Flying with the Falcon

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. 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Want to Live Tiny? A Few Thoughts on Preparing….

*Photo taken in Ely, NV, showing our beloved Aluminum Falcon. How we miss her! We are so ready to get back to living tiny.

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*If you like my blog posts, consider taking one of my courses, which you can find on my Resources, Courses, and Short Stories page.

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If you have been considering living tiny and have yet to take the plunge, let me encourage you to dip your toes in the pool first. Since Michael and I made the choice to live tiny in our Airstream, we both agree we have no desire to ever live large again. Living in the Airstream gave us a little over 200 square feet of space, and neither of us missed the space from our home of about 1600 square feet once we got on the road. Some folks have reasonable trepidation about scaling down a household to fit into a small trailer or RV, but there are ways to try the lifestyle without too much commitment before you go whole hog. Then again, I also appreciate those who are willing to take the risk without knowing the outcome, which is what Michael and I did to some degree. As I have shared in previous posts, we bought our Airstream sight unseen and began living in it the day of purchase, followed shortly by traveling across the country in it immediately. We wasted no time in living the tiny life, though we kept our home in Olean just in case. We did have a back-up plan of sorts, but driving to Nevada from New York really meant we would have to make it work at least for a while. If you’re interested in living tiny, I am going to share some ideas for how you might prepare yourself for such a venture, especially if you plan to travel.

First and foremost, living tiny offers you freedom. Even if you live in a permanent small structure you build with a foundation, you get freedom from having to clean and maintain a massive house, which all by itself is reason enough if you ask me. Since I’ve been back in our Olean house working on it, I have been entirely too overwhelmed by all the housework, the painting, the patching, revitalizing flooring, and especially the STUFF. All the stuff! Holy cow, I didn’t miss it at all, and I can’t wait to get rid of every last bit of stuff I don’t need. Until I lived tiny, I didn’t even realize how much all the stuff weighed me down not just in time, but in my spirit. You worry about keeping things clean and looking nice, not losing them or breaking them, but also you tend to go out and purchase more stuff when you go shopping, which only feeds into the problem. If you walk around your house right now, I imagine you probably have several rooms of stuff full of items you don’t need, don’t use, and wouldn’t miss if you gave it away. For your first foray into living tiny, try this: put a bright sticker on the side of every item you have used in the last week. Every time you use something for the next month, put a sticker on it or next to it, whether clothing or dishes or movies or tables…whatever the item is. After the month is over, you will have a general idea of what things in your house really matter to you, and that you find are necessary.

When you live tiny, you also see space differently. While you might think that living in a small space would mean that you feel confined, annoyed by the other people with whom you live because you are on top of each other all the time, or that you won’t have room to do anything, think again. When Michael and I lived in the Airstream with two dogs on the large side, we were both pleasantly surprised by the fact that our relationship got better in the smaller space. We spent more time doing what we enjoyed, more time outside, and more time having fun. The small space seems to create an atmosphere of intimacy, and I suspect that the close quarters causes one to touch the other occupants in your home more often, and it encourages sharing more conversation, eye contact, and just being closer in general. Even families with several young children who go tiny report that they feel this closeness as a win, not a frustration. It’s the opposite of what you would think, and it really does translate from a sense of intimacy in a relationship to also feeling more intimate with the outdoors. Instead of just having your own backyard, the whole world begins to feel like your playground. Exploring became the norm for us when we went tiny because we could. To test your ability to live in a smaller space, you can start by choosing a room in your house which is close to the size of tiny home you might want to buy or build. Empty the room of everything other than what you believe you need in a tiny house (especially after you did the previous exercise of what you use in a month), and set up the room with only the things you need, including your bed, couch or chairs (pick one or the other), small table, lighting, clothing, shelves, food, dishes and kitchen supplies, and anything else you know you want (but be choosy). Arrange the room so that you have a sort of kitchen if you dare, even going so far as to try cooking on an induction cook top and using a toaster oven if you think that’s how you want to go. If not, use your household kitchen, but tape off all but a small amount of counter space and cupboards. Use only what you believe will fit into a tiny house, and see how it feels to live in that space.

Finally, I suggest deciding whether or not you require mobility. You may want the freedom to roam, which means you will want either an RV or tiny home on a trailer. If you want the freedom to move, know that it comes with some compromise. I do not recommend purchasing an RV new, as the price tag is very high for even small RVs, and they lose value immediately after purchase. Instead, buy one a few years old. One of the biggest challenges of living in an RV has been staying warm when it gets cold, even in warmer areas. No place in the US can avoid some cold weather during the winter months, and it can mean trouble if you aren’t prepared. Knowing how to keep your water supply from freezing is important. You also may require skirting around the base of the RV to keep the underside warmer, and to keep your holding tanks from freezing and potentially cracking (an expensive fix). Having an air exchange is also important when the weather turns colder, as you will run the risk of mold growing from all the condensation created by cooking, breathing, and showering. Heat and air conditioning will be a must for any RV or tiny house, and the insulation must be good enough to keep out both heat and cold, regardless of where you live. I can speak to the worth of having an RV if you plan to move a lot, as our travel trailer is easy to move whenever we want. Tiny homes are certainly mobile if necessary, but a lot of thought needs to go into the build if you plan to travel a lot. Moving once a year is one thing, but moving every couple of weeks or months may be more than a tiny house can handle. It really depends on the build, and whether or not it’s equipped with the same tanks and hook-ups as an RV to allow for ease of travel, especially for long distances.

The other aspect of the mobile lifestyle is whether or not you have a job which allows for this mobility. If you work online, travel might present at least one challenge: internet access. Though this is rarely mentioned in any TV shows or articles, internet has been a huge hassle for us. To date, we have been using a portable WiFi unit which operates using the data from our mobile phone plan. It’s been quite inconvenient. If you want to stream Netflix or Hulu, it uses a lot of bandwidth (even when you set those to low frequency), and then we find ourselves partway through the month with little to no data left because our stupid phone company squelches the line after ten gigs. Though we looked for other options like using a satellite service, that requires a contract, and it was expensive. Relying on the WiFi at RV parks was usually out, since those are public networks which anyone can use, and aren’t safe for banking or making purchases online. Also, there are usually so many people using the WiFi that it gets loaded down and is too slow. Research your internet options and learn what you can do. There’s only so often you can rely on coffee shops or public internet for service, and we found most RV parks don’t have internet access you can link to your RV directly now that so many people use satellite.

Aside from the mobility of your work, be aware of hidden costs of living the RV life. Parking for a night or two seems cheap until you park for a whole month and have to pay the expense of night-to-night parking. Even the less expensive parks will run you over $1,000 in a month if you stay night-to-night, and we found paying for a full month at a time was much cheaper. Each park is different about amenities and whether or not they charge for services, so take that into account, too. The cost of driving gets pricey when you have to tow a trailer, as the gas tank will eat your money much faster when towing. Being mobile can be expensive, so you have to weigh it against how much your monthly bills cost at your large stationary home, and decide whether or not the price is manageable. If you find people who can host you at their property, that would be far more affordable if you can strike up a good deal, especially if they have a septic system you can hook into (a reason why many tiny homes are equipped with composting toilets), and a place for you to hook up your electric and water. With the tiny home community getting bigger every day, there are lots of folks willing to host tiny homes or RVs. On the other hand, if you plan to purchase land and park your tiny home there, you will save yourself loads of cash in a downsize. It all depends on your goals. Even if the expense doesn’t seem to be less, the mobility might make up for that, along with the tiny lifestyle. You will be happier with less, of that I am certain.

While you pare back your wardrobe, kitchen essentials, tool box, and knick-knacks, be mindful of the reasons why you want to live tiny. If you want freedom, mobility, and a simpler life, then living tiny will most likely make you very happy. However, if you are really attached to your collections, your neighborhood, your cars, your massive stereo system, or any other things you own, perhaps you need to find out how much you really can live without. Perhaps you need to get the RV and live on the road for a while, keeping the house and the cars for a while to see how you feel about leaving it all behind you. Michael and I kept our Olean home for over a year while we wandered the country, though we know now that we are dedicated to living tiny. We have no intention of going big again, and can’t wait to unload the weight of all this stuff in all this ungainly space.

Every family is different, but even if you go tiny, it doesn’t have to mean sacrificing everything. If you can build or know someone who can help, you can make your home to suit your needs. Michael and I plan to have a stove with an oven so I can still bake and cook food I love. You don’t have to use a toaster oven if you want a real oven. Just find an apartment-sized oven, and do the same for a fridge. Find a way to incorporate the means for your space to serve double duty (like a couch that doubles as a bed, a table that is also a desk, a bench that serves as storage for shoes, etc.). Arrange the space to serve your family needs (like building in a dog kennel under a side table, finding places to store extra seating for guests to visit, getting creative about how you can have a bathtub if you really need one). All things are possible in the tiny home, even when you purchase an RV you remodel to suit your needs. Sometimes that is a great option, because the RV is already built for travel and you can rearrange the interior to make it your own. So many options are out there with tiny homes now, and if you take the time to look up homes on YouTube or watch HGTV shows for a while, you can find a plethora of choices. The sky’s the limit. Think about going tiny. Even with some of the downsides I mentioned, you may find the lifestyle is totally worth the few annoyances. Few people who go tiny regret the decision, and maybe it’s time you find out why. Get out there and find the beauty in the tiny life!

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*If you like my blog posts, consider taking one of my courses, which you can find on my Resources, Courses, and Short Stories page.