Hi! I’m Melanie. I’m a librarian by night and a blogger by day. I live with my husband, George and my dog, Bambi in a 1978 Airstream Sovereign. I’ll be working on a new column here at ATWS about people living tiny for financial reasons. We’ll be showing house tours and answering all the questions you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask! As a tiny houser, I’m going to be introducing the column with my story.
Almost two years ago, George and I were at a crossroads. We were recently married, I had a new job opportunity in a new area and we were broke. We didn’t have an extravagant wedding by any standards, but we did spend the majority of our meager savings on the event. We took a look at our budget, started looking at apartments in the new area and we were instantly discouraged. We knew that we couldn’t get ahead financially by renting an apartment. We also knew that we wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage. We had no credit and almost no savings. We saw an endless cycle of debt in front of us and we wanted out.
And that really awesome job opportunity I told you about? Yeah, it required me to work evenings. I knew with both of us working “regular jobs,” we would rarely get to see each other. At the same time, George was working as a teacher by day and illustrating by night.
Serendipitously, I had seen a couple profiled on Etsy that lived in a Winnebago and I casually mentioned it to George. I just thought it was cool, but George convinced me that we, too, could live that lifestyle. Together we made the decision that George should quit his teaching job to pursue his art full-time. In order to get George’s business off the ground, we knew that we would have to make some sacrifices. I make a decent wage at my job, but we knew that it would be difficult to pay rent or buy a house and establish a small business at the same time. Living a simpler, smaller life in an Airstream seemed like the perfect idea.
We found the Airstream on Craigslist in May of 2013 and bought it from a very sweet hippie for $5,000. That’s more than we had hoped it would cost. We spent our entire savings on it, but in the meantime we had sold the majority of our belongings for a profit so it did, financially, work out.
Our Airstream was fairly structurally sound, but it required so much cosmetic work. Luckily George is handy and I am crafty. We’re a good team. It took months of working in the southern sun to get her to our standards. George endured an epic bout of poison ivy from clearing the land our trailer sits on and I had so much paint in my hair that I had to cut it out. We cleaned out rat’s nests and bleached old smoke stains. We pulled up moldy carpet and we laid new floors. We painted so many coats of paint, we built our bed, a desk, a bench and a shelving unit. We sewed curtains and a bench cushion. We replaced the window screens and the fridge. I also learned that I love to caulk and I proceeded to caulk every tiny hole and crevice in the trailer. It took us about four months to fix up the Airstream. It was extremely challenging and extremely rewarding.
It was also a mentally scary process. 188 square feet is the size of some people’s closets. I was scared that we’d feel squished and end up hating each other, but the exact opposite has happened. George and I feel closer now than we did when we lived in our spacious loft.
Our home is complete with all the amenities we need. We have a place to cook, a big bed (one of our priorities), a place for George to work and a “real toilet.” That camper toilet was just scary! We are currently hooked up to a traditional power grid because our home sits on wooded and farmed land that belongs to George’s family. In the ‘70s, George’s uncle lived on the land in a traditional trailer.
We feel very lucky that we had the ability to set up relatively easy. But I don’t think people should be discouraged by that fact. There are many people who live in family member’s backyards, in mobile home parks and even on the road! Living in the Airstream has given me so many things, but it’s also made me more resilient. When I see a problem now, I also see solutions. There’s a solution for everything!
Since we don’t pay rent, we just exchange chores for land, and since I’ve been partaking in the Spending Diet, we’ve been able to save about $1,000 each month. Considering we didn’t save anything prior to living in the trailer, this feels like a huge victory. We’ve also been able to travel to places we’ve wanted to visit our entire lives, spend more time with each other and adopt a dog!
Living this lifestyle is the best decision we have ever made. I know it may look strange to others. We’ve actually received money as gifts from near-strangers because they thought we were homeless! But our lifestyle was and is our choice. We consider ourselves very lucky. This lifestyle has given us the ability to both save money to pursue our dreams.
For other people who want to live a similar lifestyle, I would advise them to first prioritize. And be ruthless! Think about the things you use and need everyday. Then, get rid of the rest. I mean it! When you live in such a small space, even how many spoons you own matters.
I also want people to know that we aren’t special, we have some talents, but anyone can truly do what we did. It takes a lot of gumption and hard work, but nothing extraordinary. You just have to make up your mind and do it!