Well friends, Kendal and I are over 6 months into our van life project where we tool around the country and try to genuinely experience the places we’ve heard good things about, hoping to see if there’s somewhere in the USA we would prefer to live instead of Denver. We changed our living space from a 1400 square foot house to an 85 square foot van and we’ve basically been living outdoors since the start of our trip. This of course gets complicated and rather uncomfortable when rain, wind, snow or any other unfavorable weather conditions rear their ugly heads. But part of the inspiration for this trip, at least for me, was to see if we could reduce our carbon footprint by getting out of the comfort zone we enjoyed (and, it turns out, under-appreciated) in Denver, and sometimes the weather will make you uncomfortable when you spend so much time outside. I was thinking recently about how our van trip makes us more conscious about sustainability and the little things we can do to play our part in helping promote sustainability and behave in more environmentally-friendly ways. I’ve laid out some of those ways below.
Water: Everybody needs water; in fact, humans are made up of over 60% water. Most of America enjoys easy access to clean, reliable drinking water (unless you live near a fracking site), and that access is something I took for granted. Van life was quick to show me just how much water we used to use on a daily basis. We have had to find and haul our own water on the East coast, in Baja California and so far up here in Regular California. We carry two 7-gallon jugs, one for fresh water and one for grey water, which consists of the runoff from doing dishes and/or washing our hands with biodegradable soaps. Let me tell you, when you only have 7 gallons of water at a time, you conserve the hell out of it. We need water for drinking, cooking and cleaning and Kendal and I have really learned how to utilize every single drop. Granted, we do still enjoy steamy showers as often as possible either at a YMCA or friend’s house, but we are certainly not taking them every day and I would say overall our water consumption is way down.
Electricity: Oh how we miss on-demand electricity! Kendal and I are smoothie people, and coffee people and tea people and people who just expect their blenders, electric tea pots, computer chargers and refrigerators to be available whenever we want. The van complicates that availability, obviously. To make sure we had the power we need, we linked up with Matt at Imperial Auto Body in Kansas City, MO to help us install a battery bank and a boat-like AC/DC electrical system to run everything. Our batteries are charged in three ways: a 160-watt solar panel collects rays from above and stores the energy in the batteries; our diesel van’s alternator is connected to the batteries so that whenever the car is running, the batteries are charging; and we do have the ability to plug our rig right into shore power to charge them. These batteries are game-changers, as they allow us to have a refrigerator for our perishables, lights and fans within the van, and an array of AC and DC charging ports where we can plug in our phones, computers and anything else that needs a charge. Sometimes, we have to pick and choose which electronics we will charge because we might not have enough energy stored in the batteries to charge them all. Our limited electrical capacity has made us both more aware of how much energy we are using and ways that we can reduce our usage, especially when we know we won’t be turning the van on for a few days.
General Consumption: Going from a big house in the Art’s District in Denver to this van was a big wakeup call in regards to how much unnecessary junk we had. I myself am a big junk collector, but I just didn’t realize it until there was no choice but to get rid of most of it. We sold or donated pretty much all of our furniture, household goods, clothes, knick knacks, books; pretty much everything. We now have the bare minimum that we need and don’t really have room for anything else. One fork each, one knife each, one spoon each, one plate, bowl, jacket… you get the idea. We are on a strict one-in-one-out policy where we can’t go shopping to get new boots or a new sweatshirt unless we have worn through the old one because we simply don’t have room for any more stuff. This is a really freeing feeling, at least for me. Kendal likes to shop more than I do, so I feel bad that she’s missing out on that but we are definitely saving money and reducing our carbon footprint even more by not seeking out new products that require a lot of energy to design, produce, ship and sell. We’ve both had to learn to live with less, and it really has been a cool process as we realize that we just didn’t need all the crap that we had.
Everyone could stand to reassess their consumption habits, whether you’re talking about how much water you use, whether you leave lights on when you’re not home or your general shopping habits. Kendal and I have made great strides differentiating between needs and wants. We both really want a lot of stuff; I used to have an unhealthy habit of collecting guitars, electric amplifiers and other instruments, and that all took up a lot of space and I still really want those things. However, with the limited space available in the van it became clear in a hurry that I didn’t need those things, and besides, I still do have an acoustic guitar, mandolin and ukulele with me so I’m certainly not hurting. Kendal seems to want more clothes, but we’ve both been good about learning to live with what we need. We’re going to have to leave fulfilling our wants until sometime in the future when we’re not so busy living our #vanlife dream anymore.