Tag Archives: Van life

“I would come back home but home comes with me.” Houseless in America.

I’ve learned I will probably never want a house and all its things again.

Brick and mortar. Floors on joists and walls on a frame. Things on every shelf and in every room. All the pieces that make a home for others, make me anxious.

I sit in my brother’s house and my mind begins to wander, seeking escape. It’s the stuff. It crowds in and it isn’t even my stuff. I enjoy the time spent talking to him and my niece but grow restless after a while and ready to retreat to my little fiberglass womb (a 2006 Casita named Blanche). Even there, I am anxious to get anything out of Blanche that doesn’t belong there: my sewing machine, gifts for others, provisions I store in Betty White, the Chevy Colorado, and small bags of trash that accumulate with each day’s living. All these must go by the end of the day if possible.

I am reading a book about the uptick in RV/van life in the 20-teens when the recession hit. The author finally reached the point of attempting this nomadic lifestyle herself (rather than just interviewing and chronicling others’ lives) and found after a couple of months of van living, that being back in her Brooklyn apartment was uncomfortable. There was too much space. She mentions missing the “womb” of her van.

I once described a lover’s trailer bedroom that way. I found peace sleeping in that space barely larger than his king-sized bed. I would return home the following morning and feel the space of my house like a looming animal crouching around me.

Let me take a step further back: in 1991, I got married then moved into a 2300 sq. ft. home with an atrium. I loved the place and fought the idea of leaving it. I had thought I’d end my days there. Instead, in 2005, we moved to a 1900 sq. ft. home, and some 13 years later, a 1300 sq. ft. beach house. Lastly, before Blanche, I moved with the dog into a 630 sq. ft. rental house in 2020.

And now? I live in maybe 40 square feet – being generous. I have storage in my vehicle for some essentials that aren’t required daily, but most of my daily life is contained relatively comfortably within Blanche. All my peace and comfort is within her curved and carpeted walls.

Some days I wish I could get by with even less. I imagine, in time, I will whittle my belongings down further. I already regret not selling many things that are back in storage near the coast and that will require a couple of weeks’ clearing-out effort next year.

The feeling of people, space, and things holding me captive is hard to quantify or qualify. I used to hear stories about people who gave everything up to go live off the grid or join a commune and I thought it rather nutty. About three years ago I began joking with my family that I was going to do just that. Maybe I’d even go “live in a van down by the river.”

I knew, deep down, as my daughter waved off my comments or as friends laughed at my Facebook posts about these escape fantasies, that I wasn’t joking.

I just didn’t believe I’d have the guts to do it. Nor could I pinpoint exactly WHY I was so anxious to go. Not just to leave my marriage but to leave a fixed address as well. To stop being surrounded by stuff that meant nothing to me.

No — not nothing. Worse than nothing. Stuff that meant suffocation. Drowning. Spiritual starvation in the face of capitalistic gluttony. It was Hurricane Nicholas that finally brought that fully home to me: living in a house I didn’t own and worrying about stuff being taken away by a miserable storm when none of it mattered.

None of it.

I’m still a glutton. I still have more than I need and better than I need, but I’m making do with less. I’m giving up my favorite beans and switching to whatever half decent coffee I can find while on the road. I’ve pared down my clothing to minimum for most seasons. I have enough paper to write with for a while but left most of it behind. I gave most of my pens and ink away and will sell more. (Now THAT is a sacrifice for a writer. HA!) I forgot to pack all my warm, fuzzy socks, so I’ll be having some Raynaud’s fun.

More important are supplies to keep Betty and Blanche running as well as food for Sammy (I could stand to lose a few pounds since the Christmas splurging) and cleaning supplies for all of us.

From there it’s bigger consumables I need to maintain my home on wheels: propane, gasoline, batteries, spare parts.

Lastly, I have a handful of items that will keep me on the grid because I am not ready for that last hurdle yet. If I ever will be.

Somewhere on the upper Texas coast, a man I clashed with on the beach last spring is parked in his truck with his dog, living as he wants to live without phones and laptops and making do with odd jobs to pay for the odd meal. I didn’t quite understand that a year ago.

Maybe I do now. Maybe I am seeing the simplicity of his life as a value-added life versus a something-missing life. Maybe I’m seeing how easy it would be for me to slip into a little of his unique reality so different from what mine was last summer.

I am starting to understand that while I see the line between being “houseless” and “homeless” clearly, the rest of capitalist America just sees a blurry haze on the pavement. For now, I am houseless because I choose to be so and because it makes sense from a financial, economic, and spiritual/emotional standpoint for me. As yet, it is not my only option but my best option. It may be my only option eventually and that’s okay, too.

Regardless, the tradition of being in the smothering carcass of a house is anathema to me. Fine for others, hellish for me. How odd that space is as disturbing and suffocating to some as the lack of it is to others. Give me the space of a desert canyon or the expansive sea (as long as I can live in my “two sealed bowls on wheels”) over the expanse of vaulted ceilings, landscapes of furniture, and tchotchkes scattered like waiting vultures.

This song was often in my head as I considered the move to an RV or van. The “sea” being all of the open world that lay before me.