hashtag vanlife

I watched both Tiny House Hunters and some of Manhunt: Unabomber recently and something shook loose the memory of living in a small tow-behind camper with my parents and two cats for months. It was parked in a relative’s yard and supposed to be temporary to the tune of a couple months. I don’t recall how long it actually took, but I think it was more like five or six.

My brain struggles to piece together anything substantial about the camper. I think we had a small fridge. I know it didn’t have A/C. It also didn’t have any kind of cutesy loft or storage space. I think it had a small bathroom we used for storage because we never had water or sewer lines, so using the bathroom at night was akin to traipsing to an outhouse, but with an added bonus of trying to traverse creaky doors and floors quietly. At least we were in a standard “nobody locks their doors” small town so we didn’t have to keep track of a key.

I guess I figure we were living a couple steps above “Kaczynski cabin in the woods” and several below “boutique tiny house with plumbing and full kitchen.” I remember reading Stephanie Land’s writing on minimalism long before she got a book deal (Maid) and thinking about an opposing yet similar “minimalism is a privileged concept” theory. Her point is that poor and working class people usually hold on to absolutely everything, because replacing things cost money. It is clear to me, though, that plenty of people are basically forced to be minimal and the trappings of that life are never idolized even though they technically fit the ideal; for example, HGTV is not showing house hunts for trailers, RVs, mobile homes (single or double wide), etc. They might have tiny houses featuring small composting toilets, but the rest of the fittings are usually either brand new or tastefully reclaimed (“used” is not an HGTV word) from a barn.

I actually have had some friends do the whole Instagram vanlife thing for varying degrees of time. I can’t help but notice all of them have family stability I’ve never had, and the ability to fall back on saved money/a spare family home or apartment/whatever in the event of an emergency. Most of them had someone else to outfit or help outfit their van, or the ability to buy it pre-converted into a living space. I suspect all of them had parents who could be trusted to store spare belongings without accidentally letting them get wet, full of spiders, and/or coated in dust because the spare space is in a shed instead of fully appointed bedrooms. I’m not sure where I’m going with this except that it feels like yet another tiresome dog and pony show and I for one would watch a House in the Woods For Those Who Hate People Hunters.