Using $33,000 of inheritance following the death of Claire Uhl's mother, she said they paid cash for a Dodge Ram ProMaster van, invested another $10,000 in a five-month build-out and purged most of their belongings. Now, home is in parking lots or on public land outside of Boulder, and they have access to showers as members of Movement Climbing and Fitness.
"I'm definitely getting a little bit more used to it," she said. "Everything is just so glamorized on Instagram, so coming to these realities like, 'This really isn't that great all the time,' was difficult."
Falling asleep in nature and waking up to a sunrise at their campsite on Switzerland Trail is short-lived, Uhl said, because responsibilities require them to descend the mountain. She said she has chosen to keep her full-time job as a production coordinator and customer service manager at GrafXGroup, whereas her husband is flexible as a photographer and filmmaker.
"I think that's been the hardest part for me is trying to balance this high-pressure 9 to 5 with then leaving work and having all these possibilities," she said. "We could go anywhere, we could do anything -- trying to balance that dichotomy between structure and no structure."
The jobs of van dwellers span all industries -- outdoor programmers, graphic designers, telemarketers, brand ambassadors, sales account executives, mechanics, freelancers and youth counselors -- such as those interviewed for the story.
But the popularity of remote work, affordability and connecting with nature are reasons Morton, for Vanlife Diaries and Tiny House, Tiny Footprint, believes that living simply and environmentally friendly is becoming more feasible and more accepted these days.
"When I started living small three years ago, I definitely didn't do van life because it was a popular thing," she said. "I didn't do it because of Instagram photos out the backdoor ... I started to think, 'Is there a way that I can afford to live in the Denver area while also living minimalistically?"
The community of people living full-time in tiny houses, vans, vehicles and RVs is just getting bigger. She said the Colorado Van Gathering held in July this year brought 250 people, more than doubling the 90 people the year before. Another van life event on Thursday in Boulder drew about 100 people to tour 15 vans in Upslope's parking lot at 1898 S. Flatiron Court.
Morton said she has noticed most van dwellers reside in Colorado and west thereof, with fewer on the East Coast, but she's hearing more about the need to bring people together there. As more people get into it, she's hoping it becomes more widely accepted.
"We don't have fences around our vans like houses do," she said. "We welcome people in to be a part of it no matter what kind of rig they're in."