Lockdown Lessons From The Van: Seven Ideas For Staying Sane In A Small Space

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Sunday 29 March 2020

Lockdown Lessons From The Van: Seven Ideas For Staying Sane In A Small Space

On the face of it, it might not seem like there are many similarities between being stuck at home in a pandemic lockdown and touring around in a van or motorhome. Certainly the key part of motorhome life, the fact that it moves from place to place, is totally opposite. However, when it comes to living in a small space with a loved one, managing time away from the strictures of train timetables, and staying in touch with friends and loved ones remotely, there are in fact quite a lot of crossovers.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago now, when we first set off back in 2014 we didn't really notice all of these challenges at first. We were too busy being in holiday mode, a feeling that lasted throughout the first summer and into Autumn. It wasn't until winter started to bite and we found ourselves spending 23 hours a day (or more) in a 5 x 2 metres plastic box together that we really started to experience the downsides of motorhome life.

Over the course of the next couple of years we worked hard on our communication alongside refining the way we managed our time, projects and possessions in a small space. It's been a continuous, gradual process. However, after over six years of primarily van living, here are a few things that we find help the days flow and our relationship go smoothly.

1) Exercise early in the day
Getting up early and doing some exercise in the morning is one of the most powerful ways we find to make the day feel better, whatever else we might be doing. Whether we sit behind laptops writing for the rest of the day, go shopping, read books or sit on a beach, working up a sweat first thing always helps us to stay balanced. It might be a bike ride, a jog, a fast walk, yoga or an exercise video just outside the door. Basically anything that gets us moving and breathing a little quicker than normal. It's well known that exercise helps with mood as well as all of the physical benefits, and we find that carries through the day.

2) Fix times for different tasks
While I'm talking about scheduling, breaking each day down into bitesize chunks helps us a lot. When we first found ourselves without the strictures of regular hours and commuting, it was great. We felt so free and life was easy, but after a while we started to feel aimless. Nowadays each day is still a blank canvas, but at the start of each day (or just before bed) we always try and make a very rough plan of how the day ahead might look. It doesn't even mean we always stick to it, but it removes the issue of stopping every hour or so and asking "what next?" Or the listless feeling of looking back in the evening and thinking "I've been busy all day, but what have I done?"

3) Set manageable goals every day
Ever since our first summer of total freedom ended, we've had projects to work on. Sometimes it was hands-on work, but mostly it's been computer based. Books, this blog, articles we've written etc. Working in isolation can sometimes be quite demotivating, especially if there's no hard deadline coming up.

At times we've tried to overcome this aimlessness by setting ambitious goals, such as "I'll finish the first draft in two weeks", but in reality being too ambitious has usually sent us the other way after a few days. We knew it was too much so we stopped trying.

Instead, for self-employed / independent workers like us, we've found that having an easy-to-reach target every day is much more motivating. We know we can do it, so we do. Usually we then feel uplifted by reaching our goal and so carry on anyway. However, even if we only do a little each day, by the end of the week we can look back and think "wow, we did all of that!"

4) Actively work on communication with loved ones
I've written about our relationship and motorhome life a few times over the years. To put it bluntly, living in a motorhome together almost broke us up. It wasn't until we made the conscious choice to 'work on our relationship' that we found a way back to loving feelings.

Now 'working on a relationship' is a common expression and I confess I didn't even know what it meant when we started, but it was actually very simple. In our case we bought a very well-known book about male-female communication (one of the Mars/Venus series by John Gray) and committed to reading it together. It revolutionised how we saw and spoke to each other. Since then we've done other online courses and read other books as well, because the results made us so much happier.

Being suddenly confined to the same space as a spouse, sibling, parent or whatever, when you're used to being out and about, is likely going to be a challenge one way or another. However, it can also be an opportunity. Skills and understanding cultivated during a challenging time will only make life even richer when normality starts to return.

5) Keep your space tidy (or even have a clear out!)
As with relationships, I've written about clearing out several times. Having a simple, uncluttered, minimalist lifestyle is (in my opinion) one of the great gifts of van life. It makes you declutter. And, as we've learned, there's a great clarity of thought that comes from knowing where everything is or where it goes.

We've heard from several friends in the last few weeks telling us how they spent a day rearranging a garage or moving furniture, which is great if they enjoyed it. But, if you get the urge, it can be nice to go even further. This might be the chance to finally 'tackle the attic' and get your eBay listings ready for summer.

6) Limiting internet time
Okay, so we're adults and can spend as long as we like on the internet. Also, this is going to sound really simple. But, as a specific example of setting times for different tasks like I mentioned above, time for web browsing, chatting and posting is something we find we have to be really careful with. Meandering web browsing is like a rabbit hole that can suck us in, especially me.

I'm not saying we keep a chart or anything specific like that, but when I catch myself aimlessly filling time with web browsing, I have to make a conscious effort to do something else. A certain amount of time browsing news, Facebook, emails etc. helps me to destress, but there always comes a point when I can feel the stress creeping back up again. Which is why we also try and....

7) Take up a new hobby
Right now I'm learning to play the guitar. I started 10 days ago and can now manage recognisable version of "Mr Tambourine Man". In the past I've learned French, a little Spanish and even studied a smattering of philosophy. Not that I can now speak fluent French, or Spanish, or quote Marcus Aurelius. However, for the time I spent learning them I enjoyed each task. I didn't have an outcome based goal, it was the doing that I enjoyed. When I stopped enjoying it, I found something new.

'Beginner's mind', as it's sometimes known, is that focused state you experience when you need to give all of your attention to a task. For many people, myself included, it's very relaxing as it takes my mind away from other life worries.

Having a new (unimportant) hobby can be a great way to relieve stress in a confined space because there are so many options to choose from. And, if you take up knitting, you can get started on Christmas presents already!

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