This is the third and final post in a series about making a Prison Break. Part 1 described the prison Part 2 gave you details on how to move into a car if you have very little money. This part is how to move into a van with very little money.
I get letters all the time from people in near despair because their lives are an economic disaster. Often they’ve lost their job and just been given the final eviction notice to their home. Many of them saw this coming so they sold everything they could and bought a van. But now D-Day is just about here and they have to actually move into the van. They’ve seen all the really cool conversions that people do on their vans but instead of filling them with hope it discourages them all the more because it just reminds of what they don’t have:
- They don’t have the carpentry, electrical or plumbing skills to do any of the things they see.
- Even if they had the skill, they don’t have the tools to do it with.
- If they had the skill and tools, they still don’t have the money to buy the parts.
- Even if they had all that, they don’t have the time! They have to be out of this place NOW!
In this post I want to encourage you that even if you don’t have any of those things, but you do have a van, you can move into it and be pretty comfortable and create a pretty cozy home!. There is hope! You can move into a van with almost no money, skill or time and still enjoy it.
If you didn’t read the post on “How to Live in Your Car.“ you need to go read it first. Much of what you need to do in a van is the same as living in a car so I am not going to repeat it here. Let me repeat one word of advice though take full advantage of Thrift stores, garage sales and craigslist. That will stretch you dollars as far as they can go.
How to Build A Bed
There is lots of info on the web so I am not going to go into details. I recommend a 4×8 sheet of plywood across the back of the van in front of the back door. That gives you plenty of storage underneath. Even if you are tall, chances are very good you can sleep across at a diagonal and have plenty of room. Home Depot will make two cuts on the plywood for free—which is all you should need. Here are some ideas of how to support the plywood.
- I have a friend who found some cheap end tables at Ikea for $10 each. She measured them and three of them fit perfectly across the back of her van and were just the right width for her bed. She bought and assembled them, put them in her van, and then went to Home Depot and got them to cut the plywood to just the right size for free. Be creative there are some very simple, cheap and easy ways to make a bed if you are willing to think outside the box.
- Get milk crates and just lay the plywood on top. Or any type of plastic organizers will work as long as they are strong. The key is to have lots of them underneath so the weight is spread out.
- Build a frame out of 2x4s.
How to Get a Mattress
Hopefully you already have one, or you can find a cheap one at a thrift store. But if you can’t here are some ideas.
- Upholstery shops will sell you a piece of furniture grade foam cut exactly to fit your bed.
- Walmart sells memory foam bed toppers. Buy a size twice as large and cut it in half to double its thickness.
- Buy lots of cheap sleeping bags at a thrift store and pile them up. Add your own extra blankets from home as more padding.
- A backpackers sleeping pad.
How to Organize!
You can’t just pile all your stuff in the van and expect to be happy. I’ve known so many people who started out without any organization and hated living in a van because of it. Constantly digging through it all and moving it around becomes extremely tedious. You need to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Here is how to do that:
- Cardboard boxes from the grocery store. Don’t laugh, they work extremely well! I especially recommend apple and orange boxes because they are very strong and very easy to find. If one wears out, you just throw it away and go to the store and get another one. Best of all they are FREE and easy to get it at most grocery stores!! Get a variety of sizes to find which ones will fit where. Write on the outside what is in each box. You can stack them up to use more vertical space. Hold them in place with bungee cords or ratchet straps.
- Plastic totes and Drawers. Cardboard boxes aren’t permanent, but plastic totes and drawers are. So if you have the money they are a perfect choice. Many are clear so you can see what is in them and they are very light so it doesn’t weigh the van down.
- Duffle Bags. You can store things in duffle bags and stuff the Duffle into any spare corners of the van you can find. They are light, cheap and breathable. Hang some hooks from near the ceiling and you can hang them saving all that wasted space.
- Used Furniture. I can’t recommend this to you enough! Sometimes they are beat-up looking but usually they are structurally sound. Two of your best choices are desks (especially roll-top desks) and dressers. Both give you a countertop to use as well as lots of organization.
- Cheap Used 2-Drawer Filing Cabinets. These will give you lots of organization. You can even cut a piece of plywood to fit and make two of them into a desk.
- Remove Your Passenger Seat or Turn it Around: You will be amazed by how much space you gain by taking out the passenger seat. But you will be even more delighted by what an outstanding recliner it turns into if you turn it around. Suddenly spending time in your van will be a joy and not pain! It isn’t that hard, but even if you have to spend some of your small savings to get it done, it is still one of the best things you can do!
So as you can see there are ways to move straight into a van even if you don’t have any handyman skills and have very little money and still have a very nice home. Oddly enough, not until I was done placing all the pictures in this post did I it dawn on me that that every single one of these vans is owned by a woman. The only exception is the milk-crate bed which is owned by me. I think the message here is that women are more practical and more of a true minimalist than men (and maybe that I am in touch with my feminine side?).