Thursday, October 17, 2013

My 27 Feet: 4 Month Update

Yesterday was October 16th, which marks four months since I moved and made my 27-foot travel trailer "home."

I'd never owned an RV before - heck, I'd never stayed in an RV before (except, apparently, when I was two. Go figure) - so I joined an RVing forum. And another forum for full-time RVers. And filled my bookmarks with websites on how to deal with every conceivable repair, disaster, or dilemma I might someday find myself facing.

With under 200 square feet of living space, I became a member of the "tiny house" movement, and by neccesity started my journey to (hopefully!) becoming a more minimalist person (in which the purchase of a teapot is a months-long decision making process, not because of price, but because I'm carefully balancing the pros - they're cute, there's nothing like drinking a whole pot of tea, I can multi-purpose it as a watering can when I start my seedlings - and the cons - it has to sit somewhere. I still haven't made up my mind).

I'd never lived on my own before, so I also became an independent single woman, responsible for my own dishes, meals, and laundry. Which wasn't actually saying much, but hey. :)

In doing something I'd never done, that I wasn't entirely sure would work, I became an adventurer. :) And if I got nothing out of the experience but this, it would have been worth it, because let me tell you - that "adventurer" label stuck good and hard to my soul. It changed the very essence of how I view life; I had no idea how often I thought to myself, "I could never do that... If only I knew how to... If only I could..." and I was delighted to discover, one day, that my first instincts had changed to "I could do that! ... I want to learn how... When I..."

And that's a powerful thing.

But now, on to a more practical update. :)

The Nitty-Gritty

Our homemade sewer/water hookup is doing well with no issues whatsoever. I leave the grey water tank open all the time and empty the black water tank about once a week. Now that the colder temperatures are setting in, I'm saving up for a heated hose to keep the water flowing.

Now that the weather has cooled, I've also been able to quit running my A/C constantly and have enjoyed the peace and quiet and the ability to use my microwave without blowing a circuit. :) Since I'll be running my heater on propane, and the A/C isn't draining my power, I've also been able to run my hot water heater on electricity, and it works so well - way faster than on propane. I love it.

I've only had to run my heater on a couple of nights, but so far I am very, very impressed. Unlike my A/C (which just runs continuously) it's thermostat-controlled, so I can turn it on before I sleep without having to worry about the temperature dipping or spiking. It normally only runs for less than ten minutes before everything is toasty again, and it stays warm for a long time.

Speaking of which - apparently it's going to be much easier to keep the trailer heated than it was to keep it cool. I ran my A/C pretty near maximum almost all the time this summer (except at night, when I turned it down a bit so I could hear myself sleep) and if I turned it off or down much at all, my "tin can" heated back up alarmingly quickly - badly enough that if I forgot to turn it back up, I called someone in a panic to fix it because I was afraid the girls would suffocate in their cage. But yesterday I came home and it was sixty-eight degrees; I washed a load of dishes, microwaved a burrito, and watched a DVD, and two hours later it was seventy-two degrees (without having turned on the heater). When I made apple butter during a little cold spell we had, the crockpot kept the kitchen heated for twenty-four hours. Don't even get me started on cooking or baking! Good to know. :)

On Space

I continue to be both blessed and befuddled by how much/little space I have, and where. I have a lot of storage - under the bed, under the kitchenette seats, under the living room sofa, and lots of cabinets - and most of the time, everything fits.

Here's the thing that I've learned, though: it's not necessarily how much space you have, but also how easily accessible the space is, that makes the difference between comfortable and going crazy. This is a good lesson to learn, and in some ways I wish it was one I'd known better before I moved in. For instance, I rarely feel like my kitchen storage is insufficient. Everything fits, albeit sometimes a bit snuggly (I do kind of wish my pantry were a bit bigger), and while I might occasionally have to climb a stool to put away groceries or rearrange my spice collection, most of it I can access just by opening up a cabinet door.

On the other hand, to access the big storage compartment under the couch (which holds extra bedding, some boxes full of mementos and keepsakes that I'm just not ready to part with, my tools and remodeling supplies, and basically everything that isn't needed on a day to day basis), I have to pull up the couch cushion, pull back the front of the couch, unpack the compartment enough to read whatever it is that I'm trying to retrieve, repack, put the front of the couch back in place (which is a little tricky), and replace the cushion (and any throw pillows, etc). Not impossible, but nowhere near as easy as opening a cabinet door. And the harder stuff is to access, the more likely it doesn't get put away right away, which means clutter and mess, which makes the space feel even smaller.

On the other hand, the small space means that it's easy to clean. Seriously, you start at one end, and in an hour you've deep-cleaned straight through to the other, dishes, new sheets, and all. I'd love to say that the smaller space also means less chance of misplacing things, but I've proven that to be untrue - I lost my cup of coffee yesterday and couldn't find it no matter how hard I looked! (Update: it was in the microwave, where I apparently stuck it for a reheat.)

Some other space-related aspects that I thought would be issues, just aren't. I was afraid my sleeping compartment would feel claustrophobic and suffocating after I installed my traditional mattress; instead, I love the cozy feeling, and I think I might have issues with sleeping "out in the open" should I ever move back into a stick-and-brick home.

I also get asked a lot if I go crazy living in such a small space - get "cabin fever" and just need to get out of the house. I can honestly say that I've only felt this twice; the first time, what I thought was restlessness was really loneliness, and evaporated as soon as I got a pet (more on this later). The second time was after being sick in bed for almost a week, and I think this had more to do with the fact that I was tired of being in bed, but didn't have the energy to do much else. Other than those two times, I've been strangely free of cabin fever, which is odd considering that when I lived in The Big House (aka my parents' house) I regularly "needed to get out of the house."

Your perception of big, small, and what you "need" changes so drastically if you let it; I was talking to my best friend recently about how we view our parents' houses. She's living in a nice apartment with her husband and son, and recently she went to her parents house and found herself walking around, marveling at how much room they had. She said she actually thought, "My whole pantry would fit in one of my mom's cupboards." :)  I recently stayed overnight in The Big House to watch the dog while my family was out of town, and I caught myself doing the same thing. So much space (especially in the bathrooms!)! And yet, while I can still tell that other people's houses are "big," I seem to be unable to tell that my own place is "small..." it just feels like "home."

I've also found that, ironically perhaps, I feel safer in my trailer than I ever did in my parents' huge house. It was nothing unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night having heard a noise, and fearfully crawl out of bed to investigate before I could go back to bed. Don't even get me started on staying in the house alone  - there are seven doors, and I was always afraid I'd forget to lock one. I was always trying to figure out whether that noise I heard was the A/C or refrigerator or someone trying to break in.

In the trailer, I have one door, and one lock. The heater kicks on and off. I someone were to mess with the door or step inside, the trailer would rock (as I've learned from personal experience). There are no closets to check, and I can see one end of the place from the other. Maybe it's being closer to nature? But it feels safe. ;)


Being in the RV for just four months has fundamentally changed the way I view things. Similar to what I said about space, things that I thought were really important in the past just... aren't. You learn really quickly that everything has a cost; it has to have somewhere to live, has to be cleaned, has to be taken care of. And if it's not giving you much pleasure, then it's taking up space for something else that might.

A good example of this is my mug collection: I have four mismatched mugs - a small fox mug, a large Star Wars mug, an oversized mug with a lid, and a black and white mug. I thought about getting rid of them when I moved because they were mismatched, and I had a perfectly good set of mugs that matched all the other dishes my grandparents had given me. Now, I'm so glad I didn't. My big mugs double as bowls most of the time, and my fox mug makes me smile every time I see it. The pleasure and use I get out of them is well worth the space in my cabinet.

On the other hand, I moved in, prepared with a collection of different cleaning fluids for each surface, and I've already whittled down my collection to the bare bones. A broom (with an attached dustpan), a mop, a spray bottle (for vinegar cleaner), vinegar, baking soda, and one bleach cleaner for "serious" mess (and I haven't used it yet, so it'll probably be the next to go).

In one sense of the term, materialism is the privilege of those who can afford lots of space, but on the other hand it's true that your things own you as much as you own them. Like a marriage. :) You better be sure you like the things you're married to!


I always dreamed that when I got my own place, I'd fill it with people I loved, hanging out, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. Eating good food. Loving on each other. I also never dreamed I'd be living in an RV, so I was reluctant at first to invite people over. After having done it a few times, I can say that this is easily one of the things I like best about having my own space - filling it with people. :)

I love the times when my family comes over for dinner and sits together afterwards while I mix up mugs of coffee and tea and hot cocoa. I love when we have game night and my siblings and friends sit as we play cards while Zinnia gleefully hops from shoulder to shoulder. Is is cramped? Yes, sometimes. Do we sometimes have to choreograph getting from one end of the kitchen to the other? Mm, hmm. Do we laugh as we bump into one another? Yup. Are we happy to be together? Oh, definitely.

Which leads me to my next point...

What's Really Important

You know what's really important? I have a place to live. It's safe from predators, both animal and human. It's safe in the sense that it's not going to fall on my head. I have heat. I have safe running water. I have electricity. In the summer, I have - hallelujah! - the exquisite privilege of having air conditioning.

My pantry, freezer, and fridge all have food in them. I'm nowhere near starving.

The walls are a beautiful, serene shade of gray, the same shade as river rocks and the sky at dusk and rabbit's fur. All around there are pictures of people that I love. Everywhere I turn there are things those people have given me as gifts, reminding me of their presence in my life. And those people? That's what's really important. Not whether or not to own a teapot. Not living in a house or apartment or RV or tent. Not having a guest bedroom (although, in all fairness, that kind of ties in with having people around, so it would be kinda nice to have). Being deeply, gloriously happy with the blessings God has given me, and being used by Him to bless others? That's it.

What I've Learned About Myself

I am so much stronger than I gave myself credit for (I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me, Phil 4:13) and God is so, so much greater than I ever gave Him credit for (if God is for us, who can be against us? Rom 8:31). And that knowledge - not knowing how to plumb a hookup or balance electricity or remodel or paint or downsize - that's what I've learned about God, and that's what I've learned about myself.

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