I bought a 2007 Toyota Sienna minivan. It is invisible. Can you see it in the photograph below? Look closely: it is such a monumentally boring car that you might miss it at first glance.
|Who van dis?|
I've never lived in a minivan before. This is an experiment. It's a gamble. I am moving all of my shit from a huge van into a tiny one. I feel confident that this is a step toward improving my already-wonderful life, but I am far from certain. Worst case scenario, I burn everything to the ground and go dig a hole in the woods. To live in. Or die in. Doesn't matter.
Pros of living in a minivan (as yet untested):
2) Fuel Economy. This would top most people's list, but I have calculated this only as a fringe benefit. I don't drive enough to create a meaningful disparity in yearly fuel costs when comparing a full-size van to a minivan*. However, I would be happy to burn less gas. Sure, I'll take it.
3) Ride quality. In many scenarios, I love driving a big van. I sit way up above the road. I can see over cars, and I am nearly at the same height as big rigs. King of the highway. However, for short trips and rough roads, a giant old van is not ideal. I don't enjoy driving a huge van around all day while stopping at multiple locations. City driving just plain sucks. Minivans are more nimble. The ride is almost unbelievably smooth. Minivans drive like a comfortable car.
Cons of living in a minivan.
1) Can't stand up. In the big van I can stand up and walk around. It is truly huge. I will need to adapt to putting my pants on sitting down. I will need to do more scooting and less walking. However, everything will be much closer - so I won't need to stretch or scoot very far.
2) Less badass. In the big van, I feel like a badass. I feel like it gives the impression that I have a lot of guts and DIY skills to buy a huge van, modify it, and then park along streets and never pay for housing. All of that will be true of the minivan, but at a glance my existence will appear more humble and less extreme. People will not be as jealous. I like it when people are jealous of me.
3) Can't have humans over. Not as many humans, or as often. I can host people in the big van, and we can have a small party inside. The minivan is big enough to have one person over to watch a movie or sit and talk for awhile. I could have another human spend the night, but even in the big van, having overnight guests was something of a compromise.
There is work to be done.
I spent last night in the minivan. My 4" thick tri-fold mattress is 33"x72". That leaves 15 inches beside the mattress, and 24 inches between the foot of the mattress and the base of the driver's seat. The rear seats fold flat into the floor, so if they are completely removed, there is a big open storage space in front of the back hatch. I assume this is where I will put a house battery for a small solar setup.
The Sienna has two rear sliding doors. The windows in the sliding doors can be lowered. All of this allows for a huge amount of cross-breeze. However, mosquitoes and such exist, so I will need to make bug screens, and I don't have a solid plan for that yet. I need to create airflow while all of the windows and doors are closed. A roof vent with a strong fan would work great, but standard dome vents tend to ruin the stealth on an otherwise invisible vehicle. I have some ideas for homemade low-profile roof openings, but I have not made a full design yet.
I'll mention that I paid $5500 for the Sienna. Full disclosure. It's the most I've spent on a vehicle since my very first van in the early 2000s. The higher cost makes me slightly more hesitant to start cutting huge holes in the roof. Not THAT much more hesitant - I'll certainly do it - but I will feel fully aware that cutting a hole in the roof is the point of no return. Experimental roof openings are sure to obliterate the resale value of any family minivan.
I need to make new curtains or window coverings. I need to permanently remove the back bench seats, and build a plywood lid to go over the storage hole. I need to put carpet down over the entire back area. I need to design storage that will fit everything I need while not permanently blocking the sliding doors or the hatch.
I am making this up as I go. Two weeks ago, I was not considering a minivan. I was not considering anything less than a full-size van with a fiberglass high-top. Then I started looking at vans without a high-top. Then I started looking at minivans. Until you actually try it for yourself, it is hard to know how much space you need for living comfortably in a vehicle. This is an experiment.
I am happy. I am excited. I have a good amount of past experience living in vans, and there was also that time I outfitted a Ford Festiva for cross-country road tripping with my wife and a tiny dog. Outfitting a Toyota Sienna is only the latest experiment to see if I can further optimize my relationship with the universe. Much of that work is still internal. In the big scheme of existence and reality as we perceive it, vans remain a meaningless goof.
Logic and experience tell me that the perfect vehicle to live in is a standard-size 90's conversion van with a 16" high-top and all of the back seats removed. Curiosity compels me to try something else.
*Hypothetical fuel costs using round numbers and more miles than I drive:
Big Van: 15,000 miles / 15mpg = 1000 gallons. 1000gal @$2.50 = $2500/yr
Minivan: 15,000 miles / 25mpg = 600 gallons. 600gal @$2.50 = $1500/yr
Sure, I'll take a savings of $1000 per year - but considering this is the equivalent of $83 per month, I would say living in a bigger van is WELL worth the greater fuel cost if that is what you choose to do. Other variables speak much louder to me - the primary objective is to be happy and healthy.