Jassen Bowman explains why he decided (like many others) to live full-time in his car:
As I sat across the breakfast bar from this lovely young couple in their beautiful, meticulously ordered home, they told me they were finally going to be able to build their dream home in the country. And I was going to be part of that process for them, in my small way, by helping them sell there current home in the suburbs. As I filled in blanks spaces on the listing agreement, I casually asked them about their new home.
“Oh, it’s going to be great. We’ll have huge south facing windows, and we’ll be on 5 acres in the foothills…”
It sounded like a dream in so many respects. Their two young daughters would be in a better school district, their dog would have more room to roam outside, and they could enjoy the quick access to the mountains for all their outdoor pleasures.
The young woman continued, “…and the best part is that we’ll have two extra bedrooms, and at least 1500 more square feet than we have now…”
This is where they started to lose me. The house they were in, the one they were hiring me as their real estate agent to sell for them, was nearly 3,000 square feet with a 3 car garage on a corner lot in one of the nicest, newest neighborhoods in the city. There were only 2 kids, and they each had their own rooms, leaving the fourth bedroom as a home office for the couple’s construction business. They had a massive kitchen and a large, finished recreation room in the basement with a huge big screen TV. The house was so spacious, in fact, that they had not one, but TWO whole house air conditioning units to keep the home cool in the summer.
At this point, I began to tune her out and ponder why anybody needed so much space. The home they were in was more than adequate, but to have an even bigger house, with bigger utility bills, bigger energy consumption, bigger water waste to keep the even bigger lawn green…It didn’t make sense to me.
I got their home listed, and sold, and they went on to build their dream home. I wonder what their lives are like now, with our declining economy and our hard hit local construction industry. I wonder whether this couple is losing their home to foreclosure, as are tens of thousands of other families in my home state of Colorado.
Downsized, mobile lifestyle
That’s why I’m so glad that I’m capable and willing of living a downsized, mobile lifestyle. It goes by many names, such as car camping, car living, van dwelling, boondocking, full timing, dwelling portably, and more. It comes in many sizes and styles, from backpacks to bicycles to compact cars to fully equipped, self-contained bus-size RVs. But no matter what you call it or how it’s done, one thing is for sure: More and more people are doing it, and they’re doing it for a greater and greater variety of reasons.
Freedom People ask me why I like to live a mobile lifestyle. Above all else, it embodies an ultimate sense of freedom, and opens life up to, well, living. In my not so humble opinion, the phrase “living life to it’s fullest” equates directly with “experiencing”. To me, that means experiencing new places, new people, new scents and tastes. Life truly is short, especially when viewed on a geological time scale.
Although I recently obtained a good job doing something I love, and I am in the process of recovering from past business failures that decimated my finances, I consider it a perfect time to return to car living. Having just lost my home to foreclosure, I have to move anyway. Sure, I could move in with a couple guys in a college town.
But, instead, I’m going to sleep in my car. That’s about all I do at home is sleep, anyway. Otherwise, I’m out living life, which I believe is what humans should do. Out of the past 11 years years, I’ve spent a cumulative total of about 3 years living in either a car or a van, usually for only a few months at a whack. My longest stretch included two months in a compact car, followed by eight months in a van, right after my divorce in 2005. That stretch of freedom was exactly what I needed at the time to pull myself together and move on with life.
Oftentimes, the real reason for doing something is simply because, “I can.” When you tend not to care what people think of you, but you dress well and stay clean, nobody will ever look at you and assume anything negative about your lifestyle, because they simply won’t know, nor would they understood even if they did know. But what they will see is that you have less stress and enjoy your life more than they do, that you are happier in general, and tend to have more energy and look forward to the rising sun. I love the freedom that car living provides, where my back yard can be a roaring river, a mountain meadow, a lake in the Rocky Mountains, or a pasture on the plains.
Practical Car dwelling 101
Let’s talk about more practical reasons as to why car living is wonderful. Over the years of doing this off and on, I’ve discovered that, for myself, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle applies heavily. I’ve gone through the hassle of rigging up vehicle electrical sub-systems, installing propane tanks and heaters and stoves, figuring out elaborate schemes for heating, cooling, food storage, cooking, etc, etc. For some people, this is the way to go, especially if they are boondocking in the wilderness, where they have to be self-contained. As a mostly urban car dweller, however, I’ve discovered that most of these items are not needed, and the vehicle simply provides transportation and a place to sleep. I like to plug into the commercial economy and the infrastructure around me, which frees me from being self-contained. There are gyms for showers, and plenty of places and ways to eat cheap, yet healthy, and stay in budget.
Make a difference
On top of that, my energy footprint is significantly less than most individuals. Since my car gets about 40 miles per gallon on the freeway and about 34 mpg in the city, my energy use is very low compared to the average American. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very patriotic and stereotypically conservative Wyoming gun-totin’ redneck in many, many ways, but for crying out loud, most Americans are downright stupid when it comes to understanding their wasteful ways and the effects of that waste on climate change, groundwater contamination, and geopolitical instability caused by our excess consumption of fuel fossils.
Living in a vehicle allows me to DO something about my environment, particularly the issues that are most important to me, which happen to be energy consumption and air and water quality. Even somebody that lives in a gas guzzling full size van has a significantly smaller overall energy consumption and air quality impact than somebody that lives in a full size, suburban American home.
On top of the personal freedom and environmental impacts of living a conventional lifestyle, there are also significant financial impacts associated with living in a home. Many people start their financial downturn by making themselves “house poor.” This means that they’re committed to such a large mortgage or rent payment that they’re financially strapped in other areas. Having previously worked in the mortgage and real estate industries, I know firsthand that one of the dirty little secrets of the mortgage industry is that most people will qualify for more, sometimes much more, than they can really pay. Also, people forget that their mortgage or rent payment isn’t their only monthly expense associated with a place to live. Like many services today, the costs of utilities are on the rise, particularly water and natural gas. Services like cable TV, high speed internet, and home phone service which most people consider “needs” also add to the bills every month. In comparison, vehicle living contains expenses that you would have anyway that are associated with your vehicle, such as maintenance and oil changes, food, clothing, etc., but replaces ALL of your housing expenses with perhaps, depending on your lifestyle, a higher monthly gasoline expenditure which is still going to much, much less than your traditional housing costs. There are many full time van, car, and RV dwellers that live quite comfortably on fixed incomes of less than $600 per month for ALL of their living expenses.
No matter what an individual’s unique circumstances and reasons for wanting to live portably, it’s a lifestyle that beckons to many people, and a growing number are choosing to answer that call. Expand your horizons and seek out new experiences, save money, and do help the planet, live portably. Go give it a try, sleep in your car tonight, even if it’s just parked in your own driveway. Start to see the changes that could be made in your life and your world, and you might just get a glimpse into the changes that you could make happen within yourself.
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