At ATWS we’re interested in challenging the norm of debt and spending. That’s why once a month we feature people who have gone to (what some would say) extreme means with their living situations to get out of debt, save money and live a simpler life. Today we have a house tour with Chris “Bama” Milucky. Bama has lived in a van, a truck and even spent a summer living in a tent! He now resides in an Airstream in the Colorado Rockies. Take it away, Bama!
I’m “Bama,” as in Alabama. That’s what people call me. I don’t know why the wife takes part in all my adventures, but the dog is in it for belly scratches. I’d say I suffer from chronic unemployment, but it’s become second nature. I call it “funemployment.” I work construction jobs when I find ’em, and mountain bike gigs, too. I also author a monthly column in DirtRag Magazine.
Why did you decide to move into an Airstream?
Punk rock made me do it. I was tired of the banks’ stranglehold over my freedom–student loans, credit cards, and the recession. We’d been living in the slums of Portland and figured if we were going to sleep in a leaky tunnel of an apartment, it’d be nice to at least leave when the meth-heads’ addictions got out of hand. An apartment lease kept us bound to the ghetto; an Airstream was our exit strategy.
Did you build or buy your Airstream?
We bought that 1976 foil-wrapped burrito with rotten tires and a gnarly smell. I found a stiletto and some welfare forms behind the moldy remnants of what was once a sanitary futon of golden glamour and faux hardwood.
I was pulling 10 hour days doing arduous landscape work on Mt. Hood during a really cold and rainy summer. Armed with some cheap battery-powered tools, I left the job site everyday after work, and for three weeks, built an ugly kitchen, a functional futon, and the shelving required for an existence. It was exhausting. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m really surprised I didn’t wind up maimed, divorced, electrocuted, or worse.
How long have you been living in your Airstream?
We bounced around and pulled odd jobs for exactly one year. Out of nowhere, we landed employment with a mountain bike manufacturer. They wanted us to live in a Benz van, and drive around the lower 48 showcasing their bicycles. For three years, folks opened their doors, driveways, showers, and bottles. Meanwhile, the Airstream was in RV Purgatory–a lonely storage lot west of Flagstaff, Arizona.
We’d paid off all our debt, and our time with the company was up. We bought an older Ford truck and a slide-in camper for the bed.
Then, an outfit in Moab wanted us to spend the summer sleeping in tents and guiding mountain bikers across the West. Deal.
Last fall we bought land in the Colorado Rockies. In cash. Outright and ours. This spring, I towed the Airstream up to the property. She sits proudly on a hillside and serves as shelter whenever we’re around.
Please describe your home.
Gritty. The cabinet doors are warped and don’t shut. The roof still leaks. The awning broke off in a windstorm several years back, and the tarp I rigged up is threads away from doom. But the solar panels power a decent stereo, and the wood stove provides adequate heat for temps above zero. There’s always an empty bottle of whiskey and an open invitation for the many people who offered driveway space throughout our years in the Sprinter.
It’s rough, but it’s home. It’s always been there for us and taught me quiet a few lessons on needs vs. wants.
If you feel comfortable, we’d love to hear about the financial part of buying or building your home? What was your budget?
$50k. I figured we could drop $40,000 on the land and $10,000 in rental machinery to build a driveway on the mountainside. It took fifteen minutes to sign the closing papers. I’d love to build an actual cabin some day. I’d love to sit inside normal walls and watch the weather. I’d love to flush a toilet, or watch the snow fly. But steady, white-collar work doesn’t want me, and I’m not sure I’d could handle the implications of a home loan.
One day, we’ll have a residence and a well for water. Or maybe we won’t. Either way, the scenery is awesome, I don’t worry about employment, and I don’t have any debt.
Did it cost more than you anticipated to buy your home?
Real estate is only worth what someone will pay for it. The Airstream was just shy of scrap metal when we bought it, and I don’t charge myself for labor. So our money wasn’t really open for negotiation. We bid on some land and a few homes, but when the owners or banks didn’t like our offer, we didn’t counter–we just walked away. Maybe it was contempt, maybe angst, but we had an unwavering desire to do things our way. I place value in friendships, not in counter tops, and I’m willing to live a primitive lifestyle if it means I retain the freedom from dishonorable employment or the pursuit of affluence.
What has been the most surprising cost of living in an Airstream?
At construction worker’s wages, $50k for land wasn’t cheap. And since I still travel in search of work, my annual gasoline expenses are over $10k. But living in the Airstream is fairly inexpensive. I suppose I dropped a few grand on solar power, but I’d say the most expensive bill is spent on stigma: people don’t get it. They either think I left a nice corporate job or I’m down on my luck– neither is true. A mortgage can last a long time. So can building a cabin in cash. I’m just taking my time, taking it easy, and letting the details unfold on their own.
Have you saved money since living in the Airstream?
Saved money? Money is what you want it to be. We chose to spend money on an apartment. We chose to buy the Airstream. We chose to pay off our debt and buy land. Some folks would rather live in a city and see concerts. Some would rather travel. We don’t save money, but rather we decide how to spend it long before we have the money in our hands– which is vastly different from spending the money on credit. When the funds are there, they fill their designated role. No money equals no foundation for a cabin. No money equals no septic tank. If the roadtrip account has a grand, I take off on my motorcycle. Nothing is saved, nothing is on credit. We have plans for our income.
How do your costs compare to your life before the Airstream?
The loans were horrible and terrible. Horribly terrible. But in the process of paying them off, we shook the buying addiction. Stuff became apparent as such, and needs became difficult to ignore. For example, I spend less on clothes. I have a lot of clothes. My tiny closets are full. I stay as warm and dry as anyone else, and I don’t have anymore room in my tiny closet. Clothing surpassed a need, and became additional stuff. So I don’t spend as much money on clothes. It’s been the same way for towels, tools, dishes and toys.
Please describe your daily life.
If I’m working, I’m usually on the road, living in the slide-in truck camper. But I’ve only worked four or five months this year (out of 10 months, so far). I usually wake up when I’m rested and make coffee. I watch the sun rise and hang out with friends. One could cook anything in the Airstream, but I survive on BLT’s and quesadillas. My wife makes sushi, and lasagna, and all sorts of stuff. She cooks with iron skillets and Dutch ovens. That’s great if you’re into it, but I’m a simple man; my favorite ingredient is love… and cheese.
I don’t exercise; I avoid it. Construction is rough. Mountain biking for days on end kinda sucks. When I can, I sleep. When I’m rested, I gather firewood or work on the truck, or take care of other projects. I do all of my writing on a cell phone, so I don’t have a computer, much less a desk. I’m sitting in a folding camp chair at the moment.
What is your favorite part of your home?
Nature. There’s no wildlife out here–the animals and plants aren’t wild, they simply are. And when I’m home, I visit them. They are the constant, and I am the Wild. Last night a skunk stopped by. I opened the Airstream door and yelled, “go away, Skunky!” but that critters decision to leave wasn’t mine, and he/she may return. I love that. I love visiting the property and watching the earth proceed without human intervention.
What is the best part about living in your home?
Having a mailbox is killer. I average five letters a month, and they all go to my very own, private mailbox. That’s so freakin’ cool! They used to get sent all over the place, and usually end up lost.
The worst part?
The worst part is leaving. I wish I could stay here forever.
What advice do you have for other people who want to live a similar lifestyle?
Do it or don’t. If you’re going to live in a house, own up to it. There’s no point in dreaming about an off-grid Airstream when you can sell your stuff and actually do it. Houses are rad. Campers are rad. Dreams are fake. Make your move. Jump in headfirst and learn how to swim. Be spontaneous and strong. Always give more than you receive, and go out of your way, no matter how far, no matter how costly, to help others.
Thanks, Bama! You can read more about Bama’s adventures on Instagram @rickrollbama.
Do you live in a tiny house or alternative dwelling? I’d love to feature you in a future post. Email me if you are interested.