We’ve been living in a Minimum Viable Van (MVV).
We sold all our stuff, left London and moved to New Zealand for an adventure. We bought a Toyota Hiace van to convert into a campervan, while working remotely in our digital jobs for 6 months. (The rest of that story is over here if you’re curious).
But back to the MVV.
There’s a concept in the startup and digital product development world known as a minimum viable product or MVP. It’s an exercise to find the absolute bare minimum set of features for your product, business or app in order to:
- Spend as little money as possible
- Launch it to real users ASAP
- Learn from the experience and make it better – continually
I had a bunch of plans in mind for our ideal campervan conversion. Oh you know, perfectly organised small spaces. A luxurious convertible bed. Genius kitchen and storage solutions. Hooks and pockets in the handiest of places. Daydreams and sketches aching to be featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.
Taking the minimum viable route however, means you must be brutal with your idea of perfection. Chop chop. Another minute sketching is another minute wasted.
So we bought an ordinary van and then the very next evening we moved in. Right after we bought a few essentials of course. We’re not that cray cray.
It’s been 27 days since we’ve lived on wheels. We’ve learned a lot and we’ve re-configured our simple set-up quite a bit. I’ve taken a bunch of photos along the way which will help me walk you through what minimum viable is for us.
Lemme show you around.
1. The empty van
A crappy iPhone photo of the interior, taken on one of the days we were scouting Auckland for van-homes. Most of the vans we viewed were bashed around on the inside and needed a good clean to remove the oil stench. This beast however, was simply pristine.
2. The bed
We bought 2 x folding camp beds and topped it with 2 x cheap 4cm thick foam mattresses. On top of that went some everyday-esque bedding. We nerded-out testing quite a few camp beds in the shops, checking for sturdiness and measuring the legs to make sure they’d fit over the wheel base. These two singles from Hunting and Fishing were just the ticket.
3. Managing the junk
A van full of camping gear is just boring. When we were first adjusting to life in the van, we would fold up and fold down our camp beds everyday. Our enormous travel packs were hard to rummage through in such a confined space. Not all that homely.
Eventually we kept the beds up and came to realise our MVV clothing storage solution: chuck it under the bed. We each have a handy under-bed-wardrobe that can be accessed through our own rolling door on either side. Our clothes feel neat, tidy and safely organised in the packing cells we travelled with from London. (Incidentally, my partner Chris LOVES a packing cell. I think he might one day leave me for one.) The kitchen storage packs away neatly at the rear. 1 tub for plates and utensils, 1 tub for food. A small esky (cool box) is an adequate fridge. That white bucket is my favourite thing ever. So versatile! I’ll dedicate an entire blog post to that bucket in the future, just you wait.
This is my first thing in the morning coffee and feeds position. Reading emails, checking the internet is order number 1.
Here’s our makeshift, homemade tarp-office. It keeps us sheltered from any light rain or blaring sun and a simple folding table and 2 chairs do us well. Our current power solution is a standard camp-cable connected to the powered campsites we visit. Safety regulations warn not to use this power cable inside vehicles. Unfortunately this means that if the weather is really poor, we can’t work from our campsite. Most campsites have a lounge or TV area where you can grab a plug for the laptop, or local cafes are also an option. It’s only happened twice so far.
You’d be surprised how many things can be cooked in 1 small porridge pot (usually porridge) and 1 wok. I’m kinda loving the creative constraint. Cooking outside is my new favourite thing.
7. Chilling on the weekends
There’s so many outdoor adventures to get into in NZ, that you’ll likely be out on all-day tramping (local lingo for hiking), kayaking, canyoning, sky diving or snorkeling trips. If you do find yourself wanting to chill in one spot with a book, I recommend a soft white rug on some lush green grass, with the occasional duck waddling by and the sound of an ocean roaring.
There’s only so long one can live on a camp bed.
The next vanmaison iteration will be a soiree with something more physical. We’ve found a cheap, modular aluminium system used to make furniture from a company called Ullrich Aluminium. We’re hoping with our new-found MVV knowledge, we can build something (with only a mallet!) a little more comfortable to suit our needs. In particular, something able to convert to an indoors work area for 2. The one job we’ll need help from the professionals with is installing a house battery & campsite power hook-up system.
Part of any minimum viable product or van challenge is letting go of a bit of romance. There is no perfection. There is no finished.
There’s a different kind of appeal here. What on the outside sometimes looks like a throw-it-together-and-see-what-happens approach, isn’t poor design or poor planning. It’s a purposeful, efficient, fun, economically-sensible and honest way to find your emergent design.
It’s about truly recognising that doing will bring you more knowledge than endless planning. It’s about understanding how to make something cheap to test and cheap to change.
I don’t even want to think about how much money (thousands) and time (months) we would have wasted waiting for a professional campervan conversion. Only to potentially find out that our expensive design didn’t work for us.
Et voilà. Our minimum viable vanmaison. Isn’t she beautiful?