A reader asked to hear more about what our daily life is like. In response, we documented the major points in our everyday van living to present to you. This first post will introduce you to various aspects of the van to provide context; tomorrow’s post will document a typical day and a third part will come where we expound on our thoughts and experiences of the mobile life.

As you can imagine, storage space in a 100 square foot living space is limited. The key to maximizing the space utilization is nesting and stacking. Which is great for cramming as much stuff as possible in a cabinet, but is really inefficient for using the stuff in the cabinet.

Three small cabinets over the cab hold our dishes. The one on the left of this shot is in the center over the seats and holds plates, bowls and coffee equipment.

Three small cabinets over the cab hold our dishes. The one on the left of this shot is in the center over the seats and holds plates, bowls and coffee equipment.

Closer in view of the right-most cabinet, which holds a pie pan, collapsible salad spinner, glass containers for left over, metal cups and a quart size insulated cup I use for making yogurt.

Closer in view of the right-most cabinet, which holds a pie pan, collapsible salad spinner, glass containers for left overs, metal cups and a quart size insulated cup I use for making yogurt.

The left most dish cabinet, over the drivers' seat, holds mixing bowls, a strainer, a 10 inch pot lid that fits both the pressure cooker and the frying pan, more containers for left overs, an immersion blender (hidden way in the back), a ladle (hidden way on the left), insulated coffee mug, and the large plastic cup that came with the immersion blender.

The left most dish cabinet, over the drivers’ seat, holds mixing bowls, a strainer, a 10 inch pot lid that fits both the pressure cooker and the frying pan, more containers and jars for left overs, an immersion blender (hidden way in the back), a ladle (hidden way on the left), canning tongs (hidden with the ladle), insulated coffee mug, and the large plastic cup that came with the immersion blender.

This area used to house a huge drip coffee maker. We removed that to use it for pot and pan storage. The cast iron sits at the bottom, the towel serves absorb any moisture from the cast iron, and protect the pressure cooker from oil that I use on the cast iron (I actually destroyed 10 years of seasoning on the cast iron in the first couple months on the road because of how it was stored and had to reseason it), a 3-quart pot and two large bowls nest inside the pressure cooker.

This area was built to contain a huge drip coffee maker. We removed that to use it for pot and pan storage. The cast iron sits at the bottom (the towel serves absorb any moisture from the cast iron, and protect the pressure cooker from oil that I use on the cast iron; I actually destroyed 10 years of seasoning on the cast iron in the first couple months on the road by storing it incorrectly and had to reseason it), a 3-quart pot and two large bowls nest inside the pressure cooker. I created the pad on the cast iron handle after slamming my head on it many times. Unfortunately it is not so easy to pad the bottom of the cabinets over the seats and door, which we also slam our heads on periodically.

The pantry. this cabinet under the sink is our main food storage area.

The pantry. This cabinet under the sink is our largest food storage area.

Packed full fridge.

Packed full refrigerator, all 7.5 cubic feet of it (that volume includes the tiny freezer area).

Over the sink cabinet, where I keep baking stuff and tea.

Over the sink cabinet, where I keep baking stuff and tea.

Over the stove cabinet which holds some dry goods. I initially filled this cabinet with grains, but the weight was pulling the cabinet down so I had to move them low.

Over the stove cabinet which holds some dry goods. I initially filled this cabinet with grains, but the weight was pulling the cabinet down so I had to move them low.

Grain drawer, full of rice, beans and the like.

Grain drawer, full of rice, beans and the like.

The toaster oven straps in where the manufacturer put a microwave. I find a toaster oven to be more versatile than a microwave. We even stack some pans in the oven.

The toaster oven straps in where the manufacturer put a microwave. I find a toaster oven to be more versatile than a microwave. We even stack some pans in the oven.

But since toaster ovens get so hot, we have to pull it down to the counter to use it.

But since toaster ovens get so hot, we have to pull it down to the counter to use it. 

To demonstrate the problem with stacking and nesting in the cabinets, here is what I have to do to put a single bowl away:

1) Open cabinet.

1) Open cabinet.

2) Remove extra stuff. Usually there are other containers in front of the bowl that have to be moved to the counter before I can get to the stack of bowls, but this day we had a lot of leftovers so the containers were in the fridge (the container puzzle problem always exists - it just moves from this cabinet to the fridge and back).

2) Remove extra stuff. Usually there are other containers in front of the bowl that have to be moved to the counter before I can get to the stack of bowls, but this day we had a lot of leftovers so the containers were in the fridge (the container puzzle problem always exists – it just moves from this cabinet to the fridge and back).

3) Extra stuff removed, the pot lid and container lids stack on top of the nesting bowls.

3) Extra stuff removed, the pot lid and container lids stack on top of the nesting bowls.

4) Take out nested bowls. That rubber stuff helps keep the metal and glass from knocking together if we manage to arrange it properly.

4) Take out nested bowls. That rubber stuff helps keep the metal and glass from knocking together and clanging while we drive, if we manage to arrange it properly.

5) Fit bowl into the stack.

5) Fit bowl into the stack.

6) Now the stack is ready to go back into the cabinet.

6) Now the stack is ready to go back into the cabinet.

7) Place bowl stack in cabinet.

7) Place bowl stack in cabinet.

9) Replace lids on the bowl stack and containers back in front of the stack.

8) Replace lids on the bowl stack and containers back in front of the stack.

This very tedious example is just to make the point that getting anything out or putting it away takes four times as long as it does in a normal house. Because of this extra time of getting things out, the limited counter space (which leads to similar games of moving stuff around), and the availability of only two burners, preparing dinner takes me at least two hours in the van, twice as long as it did when I lived in an apartment.

The wet bath, which we seldom use as a shower. If we do shower in there, we have to remove the laundry bag in the bottom and the toilet paper (this step is VERY IMPORTANT and very easy to forget) before showering. To conserve water we have to wet down, turn off the water, lather up, turn on the water to rinse off. We use so little water that it often does not register on the tank gauge. To handle standing in the shower wet, I heat the van to about 95 degrees before I shower.

The wet bath, which we seldom use as a shower. If we do shower in there, we have to remove the laundry bag in the bottom and the toilet paper (this step is VERY IMPORTANT and very easy to forget) before showering. To conserve water we have to wet down, turn off the water, lather up, turn on the water to rinse off. We use so little water that it often does not register on the tank gauge. To handle standing in the shower wet, I heat the van to about 95 degrees before I shower.

Occasionally we can shower outside, but most of the time it has been WAY to cold for this.

Occasionally we can shower outside, but most of the time it has been WAY to cold for this. (This shot was taken in Florida in August during the first week of our trip.)

Our bathroom has a sink in a drawer! We don’t often use it, though, because water gets on the edge and drains into the wall behind it where the water heater and pump are.

Our bathroom has a sink in a drawer! We don’t often use it to wash our hands, though, because water gets on the edge and drains into the wall behind it where the water heater and pump are. Primarily we use the kitchen sink.

We picked up this cargo seat cover during our first week on the road…those pockets provide some much needed extra storage space!

We picked up this cargo seat cover during our first week on the road…those pockets provide some much needed extra storage space!

Under our bed we have: one giant inverter (under that box on the left), two bicycles, two big backpacks, one roll-up table and two matching roll-up chairs, one yoga mat, one skateboard, two large bicycle U-locks, a water hose, two 25-foot extension cords and a tarp.

Under our bed we have: one giant inverter (under that box on the left), two bicycles, two big backpacks, one roll-up table and two matching roll-up chairs, one yoga mat, one skateboard, two large bicycle U-locks, a water hose, two 25-foot extension cords and a tarp.

The main power cable and a long water hose store in the back door.

The main power cable and a long water hose store in the back door.

But we don’t even need to plug in very often, because we have three 150 W solar panels and a 550 Amp-hour battery bank under the floor in the back.

We don’t often need to plug in, because we have three 100 W solar panels and a 510 Amp-hour battery bank under the floor in the back.

[ John here ]  Heidi did a great job of capturing many of the details, but there’s a few more things worth mentioning about our home on wheels. Note:  I did not clean up before these pictures were taken, so you see the van pretty much how we live.

Our front seats spin around to face the back and gives us two living spaces, kind of. There’s also a spot for a table at both the front and rear of our home.  This way we both have our own work spaces, or places to eat. [Heidi here: I miss sitting next to John while we eat; sitting 15 feet apart while eating dinner is the only time the van feels large.]

A picture of our chairs spun around and Heidi enjoying a delicious salad for lunch.

A picture of our chairs spun around and Heidi enjoying a delicious salad for lunch.

We, errrr* I make the bed every morning so we have full use of the space in the back during the day.  Even though it’s a hassle and involves many steps (as you’ll see in the next post) it’s worth doing.

The back seat that folds down into a bed, as you'll see in the next post.

The back seat that folds down into a bed.

We have a fruit/veggie basket that hangs under the front most corner of our kitchen counter top.  This is where we keep most non perishables, including bread if we have room.

Handy fruit basket.

Handy fruit basket.

All our electronics are primary stored in one cabinet right next to our cast iron pan and pressure cooker. This holds just about everything we use to stay connected. Two laptops, two iPads, one kindle, two raspberry Pi’s, two external hard drives to back up our data, and all the cables to power everything.

Electronics cabinet.  We're using both our laptops so the space looks empty.  I can ensure you it gets pretty packed.

Electronics cabinet. We’re using both our laptops so the space looks empty. I can ensure you it gets pretty packed.

Our clothes are stored in two separate places.  Mine are behind the drivers seat in the upper two drawers.  That’s all of my clothing in this two very small spots.  Heidi has the four cabinets above the seat/bed in the rear of the van.  Although she has more, they are very small.  I’d guess we have about the same amount of space.

Heidi's four small cabinets for all her clothes.

Heidi’s four small cabinets for all her clothes. [Heidi here: note that one quarter of the space is full of books and about one eighth to craft stuff. I usually don’t let John open them because he thinks I have too many books in there.]

Close up of two of Heidi's cabinets.

Close up of two of Heidi’s cabinets.

My two cabinets for all of my clothes.  I also store my HiGain WiFi antenna here.

My two cabinets for all of my clothes. I also store my HiGain WiFi antenna here.

All of our camping gear, except for our two large back packs, is stored above the seat/bed in the center of the van. Here’s a list of just some of the items I can remember off hand (all of it is pretty necessary for our multi-day hiking trips):  one small two person tent, two 30 degree sleeping bags, a few canisters of fuel for our stove, backpacking stove and large pot, 10 Liters worth water storage containers, many stuff sacks for our food and clothes, and much more.

I think this wraps it up.  If you guys, yes you our readers, have any questions please ask in the comment section!  I love talking about the van, our modifications, and general “living in a van” questions.

The place for all our camping gear.

The place for all our camping gear.

8 Thoughts on “Van-Dwelling Part 1: Our Home

  1. justin on March 14, 2014 at 7:37 pm said:

    Love this post

  2. Theresa on March 14, 2014 at 10:14 pm said:

    Great look at the van. I was wondering how the solar panels were working out. You guys are having a really nice trip of a lifetime. John, can you please let KAW216 look at your blog? She’s Kathy my housemate and would really like to see it.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      The solar panels are working out great. The three panels we have are the most efficient, and some of the lightest available for consumers. The panels are not the only key to system. We have a HUGE battery bank for this class of RV (class B – Sprinter). The battery bank weights in at over 300lbs and probably one of the largest I’ve seen or heard of for this sized van. I had a custom frame made to hold them in what used to be the sewage hose storage area under the floor in the rear of the van. These two components, coupled with a massive 2000 watt inverter (to convert the stored power(DC) to AC, allow us to run things that most RVs wouldn’t even dream of. For instance I can run the roof mounted AC unit off of the batteries (like when we where in FL) or a toaster oven! With the large battery bank we can store power for days when it’s cloudy, or for heavy power use days (like baking cookies 🙂 ). The electrical and solar system allow us to have all the creature comforts of home. Right now we’re at a trail head ‘camping’ for free. The lights and heat are on, I’m charging my laptop and using the internet. Although the system component cost were high, we have saved thousands (no lie) of dollars in camping fees, and have had the opportunity to camp anywhere and everywhere for extended amounts of time… at least until we run out of water. 🙂

      I’ll send you a personal email about Kathy. She should be able to just go to http://statusgo.us to view it.

  3. Louisa Treskon on March 15, 2014 at 10:54 am said:

    Love it! Can’t wait for installments 2 and 3!

    So interesting to see what you guys brought and where you keep it!

  4. Extraordinary.
    I have an idea to prevent the water leakage that runs over the back of the sink in your bath. Rubber strips that are self adhesive on the top made for the bottom doors could be attached to the lip over the drawer to drag on the top of the sink and prevent the water from going over the back. It is incredible how much power you can use with your setup! Brilliant stuff John.
    Heidi you have the patience of Job to be able to cook in that kitchen. By this time I would be begging to go on fast foods on a daily basis!

  5. Whoa…..Serious reality check for old uncles with fantasies about life on the open road in a Sprinter van.

    • John on April 1, 2014 at 3:47 pm said:

      If this was a longer trip we’d just have the rear couch/bed foam replaced. With only a month or two left it’s not worth the time or effort.

      Knowing what I know now I would have replaced it before we left on our trip. The “RV” is designed for recreational use. Living it and put the interior through it’s paces.

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation