Back in 2020, while on lay-off, I somehow (truly don’t remember how) stumbled upon videos about #vanlife.
At the time, I was living in a two-bedroom space, in a century-home, in uptown Waterloo (Ontario, Canada), which was a five minute walk from the office I worked from before I got laid-off.
I liked that location, my neighbours were lovely, the sidewalks were lined with mature trees which provided great shade in the summertime, it was walkable to so many businesses I frequented often, also a few steps from public transportation, and only about 15 minutes from my family.
The space was plenty big enough for me, as I’m single, and although I shared my life (at that time) with two fur-babies, one is a small dog and the other a cat, so they didn’t need much space (or so I thought, more on this in a bit).
I liked the 970 square feet of space as it allowed me to devote one bedroom to an art-space, where I could store all my paints and art-supplies (at that time, I was creating wall-art….I needed something positive to focus on during those dark COVID times).
Meanwhile, my sister had purchased a brand new RV, with the intention of taking her kids and dogs on some adventures*. We DID go on a few daytrips with it, and it was during one of those trips that I was washing the dishes outside, on a picnic table, with the sun warming my shoulders, the birds chirping in the background, a gentle breeze blowing….and I said, “Gosh, I wish I could wash my dishes outside at home”.
(I should state, her RV has a full kitchen, including a sink with hot running water, dishware storage, etc….so yes, I could have washed the dishes inside, but I chose to wash them outside as the weather was so beautiful)
*that RV is now for sale, so if you’re interested, please contact me privately and I’ll put you in touch with my sister
When I got back to my apartment, as I said, I don’t know how, as I didn’t even know vanlife was a thing so I certainly didn’t Search it on Youtube….but I started seeing videos about living on the road.
I started Subscribing to various channels, the first one was Vancity Vanlife, https://www.vancityvanlife.ca/
The reason I subscribed to Chrome’s channel first was because it made me feel closer to my daughter, who lives in Vancouver…..but also, the first video of his that I watched, it was him and his dog, outside, just simply enjoying the peace and quiet and majestic beauty that can be found in beautiful British Columbia.
I also really liked what Chrome said in one of his videos (I’m paraphrasing here)….if you’re thinking of living in a van (or whatever other vehicle), LIVE in it first, with just the BASIC NECESSITIES, BEFORE you start converting it and spending a lot of time and money in the process. Live in it a few months and you’ll see what you REALLY need and HOW you REALLY live.
It was during this binge-watch (keeping in mind, I was laid-off and we were in lock-down/quarantine here in Ontario for many months) that I realized I don’t NEED 970 square feet of living space! I’m literally going from my bed, to the washroom, to the kitchen (which is where I was DOING my art….the supplies were in the bedroom but it was a nice wood floor in there that I didn’t want to get paint on) and then to my couch to eat off the coffee table.
I was ACTUALLY using, in my daily life, very little room in that apartment….the rest of the space was basically storage.
And then I got to thinking….about stuff….not in the grand scheme of things, like, “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is my purpose on this planet?”, but about actual STUFF.
I have been working since I was 16 (I will be 56 next month)….so for 40 years, I’ve been working, and most of my income has gone to either bills or stuff.
Bills = rent, phone, cable, paying off furniture, credit card debt, etc
Stuff = everything else.
And all that stuff was holding me down. I was either saving for stuff, working for stuff, buying stuff, cleaning stuff, moving stuff, selling stuff, organizing stuff, storing stuff, stuff stuff stuff.
And so, in the fall of 2020, I decided, no more. I decided that I was going to get rid of most of my stuff….either through donation, yard sales, on Marketplace, or word-of-mouth, but I was tired of all the STUFF.
If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo, she is the creator of the Konmarie method of organizing, and getting rid of your stuff. I like her approach because it makes you aware of exactly what you have, what “brings you joy” and what you can get rid of. It’s not about getting rid of everything you own, that would be too extreme, I think.
I ended up moving in temporarily with my sister and her two kids and (at the time) two dogs, and I still had stuff….stuff I actually used, such as kitchenware, clothes, some of my art supplies, clothes and footwear, blankets, cushions, plants….etc.
Once I moved out (spring 2022) from my sister’s house and into Wanda (my tiny-home-on-wheels), I realized I needed to downsize even more, so I’ve made multiple trips to the donation center….I know someone will get good use out of my things. I DO have a storage space for the stuff I truly can’t get rid of (my daughter’s childhood art, sentimental mementos, etc., but I don’t mind paying for that small, 5′ x 8′ space as it’s not expensive and I know it’s safe. So if you’re considering vanlife/skoolielife, consider how much STUFF you have, what you can get rid of and what is a must-keep….this was a contributor in my decision of skoolie vs van or rv.
OK, let’s get to the 5 reasons I chose a mini-bus vs a van or RV, shall we?
The first reason I chose a mini-school bus vs a van or RV is because I simply couldn’t afford a van…..even a used one. Also, I had a very specific van in mind (thanks to all those Youtube videos)….I wanted (at that time) a Dodge Ram Promaster 2500, 159″ wheelbase, hightop….as I didn’t want to NOT be able to stand up in my tiny-home.
When I first started searching for them, they were coming in at about $23,000 CAD for a used one….already more than I wanted to spend.
As the months went on, due to supply and demand, the pricetag sky-rocketed to over $50,000CAD for a used one. Forget it. Time to shift gears.
I found Wanda on Facebook Marketplace; she had very little rust and a reasonable amount of kms on the odometer….less than 167,000 (she’s a 2009). I borrowed some money from my Mother (which has now been paid back), and have zero mortgage or rent payments (my gas is my “rent”) and I have zero utility bills (other than my cellphone).
When I was telling my friends about my sister’s awesome RV (it has everything you could possibly need), a lot of them said, “Why don’t you buy an RV too?”
Several reasons….1. they are super-expensive (over $100,000CAD for a new one and I don’t want to take on such a huge loan at this stage of my life)…..yes, I know there are older RV’s out there that are much less expensive, but that wasn’t the only factor, 2. they’re too big for my needs, and 3. (sorry to all the RV’ers out there) they (the RV, not the humans driving them) have no personality. They’re all pretty much the same, either brown or grey, with lay-outs that leave little to no space for personalization, quirkiness and fun!
RV’s are not MADE to be lived in for the long run…..they are manufactured (and many of them not very well) to be used seasonally, for a few weeks in the summer, for a couple of years or so. Yes, their “lifespan” can be 20 years or more, but that depends on how much it’s used, i.e. seasonally or daily.
From what I understand, there are five common issues with RV’s:
- Plumbing/water leakage
- Appliance malfunction
- Power management issues
- Air-conditioner malfunction
- Excessive tire wear
In thinking about purchasing a van, I felt that it would either be new with not many miles on it and more than I want to spend, or used with a lot of miles/kilometers on it and rusty….and oftentimes, no maintenance records were available.
School busses here in Ontario have to undergo a safety inspection every six months. Even though, when I bought Wanda, she was no longer in service as a school bus (in fact all the seats and wheelchair lift had already been removed, the STOP arm and sign had been removed, and all the emergency lights disabled), I knew that if I needed to, I could access all the service records. As it turned out, Wanda’s been running great and I didn’t need to access those records.
Yes, it DOES matter (teeheehee). Sure, vans are easier to drive than busses, and they get better gas mileage, are easier to park, and can access roads that a school bus can’t (or shouldn’t), but at the same time, for MY lifestyle, a van would be too small.
I realized this fact during the three vanlife meet-ups I attended in 2022 as I had the opportunity to tour several converted vans. Yes, on Youtube, the vantours look amazing, and they ARE amazing, but you have to take into account YOUR lifestyle and who you’ll be sharing that space with.
In my case, yes, I have “just” a small dog and cat…but in July 2022 I acquired a love-bird and his cage is about 2′ x 2.5′ X 2.5′, plus the stand/cabinet it needs to be on, so it takes up a significant amount of space.
There needs to be room to have the dog and cat dishes/food/water easily accessible to them, and for me to not be tripping over them.
Also, although my cat doesn’t take up a lot of space, his STUFF does….cat litter box (which is enclosed, so it’s quite tall), food, cleaning-up-supplies, treats. Having that in a van would be giving up a lot of space and I’m not prepared to make that sacrifice.
So consider your “must-have’s”. For me, for example, a hanging closet is a must, as I need to have some nicer pieces of clothing for when I meet with clients, as well, I like to have a variety of jackets/coats and a footwear.
Some must-have’s for me:
- space enough for my dog and cat to move around freely as well as ME to move around freely. I’m not petite and also, I don’t want to be bumping into things while I navigate down an aisle in my home. I want to feel like I’m in a home, not an airplane.
- I don’t need a fixed washroom/shower stall, but I DO want to have an area where I can do more than just a sponge-bath/wet-wipe scenario (more on a solution to this in a future post).
- I need to have a comfortable place to sit upright so I can work while on the road, along with desk space. and storage for papers and files.
- I need to have a decent amount of workspace for prep and cooking, including a large enough sink to wash my pots and pans in (some sinks I’ve seen are so tiny! that wouldn’t work for me at all).
Piggy-backing on point two…I wanted something that I could put my own stamp on it. RV’s are pretty generic….yes, I’ve seen some vintage ones that have been customized/personalized, but those took a lot of time and money to convert.
Again, I mean no disrespect to RV-ers, to “each their own” I say, but for ME, I wanted something that A. WASN’T new, so if it got dented or scratched, I wouldn’t feel too bad, and B. I could use my artistic talents on and make it more ME.
On the topic of getting scratched or dented….Wanda is about 24′ long and about 9′ wide…MUCH bigger than anything I’ve ever driven, so one day I was driving to work, listening to a good song on the radio, singing my heart out, turned into the driveway at work and around the building when I heard a “screeeeeeeeeechhhhhh”. I had grazed the side of the building as I hadn’t taken the turn wide enough. Sure, I felt bad to have damaged Wanda and I had only had her for about a week, but 1. I learned from my mistake and 2. had she been a new (and expensive) buy, I would not have forgiven myself so quickly.
Also, sad to say, there are people “out there” who just can’t stand to see something nice, so they feel the need to damage it….either with spray paint or keying it or other means of vandalism. Yes, of course I would be upset if someone vandalized Wanda, but I can always paint over it and getting her looking the way I want her to.
When I bought Wanda, I had to paint over the standard school bus yellow (or orange, depending on how you see it) and to get rid of the SCHOOL BUS lettering, so right now Wanda is light grey (the name of the colour is “Voyage”, which I thought is SO appropriate….not only because I’m travelling with her, but because I’m a travel consultant), with silver stripes. I’ve gotten lots of compliments on the colour choice and even though I did it myself with rollers and brushes, people tell me she looks sharp.
This year, I will be redoing the paintjob…something that I wouldn’t be doing had I purchased a van or RV. I want to give Wanda’s exterior a bit more of a “personality”…..so I will be free-handing a painting on her drivers side….and some verbiage on the “passenger” side (I can’t actually HAVE passengers as there is no seat-belt inside, other than for the driver). I can’t wait to get started on that!
Side note….if you’re considering getting a skoolie, and are considering painting it yourself, unless you have an indoor space and/or live in the perfect climate, actually painting your rig might not happen as fast as you’d like.
Here in Southwestern Ontario, for instance, last year, end of April, we had snow….the weather is one thing to consider (can’t be too hot or too cold, rainy or snowy, can’t have drastic temperature changes within the day, etc)…..and in my case, as I work two jobs, finding the TIME to do it was challenging too….especially since I only had weekends, and I wanted to actually GET OUT THERE and EXPLORE with my tiny-home-on-wheels, so I “gave up” weekends to paint Wanda, in favour of travelling a bit with her.
I wanted to keep my tiny-home-on-wheels SIMPLE. I don’t want to have to deal with a “stinky slinky” or black tank….I don’t want to worry whether my food will spoil because my fridge stopped working for some reason….I don’t want to stress over things any more than is necessary. The less you have, the less you have to worry about. That’s what I think anyway.
I hope this has been helpful to anyone considering what type of vehicle to invest in as YOUR tiny-home-on-wheels. Feel free to leave a Comment as I love hearing feedback, and it might help others too!
Great blog Elizabeth. I hope all you plans and dreams come true.
Thank you very much….as Connie Francis used to sing…”que sera sera, what ever will be, will be” ☺
Wonderful blog, and the story of downsizing! ❤
Thank you very much! I’m so happy you enjoyed it ☺