Thursday, May 5, 2022

Sustainable Living on the Road

 The path to the slow life is a busy one....

Its been a while since I've had time to sit and get my thoughts in order enough for an update. So much has happened since our last post.  We have moved out of our cottage and have been living in the van (unfinished) for a month now. 

Its an ongoing project, but we got it to a point where it would provide shelter over night, and that's really all that's important at the end of the day. Our first few nights it dropped into -C overnight and at that point we didn't have the woodburner installed. The back-up heating, which is a little Butane gas heater (£35 at the time of purchase via eBay), proved itself worthy of a place in the van. Running it for 20-30 minutes was all it needed to heat up the space. We didn't even have the roof insulation in back then, and it kept the chill off long enough for us to settle into bed. We had already decided to use hot water bottles to warm the bed in the evenings, and these have also proved invaluable. On days that we are at work or in our workshop we fill them up with boiling water from the kettles there to save our van resources, though we do have a 4 litre kettle for our gas hob when we are more off-grid. Its a very simple way to keep warm at night and the bigger the hot water bottle, the longer it'll stay warm - so naturally we chose to use two huge bottles to retain heat well into the night!  

Since then we have got the wood-burner installed and usable, and most recently the roof insulation and ceiling up. We have all sorts of little jobs still to do, but its feeling much more like home every day.

We have recently started documenting our vanlife journey via YouTube and Tiktok, and I encourage you to subscribe and follow to those feeds. We talk about our experiences and ways our life in the van is changing, as well as sharing the places we have been lucky enough to spend time in. 

One aspect I'm keen to share in future videos is how we live and eat sustainably while in the van. We are fortunate to be able to cook on the wood-burners hot plate when its alight, as well as on our gas hob. It is important to me never to rely on one avenue when it comes to heating, eating and home comforts. I am always conscious that as a society almost all of our products are reliant on external factors. We import SO much of what we use on a daily basis, from power sources to basic foods - and as the pandemic and war in Ukraine has recently shown us, those supply lines are not guaranteed. 

In the back of my mind I've always allowed the thought 'what if I can't get this anymore'? to linger. What if I were stuck in the middle of nowhere, what would I need to stay comfortable? Personal comfort is actually really important to me, regardless of how much our chosen lifestyle looks like 'roughing it' to the outside world. I like to be warm, I like to be clean, and I like to be fed good food! This is why having the wood-burner was important to me right from the start. I've always lived in homes with real fires or stoves. I've always felt very lucky when the power has gone off and I've been able to keep warm and fed regardless. This is the lingering thought that I went into our van build with. As long as we have the wood-burner in there, we can find kindling and materials to burn, an keep ourselves warm and fed with hot food and drink.  That said, while we have access to butane bottles, the gas heater and cooking hob are easier and quicker to use, so that's what we do. It about keeping a realistic balance. We aren't living in Victorian times, but I feel we'd be ok if we were!

I have the same back-ups for most things in the van. If my rechargable shower stops working, I can wash and stay clean in the sink. If our lights stop working, we have both battery and candle lanterns. Nothing is 100% future proof, but I like to know I've done my best to think it through and prepare. I'm not looking to go completely off grid, survivalist style, I simply want to maintain the modest home comforts we already have. I think if you are always prepared it makes life's inevitable trials easier to overcome. I suffer greatly with anxiety and not being able to overcome my own problems has always triggered all sorts of unpleasant feelings. I believe sometimes people make life hard for themselves simply by having such a narrow view on how life should be. Nothing works perfectly forever, you can't control much of the world around you, so stay adaptable and willing to change your habits to accommodate problem solving. Its not hard, it just requires a more fluid way of thinking. Even if you don't have the skill set to mend something yourself, at least understand the principles of how something works. That's prudent in any walk of life, if you don't want to be overcharged for simple jobs! but thats not what I'm talking about today...

I wish to create a balance in our own life, between sustainability of our lifestyle, the comfort of our lifestyle, and the pressure of living in the modern world. It is impossible to have no impact on the planet; everything we eat, move, trample, or manufacture has a knock-on effect in another eco-system, however small and seemingly unimportant. We can only decide, within ourselves, where our boundaries lay. How much of an effect are we willing to have on the world around us? No one is 100% environmentally sound (if you were, you wouldn't have access to this blog! you'd also probably be living in a cave eating grass) but how many things on a daily basis do you consume and enjoy that you don't truly need, but have because you want regardless of the environmental cost? That's what I consider when living sustainably. 

People have said that us moving into the van is not environmentally responsible, because of 'all the fuel we use living on the road'. They ONLY focus on that aspect of a whole lifestyle. The fact is, for us, we aren't travelling. We use less fuel than we ever did, because we don't have to commute to two jobs from a house far away from both of them. We can park-up near one of our workplaces, and only one of us needs to commute in a small car that we share. We don't have a house full of furniture, decor, and 'things' that have all been manufactured somewhere in a factory pumping out pollutants. We never have to dispose of nor replace those things. Most of the items we have used in our van are vintage, upcycled, or handmade. We don't have room for stuff, so our few manufactured possessions are carefully chosen and looked after. We purposely didn't include much tech or mod-cons in our build, because the more things you have to go wrong, the more things will go wrong! 

Its true, everything takes longer with this lifestyle, but when you don't have a burden of a house you don't have the same things to take up your time. Cleaning, maintaining and using one room takes up far less time than multiple rooms. We don't have a garden, so that in itself saves us a couple of hours each evening when we used to be out there watering plants every day through Summer. We do laundry once a week (making sure we have just seven days worth of clothes in the van took some forethought, but we have simplified our wardrobes a lot!) and there's usually two standard loads to go through. We use launderettes at present, though in time I would like to purchase a hand-washer to keep in the van. We don't have a tv (we actually gave up having a TV several years ago!) preferring other pass times like reading, painting, or actually just being out enjoying our natural spaces. Cooking can take up a good portion of the evening too. When we do want visual entertainment we watch youtube or download a movie to our devices. We have talked about getting a portable projector for movie nights! Its not important to us going into Summer, but I appreciate our activities may change going into the longer nights of Winter. 

We don't watch the news. We find out whats going on in the world unintentionally via social media, so we don't go actively seeking it. Media could, and sometimes can, be a force for good, but far too much of it is used to sell once side of a harmful story. I've been told that my disinterest in the world affairs makes me uncaring. That there are people suffering in the world and its our duty to know and care. The fact is, there has never been a time in our history where that wasn't the case. Suffering and hardship happen all over the world every single day, and there's not a thing I can do to fix it. No one can. Me consuming the gloom doesn't make the world better, but it would make me significantly worse. Any empathetic person will tell you how easily they feel the worlds pain, and the very best way of dealing with it is to make sure you don't add to it. Live in peace, live by example, and help those trying to do likewise. When you stop watching tv you get to a point where celebrity is irrelevant. You just don't care how other people are living their lives, because you haven't the faintest idea who they are, and that's ok.... Keep your circle small and focus on what you do to make your days worthwhile. That's what our van is about. We've downsized our life to make it manageable. We've downsized our life to focus on the things that we care about. 

Over time I will share all the different aspects to our way of life in more detail. If anyone has any questions, please comment or message us via social media. I'm happy to explain more and I may even do a Q&A video down the line to cover some of these things for those interested.   

Until next time, thank you for reading.....


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