Sunday, February 9, 2014

Living in a Tiny House on Wheels

Written by Karen.
We have lived in two tiny and mobile houses recently. Our first tiny rolling home was our 1984 VW Vanagon named Chinook, which we drove around the western United States for several months.  Our second mini home on wheels was our rented 1990 VW Vanagon camper van named Otto, which we recently drove around Germany and France for three weeks.  Although there are age, interior style and functionality differences between the two Vanagons, these cousins do share an interior footprint of approximately 115 square feet. 

Not much when you consider that not all of the approximate interior square footage is usable livable space.  But it turns out that living well in a tiny traveling house on wheels this size is entirely doable with a little planning, as organization and bringing along limited stuff with you is paramount. 

We've learned quite a bit about what to bring aboard our tiny traveling homes this past year.  What stuff is really necessary to live well together and what stuff just takes up space.

The topic of what and how much stuff to bring on our VW Vanagon road trips will absolutely elicit spirited conversations between the two of us. Adam prefers the less-is-more philosophy, while I like to try and anticipate what necessities may be needed/wanted, especially if we are planning to be away from easy civilization.  This means backups - technical, mechanical and food/drink-related - after all, you never know when you might break down!  And who wants to break down without a couple of bottles of good wine tucked away somewhere to help figure things out?

It usually works out that we take less stuff than I feel comfortable with and more than Adam likes. The perfect compromise! The final arbitrator of whether something initially goes or stays is whether we can assign a logical and permanent place for the item to reside within our tiny house on wheels.  And, if it turns out that the item doesn't actually work for us once we start living on the road - we've become rather ruthless in this regard - we will dispose of it.  Living in a small space requires each item to have ongoing utility.  

The question - or philosophy - of what items to take, what to leave behind, what items have stark utility, happiness utility, comfort utility or beauty utility, or some combination of utility really has no right - or wrong - answer.  Each person will answer differently, completely dependent upon their personal experiences, priorities, traditions and world view at the time when considering the question.  Which means that over time, those answers will be - should be - different as we continuously change from our life experiences.  

We came across another tiny home on wheels on our travels last summer at Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  There amidst the myriad of historical re-creations was the covered wagon. When we peered into the canvas interior, Adam noted that the interior space seemed similar to the inside space of Chinook, our Vanagon.  He was right.  It turns out that the covered wagon had approximately 115 square feet of interior space. The interior of the covered wagon and the interior of the VW Vanagon are surprisingly similar in size.

I wonder what the conversations were like 135 years ago when families, or individuals, began to consider what things to bring and what items to leave behind as they planned their trip west? What things had stark utility, happiness utility, comfort utility or beauty utility, or some combination of utility that tipped that particular item into the stay or go category?

Like Adam's and my journey of today, there would be no way for those pioneers to anticipate the upcoming experiences, changing world views and life changing decisions they would experience.  And how they would change and answer those questions differently about what items they would bring, what items they would keep, and what items they would wind up discarding along the way. 

The VW Vanagon and the Covered Wagon. Two different - yet surprisingly similar - tiny traveling homes of around 115 interior square feet.  It's not much, but it's big enough to start a new life.
Our VW Vanagon - Chinook 
Settling in for the night
Packed and ready to go on a road trip through the western United States
We rented Otto for three weeks as we slowly drove and camped throughout Germany and northern France.
A simple, yet satisfying breakfast
A re-created covered wagon from the late 1880's
What goes and what stays?

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