Living Tiny vs. Trailer Trash

*Photo taken in Moab, Utah when we were traveling out to Nevada with our newly-purchased Airstream. Here we were just getting our feet wet with Airstream life, and Michael and I both miss it dearly. 

An Instagram post I saw over the weekend got me thinking about the difference between living tiny and living in a trailer park. Is there a difference? I mean, aside from the fact that the minimalist movement is huge right now, is there really a difference between choosing to build your own tiny home and having to live in a trailer? The Instagram post I read suggests that yes, there is a difference. As a baby, I lived in a trailer. My mother has pictures of my first year of life in our trailer, which in my mind was just one of the many houses or apartments we called home over the years of my childhood. We moved a lot, and in my younger years I never had issues with how my house looked. Usually my issues were around the jealousy of the toys other kids had, or the food their parents bought. Houses were not a thing I worried about much. I knew a lot of people, including both sets of grandparents, who lived in trailers by choice because they wanted to scale down from taking care of a whole house. So, my experience with trailers is vastly different than maybe some people who lived in a trailer park their whole lives, or who felt a need to escape the trailer park lifestyle for their own sense of happiness. Maybe I need to consider how hoighty it seems for me to blab about living tiny; after all, some people probably hate being trapped in their city apartments the size of postage stamps, or their run-down trailers on the wrong side of the tracks. Let’s get into this.

The biggest difference I can see between the two camps is money. Well, maybe. On the surface, if you go digging around on YouTube for videos about living tiny, you can find a vast array of fancy homes built for style, function, and the choice to live minimally. Lots of people choose living tiny for reasons like wasting less energy, wasting less time on housework and general maintenance, and wasting fewer resources by reusing products in the build. Many tiny homes are built to be eco-friendly in many ways, and it does take a good deal of cash to build some tiny homes that can be totally tricked out with electronics, solar panels, fancy lighting, and expensive finishes. People with the cash to pay for fancy stuff are certainly out there building tiny homes. On the other hand, I have seen lots of people building their own tiny homes because they can’t afford mortgage debt, need to share space with parents and would rather have their own home in the yard, or bought a house they can’t afford and need to get out from under it. I have watched a lot of videos shared by individual families or couples whose sole motivation for building tiny was to save money, not resources. Some of these people are building with a very small amount of capital, and are salvaging a lot of the materials they use in the build. Their reasons are financial…so what’s the difference between living tiny and getting a trailer? In this instance, very little.

When I think about the amount of space available in a mobile home as compared with the space in a tiny house, I actually think a trailer usually has more room. Some tiny houses are built bigger to accommodate the individual’s needs, but a trailer generally has more square footage than the typical tiny house you see built on a trailer. True tiny houses are meant to be moved, though some people do build them on foundations. A mobile home can be moved, but usually isn’t moved once you find a lot to rent at a trailer park (and I mean mobile homes, not RVs). One set of my grandparents who lived in a trailer had two full baths, two bedrooms, a space for laundry, a bumped-out living area, a screened porch, a shed out back, and more cupboards in the kitchen than I have in my current house. The other set of grandparents had a double-wide that felt more like a regular house than a trailer, especially since there were two porches on either side of the trailer, one of which was more like a family room because it had windows and was air-conditioned in the Arizona heat. That trailer was also equipped with two full baths, three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and breakfast nook/foyer. Lots of closets, plenty of space. Trailer trash? Not either of my grandparents’ homes. My grandparents were more privileged than many people who live in trailers in the US, if for no other reason than they were white, but I know a lot of people who live comfortably in trailers.

When Michael and I were living in our Airstream, which was effectively a tiny house on wheels, we had no laundry, a living area which incorporated the kitchen and dining in one space, one closet for our clothes, a small bathroom which had floor space barely large enough for your feet, and a bedroom that only accommodated our mattress with no floor space at all. We had storage over our heads and a dresser built into the wall. That’s more what I think about when I think living tiny. In a trailer, you have room to move around people in the living areas without having to scoot past or move aside—unless you have too much stuff, which is only the fault of the homeowner—but when you live tiny you usually don’t have that luxury. Everything is scaled down to be as minimal as possible in tiny homes, from square footage to storage to what items you choose to have for specific reasons. Most things in a tiny house serve double duty, and must be cleverly designed. A trailer has more space and usually still feels more like a house than an RV or tiny house.

In general, I think there are two different types of people who buy mobile homes, just like there are people who build tiny. You have those who must live in trailer parks because they can’t afford a traditional home, and you have people who are tired of maintaining a traditional home and prefer the life of a nice trailer park where life is simpler. It’s the same with tiny homes. There are people who choose to live tiny because they want to make less impact on the planet or they prefer a minimal lifestyle, and then there are those who see it as a cheaper option to owning a home in an economy unfriendly to homeowners. Some people retire and buy expensive RVs the size of buses, sell their homes, and live the travel life. Other people work remote jobs, save up for an RV, sell their home or escape their city apartment, and live the travel life. I think if people want to see living tiny as a thing of privilege, a choice only made by fancy white people with money to burn, then they are allowed to believe that notion. I am not a fancy person with a lot of money, but I did work hard to plan the life I wanted to live, and I chose carefully with my husband to purchase a used model of a good RV. Airstreams last a long, long time, and we knew it would be easier to revamp an old interior than to build from scratch. It also gave us options to stay at RV parks, when many tiny homes are not allowed due to insurance limits.

My impression of the tiny house movement is that there are just as many reasons and types of people choosing to live tiny as there are reasons and people who live in trailers. Those of us living in the US love our stereotypes, we love to point fingers, lay blame, and stir up trouble. If you live in a trailer, the only reason you have to allow anyone the power to call you trash is if you believe it about yourself. I don’t think anyone is trash, and many of my favorite people lived in trailers. It’s not trashy to live in a trailer, unless you decide to make it so. Whatever other people want to think is up to them, but what really matters is what you believe about yourself. No one can do anything about that except for you. Whether you want to save money to live tiny, you want mobility, you want less work, or you want to use fewer resources, are any of those reasons too hoighty? Should we have to make rich people feel bad about living tiny because they want to be kinder to the earth, or just have freedom to live where they want without a big impact on the planet? If the discussion of living tiny as a thing of privilege is the concern, I believe that’s an impression some people are entitled to have if they wish. Maybe this is more deeply concerning because we see this as a white people thing, and not welcoming to people of color, though I generally think of white people when I picture “white trash,” not people of color. Is that just me? Maybe.

Considering the fact that it does seem to be more of a movement by white people (myself included), I have no doubt that class comes into the equation. If we’re talking about middle class people, then we are certainly talking about a group of people making the choice to live tiny. They may still have to make sacrifices to build a tiny home, but they are certainly more privileged than poor people who feel forced to live in trailers due to a lack of money. Rich people living tiny can live anywhere and buy anything, so of course their tiny homes are going to be far more fancy and upscale than one you build with your own two hands using repurposed supplies. This is the kind of debate that can be unending. We can go round and round about who gets to live tiny and why, but I still maintain that even if you feel you’re living tiny because you don’t have a choice, you still get to choose how you feel about it. We all do. I could allow people to make me feel bad about my choice to live in a shared home so we can save money to build our Airstream interior or purchase land for our tiny home. But what purpose does that serve? Why should I feel bad about saving money to make myself happy, and to live in the woods where I can be quiet? A trailer is a home. That is all. If someone else wants to cut down a person for where they live, it can happen even to a person who lives in a mansion—think about some of the most ridiculous mansions you’ve seen on TV, and imagine how much ridicule people get for building them. There are some wackadoodle houses out there, but if they make people happy, why do we care?

If governments don’t get in the way, and if Wall Street doesn’t obstruct the finances, tiny homes could be the answer to a lot of problems created by the foolhardy greed of the housing market. Living tiny makes less impact on the planet, which is very, very important right now. If we allow agencies with the resources to build tiny homes for the homeless, we could change lives. A lot of lives. For all the people who still live with their parents because their school debt or inability to get work prevents them from having their own home, tiny homes are a possible answer. I looked at a few articles about the “privilege” of living tiny, and how it seems like a mostly white thing, a mostly middle-class thing. That may be true now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If enough white people make enough noise about the stupidity of the regulations hampering the growth of tiny house communities, then people of color will have less concern about getting in trouble if they want to build. Sometimes those of us with privilege can make way for those who have less. That’s my goal, at least. I see it as a chance for freedom in many ways, and I think that’s for anyone who wants it, not just white middle class people. Most of my life I’ve lived on the edge of poverty, but I still know how to be smart about saving and repurposing. If I can do it, anyone can. Maybe I’m opening myself up to arguments with this idea, but my thinking falls into the camp of making one’s own way in the world. Ignore the haters, the stereotypers, the naysayers. Let them gripe about who deserves what. If you’re a person of color who wants to live tiny, go for it. Who cares what anyone else thinks? Make yourself happy, live free. If you’re a rich mofo with a ton of cash, go build a tiny house on a desert island and be happy living free there. Whatever floats your boat. And if you’re a person who can build tiny houses for the homeless and you have property where they can be parked…go for that, too. This is supposedly still a free country, so live how you like, trailer or foundation, tiny or big. Be yourself, and fulfill your own destiny. Own it. And if you want to call me either trailer trash or privileged, you’re welcome to your opinion. What I know is I’ve worked hard for what I have and I am happy to be where I am now. Get out there and live a beautiful life, friends. You only live once. Define yourself.

Comments are welcome, especially from those who feel I am being unfair in the content of my post here. Do send me your love letters, friends. I enjoy hearing your genuine concerns and am interested in keeping an open mind. All I ask is that we all take good care of each other, even if we disagree. I will love you no matter what your opinion. 

 

Trees Bow to Bruce But We Are Cozy in Our Small Space

*Picture taken in Nelson, NH during winter storm.

Winter storm “Bruce” has come and gone today in New Hampshire, and the trees of the woods are frosted white, bowing low to the ground with heavy, wet snow and ice. Ominous cracking sounds emit from the woods every once in a while, followed by a cascade of snow thumping to the ground, sometimes accompanied by a large branch. Countless tree limbs are down all over the place, and we lost power here in Nelson once in the middle of the night, and again mid-morning. With all this excitement, what does one do? Well, one enjoys the fact that school is cancelled, which means time to play in the snow. What else would I do on a snow day? Very fortunately, Michael gifted me a pair of snow shoes only last night—who knew the perfection of that luck?—which meant I got to try them out today. They worked like a charm. I have wanted snow shoes for ages, and now that we are wintering here in New Hampshire, I have some. Winter hiking, here I come. Aside from the winter weather, I thought I should share thoughts on tiny living again. It’s been a while since I shared anything about our Airstream or living tiny, and it’s about time I write about it again. Thus, I shall share the ideas Michael and I are cooking up for our future in New Hampshire, and what we hope to do after establishing a cozy homestead.

Right now, Michael and I are renting rooms in a lodge which has shared common space in the kitchen and living room. Mostly, we don’t go downstairs much other than to cook and eat, so our living arrangement is actually rather tiny right now. It’s a good thing, since our intention is to stay tiny for good. After living in our Airstream for a year, we fell in love with the lifestyle of freedom, more time for fun (because you’re not wasting time taking care of your house), and the smaller footprint which meant smaller bills. So many good things come from tiny living, much of which came as a surprise to me. I didn’t expect to find myself so happy in such a small home, especially when I left behind a house full of stuff I thought I needed. Very little of what I left at home turned out to be important to me, and when we got back to Olean to clean out the house to sell it, we got rid of probably 80% of what we owned. Really, the things I found that mattered most were either items made for me, or were mementos of some kind. After that, books were my biggest thing. I mean, words are my first love, so I can’t help myself when it comes to stories. Art and pictures were another big one, but you can see from my list that all the things which mattered are less about the material and more about the inspirational value. As a result, we narrowed down our stuff to the bare necessities and sold or gave away the rest. It felt wonderful to be free.

Here in our little rooms, we have quite small spaces which remind me somewhat of how much room we had in the Airstream. Both Michael and I miss the Falcon (for you new folks here, that’s what we called our Airstream: the Aluminum Falcon) every day, and we’re still trying to figure out how to find the resources and space to be able to rebuild it. Until we figure it out, the Falcon is patiently awaiting us to rescue her from a kind friend’s yard, still a hollow shell with nothing but wires clinging to the aluminum ribs. In the meantime, we also have been looking for land in New Hampshire. We intend to build a tiny house on the property, a cabin no larger than 500 square feet. Even that might be too big, but we plan to make part of the space a sort of studio for art and woodworking. Both Michael and I miss doing things with our hands, as we didn’t have space to take any of our supplies while on the road with the Falcon. We don’t have space for it where we’re living now, either, so it will have to wait. The plan, once it comes to fruition, is to find a parcel of about 20 acres which abuts a state park or land conservancy of some kind. Our hope is to preserve the land against any future development and to keep the woods healthy and alive. We expect to live on a small portion of the land and let the rest be a sanctuary of nature.

At the moment, Michael and I are still deciding on details of décor, but the current idea is to build a log cabin. I’m not entirely sold on it, as I’ve never been too much of a log cabin person, but Michael insists that we can build it for virtually nothing if we can fell our own trees. I told him that sounds like a lot of work, but he says he can do it. Okay. Maybe. I’m still not sure, but I might be persuaded. My ideal was actually to build a tiny house in the style of an arts and crafts home, or maybe a contemporary build with burned cedar planks on the exterior. Still, if it saves money, maybe a log cabin would be okay. We think the interior footprint will be about 20 x 20 downstairs for the living space, which will be open floor plan for the living room and kitchen, with added space in warmer months in the form of a screened porch. Upstairs will be smaller at about 10 x 20, but we plan to stack the screened porch to have a second level off the bedroom as a sleeping porch. I get giddy just thinking about it. We have our eye on certain places we’d like to buy property, but we really need to sell our Olean house to make the transition easier. Fortunately, Michael’s brother found siding on Craig’s list that matches what Michael used on our Olean house, so that solves the problem of paying full price. Come warmer months, Michael can get the siding done, and hopefully we can toss it on the market.

Of course, we also plan to keep traveling once we do purchase land. The whole idea of living in New Hampshire arose for the sake of Michael’s nursing career (aside from the fact that we love it here). New Hampshire is a compact state, and being residents means he can enjoy the reciprocity of the 30 or so states which also honor the compact licensing for nurses. It will make traveling much, much easier when we go back to it—lots less paperwork and expense by avoiding the fees and time of applying for a new license in every. single. state. For now, we expect to establish ourselves in the lovely community of Keene and the surrounding area to enjoy the rewards of New England life. It’s a gorgeous place to explore, and we’re happy to be here. Even when we travel again, it will be nice to have a place to call home, and the goal is to eventually build a couple of other tiny houses on the property so we can invite friends and family to stay comfortably. We want a place to bring people together, but also a place to pass on to people we love, a spot in the woods that we hope to keep sacred and alive. Living tiny is giving us a lot of benefits we never expected, and we want to pass it on to the next generation if we can.

If you’ve been thinking about living tiny and are having trouble with the idea of giving up all your space and all your stuff, trust me when I say you won’t miss it. The US has become such a throw-away society (along with other countries in the world), but if we start cultivating a space just for the things which bring us joy, it changes your perspective entirely. Go watch a few videos about tiny living if you aren’t sure about it, or even better, find a way to test it by living in an RV or cabin for a month or two. See if you can handle it. I’ve said that before, and I’m saying it again because it bears repeating. Tiny living offers benefits far beyond the wallet. It’s a lifestyle of freedom, joy, wonder, and lightness. If you have dreams, start working toward them because you only live once. Don’t wait for the future. Do it right now. Hang those photos where you can see them, write down your ideas where you can read them every day, and keep telling yourself those dreams are your fuel. They will grow when you give them the water of your hope-filled mindset.