Living Tiny: George and Melanie’s Airstream – House Tour

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

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.

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

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.

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

Before and After

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.

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

The Bathroom Before and After

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!

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

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 Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

George built these custom shelves out of old barn wood. I painted!

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.

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

The desk where George conducts his business.

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.

Living Tiny: George and Melanie's Airstream - House Tour andthenwesaved

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!

We’ll that’s it folks! Feel free to leave questions below or visit my blog, A Small Life. If you live in a tiny house and want to be featured in an upcoming Living Tiny House Tour, shoot me an email.

-Melanie

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26 comments


26 thoughts on “Living Tiny: George and Melanie’s Airstream – House Tour

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  1. Jane

    Hi Melanie–

    I love what you have done to make the trailer a comfortable, functional and attractive home.

    Small space design is a passion of mine and I am working on making my studio apartment my true home. I rent so can’t do much structurally, but love the challenge of dividing the space and decorating so it reflects and fits my style and life.

    Kudos to you and George. I look forward to following your blog.

    Regards-
    Jane

    Reply
  2. Brittany

    Wow Melanie! Great job! To live in a space like this so we can freely travel inexpensively is a pipe dream of me and my husband. We have a 2 year old now, and working towards debt (including mortgage) free, but this post gives me hope about someday!

    Reply
    1. Melanie Post author

      Brittany, I’m so glad I could give you hope. I’ve seen a lot of people who travel in an Airstream or van with children and I’m hoping to feature them soon.

      Reply
  3. Anum

    Wow Melanie, you guys did an AMAZING job. I’ve always been interested in living in a compact space, and I’m so glad you shared your story. I’m looking forward to reading more from you. Do you have a capsule wardrobe to accommodate the small storage spaces?

    Reply
    1. Melanie Post author

      Anum, I wouldn’t call it a capsule wardrobe. It’s just very parred down. I never see capsule wardrobes with gym gear and pajamas– both of which I have. I also tend to wear the same colors a lot (black and white), so almost everything matches.

      Reply
  4. Meghan

    As a person who lives in a tiny NYC apartment, I totally agree about the spoons comment. The other day I got rid of our guest towel. We now only own 1 towel per person in this place. Any guest will have to bring their own.

    Reply
  5. Heather

    I love it! It looks so nice and cozy! The Tiny House movement has been fascinating me, so I look forward to following your blog. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
  6. Erin

    You’ve done a wonderful job renovating your Airstream. I absolutely love the idea of tiny houses. I’m constantly Pinterest-ing and going to Tumbleweed Tiny House Company’s website. I recently posted my spare room on Airbnb! So all my Airbnb profits are going straight to my house account. Hopefully I’ll be able to save enough very soon and finally be done with apartment living!

    Reply
  7. Sarah K

    Wow that looks gorgeous! Great job on the remodel. It’s been a dream of mine lately to figure out a way to live tiny, whether in a trailer or a tiny home, but it seems so far off at this point.

    Reply
  8. Jane

    Hi Sarah,

    In some ways I am lucky because circumstances forced me to move to a tiny apartment. Sometimes it seems cramped, but it is safe, clean, cheerful, affordable and in a town I love. Not a bad trade all-in-all.

    Regards,
    Jane

    Reply
  9. Ellen

    Thanks for this post – very interesting and lots to think about. Melanie’s website will be a fun one to follow.

    Reply
  10. Whitney

    I love this post! I am so intrigued by tiny house living. Unfortunately, we have small children and I’m not so sure how that would work for us, but maybe someday. You both did such an amazing job and bravo to you for creating the life that you want. You are inspiring!

    Reply
    1. Melanie Gnau Post author

      Thanks, Whitney! Yeah, I’m going to try to get in touch with some people who live in tiny houses with children. I’m interested to see how they make it work!

      Reply
  11. Sarah

    Inspiring vision and action…as a 51 year old who is starting over as a midwife, I love reading your story and similar ones, for the creativity, “can-do” perspective, and insight! Admiration and much gratitude to you for this!

    Reply
  12. Jefferson

    We are just starting out on a project of our own and your work has been very helpful. We bought a 1972 27footer and hope to live in it on five acres in SW Virginia come spring. Thanks!

    Reply

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