Building a Camper Will Break Your Heart + It’s Totally Worth It

I’m writing this surrounded by all of our van projects from the past 2 years sitting, deconstructed, in the main living space of our 1-bedroom apartment. Three weeks ago they were all installed in our van. Let me explain.

On a particularly rainy evening before Thanksgiving, we found a leak coming in from the roof of our van.  While leaky van syndrome is a very common occurrence in the van dwelling world, we live in the Pacific Northwest. Rain is a daily occurrence most months of the year, and in this wet climate leaks are a potentially serious problem. We made the tough decision to take everything apart and check for damage before calling the problem resolved.

Taking our tiny home apart (in the middle of winter, no less) was not a part of the plan by any means. Before we confirmed that the leak did not completely destroy the van, I was nothing short of nauseous. As we took everything apart, screw by screw, I felt heartbreak. And in a strange way, the emotion triggered by this event is a good thing. We feel when we care. It tells  a story. And so as I sit here among the cedar planks and plastic bins of gear, I’m taking stock of what it really means to own a camper van that we built ourselves.

Building a camper van has broken my heart open, exposing me to new things about myself– the good and the less good. It’s taught me patience and diligence. When we purchased Vanna, we had never done anything like this before, so we’ve learned that doing something right takes time, and it’s worth doing it at least twice (sometimes three or four times). This entire project has transformed the way my boyfriend and I communicate. We’ve learned how to navigate challenges with grace and pragmatism, and we feel a true sense of appreciation when things go well. We are learning that we are happier with less.

I’m in love with this life we’re creating in this home on wheels, and there is a special sense of ownership we have when something breaks. So yes, my heart aches right now. And even once this unfortunate chapter of our van life is in the rear view mirror, I will still feel this pull between feeling strong and empowered, and feeling massively vulnerable to bumps in the road. But humans are complex beings, and as I stated before feeling feelings is a good thing. Life should make you feel. These emotions tell me that I’m vital, that I’m passionate, and that I care about what we’ve built together. I’ll let my heart break a little for that.

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