This is Michelle and her van, Carl, named after the man who sold her the vehicle.
Michelle (@michelle.lawrencee) and her dad transformed her van in just about three months into a super-cozy home that she’s taken around the West Coast. After a variety of jobs/gigs that have funded her travels, Michelle is launching her freelance photography (@michellelawrencephotography) business this year.
Enjoy the photo tour of her van below and be sure to read our Q&A with Michelle about her vanlife at the end of the post!
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Retro Vanlife in California (During Quarantine)
The aesthetic in this fan is lovely with all this wood. I really like the flat-front cabinets, as well.
You can see in the cab she kept the original seats, which are really groovy!
This is one of the smaller vans I’ve seen recently and she really makes it home with so little!
Nothing like twinkle lights to make a place feel like home.
Scarves provide a little privacy in her bedroom.
She left a lot of awesome headroom over her bed, sacrificing storage underneath: So she just has fewer things!
Love the wood inside the doors, too.
Last picture before the Q&A! Check it out below.
How many people (and animals) are living in your van? Just me and three plants!
Where do you live? How long have you lived tiny? I live in a van mostly on the west coast. I moved into the van in Nov of 2018 and can’t imagine not living tiny.
What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time? I’ve done a handful of things to get to where I am. The year before I bought the van I was working part time serving tables at a restaurant, had my real estate license and was selling houses part time & had 2-3 photography gigs each month. I was hustling without even realizing. I bought the van and built it out with my dad. I left right after new years of 2019 and drove out to California! I lived off of savings and worked for Spartan Races part time. I photograph weddings and have done modeling gigs as well. I worked at another restaurant for four months in California to save back up from Aug to Dec 2019. I am currently building my brand photography portfolio and hope to work as a full-time freelance photographer and content creator for the rest of this year. Weeew! That was a lot!
Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny? I started getting rid of excess things around my house prior to living in the van. I really hate clutter and I felt like living minimally would create less distraction in a way. Moving into the van has just enhanced that lifestyle.
How did you first learn about van life? Five or six years ago, I was working at a music festival and saw a couple in a van. I loved it!
How long did it take to finish your van? 3 months – I worked on it about 3 days a week for 8 hours each day.
How did you build your van? Did you have any help? Did you do it yourselves? I built most of it but my dad helped with electrical, plumping and was there to bounce ideas off of. He helped with under-mounting the propane tank and made sure I built something that wasn’t going to fall apart.
Are you comfortable sharing how much your tiny home cost? What are bills/utilites like compared to before? My van was $3,300 and my conversion was about $3,000. A year into living in the van I had to have the transmission replaced which cost $2,100 with a 3 year warranty. I was happy to pay it since I haven’t had to pay rent and I have an old van so I knew something would go wrong eventually.
How did you find a place to park and live in your van? I did a lot of car camping before moving into the van so I had an idea of what I was doing. I park in nice neighborhoods near somewhere with a 24 hr bathroom or a planet fitness. I also park on BLM Land or by the ocean where it’s okay to park overnight. I try to stay out of peoples way and make sure to not be a bother to people! I haven’t had any issues at all!
Is there anything from your old life that you miss? I miss my friends and family but I go back and see them as much as I can!
What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny? I never have to pack a bag since I always have everything with me. I always (usually) know where everything is. Things don’t get lost as easily. I enjoy my life more and feel like I’m creating a lifestyle that I’m proud of.
What about some challenges? Um, can I use your bathroom? (For real though, if we weren’t in a pandemic, this wasn’t a problem but all the gyms are closed and I need to shower!)
What makes your van special? I like that I named it after the man I bought it from. His name was Carl and was so excited about the van. He made a really great impression on me.
What is your favorite part of your van? I think it’s all the barn wood that I found and put in random places. I also like looking at how the screws aren’t perfectly aligned. I remember back to when I was trying to make them perfect and my dad was laughing at me saying people would never notice! It’s a good memory.
What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny? For tiny living, I think it’s important that you go through your things multiple times. I took my time and did one room at a time. I got rid of anything I hadn’t used in a year and then did it again for things I hadn’t used in 6 months. I also continue to make sure I’m using everything I buy. For van life, I always suggest getting a van that you can stand up in that was taken care of by its previous owner. (if they didn’t take care of the inside, they didn’t take care of the engine either)
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Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk
and the Tiny House Newsletter
. She's a wife and mama of two little kids. She and her family just purchased a small fixer-upper and are starting a self-sufficient homestead on their happy little acre.