Four months ago, I made the decision to leave my apartment and try my hand at tiny home / minimalist living by moving into a 26’ class C RV. Now, two months down this path, I’ve been told by friends who have followed my story that I am living the dream and that I should write about it. So here I go.
The thing about living the dream is that you discover the dreamy part isn’t what or even where you expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong. I believe I’m living the dream. But not because I live in an RV.
As modern human beings, we are good at getting things backwards. We want the wedding because we think it means true love. We want to be thin because we think that means health and beauty. We want the job title because we think it means success. And now we want the tiny home because we think it means cool destinations and freedom.
It might mean those things or it might just mean a wedding, thinness, a job title and a tiny home. And maybe when you accomplish finding true love, health and beauty, success and freedom you think it’s awesome – but I would bet that later you’d realize that a lifetime partnership, self-confidence, creating a legacy and becoming self-sufficient are the real treasures. But don’t let me spoil the story…
Living the Dream
For me, my tiny home was a necessity to live my dream. It wasn’t the dream itself. What I wanted was to work with smart and purpose-driven people who valued my contribution, treated me with respect and could be flexible with my work schedule so that I could create a girl’s after-school program to teach empowerment and self-mastery to girls through the outdoors.
My dream meant leaving the security of a well paid, but soul crushing job and working for myself. I didn’t have any solid clients lined up. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work and I had two children to consider. It was scary. BIG TIME scary. But I knew I had found my calling, and I knew I had to do something to make it happen.
So I picked a day: August 22 I would quit. I marked it on a giant 6 month calendar on my wall and I told my coach. It was just a few weeks a way. Luckily for me, my employer made it so painful to stay that I quit well ahead of schedule, without my ducks in a row.
It was like I was flying in an airplane with the doors open and God itself grabbed it with both hands and was shaking it until I gave in. So I took the hint, asked for safe passage and jumped. I then spent two days properly freaking out. With that out of my system, I collected myself and have never looked back. I learned just how valuable my time is and how cheaply I was selling it away. It was a big lesson for me.
Now with a substantially reduced income, I needed a plan to reduce my expenses and that plan became a tiny home.
When Dreams Collide
When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories was going camping and skiing every summer. We always took a truck camper or an RV. Now as a parent, I wanted to do something similar with my kids, except my idea was to visit the national parks each summer in one big road trip. So my dad and I had been researching small travel trailers and RVs for weeks. We finally found and bought one, and at the time of my big exit, dad was making some initial repairs for me. I had not yet considered living in it full time…
As the idea slowly crept in, I started to ask my dad some questions.
Dad knew where I was going with this and wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. “You’re going to have problems with it. All RV’s have problems. But once you get them worked out, you tend to be ok. You have both an engine and a house you have to deal with. Where are you going to stay when you have to take it in for repairs?”
Mom imagined the worst that could happen as all mothers do, “What if you get stuck with the kids on the other side of the country in the middle of nowhere?” But they both knew I don’t stop when I put my mind to something…
After a few weeks of debating, I made my mind up and gave notice. I had 60 days to finish renovating the RV, get rid of all of my stuff and pack everything up. In those 60 days, I moved mountains. I rebuilt nearly every cabinet in the RV. I repainted the entire interior. I sold a large portion of my belongings and I made more trips to Home Depot and Goodwill than I probably have in my entire life. Thank goodness I didn’t work a full-time job.
After I moved out, my first destination was Ohio where I spent a week with my dad’s help finishing up the remaining renovations. With my punch-list complete, I hit the road and became a real full-timer, which meant that things got real – real fast.
The Realities of RV Living
My home is tiny. Maybe 180 square feet? And almost everything I own is inside it. I find it cozy. I enjoy sleeping on the top bunk where I can’t sit up. I enjoy my tiny dinette with it’s retro blue and pink cushions. I enjoy my tiny bathroom where your knees nearly hit the door when you sit on the toilet. And I enjoy my tiny shower that has just enough hot water to wash and condition my hair and wash my body if I don’t space out for too long… shaving my legs is another story however. I enjoy the kitchen gymnastics when I wash dishes or cook. Everything has to be moved around to make room. I enjoy my very limited closet space and figuring out where to put my things, granted I need to get rid of more stuff.
But if that sounds all romantic and idealistic of the tiny home, there is another side to RV living. In my first two months:
- I have had two roof leaks (One fixed, the other is still a problem. I’m putting on a new roof this spring.)
- My refrigerator stopped working
- My starter battery was dead the morning of a trip and the RV didn’t want to be easily jumped
- I had no toilet for the first month and had to walk to the bathhouse in the rain and in the dark, with green-eyed woodland creatures staring at me in my headlamp (Creepy, but they were just deer)
- I had a jar of home made BBQ sauce go flying across the RV during a trip and smash into the floor – creating a nice orange stain (Stain got removed with oxiclean and Brian who saved the day)
- I ran low on steering fluid while I was driving down a twisty mountain road and barely made it to a gas station in time
- I took the RV to get a repair quote and the dealer decided to keep it indefinitely even though I said I needed it back same day. Spent that night on a friend’s couch.
- And let’s not forget this past Friday, while investigating the latest leak, I cut into a wet wall only to watch hundreds of ants crawl out in every direction. Ewww!
Reading about all of these ordeals, a friend recently commented on my latest Facebook post, “Are you sure this is for you?”
My answer was without question: “Yep.” And here is why.
Queen of Your Castle
When you live in an RV, you truly become the king/queen of your castle. You have to learn how to drive a huge vehicle that doesn’t turn well. You have to learn how to back it up. You have to learn how to get it in and out of gas stations without getting stuck. You have to learn how to level it, hook up the water and electricity, start the hot water heater and the gas stove. You have to learn how to pack the RV so items in cabinets stay secure (still working on that one). You have to learn where to put your stuff so you aren’t frustrated every day when it comes to getting dressed or getting a pan out to cook.
You have to take seriously your checklist of tire pressures, oil levels, putting up the stair, and now steering fluid levels each time you set off. You have to learn that pity parties have to be short when you discover yet another leak, at night, in the rain because you have to climb up on the roof and put the tarp back on STAT. You learn how to heat your waterline, how to drip your faucets and how to cover your outside spicket when it gets to be 17 degrees at night so your pipes don’t freeze. You get to learn how to scrape off your roof caulk with a heat gun and apply roof tape to fix a leak. You get to learn how to install a composting toilet. And you get to learn how to torch ants with the previously mentioned heat gun just enough to kill them but not set the RV on fire. (Yes!)
My point is this: with adversity comes the opportunity to become more capable than you were before, to believe in your ability to figure things out and to bond with your family, friends and RV neighbors over everyday ordeals. And through all that, you realize that you are able to feel joy both when things work and when they don’t.
Do I get to park in beautiful campgrounds with perfect views of the sunrise over a lake? Do I get to frequently sit around a campfire and talk life stuff with newly made friends and a glass of wine in hand? Do I get to pick up and go whenever I like and take my home with me? Do I belong to a sub-culture of “car house” people who bond over inverters and gray tanks and solar power and Buddy heaters and optimizing storage while minimizing possessions? I do. And this is all great stuff, but it isn’t where the “dream” actually is at.
Was I pissy as hell for two days because the RV didn’t start and my carpet was orange and I had to stop my dog from eating BBQ covered glass? And did I want to cry when the roof was leaking again and I had to put a tarp up at night in the rain? And did I freak out when I saw all those black things coming out of my wall until I torched them with a heat gun? Yes I did!
When you can embrace the ups and the downs, the beauty and the frustration, when you can see them as part and parcel of the big, beautiful journey, when you can stop judging everything that happens “to you” and just experience life as it comes – then you step into the dream.
I now smile every time I open the refrigerator door and see the light is on. Really, I do.
I smile every time I take a shower and the water is hot.
I smile when I light the gas stove manually because that’s how it has to be done, and I think it’s kinda cool. And I smile when I get to use, and even empty my composting toilet. I’ve stopped taking so much for granted.
The secret to living the dream is realizing the dream isn’t where you thought you would find it. You have to embrace it wherever it chooses to show up – because dreams like to surprise you – and that is what makes living #RVlife poetry.