The Beauty Of Downsizing / by Jamie Warne

Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves. Edwin Way Teale

Y'know, it's funny. I think I say this every time, but I swear my idea of a tiny space is getting smaller by the day! Two years ago I planned to build what I thought was a tiny studio space where I could relax and make music. This was about  6m x 6m (with a couple corners knocked off here and there). To be fair, for a music studio that is pretty small (and not ideal acoustics-wise), but it's interesting looking back at my detailed plans and 3D renders to think that it was as small as I was willing to go.

As I rummage through the folder on my hard drive in which I keep various designs, I can't help but feel sad that none of these projects came to fruition. I have to say, I'm very pleased with how all of them looked and were designed - I had taken a lot of care with them and attention to detail was important to me. Yes, I wish they had all got beyond the 3D models. Yes, I wish I didn't have so many projects that failed to get off the ground. However, it's important not to dwell, but to take a step back from all of these plans and learn from the mistakes made. They all taught me valuable things, yet continue to give me inspiration. But why exactly did none of these get built?...

The Backstory

...Let's take a second to look back at the opening quote. It's basically saying if you rid yourself of the unnecessary, the hardships reduce themselves. Only recently have I started to see and understand this. Y'see, the modern society (for the most part) deems that you should get a shitty job, use all the earnings to rent a flat, pay the bills, and maybe have a tenner left to use to entertain yourself with for the week. Years pass, and then eventually you take out a mortgage for 30-40 years in order to buy a house. Woah, hang on a second. I can't be the only person thinking that it is an insane ideology?

Then to confound the problems even further, we live in a materialistic world, and on top of that? - a throw-away society as well. I've been watching a lot of documentaries recently following the lives of people living simply and travelling all over the world, but most notably, in America. And they all live in vans, or RVs quite happily. Which is odd considering the good old 'American Dream' of white picket fences and a huge house in suburbia. So what gives?

I'll tell you what. Not everyone wants the 'American Dream'. Y'see although most people seem to be programmed by media and those around them to strive for it, there are those (like me nowadays) that feel it's somewhat of a waste.

Now, let's be clear. I'm not saying anyone who wants to do the whole buying a house thing and live the materialistic lifestyle is an idiot. Far from it - if you want that then it's absolutely fine! What I am however saying is that there are those of us that feel it is not their kind of lifestyle, and strive to try and live differently. I also feel that these people that live in their vans get a bad name. Yet really, they're not different to everyone else.

Now, a lot of these people in America don't have any choice but to live simple lives - perhaps they're homeless because of the housing crisis, or are ex-military and couldn't hack 'normal' life. But there are still a rapidly growing proportion of people out there that are happy living in their van or RV full-time. These people take pride in their vehicles because it is their home. And judging by the aforementioned documentaries (I'll link them below), there's a real sense of achievement and freedom from these people. One of my many favourite quotes went something like this (I can't remember the exact wording, but the message still gets across):

We live in a world where, for some reason, people pay to have their stuff put in storage. Sometimes for decades at a time, without ever touching them... how did we get to this state?

The answer to that question is clear from where I'm standing - but I'll leave you to come to your own conclusions. But where is this rambling going?

By now, you all probably have a good idea that I'm about to show you a new small scale project. And you've also probably worked out that I have designed a living space within a van. By the way, apparently it's known as "vandwelling". For more info, see the links at the bottom!

Well, yes. OK. I give up with the preamble - welcome to Jam's AdVANtures. What do you mean it's a terrible name? Of course it is - I came up with it! Hmm. How about "Studio VANning"? Yeah... I hope you like puns, cos my dad taught me well!

Alright, enough kidding around for a few moments. Let's do what I always do first (well, after the preamble of course) and give you a tour of my latest project. (This time I won't promise to build it, then it might actually get built!)


The Plan

Apologies for the sketch quality, I realised that I had no plan drawn so I had to quickly scrape this together!

It's based around a MWB (Medium wheelbase) medium roof height Ford Transit van. With an interior "cargo" space of 3.2m long x 1.6m wide x 1.8m high, it's not exactly huge! There are of course other larger versions of the Transit (with an extended wheelbase giving 3.6m interior length, and extended height of 2m), and also smaller versions (that a lot of 'stealth vandwellers' use) - but I decided to design around the mid-sized van. Y'see, sitting on the fence seems to be my kind of jazz!

Let's start with the futon. It's made up of 3 layers;

  • The bottom is a layer of pull-out boxes containing things like; deep cycle batteries, electronics, miscellaneous equipment and tools, and anything else that is bulk and/or heavy.
  • The middle unit is a single large drawer containing equipment - mainly for cooking, long things like camera tripods, and a compartment for cooking utensils and plates etc.
  • The top unit is the other half of the bed that pulls out with it's own integrated legs

Next up we have the the desk. This was quite problematic to work out because I needed to include my 25kg, 1.4m long MIDI keyboard in it somehow, whilst keeping it at the right height, and minimising the space it takes up. It draws inspiration from previous desk designs that I've done (but of course, not built!).

  • The MIDI keyboard is on a separate pull-out desk
  • The top, front half of the desk is hinged to allow more room for MIDI keyboard to pull out, and to also allow extra desk space at an angle for a laptop. This resting on top of the midi keyboard.
  • At the back of the desk, there is another lift up section that will hold any charging devices, stationary and other small items. This is not really shown in the renders however.
  • In the corner section, we have a whiteboard on the wall for writing ideas down quickly
  • Two wall-mounted storage buckets below the desk
  • Overhead lockers including shelving specifically for boxfiles

Alright, next up we have the wet room. This is a tiny room with just enough room for a sink, vanity unit, and a shower head. You certainly couldn't swing a cat in here! A ceiling fan provides ventilation and natural light, helping to reduce condensation. The floor has a lift-up floor panel made up of wooden slats so you don't spread water everywhere! The toilet is a simple composting toilet.


Finally on our little tour, we have the exterior and roof. Two huge solar panels mean this little van can go off grid when needed! A roof rack is necessary both to mount the solar panels on, and also for any other things that I might one day need to take with me that won't fit inside!

And so ends this seriously lengthy blog post! I hope you have found it interesting, perhaps, dare I say it, inspirational. If nothing else, perhaps you'll consider giving away some stuff that you have in storage right now - be it at your parents, or in a storage business! Here are the rest of the renders. Good day!

Jam.




Documentaries

I forgot to post these originally, but here are 4 documentaries of many that you can find on Youtube showing different perspectives on "Vandwelling" and "Off-grid" living. I think you'll notice some huge differences between these 4 videos. The top two show a more sedate way of living (I'm trying to avoid the term 'normal'!) - the kind of fun life and organised way of life in good conditions.

The bottom two videos show the complete opposite! They follow groups of people who have, on the whole, ended up in this situation through terrible means. I think it's important to show both sides of the story, and thus both extremes! That being said though, all 4 videos show the same thing - compassion, a community spirit, and for the most part a love of how they live.