Van Camper Builds: Avoiding Paralysis by Analysis

According to Wikipedia, “paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing a situation so that a decision or action is never taken.”

This describes my situation at the start of the Odyssey Camper project, when I was trying to set up a minvan RV.

There has never been a better time to tackle a DIY project!  YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, and Facebook are full of “van builds” and clever ideas.  However, because there is SO much information it’s easy to fall into an indecision loop, leading to an indefinite delay in our plans.

I’ve been reading through Vandweller and Facebook RV groups where people discuss and dream of life on the road. There seem to be two types of people:

  1. Those who have done it, or are currently doing it.
  2. Those who are “thinking about” doing it.

The first group is made up of people that were able to move from PLANNING to ACTION and get out on the road*.

The second group is “researching” or “collecting information” so they “do it right.” Certainly, it is wise to plan your van conversion to fit your needs and budget, but when do you stop?

How Much Information is ENOUGH?

Let’s say you are going to build a bed in your van.  The solutions run the gamut from an air mattress to a perfectly-fit custom solution, with drawers and built-in house batteries.  So you start pinning photos, watching videos, and bookmarking pages, so you’ll have the info when you need it.  However, this can become an activity in itself, rather than a means to an end.

When I started the Odyssey Camper, I did this exact thing for a winter and part of the following summer before finally saying, “Screw it, I want to get OUT THERE!  I’ll just throw something workable together and hit the road”.  That turned out to be the solution to my paralysis and Odyssey Camper Phase 1 was born.  Now that I’m working on the second part of the project I’m aware of how easy it is to be paralyzed by over-thinking the project.

If you are stuck in the same loop, I think I can offer some ideas that might help you get your own minivan camper project started.

Curb Your Curiosity

One of the causes of analysis paralysis is over attention to details.   As humans, we all have the desire to dig deeper and deeper into every facet of our planned project. To stem the desire for infinite information (delaying progress), try setting some limits on what you need to know (now) and what you’d like to know (in the future). If the information you have now will do the job, it’s time to move forward.  Remember, you aren’t carving Mount Rushmore here.  You can always make changes later, as you learn more.

That last part is worth repeating because even if you plan everything perfectly (you think), you will learn things on the road that make you say, “I wish I did this differently”.  You should expect that your first attempt will leave some opportunity for future improvement.

Limit Your Options

Using the bed example again, you’ll find an almost infinite variation in how people fit a bed in their van.  However, most van builds use one of the following:

  1. Mattress on floor (air or foam)
  2. Cot
  3. Sleeping Platform (simple or fancy)

Instead of looking at EVERY variation of each, pick a number from one to five.  Limit yourself to collecting that many examples before you begin work on your camper.  At most, you’ll have 15, total.  Pick a type of bed, then pick out the materials.

Know Your Limitations

I’m an electrical engineer by training, so I don’t have much trouble with wiring things like solar panels and battery banks.  Ditto for things mechanical, but give me some woodworking tools and I couldn’t make a birdhouse.  I’ve accepted that I suck at some things.  Sure, I can watch some YouTube videos to learn the technical aspects, but in the case of cabinet building, I don’t have the years of experience that make it all come together.  So, if I plan a DIY build to save money, I’d better pick a means of accomplishing my goal that is within my capabilities.

An additional thought about this: I was watching someone’s VW bus build up where they had built in gorgeous wooden cabinets and seats with piano hinges.  When I stopped the video, I could see two sets of screw holes where they made a mistake locating a hinge.  Two observations:

  1. Sometimes, other people’s DIY projects look WAY better than mine.
  2. Even though they look perfect, they usually aren’t.  Perfection is an illusion (unless you are Jesus or Budah, or maybe Norm Abrams)

Get Started

Sometimes it’s easier to start with the small stuff.  Buy some of the things you will need, start the small projects first, but take some action.  Simple Window Panels,or Insect Screens for your minivan windows, are two projects that you can do tomorrow, without any special tools.

If All Else Fails

If you try but these suggestions aren’t working for you, scare yourself a little.  Fear has a way of motivating humans to take action.  Remember that someday your name will be on a tombstone with two dates on it.  That dash between the two dates will have been your life.  What will you do with it? **

Take action, because the clock is ticking…

–Odyssey Camper

**credit for the tombstone reference goes to Jack Spirko, the source I heard these words of wisdom from.

*It’s also made up of people who were thrust into van living without a chance to plan, but that’s a different subject.


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