Build: Making the Most of Your Space
As many of you know, we’ve been writing a book on our build and tips on building a van. We’ve built one van, and while we’re super proud and happy with our build, we are not pretending to be experts. For most people building a van is probably a first, so we’re trying to share our experience with all the good and bad. We’re still working on the book (it’s more work than we realized!) and in the mean time we thought we’d share some of the things that don’t fit into the format of the book or would just be interesting for people to get our opinion on.
Vans are small. We have a big van and it’s still small. We are two big people who don’t like clutter, so figuring out how to make the space feel roomy and clean is a big challenge. Below are some tips on how we tried to make the space feel big even when it isn’t.
- Figure out what you want to have with you and design around that. Our biggest challenge was around gear. We wanted to backpack, surf and climb on our trip and a lot of our design was around finding space for all that gear.
- Minimize your clothing. We designed a pretty large space for our clothes above the cab of the van, but it’s still the size of one large drawer in your dresser at home. We knew how much space we had and how much we could bring, but what to actually bring was another issue. We tried to practice as much as we could while we still had a regular house. Going on smaller trips helped us figure out what clothes were the most versatile or which items we just really liked wearing even if they weren’t quite as practical.
- Try to have multiple uses for items you bring. We use sporks. We use the bed slats as a place to hang our damp towels. We use our crash pads as outdoor seating. Everything can be used as something else, so thinking about this before can help save you from bringing unnecessary items.
- Add some convertible spaces. Our biggest convertible space is the bedroom/living room and it’s made a world of difference on those rainy days. When we wake up in the morning, one of the first things we do is put the bed away and convert the back of our van to a living space where we can both relax.
- Stay organized. Everything in our van has a spot and each spot is organized by use. This took some trial and error to figure out, but starting with good organization helps a ton. If you use something a lot, having it organized makes it so much more efficient to use. We used some ikea organization bins to hold these key items we use every day. To make coffee and tea in the morning, we pull out a bin that holds our jet boil, aeropress, coffee beans and tea. It’s all in there, so no need to go back and grab multiple things. Same with our cooking supplies. We spend a good deal of our time cooking outside, so having this all in one bin that we can just grab and go saves so much time.
- Leave some room for adding things you need or want. So far we’ve added a ton of unexpected items. Before we buy anything, especially bigger things, we need to make sure it’s going to fit. For some items, like our bikes, we left the rear of the van free to add a bike rack. For other items, such as climbing gear, we left enough room in our storage benches to add to our gear. For clothing, we make sure we have things we can donate or sell before we get anything new.
- Be creative. Some of our weirdest or last minute additions make the biggest difference. Our solar panels sit about 18” above our roof. We use the space below for weather resistant storage. Our clothing storage above the cab of the van was a last minute addition that made the biggest difference for us. It added a convenient and larger place for us to store our clothing and other frequently used items. One of our biggest pieces of advice is don’t be afraid to fail! Every failure we had turned into an opportunity to change/improve/fix and we regret none of our small failures.
- Every nook and cranny is an opportunity. Some odd places in the van can store your odd shaped items. The yoga mat fits perfectly in a long, narrow empty space between our kitchen and storage cabinet. It felt odd and hard to use when we built it, but we found the perfect item to fill that void. Spaces like these are opportunities to store something that you thought you didn’t have room for.
Whether you are converting a van or living in a converted van, figuring out how to use your space most efficiently is an ongoing task. We’re always learning new ways to make the most of our tiny home. What is something you’ve done to make the most of your space? What are some mistakes you made?