90,000 Miles to Me

Meet Serenity

So…this is my van. Her name is Serenity.

van passenger side

The name is both an intention, a goal, and a reference to a sci-fi TV show called Firefly in which a eclectic group of nonconformists seek out a life of their own choosing in a spaceship called Serenity. In the show, the ship was named after a bloody battle which took place in Serenity Valley, in the war for freedom that the rebels (later the spaceship captain and first officer) eventually lost. Sometimes you have to go through hell before you can find peace. And sometimes you have to be brought to your breaking point before you start looking for it.

Here is a quick tour of the inside of my Serenity, and the various projects that went into making her livable.

I learned some basic carpentry to do this van build, and everything that is wood in here, except one item, I built myself. Below is the right half of the pantry and the partition behind the passenger seat. The basket on top contains all my teas.

pantry shelves right side

Here is the left half of the pantry with the partition behind the driver’s seat. You can also see part of the curtain that separates the cab from the rest of the van for privacy and insulation. The purple baskets in the middle shelves hold cooking supplies and glass food storage containers, and the bottom is my sink in front of two 5-gallon water storage cans.

pantry shelves left side

Here is a closer view of the sink (a flowerpot with the drainage holes blocked) and the two 5-gallon water tanks behind it. A piece of plexiglass, cut to fit the wood frame opening, keeps water splatter from the water tanks and makes cleanup easy.

A hose runs out of the water tanks to the foot powered pump to the faucet (more visible in the pic above).  There are two towels hanging up on the side, one for kitchen use one for bathroom. They are not to be mixed up. 🙂 I also tiled the floor area there myself, another of many new learning projects.

sink at base of left pantry shelves

Standing between the two pantry sections facing the back of the van, you can see the bed, currently piled high with many blankets and a quilt I made many years ago. I also built the bed, which is a raised, slatted platform a little under waist high. The front of it also has an installed bookshelf which I built, because books are a necessity, even in the tiny life.

To the right of the bed you can see my icon corner, which is the only structure in here I did not build, but got at a consignment store 10 years ago. To the left is the 12V fridge, currently covered in industrial looking insulation because I haven’t gotten around to making a nice cover for it yet. The bed has curtains front and back, which are open so I can see when driving, and can be closed for insulation and privacy at night.


At the base of the icon corner, not pictured, is usually a large basket for my produce, which doubles as my grocery shopping basket. It naturally limits how much food I can buy: if I cannot fit it in that basket and on one arm, it will not fit in my kitchen.

Below the bed you can see peeking out from right to left, the battery system directly behind the icon corner, then the metal popcorn can that I picked up at a thrift store for two bucks and inside contains a bottle, funnel, TP and related  supplies, and then there is storage for clothes, and a couple other kitchen things.

The rest of the under bed space (below) has extensive storage for my sun oven, camping gear, rock climbing gear, an embarrassingly extensive art and craft supply section, tools for projects still in progress or just in case, an unreasonably large but sentimental laundry basket, and other random things.

under bed storage viewed from back of van

And a few decorations. At the top of the pic you can see the bottoms of two other smaller produce baskets.

The walls are natural cotton canvas that I dyed in shades of blue to remind me of the sky. They are attached to a metal mesh called hardware cloth (which has nothing to do with cloth) screwed to the walls, covering the cork insulation.

wall decoration of metal tree

Here is a better shot of the solar panels and fan/vent. I installed all of these myself, including cutting the hole in the roof for installing the fan.

van driver side

I also cut the hole in the side for the camper window, which I got used off of Craigslist, and installed that.

van passenger side

As much as there is to see, even more work went into the parts behind the walls and floor that you cannot see. Installing the insulation, mildew resistant coating, floors, cutting the carpet to fit, ceiling, the walls themselves, etc. I can’t even remember all of it right now.

The vast majority of the work was done in about five months, with a few intermittent projects done since than (and there are still a few small finishing projects on my list). Add to that about six months of intensive research before I even started working on the van.

All the materials I used are non-toxic, environmentally safe and, where possible, sustainably sourced or reclaimed materials. As much as possible, I used things that I already had or could get from local sources cheaply. This is as much a project in living intentionally and sustainably as anything else.

I occasionally had some help with basic labor, handing me tools or holding things in place and that sort of thing, which I am very grateful for, but did the vast majority of the work myself, learning many new skills as I went. It feels great to know that I can do this and that I have built my own home and know it inside and out.