The Tiny House Movement and me


I once had a kitchen with six junk drawers, and they were all full of junk. Now, I have one tiny drawer, no junk, and almost no kitchen. I once had a house with four bedrooms and 2100 square feet. Now I live in 66 square feet. I once had a queen-size bed, like most normal people. Now I sleep in a narrow bunk above my dinette that requires a fair bit of agility to leap in and out of.

When I visit friends and family, no one understands that I really like to sleep in my trailer.  “Is that thing comfortable?”they ask. “Don’t you want to sleep in a real bed?”

“Yes,” I respond, and “No. But I’d love to use your shower.”

What I’ve discovered about living in a small space is that you adapt; the space becomes yours. It aquires your scent; it molds itself to your quirks and habits. In my trailer, one side of the dinette is the “office” where I work and sometimes eat. The other side is the living room where I relax and read–and also sometimes eat.

tiny kitchen

As for the eating, I have two burners, a tiny refrigerator, limited water in a tank under the dinette, and no oven or counter space, so food has become a simple affair. Cooking hard-boiled eggs or rice is as ambitious as I get. Dump some chili beans in the rice, tear up some lettuce, and voila!–a meal fit for the queen of the campground. I also eat a lot of tortilla chips, crackers and cheese, dried fruit and nuts, and ginger snaps.

modified dinette leaves room for sitting and moving around

A small space becomes cluttered quickly, so I am constantly sweeping and tidying. Drop a paper clip, and its presence on my precious counter space is so offensive that I scurry to put it away. Everything–all the miscellaneous stuff that once migrated into junk drawers–now has a place. My Bible and other books for meditation go on this side of the dinette pillow. Fiction and other books for entertainment go on that side. Stamps go here; paper clips go there. And still my trailer looks messy.

Every inch is accounted for, so I’m obsessive about non-acquisition. I don’t dawdle at the mall and pick up this or that little item; I never troll garage sales. I wear clothes until they wear out and then I replace them. I’m obsessive about getting rid of stuff I don’t use. I can’t buy anything that’s fragile (it will break under the wear and tear of travel) or heavy (trailers have weight limits).

I often camp off the grid, so I rely only on solar power, and it doesn’t produce enough to run my microwave or furnace and can only recharge my computer on very sunny days. I know my system could be juiced up a bit, but I’m not savvy enough to do it. So the option for me is to consume less power. (Water, too) Usually, these remote places are so amazing, it’s worth the discomfort of being unplugged from a power source.

Jay Shafer, whom some consider the founder of the tiny house movement, calls this the "Tumbleweed Tiny"

Lest you think my lifestyle is way left of center, allow me to introduce you to the Tiny House Movement. These are people who live in spaces that are almost as small as mine. People live in tiny houses for many reasons, such as the desire to simplify or to live very sustainably or to live within their means. Tiny houses may be constructed on trailer frames, so they can be moved, but they’re usually far more durable and nicely finished than a trailer. They’re often lofty enough to accommodate a loft, which keeps the bedroom above the living space, ergo more living space. They may have simple water- and waste-disposal systems like mine, consisting of a hose, waste tanks, and an electric cord, or the house may be built on a regular foundation and have the plumbing and electrical systems of a normal house.

I don’t think the Tiny House Movement will ever become a groundswell. There simply aren’t enough people who want to live in a dwelling about the size of a walk-in closet. Yet, it’s encouraging to me that a few folks have profoundly rejected the McMansion mentality.

My motivation for living in a tiny trailer is radical mobility, but in the process of being very, very fleet of foot, I’ve rediscovered how cozy a small space can be and how little I need to be comfortable.

Last summer, I spent six weeks in New York City in a real apartment with a real bed and shower. This was a test. (It was also time spent with my daughter, her husband, and my new baby grandson.) Would I still like my trailer when I returned? Would it still feel like home?

With the tiniest twinge of nervousness I opened the door to my little trailer when I got back to Michigan.

Ahhh…home. It was like I never left.

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3 Responses to The Tiny House Movement and me

  1. Michelle De Rooy 30 September, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Isn’t it amazing how much we can clutter our lives up with junk. I would love to have everything neat and tidy, but alas my own habits are not so inclined let alone that of my husband. Still we manage to enjoy our travels.

  2. KathyB. 4 May, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    I was happy to see this new post. ( new in the sense it was published after the last post I accidentally found on-line). I find your writings about life on a very small scale, not to be confused with a small life, worth contemplating long after I have read your post. I like reading about the simple things you need to do when living in such a small but transportable home, and how you live and appreciate this life. Please keep writing about it, when you’re able. Thank-you.

  3. jean selby 11 November, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Some – quite a lot of us – are eagerly awaiting the time you return to your tiny house. Our yard misses your trailer, and so does our lawn care man.
    Mostly we miss you though. Hurry up and finish your East Cast sojourn.