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How do I get So Dirty!? Staying Clean

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Homer lying in the dirt just waiting for me to pet him!! No wonder I can’t keep my hands clean!

I always get a kick out of movies that are set in the woods (or in the past) and the actors always stay perfectly neat and clean. That hasn’t been my experience at all! Walking in the dust and dirt all day kicks up dust that gets my feet and legs dirty. And my hands, UGH!! They are always dirty. I bought a scrub brush that I use on my hands and feet every day, but that just barely keeps up with it. But worst of all are my fingernails; there is perpetual dirt under them.
I’ve decided Homer, my 80 lb. dog, is the main cause of my dirty hands. He lays in the dirt because it’s cool and then I pet and play with him—transferring the dirt to me. But what am I going to do; I love him more than life itself, so I guess I will just keep scrubbing my hands.
I work reasonably hard to stay clean, but to some degree I’ve just relaxed my attitude toward cleanliness. The parts of me that other people see I keep clean, and the parts that will start to smell (crotch and armpits) I am very careful with, but otherwise I’ve just learned to accept some compromise on being perfectly clean.
I think modern humans have a really out-of-balance attitude toward cleanliness. The old saying that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is symptomatic of a much larger problem. It comes from the Christian belief that in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve fell from grace, all of creation (including the earth) fell with them and became corrupt. So God ordered them to take control of the earth and subdue it like it was the enemy. Ever since then it has been a basic Christian belief that Spiritual things were good, and things of the earth were evil. In that context, the saying “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” makes perfect sense.
The problem is that it makes the earth the enemy and we have literally set out to subdue and conquer the earth. We need coal so we destroy a mountain top to get it. We need oil so we explore underwater and have the horrible British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf. We have to get around so we drive our gas guzzlers and spew carbon into the air. But think of the irony of being at war with the earth. If we win, we make the planet uninhabitable and we face mass extinction. If we lose, then the earth strikes back and wipes us out in self-preservation. We’ve put ourselves in a lose-lose situation; we can’t win!
Let me tell you the ultimate irony of the ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness” way of thinking; wherever I go for walks in the woods or desert, I always find trash left by previous campers. So on one hand, these people don’t give a thought to leaving a filthy mess in the woods (because the earth is evil and base), but I would bet you money that each and every one of them kept their own body meticulously clean. Those priorities are so very wrong!
The earth is not bad or evil. Just the opposite, it is sacred and should be honored. Cleanliness is good, but revering the earth is next to Godliness. My message here is to stay reasonably clean, but don’t be obsessive or compulsive about it.

Coleman 5 gallon water jugs have a spigot that make washing-up much easier

There are a couple of things that will help you to stay clean. The first is a solar shower. Having hot water to wash with makes its much more pleasant and a solar shower makes plenty of hot water when left out in the hot sun during the day. Second a 5 gallon water container (like a Coleman or Reliance) with a spigot makes cleaning up much easier. Lay the container on its side and open the spigot to wash up. Finally wet-wipes don’t need any extra water but get you quite clean, they are perfect for vandwellers. For a link to Amazon for the Coleman Water Jug, click here.


  1. MichaelinOK

    Those are interesting thoughts on the cultural-theological side of cleanliness of body vs. of the planet.
    And you’re right that we’ve taken the fear of “dirt” too far. Recent research, as you may know, seems to indicate that children raised in overly clean homes have less resistance to various germs and, if I remember correctly, a higher incidence of asthma. Also (and I’m truly not making this up just because you mentioned your dog in the post) but this week I saw an article referencing a study finding that children living with a dog in the house are less susceptible to colds, ear infections, and need fewer antibiotics. (And one theory as to why is that the dog tracks in dirt, and the kids build up immunity.) So you’re on the right track in more ways than one.
    On the other side of the equation, we may want to bear in mind that humans probably have bone-deep memories of various diseases or death being associated with dirt and mud and bodily excretions and unclean water, etc., which they didn’t understand scientifically, but which they learned by experience could spread plagues, etc.
    Along those lines, yesterday I heard an interview on NPR about a fellow who has worked for years to help eradicate a particular type of parasite worm that grows in humans who drink contaminated water, and then after growing inside them, eventually burrows out of the human’s foot. It’s a painful, oftend debilitating condition.
    Ticks, spiders, flies, and many other small or even invisible creatures that can be dangerous in their own right or are vectors for disease, may be associated with, or harder to detect in the presence of, “dirt,” and so our ancestors may have had some legitimate reasons for their over-cleanliness.
    It may be a case of another one of those balances–this time not freedom vs. security, but exposure to and embracing nature leading to greater immunity and hardiness but some additional types of risk, on the one hand, vs. avoidance/rejection of much of nature, on the other, leading to lowered immunity and higher fragility (and probably less sunshine and a vitamin D deficiency), but greater safety from certain other risks.
    But fear instincts can be very imprecise: We’re too afraid of some harmless things, and not afraid enough of certain very dangerous things.
    Having said all that, I personally have mostly chosen to err to the side of freedom and encountering nature, including dirt, instead of being overly cautious and afraid of such things. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to clean up much. 🙂
    I see I’ve written a book. I’ll try to keep future comments more brief.

    • Bob

      No need to keep your comments shorter, I found all that fascinating. I am a big fan of anthropology and love to study how evolution and history has shaped us. I think any self-examination that fails to take into account evolutionary forces won’t be much of a success.
      I’m afraid you were speaking for me as well, with your second to last paragraph when you said: “Or maybe I’m just too lazy to clean up much.” Here I was showing you all how smart and philosophical I am, when the truth is I’m just lazy. Oh well, maybe I’ll get away with it next time. Bob

  2. Van Trekker (Brad)

    Hi Bob,
    I like the blog and found the article about cleanliness fascinating. I agree that some people get way too carried away with the compulsion to stay clean, never be around insects, etc. Their weapon of choice is the hand sanitizer.
    I’m more in the middle, learning toward the dirtier side. I usually opt for a “P.T.A.” shower if need be but sometimes if I’m not around people for a day, I’ll even skip that. Shaving is only once a week any more.
    I am glad you mentioned solar showers. I almost fell into the mindset of having to put a permament shower in my Express van. It was not even needed for city living! Instead, when out of town, I find the solar shower is fine even for a 290 pounder!
    Again, I really enjoyed reading your content and will be following the blog in the future.

    • Bob

      Thanks Brad, I’m glad you are here. You are a tremendous asset to the forum and I’m sure you will be here too. I hear you on the shower, ometimes there is nothing as wonderful as a hot shower!! BUT, for the most part we can do without. For me putting one in the trailer (or van) would be much more trouble than it’s worth. Bob

  3. Tim McDougall

    Hi Bob. Just found your blog while browsing cheapgreenrvliving. Glad to have this new blog as it will surely fill a need. Keep up the good work.

  4. Tim McDougall

    Great blog Bob. Glad to see it up and running.
    Tim M

    • Bob

      Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you are here! Bob

  5. Theresa

    Hey Bob,
    interesting thoughts. I’ve never put it together like you have. I think though I remember Genesis and God making the earth and saying it was good. I beg to differ when it comes to big bugs. 😉 but who am I to disagree.
    I think the wording of earth is a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. Since who could look at a sunset and not be in awe of God’s creation?
    I could be wrong but that is how I see it.

    • Theresa

      Oh, I forgot to add my info about keeping clean. I have been swimming in a lake or river when I can. I use wet wipes if I’m feeling grimmy and not near a lake. I also have a small bottle that used to contain jet dry and I put 1/3rd hand soap 2/3rd water and squirt it in my hand, rub hands together, use a water sprayer to rinse then dry with hand towel. I like to wash my hands before preparing and eating food and then after I use my 5 gal bucket 😉
      Other than that I like to experience everything and a bit of dirt won’t keep me from doing so. I’ll pet dogs, go for a walk in the forest, etc.
      I don’t think Vandwelling is geared for people who like to keep everything clean. Impossible.

      • Bob

        Sounds like you are a boondocker living in the forest? To me that is the best possible life! Swimming in a lake or river is the ideal way to stay clean! Unfortunately, growing up in alaska I never learned to swim, otherwise there is a lake nearby i would go and swim in every week. I envy you that. Good tip on the Jet Dry bottle!
        Where are you at? If you are anywhere near the Sierras you are welcome to come and join Cheri, James, Kyndal (and soon Steve, Judy and Bill) and I.

  6. Kenny

    Lot of good info Bob. I’m a big fan of the handi-wipes. My dogs do track in a ton of dirt also. Oh well, they are worth it. Thanks for all you do.

    • Bob

      Kenny, yeah, my dog creates extra work for me too what am I going to do, I love him!! I guess we are stuck with them! Bob

  7. Aunt Meg

    i miss the old days of hauling my kids out in the forest. or the once in awhile sabbatical i used to get. there is a line in the book “a walk in the woods”..where he says “you get used to it”..(dirt)
    i loved being out in the wilds. i felt like grizzly adams when i came off the mountain. what a freeing sensation.

    • Bob

      Aunt Meg, “You get used to it (dirt)” is the bottom line. You just can’t live in the woods and not get dirty! I think it is very natural, normal and healthy. Bob

  8. Kitty

    Dear Friends,
    Cleanliness, humm. Well I live in my van with 7 cats. (four litter boxes under my first layer of shelves) I find that scooping the boxes daily, using a hand broom on the floor, and weekly brushing of all cats keeps the van ship shape. Once in a while when I am housesitting I vacume the entire van out. My belongings are in milk crate that fit on the shelves so I just pull them out and use the hand broom to get behind them.
    As for me, I learned long ago that several days between showers is no problem if you live alone or with a person on the same bathing schedule. When I lived on a boat with 13 other people no one noticed if we washed or not (Yeah, in the summer we jumped in the river)But spring and fall wasn’t to bad. This summer I have been house sitting several weeks so at those times I have access to a shower. At other times and when I had some cash I joined a cheap health club, (15 dollars a month) I could take showers three times a day if I wanted ,not to mention a place to exercise in the winter. Of course I am a northeasterner, so I am “boondocking” in a medium size city. I buy bottled water and take sponge baths with washclothes I cut out of old towels. Clean enough.

  9. Mark

    Kurt Vonnegut said it best; “man is a virus upon the planet.” Indigenous people such as the American Indian could and tried to teach us to respect the earth but money speaks so loudly.

    • Bob

      Mark, while I agree with his sentiment, I’d rather not think of myself as a virus!! Humans have certainly totally missed the mark and are being tremendously harmful. And for that we may have to be smacked down and put in our place. Hopefully we will learn the lesson and return to living in harmony and connection with the earth and it’s inhabitants as our brothers and sisters. Bob

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