Why A Tiny Home Wasn’t Small Enough For Me

published Aug 15, 2018
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Tiny homes are hot right now. Tiny houses, though, are still unusual enough that I was surprised when my own sister told me she had plans to acquire one. Ruth is not the likeliest candidate for tiny living. For one thing, she collects art as an investment. So I listened with interest as she described her design for the tiny space, and clamped my mouth shut tightly as she talked about what I consider the most important part of the tiny home—the bathroom.

“I’m going to have a real porcelain toilet,” she said, firmly. I nodded, mouth still clamped shut.

It was the toilet that had been my undoing in my own tiny house.

I had never intended to live tiny. For me, the freedom of the road is what called me. I was so desperate to get moving. I had been confined to Illinois by a court order, courtesy of a divorce decree 17 years earlier.

So it didn’t take long to shed the shackles of forced proximity to the former marital home. When my youngest graduated from high school, I quit my job and I sold mostly everything: My house, every stick of furniture, every plant I had lovingly tended for years. All the books that had been my salve and balm on sleepless nights and rainy Saturdays. There were certain things I couldn’t part with, of course. Some beloved books. My clothes. Winter gear and camping paraphernalia. Blankets and pillows. A plastic file box with my important papers. A blue and white ceramic pitcher made in Spain. Tupperware containers for my food. Knives. Lots of tools. My bike and a lime green kayak.

I purchased a 1962 Avalair travel trailer. I called her “Lucy” because of the “I Love Lucy” sticker on the inside of the door. She had a pink sink and pink sidewall tires and she stretched a mighty 18 feet. I loaded what limited belongings I had left and, like a kite with it’s string snapped, Lucy and I were off.

For a while, Lucy and I were living the dream. But then the realities of tiny homeownership slowly revealed themselves. One day, a new battery I paid a professional to install caught on fire. Then, in a comedy of errors, I wrapped the trailer around a three-foot pole, punching a hole in the irreplaceable thin, metal skin. But the worst was emptying the toilet tank. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get used to its appropriate draining and cleaning. The valve on old Lucy was ornery, and the process a dirty one. Eventually, I had to abandon the trailer’s bathroom altogether, and simply use the campsite toilets.

With winter approaching, I parked the trailer in a storage facility in Santa Fe, thinking that I would rent an apartment for a few months. But I never lived in Lucy again.

I didn’t immediately find a permanent home and fill it with all the things I had jettisoned. No, instead I downgraded even further. I’ve given the kayak away along with my tent and camping equipment and the rest of my books. I digitized my important papers, and winnowed down my clothes to three packing cubes. Now, four years later, the only belongings I have fit in my backpack and a 22-inch Rollaboard suitcase that wheels into whatever accommodation that will have me. Right now, I’m housesitting in France for six weeks. I plan to go to Ireland next, volunteering in a lodge in exchange for accommodations.

I adore minimalism, but I don’t have to live in a tiny home to be a minimalist. I work online and have only what will fit into my bag. I’m not responsible for paying for or maintaining a home. I’m free, and having a ball.

It is easy to believe that all your stuff is somehow part of you. Our emotions and memories are stored in the trappings of our lives. I’ve visited castles and great mansions in Europe with furniture and art and collections amassed over centuries—passed down from generation to generation. The history and identities of the owners are embodied in these furnishings. How hard it must have been to feel an individual among the weight of those belongings. Even the word, “belongings” shows us that possessions are an indication of who we are and where we belong. I yearned to find myself, to discover who I was apart from my possessions. And now, after four years of shedding my things, I finally know.

So that’s why I’ll keep my mouth shut as Ruth goes on her own tiny-living adventure. Maybe for her that porcelain toilet will be just the thing that makes her tiny home feel like a real home. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up in a tent in the front yard of her tiny home. Or maybe she’ll curse it just as much as I did and take minimalism to the next level. Either way, that journey—whether to untethered freedom or a return to a fixed home—belongs to her.