Why We Traded Comfortable Suburbs for an Uncomfortable Van?
It’s pretty easy to fall into a lifestyle that is too comfortable. Whether you’re happy or not, it’s just easy. You get the cute house or apartment, and a job to maintain it. The job pays for things that you want to put in the house. These things don’t really do anything for you other than look pretty or impress the neighbors, and you never took the time to ask how you benefit from having them.
But you keep going to that job that you maybe tolerate, driving through rush hour traffic in that car you’re still paying off, just so you can afford all these things. You sit at your desk, lost in calculations of how much time you have left in the day and how much work you really need to do to get by.
You drive home, get stuck in traffic, get pissed off at the guy that TOTALLY just cut you off because he is impatient, and in today’s Internet-fueled world of having everything this instant - quick quick quick, now now now - haven’t we all grown a little impatient?
Boy, was this John and I almost to a T.
While sparing you the mundane details, two years after getting married we found ourselves living in a nice three bedroom house in the suburbs and working jobs we couldn’t stand.
We would cut our grass every weekend, waving to the neighbors as all of us robotically zig-zagged our way across our lawns. Afterward, we would convene in someone’s driveway to share beers, the same old jokes and stories we’ve heard many times before, and complaints of how tomorrow is already Monday.
To all outside observers, everything seemed perfect. We had a great house in an up-and-coming neighborhood. We had great jobs. We had everything we could possibly need at our fingertips. When it was too hot out, we could go inside to the cool AC. When winter came, we could go inside to the heat. When the pipes burst one winter we called a plumber to fix it.
We had all kinds of shows and sports and mindless entertainment beamed to us every night. Everything was easy and comfortable, comfortable, comfortable.
It’s tough not get lost in a world like that, isn’t it?
A world where you don’t have to actively think about too much going on in your life because it’s all just right there for you. Where other people are constantly telling you where to be and when to be there, how much free time you can have, what you should do, what you should watch, what you should buy. Sure, it sucks, but that’s the price we pay for comfort, right?
But after a while, we no longer wanted to make that trade off. What’s the point of having all of these comforts if they come at the expense of our freedom? Is daily access to a hot shower worth trading half our waking hours doing something we hate? Is it worth not having the time to enjoy being alive, or play with our dogs, or watch our (future) kids grow up?
For these reasons and more, we decided to sell everything we owned and move into a van with our two dogs. And though there are some things we miss from our former life, comforts and conveniences are not among them. In fact, being uncomfortable has become one of our favorite parts of vanlife.
When you’re put out of your comfort zone, you’re given many opportunities for personal growth.
I, for instance, am absolutely terrified of flying insects. In our old home I could just walk inside and close the door, but you can’t really do that in vanlife. Instead of freaking out and giving up, I’ve used this as an opportunity to control myself, my thoughts, and my own anxieties, and actively figure out how to deal with the situation. And let me tell you, I’ve gotten pretty good at ridding the van of mosquitoes.
On days that it’s just too stinking hot, we can’t just run inside to the AC because, believe it or not, we do not have an AC unit. Sure, we could turn the van on and run the main AC, but that just eats gas and it’s not worth it. Instead, we have learned little tricks to stay cool - parking in the shade, staying north in hot weather, putting reflective material in our windows, and even running a microfiber towel under some water and then setting it on your head. We ended up getting an additional fan for those times it’s just far too muggy and we need that extra airflow.
Another example of discomfort is our kitchen situation. We went from a spacious kitchen with every appliance we could possibly need, to a few feet of counter space and basic amenities. Even simple tasks take multiple steps. We have to get out four pots and pans to get to that one that we need. We have to remove our stove from its storage cubby, set it on the counter, remove the covers, fill up the burners with denatured alcohol, and ignite each burner with a lighter - every time we want to cook. We wash and dry our dishes by hand, using water that we pump into the sink with a foot pump.
Taking these extra steps help ground us. Being uncomfortable keeps us focused on where we are, and helps us feel the gratitude for simple pleasures that we didn’t feel when we were caught up in the hamster wheel.
Vanlife seems incredibly glamorous as it’s portrayed on the world wide web. Parts of it truly are. But much of it is far from glamorous. There are days that absolutely suck, where it’s just too hot, or too cold, or you really want to cook something but don’t feel like dragging everything out and you just really wish you had a dishwasher again.
But we would never trade this life for the one we gave up - not by a longshot. We were just far too comfortable, which after a while makes the days blend together and next thing you know you’ve forgotten what’s truly important in life. I enjoy being uncomfortable. I enjoy having to work for the things I want, even if it’s using a hand blender to make hummus instead of whipping out the food processor.
Living in a van may be uncomfortable at times, but it’s also incredibly liberating. Everything we own is within arm’s reach. All that time we used to spend commuting to jobs we hated only to come home and spend hours cleaning a house and maintaining a yard, we now have all that time to devote to things that bring us joy. And all those uncomfortable moments force us out of our comfort zone and make us grow as human beings. And for that, we are truly grateful.