On a rare muggy morning in Reno, Seth Dines, 32, looks over his recently $1,000 purchased 1995 GMC Rally STX 3500, a 15-passenger van with a “super strong engine”, which he hopes to soon give away to someone who wants to live in it.
Van renovations are on his mind, which he also uses for branding, marketing, making music, as well as web and experiential designing among other freelance and personal pursuits.
Money Problems in a New Reno
“I took the front seat out and I’m going to make it a cook area, so I can cook outside if I want to,” he says as he gives a tour of the van, which he will be trying out as well. At the time of interview, the van was parked outside a house in southwest Reno where he was renting a small basement room. “I want to create a tray that pivots outward, so I can have a space here. I thought about maybe storing the battery compartment for the eventual solar that I’ll have.”
His overall goal? “I want to show you can live in a micro home which is transportable within city limits."
Seth says his bills have been piling up just to keep his cell phone, wifi and power going. “I freelance, so it’s not a paycheck every two weeks, you get a chunk of change at a time, you have to be thrifty. I am on Social Security disability so that helps. I can’t really do physical labor, so I have to use my brain.”
Making it Livable and Affordable
"The inside is going to be livable, and it’ll get around the city. You won’t be able to go cross country but the idea is to live in a dwelling that’s yours, that you own 100 percent. You’re not paying rent. I’ll save money on utility bills. I’ll save money on rent. I am currently paying $400 a month on a bedroom. I tried to get housing help because I’m on disability. But I’ve been on a wait list forever. While living in a van, I’ll be able to work harder on better, more personal projects because my expenses will be down. I love Reno. I want to live in the city. I want to live downtown but it’s expensive down there. With Tesla, that’s making house prices and rents go up. I am trying to get ahead of the curve and try do something now, before we get tens of thousands of new people here. ”
A New Movement Called Urbvan Dwelling
Seth wants to create a “new movement, an alternate lifestyle,” which others can emulate through his example. The project already existing on the web and different social media platforms is called “Urbvan Dwelling”. Other people are helping him and he wants to help others as well.
He also recently purchased a 1993 Ford E-150 Tierra van, for a little over $2,000, and has slept in it a few nights already on a full mattress he bought on Craigslist, both downtown and on the outskirts of Reno.
“It’s a lot more comfortable and safer than I thought, and I felt pretty comfortable about it before anyway. When I was downtown, there were some people having a good time nearby, but it was ok. Being stealth, no one knows you are in there. Just because other people are around and I know they are doesn’t mean they know I’m there. Now I’m starting to spot vans where people might be living everywhere.”
Social Media Presence
“I want to break the stereotypes about people who choose to have a transportable home as their primary dwelling,” he writes on his webpage. “Our world is changing, societal ways of living are changing and I want to be a part of that and show other people, normal people, it’s ok to live in a transportable house,” he explains in our interview.
Part of Seth’s experiment will be to document and broadcast on social media his life adventure living in a van inside a city. He also wants to show it can be a green way to live.
“I want to be able to use as little amount of water as possible, get all my electricity from the sun, as it will be in the sun all the time. That’s the best way I can see of having a small footprint without being in a house.”
Tailoring and Fixing a Van
His main challenges now are funding materials for floors, walls, insulation, and getting the soon to be donated van to be mechanically sound enough to go around town. He is thinking of an upcoming Indiegogo campaign to help with the costs of renovations and repairs.
“Everyone’s needs are different. I wanted a longer van. Some people might want a nice shorty to keep things tight. Some people choose a Sprinter which is very tall, no windows, very clean on the inside. I’m looking to spend no less than an extra thousand dollars to put it all together, to get started. Later I might add solar panels, and a fan for the vent on the roof. To get insulation, the subfloor, some walls up, get it to a basic living space, buy a battery, and an alternator battery isolator, so it will charge your battery when you’re alternator is running, that's the idea. That’s a very basic minimal set up, for probably $1,000. You can use any bed. A van is big. You can fit at least a queen.”
A Community Project
He’s already gotten help on figuring out some of the problems, and mistakes he has already made.
“I took it to these guys at CoAuto who I am partnering with. They’re trying to get a community garage together. It’s perfect for me since I don’t have the money to get the tools I’ll need, but I have some knowhow. But I should have taken it to them before I bought the van. They do free vehicle inspections before you want to purchase a used vehicle, but I didn’t know that. Over there, I found all the seals of this van are leaking.”
Simplicity and Minimalism
Seth says he’s tried the marriage thing and the regular company job, but that it just didn't work for him. Simplicity and minimalism are new buzzwords he adheres to.
“I’ve tried to go mainstream, but it’s really difficult for me, so I’ve got to try something different, I’ve got to switch my life up, and this is the way I can foresee doing that. Older people are buying RVs and traveling. So why don’t I do that now but stay in the city? It doesn’t even cost that much money. I love what I do. I don’t have retirement plans. I just want to live. This provides a way to live with not very much money. I’ve been minimalizing lately. I live in a tiny one bedroom, so I'm basically living in a van. Just in a bedroom in a house. I wear plain clothing. Going minimal is my path now even with my designs. I think our world is so complicated with technology that these analog things, let’s just make them more simple. Why not? Let’s keep life here simple, because it’s just going to get more complicated.”
Once he’s done with this current van, he hopes to build up another one, so he can start a chain process of giving liveable vans.
“I’ve always been helped out in many ways by either a community, a social service, so I feel this is my way to be able to give back. There’s a lot of displaced people in our area who could be helped with this project, if other people helped out with it. Not everyone chooses to be homeless. Most people, they just need a tiny kick. Just a little bit, just to help them. Of course, some people mess it up when they get help. If they smell awful people will say they’re the dregs. No, they’re a person. I’ve watched displacement happen here in Reno. It might not be the best solution and it might bring another bunch of stuff, but we have to try something.”
Breaking the Law?
“I don’t even know what the laws are. But that’s part of the adventure, figuring it all out. What I’ve gathered is you just have to be smart. Don’t be conspicuous. That’s why I’m also building in a van. A van fits in with other cars. It’s when you get a motorhome, it’s a little bit bigger. In a van it’s easier to keep a low profile.”
Seth has experience building up a project others thought was crazy. While in high school, with his family, he helped build a skatepark in his hometown in Loyalton, California, which is sometimes called the loneliest town in America. “We had to deal with the city, parks system to get it done because they didn’t want to get sued. I have other ideas. This might be super radical but why not have one park in the area where heroin is legal or drugs are legal but monitored. Why can’t we do that here? This is Reno. We do things different here. Why don’t we just try that? If it doesn’t work, we shut it down, and we go back to the way it was.”
Any final words of wisdom for other Renoites?
“I implore our community to just ‘give a shit’. Quote me on that. Care about people. Why not? Even if you don’t want to talk to them or look at them or smell them give them money and say you’re welcome. Try something different. Be nice. Dude, be nice. Hashtag #dudebenice. Let’s just help each other out. Some people think it’s real hippie. But if we could all help each other. We all have things we can offer to other people. Even if we don’t think so. We all have something we know how to do which is of value to someone else. So why not help them out? Go out on a limb. You might get burned but that’s how you grow as a human being. I just want to try the urban van life out and show it can be done. I feel comfortable. I’m going to choose this. The home is where you make it. My home is wherever I’m at and feeling comfortable. I actually already spend a ton of time in my car, a Honda Element. I sit in there, watch movies, hang out, listen to music, everyone does, we all do. Cars are a big deal. Why not just stay in one which you make your home?”
DIRECT LINKS TO URBVAN DWELLING
Here are some of the websites where you can follow Seth and his Urbvan Dwelling movement ...
And today he started a YouTube channel with his first video here and above: