So Jeff and I have been camped out at my mom’s house in northern Minnesota for the last few days, which means that after six months on the road, it’s time to take stock of my vanlife semi-minimalist (by necessity) wardrobe. 

Long time readers will know how much I love these plotting and planning posts, complete with my hand drawn sketches and swatches. You know. Regular nerd stuff. 

Let’s jump in. 

The #1 thing I’ve learned about creating the perfect van wardrobe: Lots of undies. 

OK, there’s a bit more to it than that! But seriously — lots of undies make for an easier life! Let’s jump into some vanlife wardrobe life lessons I’ve learned, and then I’ll share my current wardrobe and why it works.

How I Store My Clothes in Our Honda Odyssey Minicampervan

I store my clothes in three plastic bins that are around 30” x 20” x 7” high — so not a lot of storage space! The bins are stored under our bed platform on my side of the bed. And I’ve learned over the past six months that I’m not particularly fond of digging out the bins, especially the third bin which is WAY in the back and I need to take out everything else to get to it.

I store all my knit leggings, t’s, and tanks in one bin, and all my woven clothes in another (makes it easier know which is the right bin to find something in!) The third bin has an extra sweater, swim suits (two of those), PJ’s, and my special stash of Thinx (more on that below!)

In addition to the big bins, I have one little plastic bin that’s about 10” x 6” x 7” high that has a few essentials (deoderant, medication) and my stash of all-important undies. 

Here’s a probably-confusing picture of the bins and where they live under our bed platform (check out more of our van tour in this post).

I store all of my clothes rolled up. They get a bit wrinkly, but for most of my clothes the wrinkled look works. And they straighten out fairly quickly. If I have time, there isn’t too much dew in the morning, and we’re staying somewhere where we can string up a clothesline, I’ll hang out my outfit for the next day to drop a few of the wrinkles. 

Finally I have a few drawstring bags – one that holds a pair of Keens and a pair of Crocs. I wear Chaco sandals during the day and also have a pair of Chaco clogs that I wear more at night or when it’s cold that get tucked in where there’s a bit of space. I keep my sneakers stored behind the driver’s seat, sort of smashed between the seat and the bed. Socks are stored inside the sneaks. I only brought a few pairs of socks — I don’t wear socks often, even with my sneaks, so that’s worked well for me.

Another drawstring bag holds my denim jacket and a hoodie. I also have a long grey cardigan that I wear nearly every day so that just gets thrown wherever if I’m not wearing it. 

Finally I have a few accessories — a scarf that I wear almost every day, so it’s either on me or hanging out with my grey cardigan. I have a giant orange scarf that can double as a lap blankie that is folded up and lives on the bed (during the day) or on the driver’s seat (at night) and a straw hat that I clip to our curtains with a clothespin — I can stash it between the curtain and the window on my side so it’s out of the way. 

Boondocking and PJ’s

Before vanlife, I usually wore a plain tank top to bed. Sexy, right? I can’t stand fabric wrapping around me at night, so tanks work for me. When we first headed out on the road we mainly stayed in campgrounds, so I bought some simple knit shorts from the store that shall not be named (rhymes with fall mart) since scampering around in my panties and a tank for late night loo trips would likely be frowned upon. That worked just fine, until we started boondocking at Walmarts and casinos. The shorts I have are so obviously pajamas, I feel self-conscious heading into the store/casino for those middle of the night trips (sidenote: ladies considering vanlife if you’re over 40, the 2 a.m. trip to take a leak is a serious planning issue!) Anyhoo, for a while I just kept one of my jumper-like dress on on hand and slipped that over my tank and shorts if I was heading in, but it made me feel like I was sleeping in my clothes, even though I wasn’t. Again, the big blue evil store came to the rescue with end of season sales. I bought a couple kinda cute a-line dresses made from jersey — it’s a bit more fabric than I like to sleep in, but I can stand it and I don’t look like too much of a vagabond wandering around the parking lot in the middle of the night on my late-night loo trips.

Dealing with ‘girl-stuff’

This isn’t 100% wardrobe-related, but tangential enough I’ll include it here. Vanlife and periods. I’m a big fan of my Diva Cup and Thinx undies. If you haven’t used a cup, definitely try it out! There’s a bit of a learning curve, and you have to get super up close and personal using it. The upside for me is that I really only need to change it twice a day — maybe three times on day one and two when my flow is heavier. Unlike a tampon, it doesn’t slip out until you remove it (super score for having to ‘hold it’ because you left the house without an extra tampon in your bag). And you can’t feel it. It’s magic!

In order to make the changing easier, I bought two Diva cups — in public restrooms it’s nice to have one ready to replace right away if there isn’t a sink in the stall. The Thinx are nice as a back up at night, just in case of an accidental overflow. They really do stay nice and dry and nothing gets through, so there’s no need to be creeping to the public restroom at 2 a.m. to deal with any stains or other annoyances.

I don’t use Thinx on their own, more as a backup. I only had two pairs when we headed out, and it was a drag trying to time laundry to wash and reuse them on the right day, so while staying here at mom’s I went ahead and ordered four more, which should be enough to carry me through my week! 

I’d already switched over to the Diva Cup and Thinx in preparation for our road life — a lot of the women who are living on the road use them, so I’d picked it up in Facebook groups. It’s so much more convenient than tampons! I wish I would have learned about the Diva Cup 20 years ago! 

So try it and spread the word!

Vanlife Wardrobe — What I like to wear

My style hasn’t changed all that much since heading out on the road. If you’re new to my blog, my style’s a bit on the funky side. I like to wear a lot of layers — longer tunics, dresses, tanks, skirts, leggings, and bloomers. Here’s a capsule wardrobe that I pulled together last spring that reflects my prairie-chic style.

Spring Wardrobe Sudoku by Patty Brower

Most of my regular clothes are cotton or linen and are loose fitting, so I don’t wash them after every wearing. When we were staying in National Forests and campgrounds, we’d put up a clothes line and I’d let things air out after wearing, which was great — everything smelled so fresh! The last few months, we’ve been boondocking more around casinos and Walmart, so I haven’t had the chance to do that. But in general, I wash my undies, tanks and PJs a lot more and only throw in my ‘regular’ clothes to be washed when they actually get dirty.

I also have a few t-shirts that I wear with leggings for yoga, walking, and total chill-out days when it’s rainy and we don’t leave the van. I’m torn on this part of my wardrobe because while most of my clothes are loose fitting and don’t need to be washed all that often, I don’t like to wear leggings and t’s more than once, so they create a lot more laundry. I’m keeping them around, though, through the spring, because I think I might need to wear the leggings for warmth over the winter months. 

Vanlife Footwear

When we headed out I brought a pair of sneakers, a pair of Croc ‘flats’, a pair of Croc clogs, my Keens, a pair of orange Birkenstocks and a pair of Dansko mary janes. 

I mainly wore the Croc flats, although they really weren’t supportive enough. The Croc clogs were for wearing around camp and at night since they are so easy on, easy off. I never wore the Dansko’s (too heavy) and the Birks gave me terrible blisters, so I gave those away. The sneaks were great for hiking, but the rest of my shoe choices were kinda… annoying.

This summer I ‘upgraded’ to a pair of leather Crocs for wearing around camp but those gave me terrible blisters as well. A few weeks ago, Jeff and I buckled down on our shoe hunt — he was looking for a pair of leather Keens — which were amazingly difficult to track down in his size in late August — all the stores are stocking fall and winter shoes! We ended up lucking out at an REI near Bainbridge Island in Washington, so he’s set.

By a fluke, I tried on a pair of Chaco’s at Sierra Trading Company — I’d thought they looked too granola for me when I was shopping, but I really liked the colors of a pair on the sale rack and when I tried them on I fell in LOVE — so comfy, perfect for every day, for hiking, and I think they’re super cute with my dresses. 

If you’re curious – they’re the Z Cloud 2 in ‘Dappled Caribou’ (Amazon).

I also tried on a pair of Chaco clogs, which are also comfy and were on sale so I bought those as well. Their a bit more frumpy than I like, but I really wanted something warmer that I could wear with the wool socks I love to knit. We don’t really have enough room in the van for boots, which is what I’d prefer to wear in the cooler fall and winter days, but I think I’ll be very happy with my granola granny clogs! Plus, they are taking the place of the easy on/easy off Crocs for slipping on at night to run to the loo. 

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m all about late night loo planning. 

The style of these is the ‘Chaco Toecoop’. Mine look like the ones in this picture, although I couldn’t find an exact reference to them online, here’s the closest on Amazon.

The Wardrobe 

Here’s the rundown…

  • 9 shirts
  • 5 cotton ribbed tanks
  • 2 dresses that I usually only wear as dresses without layering with anything else
  • 6 dresses that I usually wear layered over leggings, skirts or bloomers
  • 5 skirts + 2.5 yards of grey linen that I’m planning on making into a skirt before I leave Minnesota
  • 5 bloomers
  • 1 pair overalls
  • 2 t’s and 1 tank that are more for yoga and super casual wear
  • 3 pairs of long leggings and 3 pairs of capri-length leggings
  • 1 long grey cardi, 1 denim jacket, 1 cream hoodie
  • 2 pairs of Chacos, Keens, and sneakers
  • 2 scarves

Since I’m super visual, I love keeping a design board with thumbnails of my wardrobe. It’s soothing for me. Like doing a crossword puzzle. I grab the images online if they are easy to find, otherwise, I have a bunch of sketches from working on the 3 Snugbugs clothing line that I just thow together with a photo of the fabric. It’s enough that I know what everything looks like. (My day job includes a lot of Photoshopping, so… #ivegottheskillz.)

Since I had the thumbnails, I had a little fun – first, here’s a couple Sudoku design boards showing how I can mix and match my clothes for a bajillion outfits. If you’re unfamiliar with this planning tool, it’s just a fun way to mix together accessories (scarves, sweaters and jackets), footwear, tops and bottoms to create small wardrobe capsules. Each row, column, and diagonal line creates an outfit that works. For more on this planning style, check out my Spring Wardrobe capsule from last year.

The Floral Sudoku 

The Pirate Sukoku

Check out the totally AWESOME skirt in the lower right corner! This is one of the first cool skirts in my style that’s store-bought instead of made-by-me… from a PIRATE SHOP in Port Townsend, Washington. What an adorable town!

The All-Blue Sudoku

I am not a fan of dark blue, but somehow have a wardrobe that’s full of blue things… guess I must like it more than I thought I did…

The Athleisure Sudoku

This one is all about the leggings and T’s — today Jeff and I are heading out for a quick hike, I’m wearing column four, although I’ll probably swap the denim jacket for the hoodie… easier to tie around my waist if I get hot!

Since I don’t have a ton of space for clothes — and my wardrobe is currently a bit larger than I’d really like it — I also laid out a basic matrix with all my shirts and dresses along the top and all skirts, bloomers, and leggings down the side. I can easily see which garments are versatile (more green dots) and which aren’t quite as flexible. For the most part, I like lots of green dots, but I have a few things I love so much, I let them stay without too many dots. My white dress is super simple and I just love it, although I don’t really layer it with anything. Likewise, my green and white striped skirt (fifth one down on the left) doesn’t work with many of my shirts, but I love it so much, I can’t give it up!

Like I said, my current wardrobe is a little on the larger side — 49 items + 4 shoes and 2 scarves. I’m very inspired by Courtney Carver, a lovely previous client of ours who recently released the amazing book, Be More With Less, and who is well known for her Project 333 Wardrobe Challenge as well as being featured in the Minimalist’s first documentary. The whole premise of her wardrobe challenge is to winnow down to 33 items and wear those for 30 days. Technically, she includes shoes and accessories and excludes workout gear, so I guess that would make my number 49 – 9 (leggings and yoga t’s/tanks) + 4 shoes + 2 scarves for a total of 46… still a lot more than 33! If you are interested in minimalism, I highly, highly recommend checking out Courtney’s book — it’s less about reducing clutter and more about letting go of our ‘stuff’, even if you’re feeling sentimental.

So what’s your vanlife and/or wardrobe minimizing plan? Do you love having a lot of options or feel swallowed up by what you have in your closet (or bins)? 

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