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VanLife Lessons

Our tiny living journey officially began December 1, 2021, when we moved into the studio apartment with two adult kids. But in reality we spent nearly a decade thinking about it, discussing it, discarding the idea, then coming full circle and deciding to go for it. Have we learned anything?

Biggest lesson is probably that theory isn’t worth the napkin it’s written on. The idea of just me and Marty, a few things stowed carefully in handcrafted cubbies, eating locally and organically, and spending next to nothing was intoxicating and fueled the dream. Maybe that’s why we convinced ourselves our very natures would change just because we changed our square footage. Reality was too many things crammed haphazardly into cabinets made by an engineer instead of a craftsman, me no longer cooking and assuming Marty would “go with it,” and spending more on gas than our last mortgage.

That must be why so many people are intrigued by the vanlife idea. So they can chuckle about “dodging that bullet.”

But if you are someone who is seriously thinking about any sort of on-the-road lifestyle, take note:

You will get used to wearing the same clothing multiple days in a row and realize no one notices or cares.

Even if for the most part you get along great, you will need some personal space. My experience is that it’s about a separate bathroom more than a van allows.

On that note, it takes time (still figuring out how long) to get used to emptying the pee part of the composting toilet. Surprisingly the other part is NBD.

Your nose become more sensitive. I won’t say I can smell as well as our dog Blue, but I can definitely tell the difference between a gray-water problem and beans left too long in the fridge.

You might give up your zip code, but you get road trips.

We can stop just about anywhere and be “at home.” The only time this has failed was in an Oregon IKEA parking lot where a security guard walked across a mile of parking lot to tell us that IKEA had rules that said we couldn’t park there. He was also kind enough to let us know we were welcome to join the throngs of illegal campers everywhere else in Portland, Oregon.  

You may be mistaken for homeless.

We are learning to be flexible. We have the privilege of working wherever we want, so why fret over a few days or weeks when life keeps us somewhere longer than expected. After all, Marty won’t have many other opportunities to work on our daughter’s radiator in 99 degrees.

The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We’re trying to figure that out. How about you?


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  • Gretchen Opdahl on

    How do you manage not having a home address? Don’t you need one for some of your bills?


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