There is no denying that the world is beginning to head in a direction of living sustainably. While some are only making minimal adjustments such as recycling household waste, others are making huge lifestyle changes by living off-grid to reduce their carbon footprint. This is usually through either a land-based residence or more commonly a travelling residence, such as vans, trailers and even boats. Two years ago I decided to hop on board the Vanlife highway and see where it would take me.

Why live in a van?

I’ve always been a bit of a nomad, as I never really stay in any particular area for long. My career being predominantly a horse riding instructor/groom has always made finding a job with accommodation for myself and my horses relatively easy. So after breaking up from a long term relationship and living on my own in a cottage for a year, I don’t think it came as much of a surprise when I informed friends and family I was on the move again. Only I don’t think they quite expected me to announce that I was going to live full time in the minibus that I had started converting into a campervan.

The decision came naturally to me, I was struggling to pay all the bills that come with running a household. For example, I couldn’t afford to run the heating, so I was always cold. Being quite the minimalist already, I found even a small cottage to be too big for me.

I had a campervan previously for travelling to overnight horse shows, and this was a replacement project that I was creating with my dad.

If you look into the world of self-build camper vans they vary from someone just chucking an old sofa and cooker into the back, to people spending thousands on all sorts of gadgets to make them luxurious and close to having all the facilities of a house.

I was going for the happy medium – cosy and comfortable yet simplistic and practical.

Using sustainable materials

It was always my aim to upcycle and reuse as many materials as I could for the build. Already having the layout in mind meant I just had to go on the hunt for things that would fit the ideas that I had swirling around my head.

My dad is an engineer and has self-built a couple of campervans already. He gave me an old kitchen work surface and a well-used caravan fridge that had sat in the back shed for a good few years. After a good scrub and airing, it fired up the first time.

The double bed and cupboards have been crafted from used bed slats that I acquired from the local community reuse shop, where I also picked up the memory foam mattress. I even got a little bit creative, making a three shelved book cabinet and a shoe rack built into the wardrobe, which has an old copper pipe hanging bar.

My mum used to work in a sewing factory and is a whizz with a sewing machine. After raiding her offcuts drawer and a trip to the local haberdashery for fabric, I did the measuring and cutting and she blitzed together some curtains and blinds for the little bus’ many windows. The van came with overhead lockers and a large carpeted shelf over the cab which is perfect for extra storage. To make sure all my clothes weren’t on show, I cut up some hessian sacks and edged them with some old tartan I had from a costume making escapade. This same fabric also leant itself to a nice bit of decorative bunting, adding a splash of colour to my interior design. The second-hand velvet cushions, fairy lights and notice board that I made from prosecco/champagne corks just add to the décor, leaving it feeling more homely.

Powering the van

The cooker and the fridge run off a small gas bottle which lasts me approximately a month, when they are used every day. I have a diesel heater to keep me warm through the winter months. It has a separate tank to my van fuel that I keep topped up with kerosene. It is cheaper than diesel and runs longer and cleaner too. This heater and my charging points for devices like my phone run from a couple of leisure batteries. This is powered by a solar panel up on the roof. As for any waste that I produce, I have a portaloo which I empty into a septic tank and I recycle as much of my rubbish as possible.

The view from the inside of Steffanie's van of a beach, where her dog is stood

The view from the inside of Steffanie’s van

A less consumerist lifestyle

I choose not to have a TV as I find that I’m much more productive without one. I like to spend my time drawing, writing or out with the horses and the dog in the countryside.

I also have no running water or water tank as it’s so easy to find a tap to fill up a few bottles when it runs out. While we’re on the subject of water you guessed it – the shower is non-existent too. I either go to the gym, go to a friend’s house or when push comes to shove, a wild wash under a waterfall does the job just as well.

The biggest influence of van life for me has got to be on the shopping front. I’m now much more aware of how much of a consumerist society we live in. People buy things just for the sake of it. When you live in a small space such as a van you have to live with an “is it essential” kind of mindset. After all, everything you own has to be able to fit into a 6’x12′ space.

Compact living isn’t for everyone I understand that. But if we could each look at the things we buy and the way they are produced, then we would be on a much quicker path to helping the earth recover. I for one am on the path towards making that happen, the question is… are you?

Blog post by Steffanie Singleton