Ideas on living small

We are living in a travel trailer, but at the same time, it isn’t a permanent solution.  While its great for portability and convenience, it isn’t exactly a great idea for a permanent home.  It isn’t energy efficient, and our current trailer is just not very convenient either.  The design totally sucks.

Granted, we could remodel it.  Turn it into our own private 8×30′ Taj Mahal, but hey, the Taj Mahal was built for a dead woman.  I don’t intend to be dead anytime soon.  To be honest, to do it right, we’d have to entirely gut this trailer and start over.  It’s really that bad.

What’s the worst things?

GM & I both do a LOT of computer work.  We need desk space and room for hard copies of files–not a lot, but we don’t have room for anything more than a portable file box now, and Sissy uses that as a step to get into her crate…which is on the bottom bunk.  There is no work space inside, and face it, we can do a lot outside, but we can’t do all of our computer work outside.  We can’t store files outside either.

I cook…and write about food.  Try cooking on a RV stove and you find out fast–it’s NOT energy efficient or even conducive to my sanity.  I used more gas in 3 days on that stove than I would use in a month of using a traditional propane stove and cooking for an entire family–I know…I’ve done it, with the same size tanks.  My conclusion is that the oven is uninsulated, unregulated, and impossible besides being incredibly small.  Even an apartment size “real” stove would be an improvement.  I’m told that RV furnaces are even less efficient, sucking up propane at amazing rates.  I don’t know, we haven’t turned ours on.  We ran out of gas.

The dinette sucks too.  The benches are unforgiving and uncomfortable and don’t do any real double duty.  The table leg won’t allow my feet to slide easily under the table, as it is located less than 12″ from the table edge.  The table is also warped, a problem found in many used travel trailers and the result of moisture, heat, and storage.  I’ve seen bowls with fewer curves.  GM’s size 14 shoes have no hope of ever making it under the table.  Our ideal solution? Tear out at least the bench without the furnace, remove the table, and put in a table along the wall to allow us to sit side by side with a window view, on chairs…that can be moved!  We would probably opt for “task chairs” which are inexpensive, roll, and reasonably comfortable.  Guest seating would be folding camp chairs.

The bed.  Okay, there’s under-bed storage.  I have no idea what is under there.  I forgot.  I also can’t lift the mattress and hold it up without someone’s help.  It’s useless space to me, as access is impossible.  I’d rather raise the bed a few inches and use boxes which could be slid under the bed, and retrieved the same way.  It would be more convenient.  The nightstand is ok, but the 12″ closet? All it does is give me something to bang my head/arm/elbow on and increases the claustrophobic reaction I have to the bedroom.  There is ZERO storage for clothing.  I have not found a solution, besides stacking boxes, baskets, etc alongside the bed.  I can’t find anything either.  I have requested a shelf be put over the head of the bed specifically sized to hold the “milk crates” that can be bought at any department store in a myriad of colors.  That’s going to be our next experiment for clothing storage.  It will require that I stand on the bed to retrieve or put away anything, but if it gets rid of the “pile-it” zone beside the bed, great.

Our biggest storage problem is a weird one.  But what can I do with size 14 shoes and boots?  I’m going to kill myself over one, because they are large enough that if I get tangled up with a pair, the one shoe can get both of my feet.  If anybody has a hint on how to cope with them, PLEASE help me!  They don’t fit on the “over the door” shoe racks.  They don’t fit on a 12″ shelf either.  GM’s feet won’t fit either of those places either, although I have teased him that we  need to amputate half of his feet so that his shoes fit.  He doesn’t find it an amusing thing though.  Strangely enough, with the crowding, the pile-it zone, and the inability to find a good way to store them, we LOSE those giant boats in here and waste time trying to figure out where they are.  He regularly wears four different pairs of shoes: 2 different pairs of boots, a pair of casual shoes and a pair of tennis shoes.  I keep his dress shoes in the closet to prevent them from becoming scuffed or damaged, but there is no more room for more shoes in there, so his regularly worn ones just won’t fit.  We can’t do something else with any of them because they need to be available…but oh, what a weird problem.  We solved the problem of shower/swimming shoes by simply keeping them in the van, but they were really the smallest issue and easiest to store.

The refrigerator problem is really my fault.  I thought it would work, and it almost does.  Almost is the key operative word here.  I opted for the small, 2 door dorm sized refrigerator even though this trailer was designed with a small but full size normal 2 door refrigerator.  I used the original space to hold a book shelf.  It doesn’t work.  I have to kneel to see into the refrigerator, and it isn’t convenient.  Nursing my injury, it is physically difficult too, so I actually usually don’t do much with it.  It doesn’t even have room to store a pot of soup if I make a pot of stone soup.  It won’t hold a gallon of milk.  GM can’t have orange juice if we’re going to have milk at all.  The freezer is usable, but if I want a bag of ice, we better not have anything else, even fish bait, in the refrigerator.  That was a mistake.  I would have been better off having a book shelf where we have the micro fridge and a refrigerator that worked better for full time life.

The bathroom isn’t terrible, but it isn’t fantastic either.  The bathroom sink is an utter waste, since we wash hands, etc in the kitchen anyhow.  That space would have made a great closet space!  The bathtub is too small.  It would be nice to have a normal size bathtub that would allow a sit down bath on occasion.

The bunks are worthless.  Too small for an adult, they make lousy shelves too.  I regard that as totally wasted space, and unfortunately, the bottom bunk contains one of the four windows in this model.  I’d like to tear them out, put in a section of shelves at the back for storage, and a desk area at the window, with room for Sissy’s crate on the floor.  I’ve also discovered that she brings in a lot of dust, dirt, dander & hair…resulting in anything stored near her being covered in a film of dust.  So much for people’s claims that short haired dogs are less messy…I’ve never had such a mess from a dog!

The cats…if you are living small in a travel trailer and don’t have a cat, don’t get one unless you really don’t mind the smell.  I hate it, I’m not a cat person, and while I regret having them, I’m not getting rid of them because they aren’t convenient or odorless.  I smell the litter box all the time.  We have it in the bathroom by the toilet, which is as far from the “kitchen” as I could get it, but it still smells.  We also have to carry it through the entire trailer to the door to clean it, which we do outside to minimize the smell and dust factor.  GM has to carry it out for me, which makes it even less convenient.  We do use clumping litter for the box, which is a covered sifting box.  I love the concept, however this model is cheaply made and the latches are already failing and require careful handling.  I also have found that some brands of clumping litter are scented heavily with perfumes that are as offensive as the cat smell, and have me gagging when its new.  I suspect there is a lot of personal preference in cat litters, mine don’t seem to be as picky as I am.  I have not tried any of the alternative litters such as crystals or pine, etc.  I’m unlikely to try the crystals as I’ve heard too many horror stories about them, but the pine…maybe.  Something has got to work at quickly absorbing the urine and fecal moisture and reducing odors.  I have tried the automatic litter boxes, and there just isn’t room for the style I’d tried before…and wasn’t thrilled with.  It required as much attention as this sifting model does, and more “stuff” that cost more money.

So, along the way, I search…since our plan is to eventually have a small or micro house.  We’re learning now what is important, and what isn’t.  What works, and what doesn’t.  We have time to search, especially since the cost of building is out of reach at the moment.  We also don’t want to make mistakes when we do build.

One thing to keep in mind is that we ARE aging.  We might not want to admit it most days, but we are.  GM has back issues, I have the issue with the disk in my neck and the shoulder/arm problem, and designs such as Tumbleweed House’ offer usually have a loft for sleeping…and its accessed by a ladder.  That might work great at 20something, 30something, or even 40something…but sooner or later, we hit bigger numbers.  Do I really want to put myself in a position where I have to climb a ladder to go to bed?  I have nearly fallen going in and out of a travel trailer!  What about making the bed?  It’s hard enough with the current bedroom design!

So, skip the loft for bedroom space!  It’s fine for storage and great for grandkids who are visiting, but for sleeping for us? No.  Stupid, stupid idea.  And we’re not alone…we’re actually younger than the majority of Americans right now, so there are a lot of people out there who may be facing reduced mobility, strength, balance, etc.  Ladders are not a workable solution for a middle age person.

Sleeping space needs to be easily accessed, easy to make the bed in, and even considering whether or not emergency personnel could get to someone in the bedroom is a good idea.  None of us like the idea that we’re aging or might have an emergency such as a heart attack or stroke, but it is the reality.  I’m too old to try and crawl around to stuff a sheet into place.  I’d rather have the bedroom only achieve privacy via a curtain than have it tightly enclosed without walking space around the bed.  After all, how often do we anticipate having overnight guests anyhow?  A curtain is sufficient for privacy if the bed is unmade or still occupied when someone comes by for some reason.

In my searches for interesting ideas, I did find this particular video of a “bungalow in a day.”  The idea is that the shell is constructed in a factory setting, which the concept is great.  Theoretically, it can be engineered and produced with greater efficiency, reducing both costs and errors.  The shell is then erected on site on a foundation built by a contractor (or owner) to the specs provided.  Once erected, the shell is weatherproof, allowing the finishing to be completed indoors.  In addition, the completed structure can be secured, especially important in a location where it is left unattended between work sessions.  I love the concept! (Check out the video here.)  The company’s (Bungalow In a Box)  website is found here.

Now this is an amazing concept, although I’m not so sure that it would be affordable, efficient, etc.  Check out this video about a true folding house right here Habitaflex‘s website is found here.  These houses are complete with kitchen cabinets, full bathrooms, plumbing, electrical, etc. and just fold out.  I never did find a price tag, but the floor plan options seemed very livable ones.

Prefabrication of a home in a factory setting SHOULD mean better engineering, quality control, and efficiency, resulting in lower cost-per-square-foot.  Should might be an operative word here too.  But…YouTube did offer some videos of interest.

Palm Harbor, a name associated with high quality mobile homes, also makes modular homes.  Modular homes have come a long ways since the ones I remember seeing in the 70s-those were single story, boxy, unattractive homes that soon began to deteriorate.  This shows the 2 minute construction of a 2 story home.  Palm Harbor’s modular home page is found here.

Because I live on the Gulf Coast, I have a normal concern about a house being hurricane resistant.  In addition, hurricanes spin off tornadoes, so even if you aren’t directly impacted by the hurricane, tornadoes may present a problem.  Plus, inexpensive land on the Gulf Coast tends to be land prone to flooding and/or storm surge flooding.  So, it’s natural that I’d be interested in a home that was storm resistant, and in many areas, it must also be raised above the flood levels (sometimes as much as 20 feet!)

The next thing I found was Duratek precast concrete.  Great idea, but they don’t seem to have a facet that markets pre-designed plans in a package.  Their informational (and hard selling!) video is found here.  It’s a great idea, but it’s geared more for higher end homes than what I’m really looking at.

I remember taking a trip to the Destin area in Florida, once before Hurricane Ivan, after Ivan, and then after Katrina.  The area on Navarre Island, I believe it is called, was devastated by Hurricane Ivan.  Sand drifted over the road, houses were destroyed, and the entire area was very hard hit.  Before the hurricane, I remember seeing a dome home on stilts, and making comments about how it looked like a UFO or a spider sitting there.  After Hurricane Ivan, when its neighbors were gone or uninhabitable, its owners were at home in comfort.  A dome home looks like a very storm resistant design that makes a lot of sense, even if we aren’t used to thinking “in the round.”

Deltec Homes builds homes such as these.  I like their concept of a shell too.  And, they don’t just build “Taj Mahals”.  Here’s their video, and here’s their website.

Interesting ideas, some food for thought, and my thoughts need plenty of feeding.  However, I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow and the hour has grown late…requiring me to get off of the computer and get on with the concept of sleep.

Sometimes, it’s a big dream to dream small, I suppose.  But when you have more time than money, can’t afford to make a mistake when you make your decision, the time spent researching can replace many thousands of dollars.  Right now, my Big Dream is a Small House that is livable, energy efficient, economical to build and own, and insurable in a hurricane zone.  I hope too that other people give up their McMansions and live smaller, sharing their world with more natural green spaces, and learning to build communities that work instead of cookie cutter based subdivisions with too many rules and not enough individuality.  I think everyone should have a pet, some chickens, a garden, some fruit trees, and the ability to survive at least a few days if forced “off the grid” by natural disasters!


About giascott

Writer, blogger, cook, grandmother, mother, wife, radio personality, outdoor enthusiast, dog enthusiast, crafter, artist, and part-time nut~~I've earned a lot of t-shirts in my day! I'm one of those crazy independent women who can cut down a tree, build you a shed, sew you a dress, cook your dinner, make some soap, pitch a tent, build a fire, catch some fish, dig in the garden, chase a kid or two, write you a poem, paint you a picture, and a dozen other things...just don't ask me to sing! I'm also embarking on a relatively new portion of my life, one of being disabled. I'm learning some lessons along the way about a lot of things too.
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