5 Things I Learned from Living in a Van For 3 Months

I can't believe it's been 3 months already that I gave back the key to my apartment, put my things in storage and headed for the adventure of living in a van full time. It's been intense to say the least. 

When I left, I wanted to find myself: my strength, my freedom, my inspiration, what is essential and what is not. What feels good and what does not.

I also learned some unexpected lessons that will serve me for the rest of my life. Here are 5 of them:

  1. Creativity is essential

Traveling around in a van, it can be easy to be all over the place. Going here and there, seeing this and that, meeting this person and the other… Also, the sheer day-to-day “what am I going to eat” and “where am I going to shower” can become a full-time concern in itself. So it has been challenging for me to paint every day, as I said I would. When it’s messy and hot in the van or windy outside for example, I convince myself that it’s “not possible” to paint today. I did worry a bit about a possible negative effect on my skills and career, but what I didn’t see coming is the effect on my well-being: if I don’t paint for several day, I feel CRANKY. I lived years without painting before and never noticed the crankiness, but I do now in constrast.  It’s similar to eating fast food every day and thinking we’re fine, then we start a cleanse and after a week without that stuff we realize how bad we felt, in comparison.

If I don’t paint, I can’t fully enjoy the landscapes and the people and the adventure. Ayn Rand in her book “Atlas Shrugged” says: “Celebrations should be only for those who have something to celebrate”. I always understood it meaning that one has to EARN the right to celebrate. Now I see that it goes beyond that: I can only be truly present and joyful if I have accomplished what is important to my Soul, what makes my Soul sigh in relief upon doing it. It’s not about being rich and famous, just doing a little bit every day.

When I start painting again after a few days of not doing it, I literally feel a huge sigh coming from inside, and a silly grin on my face. Every time. 

Do you have something you love and are not doing enough? What are your excuses?

  1. Learning makes for a better life

Probably the most satisfying part of my lifestyle is that it allowed me to carve out way more time dedicated to learning. I know, nothing kept me from doing it before, you don’t have to live in a van to read a book. Somehow, that’s how it went for me though. A big part of it, I admit, is not having TV or internet. So instead of watching a screen, I started reading at night. Also, because I’m driving a lot, I had to find something engaging to keep me alert on the road. After having listened to Beyonce’s Lemonade literally hundreds of time, I felt like I needed something different. So I started listening to podcasts about business, marketing and successful lifestyle. How awesome is it when I can transform the simple “going from A to B” into “Wow! I never thought of that! I’ll use that in my life/business/secret project.” But the best is yet to come: I rediscovered PUBLIC LIBRARIES. There are places in this world where we can enter, sit on a chair and read an art book that would have cost $45 to buy! And another one. And another one. Free podcast and public libraries are definitely two of my best discoveries lately. Free ways to educate myself into a better life!

  1. Material simplicity creates emotional stability

This is an interesting one. All my life, I was one of those who tend to think that I have to get my emotions and thoughts in the right place, before I can start doing the right thing. Like I have to do a whole shamanic healing session to be ready to clean my room, or something. I discovered it also works the other way around: the place I live in influences how I feel. Duh. 

The specific way it plays out for me is that living very simply, with very few belongings and even fewer commitments has giving me emotional stability and clarity. All my life, I always cried pretty regularly. I justified it with "it's my way to release emotions". But I was shocked to realize last week that I have cried twice in 3 months. That never happened before. Believe me it’s BIG. There goes my theory that I need to cry out my negative emotions. 

It's not that those unpleasant emotions don't arise anymore, but I now have created more space to be present and welcome those emotions when they arise. That way, they don't need to snowball into monsters of pain and cries to get my attention. When I feel an emotion arise, I do my best to take at least a minute or two to just sit with myself. 

Now sometimes I just have a vague feeling of irritation or crakiness. For that I have a strategy. I ask myself 3 questions: 1. Am I hungry? (you would be surprised how much of your bad moods come from eating crappy food that don’t nourish you). 2. Did I get enough sleep? (Same here, you think you’re going to get more done by sleeping less? WRONG.) 3. How long has it been since I last painted? (See point 1 above).

9 times out of 10, nourishing myself with healthy food, rest and relaxation and creative activity solves it. The last 10% is I actually need to share time with loved ones, friends and family. Plus a walk in nature and I'm all set.

  1. Keep track of the Vision

It’s easy in a van to just roam around aimlessly, because there will always be something entertaining or distracting along the way. Hell, just watching people is a never ending source of astonishment! And when you’re able to wake up in a new decor every day, it’s truly never-ending. Actually, it's not just me: now with our cellphones, it can be a never-ending stream of entertaining landscape each minute of every day. It’s easy to go through life and forget our bigger vision (or even never taking the time to create one). What is important for me? What are my priorities? What do I want to achieve before I die? 

Without a compelling vision, how can we have the motivation to put down our phones and turn off our computers?

At least once a week, I imagine myself dying this very day, and see how I feel. Regrets? Desires? Or peace? It's the first time I admit that I imagine myself dying pretty regularly! It works well to sift through the bullshit.

Whether it is pursuing a passion, spending more time with our loved one or traveling to our dream place, it's astonishing the time we can carve out when we have a vision. Otherwise we’re just stumbling in the dark hoping to find something we don't even know we're searching. 

It can feel scary to create a vision and commit to it, because then we expose ourselves to failure. A lot of authors and speakers speak extensively about the necessity and benefit of failure, and I encourage anyone to get familiar with it (see point 2 about the importance of learning). What helps me a lot when I get discouraged is this quote from Tony Robbins: “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year, but underestimate what they can do in a decade."

  1. A little appreciation goes a long way

When all is said and done, it’s easy to get down on myself for not painting, eating pizza, wasting time, listening to Beyonce instead of a podcast,… But once we start looking for it, I can guarantee you that there is much more good things we are doing every day than we thought we did.  It’s important to take the time to identify them and give yourself a good pat on the back. And some days, it could be “Well, I haven't hit or killed anyone today! Good job!"

Trying to eliminate the bad is not nearly as effective as amplifying the good. “What you resist, persist.” and all that. That notion is beautifully put into practice by a raw vegan chef I learned from: he said that at the beginning, you should not try to eliminate bad food from your diet to replace it with the better food. You should just ADD a bit of the good type of food everyday. Add a green juice everyday, and don’t even worry about the rest. He stated that, as you do it regularly and keep adding, your taste will start to change, and you will naturally get to the point where you'll naturally drop crappy food from your diet. I thought it was genius. And I believe it works with everything.   

Much love,

PS: If you enjoyed this article, don't hesitate to forward it to a friend that could need a bit of inspiration today!