a closet full of clothing I never wear.  I never wanted this, which begs the question of why, exactly, I am living there. Van life #vanlife is what I’ve always wanted, and I have exactly zero concerns about how life will be in a van.

Yet, I’ve been wanting to write about this transition since I made the decision to go small and mobile in October 2019, but it has felt impossible to write about. Just the thought of writing about my transition to a #vanlife has given me more anxiety than the thought of living in a van ever has. Until this morning, I wasn’t exactly sure why that was.  Part of me has been reluctant to be so public about it, because I am very aware that this is a nontraditional way to life. People are going to think this is weird, might see this as a sign that I’m not really an adult, might think I really shouldn’t be a professor advising other adults how to live their lives. The latter reasons, I think, are why I have my wonderful apartment that is so exactly what I thought someone of my station in life should have. It was the natural and logical progression: 1) Get good job; 2) Get nice apartment; 3) Buy nice things to fill apartment up; 4) Continue to buy nicer things because capitalism. But I travel 40% or more of every year. And again, I don’t use half of the furniture in my house, and I sure as heck didn’t need a closet full of clothing and shoes I never wore. But with the space, why not fill it?

I’m over paying rent for a place I don’t use and buying more stuff for a place just to fill it. I’m over the stigma of being a person who lives in a van and is, therefore, homeless—mostly—this is who I am, this is what I’ve chosen to do with my life. And since making this decision, I’ve felt a weight lifted. I’m feeling happy and hopeful about life for the first time in a long time.

Now, the biggest stressor—the obstacle—is that I have an apartment full of nice stuff that I need to get rid of. And, I don’t exactly have a van yet. Those are two pretty big things that I need to take care of before this van living full-time thing becomes a reality. And the process to do both seems overwhelming, so much so that it took until today for me to be able to even write about it. It was relatively easy to decide where I wanted to be (or not be, technically), and I now I have to do the work to get there. This weekend I created a bullet journal collection titled #VANLIFE where I’ve started listing all the things I need to do between now and May. The reality is that I won’t be able to afford the van I want come May 1. Despite that, I have the next three months to sell or donate everything in my apartment, keeping only the things I’ve decided I can’t live without (that is, if you are curious, another list I’m building in my bullet journal). As such, I’m breaking down the steps toward the essentials into several mini-goals. For example, I’ve set a goal to donate 2-4 bags of stuff every week and sell one major piece of furniture every week until I am left with a mattress, vitamix, coffee maker, laptop, and winter and summer suitcase. I already donated 80% of my closet(s) last week. It felt amazing, and I haven’t missed a single thing I sold. While I am anticipating that selling and donating things will get harder as I start having to sell or donate things that I have an emotional connection to, I suspect that divesting myself of things will continue to feel liberating and empowering. And that’s the way I’m breaking it down – moving to #vanlife one item at a time.

Now, you would be correct in asking exactly what I thought I was going to do come May, no place to live, and a random assortment of appliances for my future van. Honestly, I don’t know. I am not going to rush the van purchasing decision – and I don’t want to get by with a van because I suspect that a featureless van will push me right back into meaningless permanent living.  My current plan is to take the summer, travel, camp, stay with family, until I have saved up enough for a nice down payment on a van. (or hey, van company, help a sister out? I promise to talk incessantly about you on social media).

Step one: Divesture. Step two: Save. Step three: Invest(ure).

I’ll figure it out.

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