David calls it our land boat: It’s a 30 foot by 8 and a half foot plastic and fiberglass box with windows on wheels. A 1989 Terry Trailer with a white aluminum exterior and interior walls made of brown pressed plastic sheets that were, at some point, supposed to look like wood. We bought it in 2012 for $2500, and it has been our full-time home for four years.
We were first inspired to purchase and live in a trailer/RV while on a month long camping trip in Baja. During our time spent camping on beaches, we saw and met many people who were living temporarily in RV’s. Many were retired couples and some of the RV’s were quite fancy, but the thing we liked about them was their mobility as well as self-contained systems. They had miniature kitchens, sleeping nooks, couches that folded out into beds, tiny bathrooms, solar showers, and all kinds of fascinating and clever features. “We should live like that!” David and I began to say, and by the time we returned to Santa Cruz we had hatched a plan to save our money to buy a trailer and find a pretty piece of land to rent where we could set it up and live.
We both had already spent a lot of time living in small spaces when we decided to buy the trailer and move into it together. My childhood and teen years I lived a converted chicken barn with my family of 4, where I had to walk through my parent’s room and my little sister’s room to get to my tiny 5X6 foot bedroom at the back. In college I was on a shoestring, so I lived in basement rooms and in shared housing. David spent his post-college years living in shacks that he built for himself in the woods, and then lived for two years in a 27 foot sailboat. So living together in a small space was appealing not only for its affordability, but also because we knew we could do it. Small spaces are affordable, low impact, manageable, and for both of us it felt like a good way to half-ass growing up. We were buying a house, only it was very small very cheap house, and that suited us just fine.
As we looked for our trailer, we also made posters that explained our situation and posted them in coffee shops and public bulletin boards around the county and on craigslist. We got about five calls, which surprised us, and the day after we purchased the trailer we met our future landlords: two wonderful people with a house in the hills outside of Aptos and a sweet little meadow they wanted to rent to us that was surrounded by 70 acres of nature preserve. It was perfect, and we moved the trailer there a month later.
Then we set to fixing the place up. We removed the faded pink curtains and painted over as much of the cheezy floral wallpaper as we could muster. We tore out the oversized benches that were our dining room “chairs” and replaced them with real wooden chairs. We bought fake hardwood (it’s a trailer after all) and stuck it together in plastic planks on top of the gold and white striped vinyl flooring. We built an awning for an entryway out of 2X4s and lexan. We put succulents into pots and placed them artistically around the exterior. We named it “casita” meaining “little house”. We like to joke that casita is just like the Tardis in Dr. Who: it really is much bigger on the inside.
It has been a good home for us. It is affordable, manageable, and cozy. Our low cost of rent enabled my return to school to get a teaching credential, and now that we are both employed we don’t have to worry much about our cost of living. We can take trips when we want to, eat out, and still manage to save money. The trailer is low impact, in that we bought it second hand, and we use very little energy to maintain it compared with most modern dwellings. Our range, space heater, and on-demand water heater for the shower use propane, and on average we go through about five gallons per month. We get electricity by running an extension cord to our landlord’s house, and we run only the lights, small fridge, and sometimes our computers or the microwave. And luckily our landlord’s house is run by solar, so, thanks sunlight! In this world of over-consumption and excessive waste, it feels really good to use less.
The trailer has also facilitated rural living, which has been wonderful and supremely good for our mental and physical health. After we lived in Aptos for two years, we moved to an apple orchard in Soquel where our front yard is a corridor for coyotes, deer, bobcats, quail, and all kinds of birds, and where we enjoy apples in the fall time, persimmons, avocados, and lots of sunshine. And finally, living in a small space has taught us how to live together. In the trailer, being considerate of each other, and honest and open about our feelings is just the way we have to roll. Living small has been a project we have shared together, and it has brought us closer.
But a travel trailer is not really meant to be lived in full time. The counters are too low, the floor sags as we walk across it, and it is made almost entirely of plastic. The windows are cheap and they leak in the wintertime. There are gaps between windows and walls, and drafts that come up under the clumsily hung doors and hastily constructed floor vents. There is a miniscule amount of insulation so the inside of the trailer is always an exaggeration of the weather outside: it becomes a sauna on a summer day, and an ice chest on cold nights. On a frigid morning I can lie in my bed and blow steam out of my mouth. And when I do yoga in the mornings I have to bend my arms at the elbows so that I don’t bang them against the ceiling.
So we’ve decided it is time to expand. This summer, we’re building ourselves a tiny house.
We’ve never built a house before, but we like working on projects together and we have friends and family with experience and enthusiasm to help. Welcome to our tiny house blog, where we will chronicle the construction of our new home!