Moving Back In (or, #Vanlife: The Essentials)

Counting our belongings back into Dixie after her cosmetic facelift is a great opportunity to reduce, reevaluate and reorganize our things. I was struck by the volume of soft furnishings we had accumulated and therefore had to remove from the van before we started work, it turns out most of the things we own serve to keep us warm and comfortable. We chose to downsize significantly again, donating some items to the uni-bound offspring and disposing of others including some old, broken pillows. Here is what we are left with, what we think we will need only:

1 XL Tog 15 duvet

1 XL memory foam mattress topper

2 single mattresses

4 real pillows, 1 decoy pillow

2 double bed sheets

1 XL black fleece blanket

2 XL Foxford Woolen Mills Blankets

1 large red fleece throw

2 large floor rugs

A much more manageable load of bedding now, but we might need to consider how dark these furnishings are, all blacks and dark blues and navy, given Dixies new bright interior we may update these items in time.


Vanlife is notoriously slow, it is true to say that any 5 minute task in a normal house takes at least 15 minutes in the back of a van and we have learned to keep everything close by to speed certain processes up a little. Unpacking the kettle everytime you want to make tea or coffee gets tedious quickly, especially if you drink a lot of tea or coffee like we do. Kitchenware is by far the next biggest catagory of things we own. It all needed to be pared down and organised better, stored safely and smartly, and don’t forget we had all that precious empty space we reclaimed behind the fridge to fill 😉

A more realistic amount of kitchenware was packed neatly back inside Dixie, mostly in the huge yellow drawer and a new large white basket where the refrigerator once stood:

1 folding table

2 folding chairs

1 portable stove & refill gas canisters

1 set of dishes, 6 cups, 2 plastic glasses

1 drawer full of cutlery

5 Pots & pans, 2 metal campfire dishes

A whistling kettle, a teapot & a cafetiere

1 can & bottle opener

2 reusable 1 litre water bottles

2 bed trays

1 large flask, 1 large lunchbox

1 collapsible bucket, 1 large basin

Usually, the kitchen is 1 rather large mess 😣


Keeping our things organised inside Dixie can be quite a challenge so we tend to categorise things for storage in a way that makes sense to us. We store our electronics, chargers and wires together in a large box in the drivers cab, a lightweight, plastic toolbox we can move into the back with us at night for safety, the contents of which are listed below and most items are used every day.

1 large jumpstarter battery

1 brick solar charger

1 laptop, invertor & charger

3 phones, 2 chargers

1 torch & charger

1 Garmin Sat Nav

1 Bose speaker & charger

1 rewired 12v 3 pin plug lead

2 headlamps, which don’t live in this box, they hang by the door reliably in case of a midnight emergency.


We carry a couple of necessary tools on our journey, as does every other car driver and another toolbox with the essentials is stowed in the back of the shower pump cupboard. We rarely need to use them and the space is awkward to access. We have a European driver’s kit in case we cross onto the continent, their road laws are a little more rigid than ours and require all vehicles to carry a popup triangle and various other items in case of breakdown. We keep these items tucked behind the Captains seat, out of our day to day way.

The decoy pillow is one of my favourite things in Dixie. A big black kidney shaped sling style canvas bag I have owned forever, it holds our 6 jackets neatly folded inside, with plenty of more space for hats, scarves and gloves, and all the while disguised as a giant comfortable pillow.

All of these coats won’t fit in this little bag… will they?!

Like everything else, we had to consider carefully which coats to keep to suit our van lifestyle and eventually we settled on 3 each, a light jacket, a padded winter coat and a good quality all weather hiking jacket, the latter found for £30 in Lidl (I should note here that much to my eternal frustration ladies jackets are far inferior to mens as a general rule. I bought a mens size medium which unlike its feminine counterpart came with extra features like a wind skirt, bigger and more pockets, and a build-in balaclava. Ditto for the mens thermals which were cheaper than the ladies and have an inbuilt scarf, hood and pockets! Men  get very large very convenient pockets even on their pyjamas and us women just get sold more and more bags 😞 Why clothes, especially outer layers are labelled by gender at all is beyond me, even the colours in the mens range are more accessible but… I digress) The decoy pillow doubles up as a cushion too and is used many times a day, this being Ireland, and it being a normal April, the weather is predictably changeable and we do change outer layers as neccessary.

Yes, yes they will!

The decoy pillow is just one way to store (or hide) certain items that we don’t require all the time in a useful way. William discovered a seemingly endless corridor of storage between the cab and the shower room, a dark gap about 2 inches wide that extends further into Dixie than any arm could reach, perfect for stashing extra toilet rolls and other non perishable overstock.

Clothes and shoes are our next big catagory of things we own, and with 7 months of experience moving these from bags to boxes, then back to bags, worrying about dampness, accessibility and the overall footprint of the items we now realise what we need and what works for us. I keep my few clothes in a medium sized plastic box under the bed. The box can double as a seat indoors, and because it is sturdy, hard and waterproof, we can take it outdoors too. William keeps his few clothes in a large waterproof duffel bag, a very thoughtful gift from my old colleagues upon my departure from the office.

A few weeks ago, while moseying through rural Donegal on a quiet cloudless morning, William spotted a large green bread basket lying in an otherwise picturesque bog, it was litter, dumped there, an ugly stain on a beautiful landscape. We adopted it, cleaned it up and it now lives underneath the seats, for what exactly we have yet to decide. It may be very useful for our pjs, or when we have been shopping for supplies and Dixie is full to the brim of food, or for keeping our 5 litre water bottles standing upright while we drive. We will play around with ideas until we find its best fit but you can be sure the basket is better off being used in here than lying abandoned out there.

Bottom left: bread basket a.k.a bog basket

The TV cabinet, instead of merely holding one redundant screen as it used to do, is now home to all of our personal items including toothbrushes, wash gear and first aid supplies. Thankfully, aside from one nasty bloody incident involving a twisted bungee hook and Williams right thumb, we have not had much cause to use the medical kit yet but if we ever do need it quickly it is readily accessible.

And so we moved our few things back into our freshly painted home in a much more organised manner. Vanlife is about teamwork too, everybody benefits when each item has a home and is returned to its home immediately after use, that way life in Dixie continues to roll on by smoothly, calmly and uninterrupted. We still need to acquire a back door curtain before we can call the renovation complete, condensation is only a small part of the reason why. Dixie will be stealth camping in England later this month and that requires total blackout of any light emanating from inside. A new shower curtain is also on our supplies list as the vent in the en suite roof is usually open, good for improved air flow throughout the house but bad for draughts and breezes. I forgot to mention my stash of warm things in the cab by my seat, waterproof socks, gloves, a hat and 2 scarves, always handy for an Irish spring. I also neglected to mention our flags, Ireland, Dublin and Mayo…. We carry only the essentials in The Backwards Van 😉


4 thoughts on “Moving Back In (or, #Vanlife: The Essentials)”

  1. Great to list essentials. Might try listing what we have on the boat ( and ask Christian to list the boat things). Listing can help decide what doesn’t need to be aboard ! I also like the concept of the decoy pillow…


    1. Hi Ann-Marie it was fabricated by a welder and it was there when we bought her 😉 A simple gate with big old legs but its really great and comfortable!


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