How I Fell in Love With the Tiny Life

I still vividly remember the day I left my apartment near San Francisco for the last time to live in a Toyota Prius. The move felt more out of necessity than adventure, a step to drastically cut my living expenses so I could finally pay off lingering debt.

But I felt worried and scared. How would I adjust not having my own bathroom at night? A comfortable couch for evening relaxation? My own coffee pot and shower and bed and closet and everything else that come with having a traditional home? But paying rent to have those comforts was too high – almost $1800 per month for a tiny studio – I wanted to become financially free for the first time in my adult life.

So, my boyfriend Tom and I slept in the back of the Prius, switching between campgrounds and rest stops and even my gated work parking lot in San Francisco. We showered at a gym, played music in our storage unit at night, went on weekend backpacking adventures.

Slowly, my fear turned to excitement. I could do this. I could live in a tiny space with a guy I’d recently met, and everything was fine. Fun, even.

I learned to live with less, continued to give stuff away, and enjoyed a life free of burdens like extensive house-cleaning, grocery shopping and yard work. The plan was to just live this way until I paid off my debt. So, after four months, I again rented a room, this time for $1,400 per month.

Little did I know it wouldn’t last, and my life would change for good.

Moving onto a sailboat

Just seven months after living in an apartment again, I lost my job. Immediately, I gave notice, unwilling to go back into debt paying rent.

Plus, Tom had just bought an old sailboat he planned to restore for world travel. Sure, it had no bathroom, kitchen, heater, shower, Wi-Fi, you name it, but it would have to be home. After living in the Prius, anything felt huge.

Living on the boat at first wasn’t exactly easy. I cooked dinners balancing a pot on top of a backpacking stove, we had a bucket for bathroom emergencies. Every morning, we woke up early and went straight to a coffee shop, where I’d hang out for the day.

But even though the experience was trying, I still loved it. I loved feeling the breeze through the companionway when I cooked dinner. I loved our closeness to nature. Rainstorms felt like an intimate affair, with drops tapping a rhythm on our fiberglass roof of our cabin house. I’d never felt these things living in a house, insulated from nature, breathing re-circulated indoor air.

I was falling in love with living on a boat.

As Tom put systems in place, I felt my gratitude blossom. When the stove went in, I couldn’t believe my luck. I had two burners! An oven! I could cook real dinners!

When the toilet and holding tank went in, I once again felt incredibly thankful. Before, I never gave my toilet a second thought. Everyone has one, right?

Living in a house, I’d never felt this type of gratitude for things we all usually take for granted.

 

My third tiny home: A Chevy Astro van

Two years after moving aboard the sailboat, I decided I wanted a land yacht to explore national parks and boondock in Sierra Nevada National Forests. What could be better two tiny homes, meant to explore different aspects of nature?

I scoured Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace until I found my dream van – a 1994 Chevy Astro conversion van with only 57,000 miles. I offered $1,000 more than the listed price on Craigslist, and drove the van home.

Once again, my world expanded. I moved out of my small red Chevy Cobalt and put all my clothes and shoes in the van. Almost everything I owned was now stored in a small van and one cupboard on a sailboat, with a few childhood mementos in my mom’s garage.

I realized that I’d totally lost my connection to stuff. Still, to this day, I ponder and think about every single item I buy. It it doesn’t fit in my life and in my van, I don’t buy it. And I continuously find stuff to donate to Goodwill on a regular basis. Haven’t worn that shirt in two months? It goes into the donation pile.

Now that I live in a sailboat and in a van, I can’t ever imagine going back to a house. My home is in the woods, on the ocean, in the desert, in a cove, with fresh air, sunshine and rain. Houses make me feel trapped and disconnected.

Being with nature is how humans are supposed to live, how we have lived for tens of thousands of years. And I want nature to be my home forever.

Photos and article by Kristin Hanes
The Wayward Home

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