There are a few principles that I think should act like guiding lights when we become vandwellers because they so totally synonymous with what I think vandwelling should be. They are:
- In Harmony with Nature
I believe that nearly every decision you make as a vandweller should satisfy these six basic ideas. Because we are all so different, there is no one right way to interpret them. What’s simple for you might be much too simple for me and much too complex for someone else. What’s important is that we each strive for these ideals in whatever way we think will make us happy. After all, being happy is the main goal of vandwelling!
The way we convert our vans is a prime example of this idea. Some people spend months on elaborate planning and building of what they think is a dream home, while another person just throws down an air mattress and a pile of his stuff and calls it done. Neither is better than the other, just different! In today’s post I want to give you some ideas of how to convert your van from a thrift store as a truly outstanding way to follow the spirit and letter of all these ideals.
Judy and I were just in Flagstaff and while we were there we stopped at a Goodwill thrift store and they had an exceptionally large amount of furniture at very low prices. Because I’ve known several people who outfitted their van almost entirely from thrift stores, I’m always on the look-out for furniture at them. They had so much that I decided to take some pictures and write this post on this topic.
Here are some kinds of furniture that work exceptionally well in a van conversion:
- Desks (especially roll-tops or a good computer desk)
- Dresser Drawers
- Bunk Beds
- Book Cases
- File Cabinets
- Medicine Cabinets
Think about how simple this is; you buy a desk or a dresser from a thrift store for $20, get a clerk to help you carry it out and set it in your van and then use your cordless drill to screw “L” brackets into it and into the wall and floor and you are done! Or, if you are willing to take the risk, just set them down and drive away. You’re all done! Instant and simple organization!
Disadvantages to using furniture.
1) Some times they are made so cheaply they won’t hold up to the constant movement of a moving van. Fortunately it’s generally easy to reinforce the weak spots to make them strong enough. The best one is a piece of plywood across the back and screwed into the walls and shelves of the furniture will dramatically solidify cheap furniture. Also, “L” brackets at the corners and shelves will greatly strengthen them against movement and weight carrying. Another cheap and easy way to make them rock-solid is to us a ratchet strap to attach them to the wall. That greatly solidifies the structural integrity of the unit and keeps it from rocking back and forth and tearing itself apart.
To be fair, I have two friends who have been using furniture in their vans for a long time and none of it has every failed.
2) Furniture can go flying in an accident and become a deadly missile. That’s easily solved by using “L” brackets and screwing them into the furniture and into the floor and walls of the van. That not only keeps it from going flying, it also strengthens the furniture against movement. But, what happens if you don’t attach them to the van somehow? Nothing, as long as you don’t have a head-on collision or roll the van. And lets be honest, that’s very unlikely and if it does happen you have bigger problems! I’m not saying don’t attach them, if at all possible you should! I’m just saying if you can’t don’t let it stop you.
3) It’s generally pretty heavy. There really isn’t anything you can do about the weight of furniture, but you’re going to have so little of it that it isn’t really much of an issue. Most vandwellers vans are so lightly loaded than an extra 50 pounds from some cheap furniture isn’t going to affect anything. Weight is a consideration but it’s such a minor problem I think it is more than offset by it’s tremendous convenience.
4) It’s often beat-up and ugly. I’ve usually found it to be acceptable looking but we all have different needs for anesthetics. fortunately it’s very easy to sand and stain something and make it look great or to just a slap a coat of paint on it and make it fit perfectly in your van. The easiest solution is to cover it with some attractive fabric!
5) You can build something yourself that’s better. No doubt that’s true but it will take much more time and usually cost more than used furniture. So if time and money are tight, used furniture is often better. But an even bigger consideration is that many of us simply don’t have the skills or tools to build our own furniture, no matter how much better it is. For you, used furniture is ideal!
Don’t Forget Construction Item Thrift Stores.
One last thing I want to remind you of; many towns have thrift stores in them run by Habitat for Humanity (or some other organization) that specializes in used items from remodeled house construction. Generally they are in very good condition, the only reason they are their is someone decided to remodel their bathroom and kitchen and they donated the old items to the thrift store. Here is a list of some things you might find but the sky is the limit to the treasures you may find. The main thing you need is some creativity to see new uses for it in your van!
- Medicine Cabinets: These usually get replaced in a bathroom remodel even though they are in perfect condition. Mount one of them on the wall of your van with sheet metal screws and they take up almost no room but you get a huge amount of organization!
- Bathroom vanities: These are great because they have a sink and plumbing built in ready to go. Set one of these in your van, put a 5 gallon jug for fresh water and a gallon jug for gray water and then wire a hand or 12 volt pump and you have running water!
- Kitchen cabinets and counter tops: It’s easy to find these that will fit right in your van, look great and will give you instant organization.
- Doors: Find two filing cabinets and set a door between them and you have a bed or a counter top! Simple and cheap!
- Rugs: Finding attractive rugs that are in very good shape is surprisingly easy. It’ll be cheap enough that you can keep it for awhile and then replace it if you get tired of it.
- Assorted Hardware: There is almost no limit to what you might find, just use your imagination.
- Sinks and plumbing supplies: If you are putting in running water, chances are you can get most of what you need here.
- Electrical supplies and fixtures: Much of the electrical in a house is not suitable for a 12 volt van but you are still likely to find a few things you can use. If nothing else you can probably find some conduit which will let you run your wire and keep it safe, organized and out of sight.
- Garage organizers: It’s pretty common for garages to have heavy duty organizers in them and they also often end up in thrift stores. Keep your eye out for them.
So there you have it, a simple, cheap and easy way to convert your van into a wonderful, cozy little home for almost no money! I have two stories on my site about people who have done this, you may want to check them out: