From house to car to camper–a series: What we can do without would surprise you

thoreau

When I wrote my initial blog entry “From House to Car in 2.6 Seconds,” I was not prepared for the interest this entry would generate. I am giving a bit of an introduction to the change of mindset that a move from consumerism to minimalism requires because 1) my mind is still getting used to the idea of downsizing, 2) I suspect many of you may not have known the option to live “tiny” existed. Or that it was feasible. Or that it could even be cool. What you may not realize, as I have not, is that you don’t really have to “go without”” in order to have a great quality of life. What does happen to your mind though, is that it gets “retrained” to think about what is truly necessary versus what we think of as “necessary.” For instance:

  1. I got rid of a bunch of clothes today because they won’t all fit in the small closet in my camper. I didn’t wear these clothes for a long time. I had no earthly use for them. I still had plenty to wear after getting rid of four big boxes and now those four big boxes are going to do other people good. Pros: I have less to wash, thus my laundromat loads will be cheaper. I kept what I REALLY liked.
  2. I don’t need a TV. I have Netflix on my 4 year old iPhone.
  3. I don’t need a phone contract. I got prepaid through Cricket for 30.00 a month with unlimited talk and text and 2G of data. What did I do with Facebook and Messenger? I deleted them off my phone because I have them on my iPhone, which I use for watching Netflix, email and Facebook. (I don’t use the iPhone as a phone anymore and I have never felt the need to upgrade to a thousand dollar iPhone X).
  4. I don’t need cable, or satellite. That saves me probably about 1200 a year.
  5. I don’t need WiFi. I can use WiFi for free at McDonald’s, Arby’s, Applebee’s, or just about any other public place including the public library. If I really want WiFi, especially in the winter when I might not want to go out in the cold I can add a prepaid hotspot to my phone to use for about 30 bucks a month instead of the traditional 75 and 80 dollars a month plus fees through other companies.
  6. I don’t even need to use electricity off the grid. I can, after a time, if I want, invest in solar panels for the top of my camper, and set it up to generate my own electricity for free.
  7. I don’t need the laundromat. I can, once I get on my feet a little better, get a portable washing machine that is compact, and drains in my camper sink and save myself the laundromat money. I can hang my clothes out to dry year round.
  8. I don’t need a bunch of food in my pantry or refrigerator. I can stock fresh meat and cheese and refrigerated goods a week at a time, and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables that don’t require refrigeration. I can stock dry goods like rice, flour, sugar and the like and make better meals instead of processed boxed meals. I have a CrockPot I can use. I can preserve food without refrigeration as well (canning, fruit jam, jelly, syrup, dehydration, etc). If I don’t have a ton of food to eat I won’t eat as much, and that’s just better all around. Better quality food and less of the junk.
  9. Don’t need to use a lot of propane. I used to spend hundreds filling the propane tank when I lived in the West. In a camper the propane tanks are small, and since I have electricity in the camper, it is not necessary for me to run the propane furnace. So it is a backup should it be extraordinarily cold. I can use an electric heater, and save the propane for cooking. The camper is such a small space it won’t take much to heat it, and I am taking the precaution of extra insulation, laying down rugs on the floor, covering the windows in the winter and laying black plastic on the roof to attract the sun in the winter.
  10. I don’t need to use full size shampoos, conditioners, and soaps. I started buying travel sizes for lotions, and shampoo bars instead of bottles. Shampoo bars are better for the environment as there is nothing to throw away. Ivory soap is biodegradable, and stackable! I threw out a bunch of products I haven’t even been using.

The time we really spend in our homes is minimal when you think about it. You are at work about a third of the time you are awake or more. When you are not at work, you are out with your kids, or out at the park, if the weather is nice, or you go out with friends. The time we spend at home tends to be in the evenings, before we go to sleep, and early morning before we go to work. Weekends we may spend all day at home, but you can see we don’t spend a lot of time in the house. Living in a camper due to the small space almost pushes me outside to tell the truth. It will be cozy when the weather is inclement, but I’ll be outside a lot of the time. Yet, the camper is large enough for company should someone visit me and need a bed. There’s an extra bed on the other end that folds up into a breakfast nook with a table. Neat, huh?

Granted, living tiny isn’t for everybody. Some just like their houses, and that’s quite all right. Living tiny appeals to me because I am so aware of how much time gets sapped away on Facebook, TV, video games, and working, and I find myself listening to other people who wish they had time to go to the beach, or time to read a book, or spend with someone they love. The start of living tiny for me is getting back to basics, and spending less time on technology (not giving it up altogether), and finding that I have time now that I am not distracted by TV or the need to be “entertained,” to read a book, or to write in my blog. Work is necessary, in order to live, but work will not define my life. I am doing what I love and I realize that, by writing here, and writing about rats, and I’ve never realized really that writing is what I love to do until I lost everything that was distracting me from seeing what I really love. Who I really love.

I feel like my imagination and my mind are waking up after a long sleep. I could have a garden in large pots. (I can’t dig up my lot). I could have a pallet garden. I can hang wind chimes. I can paint a scene on my camper…I can do some seriously cool interior design in my vintage camper--my mind is working out possibilities.

Why do we think we need to do what is expected of us? Go to school, graduate, go to college, get married, buy a house, pop out 2.2 kids, get old, retire, THEN go RVing? We think if we fail to achieve this illusory American dream we are somehow failures. I know I went through that for a long time as my finances didn’t seem to pick up at all and I felt I was underemployed in comparison to how highly educated I am. What if we are trained to believe if we don’t follow that line, don’t achieve what we are “supposed” to==what if we are TRAINED to believe we are failures?

Oh my darlings. You are not failures if you don’t have the house with the white picket fence and retirement enough to go to Florida and live in a condo. Don’t fail to live. Reducing my circumstances (which let us not forget I was FORCED into), has slowly started to mean a better quality of life, which seems counter-intuitive in a way. Money really doesn’t buy you happiness. Quality of life is what brings you happiness and you do NOT have to be rich to live well.. Trust me. It’s a myth. The money you can save by simplifying your life…well, already it’s astounding to me. Doesn’t take a lot to live well.

It is a myth we will bust together if you want to come with me and follow my adventures. I plan to write day by day the struggles, the problems I encounter, and the innovative ways I find to solve them. I will share my joys, what I learn in terms of big ideas and profound thoughts, and what I learn to make life easier in a tiny vintage house. Who am I? I’m just a teacher without a classroom, because finding a job that pays well has really been difficult–I’m just an English teaching, Emerson and Thoreau spouting woman who loves nature, reading books, writing journals and blogs, loves art, swimming in Lake Superior, and clearing away the clutter to find out who I really am. Who are you?

emerson

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2 days before camper: Gratitude

(If you are new to this series start here).

1 August.

Bank account: 230.00. All of it must go in addition to my check on Friday, to camper and lot rent.

Savings versus renting: 700.00. Camper has paid for itself already. No security deposit needed. I saved the cost of my camper.

I am laying in my car about to sleep. I am excited. In two days I will have my camper. I think about how I will decorate it.

I have figured out a way to sleep in my car that doesn’t have me sore in the mornings. I lay down the back seat and cover the flat space with a thick blanket. I lay with my legs through the hole into the trunk. It is the first time I have lain normally in a week. I had been sleeping in the drivers seat. I am listening to the rain on the roof and I think of homeless people who don’t have a car and I pray for them that they are somewhere dry. A shelter maybe. I feel gratitude for my paid off car.

I feel gratitude for my sons who I love and who love me.

I am grateful for foodshelves. I have two boxes of food that will last me till midmonth when I get paid again.

I feel gratitude for my mother who is also having to move house and is looking for a new home.

I feel gratitude for the bald eagle who kept flying overhead closely to me that I saw today when I was standing in the Lake being buffeted by the waves.

I feel gratitude strangely, for having lost so much. If I had not lost so much the last couple of years I would not feel gratitude for what I have left. I am warm and dry and safe.

I am grateful for the love of friends.

I am grateful for the job I have. It pays what I need it to pay and I save carefully for what I need. Like my camper. It is better than no job at all and I like driving.

I am grateful for my health.

I am grateful I can donate plasma and help others while being able to also help myself. The extra cash helps.

To the world I have nothing. To see me you would feel sorry for me or even feel funny or horrified. Please don’t. I am reduced in my circumstances, but I have love and health and my spirituality and hope. I have an education. I will be a teacher again. I dont know how. I applied for subbing till I can get licensed for this state. It is a start. I have a beginning.

I won’t quit. All I lost can be replaced. I’m just not sure I need to replace any of it.

I have a lot more empathy for poor people. Poor people aren’t lazy. Most work like me at jobs that don’t pay enough for the cost of living. Some of us can’t get jobs for some reason. Maybe its health or age. I don’t know why I have not gotten a decent job in my field. I applied for government jobs and got turned down for all of them. I was qualified for all of them. I don’t know why I can’t seem to get hired. I have done and redone my resume more times than I can count. I have left off my Masters degree. I have put it back on. I have tailored my resume for each position. They don’t tell me why they don’t hire me. I never heard from any of them at all. I kept telling myself as I do now that if I don’t get this job it means that Spirit has something better. Inside on my bad days I wonder if I am a failure for not getting a single one of the 200 plus jobs I have applied for. I catch myself poor shaming myself. We have gotten very good as a nation at shaming poor people. We aren’t poor because we want to be. Sometimes things are out of our control. I try very hard to keep trying. To not give up. I am frustrated at being so skilled and not getting any opportunities. I keep applying. I keep working the job I have.

I am grateful for the waiting. It teaches me patience and gratitude.

I am grateful to be home. My lake. Any amount of difficulty is worth it to be home.

I have faith. Faith is built daily right now. It doesnt matter I don’t see anything happening. Just because I don’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

I have nothing but I have everything. (See list above). I have the truly important things. I am grateful.

From house to car in 2.6 seconds

My life has telescoped of late into a Tiny Life. I haven’t really had a place to live since I lost my job 4 years ago but I did stay with my mom a few months. Then I got accepted to school in Canada and I thought I would get a student visa to live there with my boyfriend at the time.

Nope. Got turned away at the border because they thought I was defecting. No kidding. They saw a backseat with two suitcases and two boxes of food my mom gave me and suddenly I found myself detained for 3 hours and boom. I was kicked out of Canada for a defection plan I never even had.

My life is weird. It was probably for the best. The boyfriend ended up being a mistake. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. But…since I had no plan other than Canada and school (my student loan falling through was the next thing after my purported defection That Never Was), I suddenly found myself in Buffalo at the mercy of a friend. I stayed with her for a year. I didn’t mind. I’d lived in Buffalo before. Its a cool town. Tonawanda is different. Its pretty with the Erie Canal but boy. People love to drink there. Lots of bars. Pubs and holes in the wall, any kind of bar you want. All with grills. Beef on weck and chicken fingers are the thing. Buffalo thing.

Finally after a year of not being able to get any kind of a job with a future other than ending up an old waitress, I decided to hang it up and go home. A friend at home in Wisconsin offered to have me stay with her. Fine. Got a job transfer and I’m there.

Kind of. I’m home but while I was busy living my life for 25 years, Enbridge the oil pipeline folks moved in to my hometown and tripled the rents. 600.00 for a ROOM in a house. Plus deposit. Yeah. 1200.00 for a ROOM. Not a fancy room. A room in a house that looks like my Uncle Wallys place hasn’t been cleaned in a dozen years and the landlord wants to do a credit check on me for this princely dwelling and have me fill out a five page application like he’s renting a place in Trump Plaza, and boy he has People “waiting in line” for this dump he says in order to pressure me into taking it.

I’m thinking yeah I bet you do.

I wish I were exaggerating. 1 bedroom apartments in a town where everyone else who doesn’t work for Enbridge makes on average 30,000 a year (women on average make 22,000 so way less than the men), is 750.00 a month. Plus utilities. Plus deposit. Thats 1400 up front plus 900 a month for heat, rent and electric. Plus a 20.00 application fee that is non refundable. Of course.

I meet lots of people who room together. Never knew each other from Adam before this. But they have to live together to split the rent and utilities because they can’t afford a place on their own. Want a house? You’re looking at 1500.00 a month plus deposit. Yup. Hand over 3,000.00 please.

No fucking way. I think of all the short videos I’ve seen on Facebook of regular people like me having to live in tents and suddenly I understand why. I even tried to get government housing. I filled out something like 15 forms on which I had to detail every place I had lived the last two years. Because I lived with friends I had to get their landlord’s name and number. Most of their landlords hadnt even known I was there and it got so invasive, the personal information I was expected to get for the government, and the process so convoluted and long I eventually threw up my hands and gave up. Which was I suspect precisely what the guy administering the process for the US government wanted me to do. He kept telling me it was a year and a half waiting list for a government apartment, a two year waiting list for Section 8, which helps people pay rent, and the final straw came when he found out I’d had no utility bills the last 3 years. That’s how they track your payment worthiness you see. No utility bills? The government runs your credit before they approve you for a HUD house. Keep in mind this is poor people housing. Here is the catch 22. I didn’t have good credit because I went broke–I went broke because I lost my job due to budget cuts. I need good credit to get poor people housing. If it wasn’t so frustrating it would be laughable. People think if poverty happens to you that you can get all this “free stuff.” I’m here to tell you that doesn’t happen. What the government expects you to go through to get anything at all is humiliating, and convoluted and shaming. They make you ashamed for using what you paid for and paid into. And we have a government right now in which our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson wants to triple the rents for HUD housing you have to wait 2 years for and who you already pay a third of your income to. As if poor people like me don’t have enough challenges and as if we need the government, who really seems to hate poor people) piling on to what is already a situation they wouldn’t put up with if it happened to them. I find it ironic I pay his salary and he gets the health insurance his buddies in Congress enjoy and don’t want me to have, while he himself doesn’t want me to use my own tax money that I earned over 35 years for a place to live when life kicks me in the gut. But he gets to eat out in a nice place every night– and this is the same guy who tried to spend 133,000 of my money for new furniture for his fancy office that I paid for. But I’m the bad guy here for going broke through no fault of my own. I ask you what’s the point?

Oh yeah. The government official who administers the HUD housing, very smug in his nice shirt and tie did offer to pray for me.

So now I am one of them. The tent /car people. Except I bought a tiny camper that I was able to park in a mobile home lot for 450.00 a month. No deposit. I just saved 250.00 plus 600.00 for that room rigbt there. I just saved almost one thousand dollars and my little camper paid for itself instantly. It was 700.00.

I live in a camper. Or will do on Friday when the guy who sold it to me pulls it into town. My Honda is a great car but it has its limits and no towbar. Until Friday I live in my car.

I live in my car. I have to stop and shake my head to reconcile to myself the reality of where I am.

I live in my car. I have a job. Not a great one but enough to pay the bills. But not enough to get me one of those crappy old apartments for 800 a month or a dank room for 600 a month.

It hits me how fast this happened to me. I’m an educated person. I have two degrees and I was a teacher for six years in a high school and a college. I made more money at McDonald’s than I did in my teaching career. Irony of being a teacher in America.

All it took to get me here was the loss of that job after salary cuts with zero white collar job prospects in the tiny rural town I was living in at the time. Valentine, Nebraska. I took a job at a ranch supply store along with my McDonalds job and slowly watched myself go broke trying to pay rent and propane and electric and food and gas for the car for me and my kids. A job loss. That’s all it took for me to lose everything because 8.50 an hour pays nothing. 16.00 an hour between two jobs is little better but you lose your family time which meant I worked all the time and never saw my kids because they would be sleeping when I got home and in school during the day.

How far I fell and how fast. I went from sleeping in a bed to sleeping on an air mattress on the floor after I got my kids graduated and off to college. While I had the kids I had to sell everything to pay bills. I failed utterly to pay them even though I worked 50 hours a week. I had to get assistance for heat or freeze because the price of propane shot up to 4.00 a gallon. I had a 250 gallon tank. Electric went up in thr winter too. Gotta have electric to run the propane furnace. Yeah. You got it.

So when I hear some smug person with a good job and a husband with an income and a house tell me that all I have to do to succeed is work hard I just want to punch them in the face. I work harder than I ever have and I cant get ahead. I can’t catch a break no matter what I do. Ive been being educated about being poor. You wouldn’t believe how nasty people get when they see an EBT card in your hand.

Taker.

Lazy.

Leech.

Never mind I paid taxes for 35 years and I’ve never needed help before this. Never mind the economy is so bad for me I can’t get a job in my field or any field that pays well and has retirement and health insurance. I don’t know why. 230 resumes. Not one phone call or email. Not one.

People who say that shit don’t understand what they are talking about. What has happened to me despite my education and my hard work and the mystifying question with no answer as to why I haven’t been able to get a job after fielding 230 resumes nationwide in my field can happen to anyone.

It could happen to you.

I have my tiny home nobody can take from me. I don’t have to worry about rent increases. I don’t have to worry about being homeless. I can fix it up. Have a dog. I am really experiencing freedom for the first time. It is terrifying. I don’t know what winter is like in a camper. I hope it will be warm enough. I can use an electric heater and it has a propane furnace in it. It has a full size bed that folds into a bench on one end and a twin bed thst makes into a breakfast nook with a table on the other. No bathroom. There’s one close though. I have storage for things but I have no room for things I don’t need. I am learning to stop blaming myself and start learning to think positively about my new situation. I do free things for fun like go to the beach at Lake Superior and sit in places with wi fi and write for pay. Its not much but every little bit helps. I read books more. My life has slowed way down as it does when you shed the possessions and live simply. People have been good to me. Helped me get on my feet a little. I’m actually looking forward to living in my new (to me) tiny home.

Here it is. The camper.

I’m not lazy.

I lost my job which didn’t pay a living wage anyway. Things have got to get better, right? Next time you see a homeless person keep your judgmental mouth shut. It could be you in this day and age. Remember that.

I am American.

O Canada

Ever the predator

you hunt me still in the solo silence of Canadian nights where the tall trees circle you and the stars are

cut off

cut off from everything

you are

Cut off from humanity

your humanity shapeshifter wolf shedding

sheepskin

whether you like it or not you pad slowly in darkness knowing that you are condemned to the life of the lone wolf you are

condemned and condemning ever the

creator of your own prison how many have been your prey

death follows you for everything you touch dies

everything

I remember the hawk who flew into your window and the callous dead way he flew one last time as you flung his body over the fence into the woods

how houseplants died and how you tried to murder my soul how you slaughtered the truth

God knows you.

Predator.

I think of you in passing then life turns my head to other things like my lake and how I would not be home if I had stayed with you not know such complete happiness had I stayed with you and your sharp sabre like tongueteeth which kills tender souls

no

I belong in the here and the now on the driftwood log on Wisconsin Point at one with wind, water and Spirit

while you

lurk in the shadows knowing nothing but deadness and lethargy and the emptiness of the house at night where all of what I had lingers waiting for a return that will never come

if you were not so calculating

I could almost pity you

Alone

Wolf

but I know your kind

devouring tender souls

I see you in the tree line shadow man-child

the breeze shakes the leaves of the trees and you melt into the brush only

to return

predator