On April 26, 2013 we celebrated the one year anniversary of moving into a tiny Rialta Winnebago RV. Wanna see how we live? Check out this video!
One of our life’s current luxuries – which I confess we take advantage of far too infrequently – is that we can “live” anywhere we want (anywhere you can park a car that is). Most times we do what most people do, I suppose, which is we live our lives at the mercy of whatever life brings to us. We live near our kids’ school so we can pick them up at the end of the school day. We live near our coffee shop so I can walk to work in the morning. We live near the home of a friend because we’re having dinner with them. And so on. But once in awhile, we take advantage of the possibilities afforded to us by living in a mobile home, and pick the coolest place we can think of to live. This morning it was on the banks of the Sandy River just outside of Portland.
Now, we didn’t’ stay there overnight. Folks are a little particular where you stay overnight in your RV, and you have to choose an unassuming spot for that if you’re “boondocking” like we do every night. So we went to sleep in one of our usual dependable spots, and early the next morning – as is usually the case – I awoke before everyone else. And usually I either head off to work or putz around making coffee trying not to wake everyone up. But on this beautiful Sunday morning I climbed into the cockpit
and took off down I-84, cruising along the banks of the Columbia River, following the same path Lewis and Clark followed on their historic way towards the Pacific Ocean, quite illegally flying down the highway while my girls lay asleep, unbuckled and completely unsafe, just like me and all my friends did in the back of station wagons all during the 70′s.
We got just outside of Portland and pulled off at Lewis & Clark State Park, headed a little ways down the Colombia
Scenic Highway, and found a great place to nestle back near the river. I strategically backed our 2000 Winnebago/Volkswagen Rialta in where the extended rear portion was hanging off over the river bank, so that massive back window would create the perfect scene for our breakfast, turned the two front seats around (that’s the only place to sit when all the other seats are folded into beds) and started working on hand grinding my morning coffee. Eventually the ladies all woke up and we cooked up some bacon and egg and spinach skillet thing (by “we” I mean Carissa) and enjoyed a perfect Sunday morning breakfast and devotional….
Later on we went exploring the river, hiking around, skipping rocks and pretty much doing nothing, which is what folks ought to do sometimes, especially if they can do it in such a picturesque environment.
Yep, most days we just take what comes at us. And tomorrow it’ll be back to the grind. But this morning we took ahold of that ‘ol life and told it what to do. And this morning, life liked it just fine.
Tonight as I lay in bed with Trinity, my 8 year old, snuggling her to sleep, I began thinking about what makes moments so meaningful. I remember thinking as a kid that there were certain experiences which might perhaps be considered “highlights”. They were in the category of a roller coaster ride or getting a new bike for Christmas. These were things you could sink your teeth into. Really… you know, enjoy. One summer my parents got a boat and we went every weekend to the lake. We learned to water ski and knee board and just fly around that lake on the smooth, glassy surface of the water as the Oklahoma sun sank slowly behind the rounded hills of what used to be the Arbuckle Mountains. That was ecstasy for a 14 year old who spent half his life either in a school room or at the handle end of a garden hoe or hauling hay or driving that big ol’ International Harvester tractor round and round and round, trying in vain to keep the hay dust out of his allergy-plagued lungs. When it finally came my turn on the skis I’d make the plunge into the sun-warmed water, wait for the slack to be pulled out of the ski rope, get my ski tip positioned just right and yell “hit it”. Then for the next few minutes, life was perfect. Just me and the water and the hum of the boat motor.
It was glorious.
But it was in the context of this glory that my mom would inevitably say something completely confounding. “Mom, don’t you want to take a turn skiing?!?”, we’d exclaim. “No thanks”, she’d say continuing to put some hot dogs on the grill, “I’m just enjoying watching you kids have fun”.
What?!? We’re having the time of our lives out there and your “joy” is just watching US?!? That was true insanity, I remember thinking.
Then I had kids. Or maybe I grew up. Or maybe I just got tired. I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that somewhere along the way my understanding and experience of what constitutes happiness got, well, different. Don’t get me wrong. I still love to ski. I’ve sky dived and bungee jumped. I’ve been to London and Marrakesh and Caracas and Nairobi. And I’ve still got a lot of things I want to see and a lot of things I want to do, and I plan on doing just about all of them, if I live long enough to get around to it. But what I don’t expect is that I’m going to do better than listening to Xandra giggle or Trinity laugh at a joke that I can’t believe she “gets” or talking into the night with Carissa about pretty much anything. And tonight, laying there in that bed, I just got to thinking about that and why that is and the best I can do to wrap words around it is that has to do with depth. Being pulled behind a boat at 40 mph is a wide thing. It’s 8 minutes of adrenaline and sheer pleasure, but it’s not deep. Without even thinking about it, you know that it’s all well and good, but it’s not important. It’s not meaningful. It doesn’t transcend the moment. But those moments with my girls are fleeting. They’re powerful and eternal. What I say and do in those moments matters forever, and without even thinking about it I know that.
These moments are deep.
So tonight I hope you have lots of wide moments. I hope adrenaline shoots through your system and explodes the pleasure center in your brain and you collapse onto the floor crying for joy. But even more so, I wish you depth. I pray that when you hear Depth calling depth out of you, like the roar of a waterfall, you will respond with anxious expectation, knowing that here, in the mundane, is something that matters into eternity. These moments “count”. These moments are the best we can get. These moments are where life is found.
These moments are deep.
On our 9 month anniversary of full time living in an RV, I’d like to revisit the comment which was made by a 4 year old and most perfectly summarizes our situation: It’s Big for a Car, But Small for a House. This was the analysis offered by Asher Noffsinger with a truly perplexed look on his face after taking his initial tour of our new dwelling. If it’s true that brevity is the soul of wit, then this is about the most clever thing anyone has said about our odd situation. I’ve thought about it so many times over the past 9 months, as I’ve tried myself to wrestle words around my experience in this blog. I have this constant sense that people don’t really understand what we’re doing, or why we’re doing it, or how it works for us. All of which is OK and even obvious, but as someone who has a drive to be understood, I’ve always poked around for ways to bring clarity to those around me as to what we’re up to. Mostly with a sense that I have failed. Just yesterday, for example, I was meeting with my bookkeeper and the RV thing came up. She very graciously and sincerely paused and asked “Are you OK?”, and while I was grateful for her concern, it reminded me that people don’t know what it’s like in our home. It seems folks assume that we are claustrophobic, soggy, cold, hungry, frustrated, in need of a rescue and looking for an escape. Believe it or not, nothing could be further from the truth. To make that point, I’ll share a line of thinking that I got on today about goals, needs, desires, hopes…. and then VALUES.
Start by thinking of what your goals are for your living situation. You want it to be safe. Climate controlled to some extent. And comfortable. You want to be able to share meaningful time with your family, and with guests. You want to be able to make it your own, decorate it and fix it up kind of like you like. You want to have places for preparing and consuming food. Options for entertainment. Maybe a comfortable place to read or work on a computer. You want to be able to store the things you need access to, maybe do a work project or two, and to do some laundry when the time comes.
Now there may be other goals, needs, desires and hopes that you can think of. But these represent some basic, common ones and perhaps cover the lion’s share of the type of things one could imagine. Now add to that list some of your VALUES. And here’s where it starts to get interesting. I believe that many people get sucked into the stream that culture creates to obtain the basic goals, needs, desires, and hopes in such a way as to be at odds with their values. We value spending time with our families, but we create entire rooms in large houses for everyone to do their own thing. We value conversation but spend massive resources on entertainment options (TV, video games, iPods, etc.) that encourage being together without BEING together. We value good stewardship of our finances but almost accidentally get caught in the game of keeping up with the Joneses, buying into the lies of commercialism, materialism, and consumerism. We value simplicity but find ourselves the stewards of spaces so large that they take massive amounts of our time and resource to administrate (clean, paint, repair, update, furnish, etc.).
So back to my list. Safe? We’ve never felt safer. First of all, there’s nothing in our home anyone would want. And if a deranged person tried to get in, we’d just drive away. What about storms or inclement weather? We park in whatever spot we think is safest, including a parking garage in a mall or some similar structure if it gets bad enough. So safety is not a problem. Climate controlled? We have a killer propane heater, and great A/C options. And when your house is less than 100 square feet, it doesn’t take much to heat and cool it! Comfort? We’ve never slept better than on our firm piece of foam, and have everything we need for basic comfort. Meaningful time? With nowhere to go we are forced into lots of meaningful and creative time together. And we’ve even had guests over a couple times! It may seem odd, but think about it. What did you do last time someone came over for dinner? You sat and ate, and then you probably sat and talked, right? We got PLENTY of room for that! Making it our own? We’ve put in hardwood floors, tiled the entryway, taken out fixtures and put in others, and there’s always plenty to work on.
Entertainment? We have our computers with internet access, a 20 inch HD TV which picks up all the basic networks, and a killer stereo system with surround sound throughout the whole house! Place to read or work? We have THREE distinct areas and often utilize one while the kids play in the other for personal time, reading, or working. Storage? This one even caught US by surprise, but we have more storage than we need! When you whittle down your possessions to the bare necessities, it just doesn’t take much to store them. And – like many folks – we do have a bit of off-site storage for those other items that we don’t need regular access to. Laundry? Well consider this, in our old house we hauled dirty clothes from one room to another and could wash them one load at a time. In our current house, we just park near the front door of a laundromat, haul our clothes from one room to another, and do all of our loads at once! In between loads we’re in our house sleeping or working or playing or whatever.
Now I’m not saying there are no down sides. It is DEFINITELY small for a house. But we DO have our basic goals, needs, desires and hopes taken care of quite nicely, in a way that helps us live our VALUES, and with a few really, really cool added benefits. Things like this: When we decide we’d like to rent a cabin in the woods for the weekend and have some solitude we just drive to the woods. When we want to have a getaway to the beach, we just go park at the beach. When we need some creative space to work on a project we drive to one of our favorite scenic spots like the top of Mount Tabor or overlooking the city from Washington Park and enjoy our corner office with a magnificent view. When we want to stay late at a friend’s house we just park in their driveway, stay as late was we want, then carry the kids out to bed and all go to sleep. When we went to a retreat in Corvallis recently everyone
else left the main hall and drove to their hotels (which they were paying to stay in). We just walked across the parking lot to our home and stayed for free. And just use your imagination as to what happens on date nights.
Recently we had overnight child care, so we went to a barista event, then out to eat, and ended the night in our little romantic “hotel”: Parked at Overlook Park, overlooking the whole city, where we woke up the next day, made fresh coffee, had a little breakfast, and enjoyed the view.
So yeah, it’s small for a house. But it’s big for a car. And for us – for now – it’s JUST RIGHT!
As we come up on the 9 month mark of full timing in a tiny RV, I am increasingly aware that there a number of things that just kinda worked out for us, and that would make doing what we’re doing all but impossible if things were just a little different. And I don’t mean just living in an RV. I mean living in a 21 foot RV. On the streets. In the dead of winter (currently). While running two businesses. Here are 6 things that make it possible:
1. Let’s start with the size of our RV. This is the foundation for the whole thing because if we had a larger RV we couldn’t just camp around the city. It would require an RV park, or a parking lot or a friend with a big yard and it just wouldn’t work. We drive our RV as a second vehicle, parking on streets and fitting into regular parking spots at grocery stores. And since we only use electricity that we generate driving, NOT driving isn’t an option. And since I have a particularly low tolerance for people hating me for being the guy in a 30 foot machine taking up too much space and being obnoxious, NOT having a small RV isn’t an option. So all this just means that having a tiny RV and being able to LIVE in that amount of space is the doorway to everything else.
2. We just have two kids, they’re both girls, and are the perfect age and temperament – If we had 3 it’d be a different story (there are just two full size beds). If they were different sexes it’d really change things (privacy issues start becoming more obvious around this age). If they were much younger it is hard to imagine how it would work (screaming babies and fit throwing toddlers aren’t noises people like to hear coming from the anonymous RV parked in front of their house). And if they were wall climbers (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about) I just don’t think we could handle it. Note that none of these things have to do with parenting or intelligence or anything. Just dumb luck really. Our kids just happen to be the type, age, sex, and number to work just right for this.
3. We live in the Pacific Northwest, which is the perfect climate for full time RV living. The summers are just heavenly here. Daytime highs are in the 70′s, and when it gets hotter, it still cools off in the evening. The winters are nice and mild too, if a bit soggy. But at least we’re not dealing with frozen water pipes and driving around in 18 inches of snow to charge our batteries.
4. We own a third space. It is not lost on me that owning a coffee shop during this time is kind of – as my dad says – “cheating”. If you must know we have a shower in that shop and of course utilize it regularly when we just need some space to “be”. Watching a movie. Using a real toilet. Standing upright. That type of thing. We also fill our water tank and when necessary, charge our devices such as computers or power tools. Once or twice it’s been nice to have a place to be sick at night, and we have as much high-speed internet access as we desire (even from the RV in the parking lot). And we still receive all our mail there as well (although we’ll switch to a service once we leave the city).
5. Our Culture Celebrates The Lifestyle – As I’ve said before, everyone in our city who finds out what we’re doing just loves it. These people include everyone from our good friends to coffee shop customers to parents at our kids’ school (Trinity announced to us one evening that she had told the whole class during a show and tell kind of time, complete with a bird’s eye view layout drawing on the chalk board and a Q&A time). We’ve never gotten so much as a raised eyebrow about the weirdness of it all. Mostly we see a faint twinkle with either a spoken or unspoken “I’d like to do that sometime” kind of smile.
6. Our Jobs – We are preparing to launch into our nationwide tour, but meanwhile we run a coffee shop and doula practice in Portland. This creates automatic “space” where I’m gone most mornings before the girls wake, and Carissa is gone somewhat frequently in the evenings, which has the net effect of drastically reducing the amount of time we spend together in our tiny home. That said…
7. We really like each other – I hope that most families do. But not every couple is lucky enough to like being around one another all the time. Different families have different dynamics, and sometimes those dynamics include needing some space. We make sure and create that space a lot (I go out with the guys, the kids have play dates, etc) but we have a ton of time where we’re just together in a small space with no escape. And we kinda like that.
I’m really grateful that these things are what they are, because I’m really having the time of my life. There are certainly modifications that could overcome each of these, but all together they create kind of a perfect storm, if you will, for us to be doing what we’re doing in the way we’re doing it.
So Christmas happened recently. For us, that’s mostly about a spiritual celebration based on our personal beliefs. But one aspect of the season which we are happy to participate in is the giving of gifts. Well, this year we got to thinking about spending 3 weeks in the dark, wet, cold of the Pacific Northwest without the daily distraction we had now become accustomed to when the girls go to school for 6 hours a day and decided instead to spend a chunk of that time visiting our parents in the midwest. This was a really excellent trip during which we had tons of great experiences (maybe we’ll cover all that in another post) but come gift-giving time it was a pleasure/pain experience during which we repeatedly opened packages, became elated at the contents therein, felt immense gratitude toward the giver of said gift, and then immediately thought “Where in our house is there room for THAT?!?” And no gift has come to represent this daily ongoing and still-present conundrum better than my new gloves.
“Gloves?” you say. “Gloves?!? How much space do you need to keep a pair of gloves, for the love?!” Well, not much. But when you are on an extremely tight budget, that movie ticket for the matinee’ at the discount theatre is suddenly a bigger deal than $3. That $3 along with 20 other three dollars-es suddenly becomes $60 and, well, NO, you can’t afford it as a matter of fact. And when your space is less than a hundred square feet a pair of gloves is kind of a big deal. But for now, I’ve kept the gloves because there is little else I hate more on this worldly experience than to be cold. And… (buckle up, here comes the litany of justifications) I *do* walk to work at 5 a.m. from as far away as a mile. And it *is* January. And they *are* so fashionable. And my parents *did* get them for me. And…. OK, you probably recognize that line of thinking. But the thing about gloves is they represent – perfectly – a far bigger issue. Because once you have gloves, you have to administrate them. See, gloves don’t just jump on your hands themselves when your hands get cold. They have to be somewhere where you can get them. And in order to be in that place, you have to PUT them in that place. And in order to do that, you have to THINK about what that place should be. And then you have to invent that place on every end of the transaction. Going to the grocery store? Your gloves have to be have a home before you leave, then you have to have a home for them once you’re in the store (unless you wanna look all race-car-drivery and leave them on). Going to that movie? Gloves gotta have a home during the movie. And you better not drop one of them on the floor or you’re gonna end up going back for it. Going to work? Better have a place to keep those gloves while at work or they’re not gonna be there for you on the way home. And once home, you gotta make sure – every time – to put those gloves back in their home or tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. when you’re headed out the door into the cold your gloves won’t be there for you and what’s the point of having them if they’re not there for you when you need them? This is to say nothing of the problems that may arise from keeping them clean and undamaged.
Now, is all this really too much trouble? No, not just for gloves. But for gloves AND shoes AND hats AND car keys AND cell phones AND wallets AND purses AND snacks AND diaper bags AND flashlights AND pocket knives AND photos AND iPads AND shopping lists AND….
Well, one of the whole goals of minimalism – and why I value the approach so deeply – is to free ourselves from the burden of having to manage and administrate and care for and protect and replace and store “stuff”. I love living in my RV – among other reasons – because I have less “stuff” to suck up my limited brain power and worry about whether it’s broke or if I should take it to Goodwill or if it wouldn’t work better if I also had a super-widget to use with it. Before we moved into the RV we lived as simply as anyone I knew and we STILL had closets and sheds full of junk that we had forgotten we had, didn’t need, couldn’t use, that didn’t work, and was otherwise a bunch of worthless, mind-sucking problem!
BUT (and you knew there would be one)…. you can’t get rid of *everything* and you do need to have *some* things. So for now – and stop judging me! – I’m keeping my gloves.
Now let’s talk about that new sweater….
One of the things we used to talk about doing before we were doing this was how that – since we were saving so much money on rent by living in an RV – we could afford to stay in a hotel from time to time basically just for fun and to have a little space to breathe. Well we actually never have gotten around to doing that. Mostly because we’re still outrageously poor thanks to spending all that money we save on things like new tires and what-not. But today our hand was forced. Carissa got sick.
Now we’ve had little sicknesses here and there and haven’t had a need for anything so drastic and luxurious as a hotel room to deal with it. But today was Sunday, which meant the girls weren’t going to be in school (or as we like to call it, government provided childcare). Plus the Steelers were playing the Ravens and it was a televised game (they won!), and Carissa’s sickness came with… well, let’s just say the need to have a toilet nearby was at a higher level than usual. So on our way to Fred Meyer department store to use their facilities Sunday morning, Carissa yelled from the back that she had just secured a Priceline deal on a hotel room out by the airport for $39. Done. Hotel Day.
After an early check in (8:30 a.m. – SCORE!) we got Carissa settled in to her bed and I cooked up some eggs on the RV stove. Then we snagged some juice and coffee from the Radisson Welcome Center and enjoyed a little NFL Today whilst we ett (that’s “ate” in Redneck). Then the girls and I got tired of breathing sick air so we went exploring.
Well, we had to get a little creative so we found a lesser used parking lot with one van in the middle and did timed laps around that for awhile. Then we explored the “river” which was really a drainage ditch but the little ladies believed me when I told them it was a natural area for wild habitat and native plant reclamation. Then it was kinda getting cold so it was off to explore the inside of the hotel, where we were delighted to discover that no one else was using the exercise room, so it kind
Later, we watched the Steelers game, had some dinner, all showered up real good, and basically had one luxurious amazing day (Carissa didn’t enjoy it so much, but I guarantee you she was happier in that bed than in our tiny RV with a thin sheet of plastic which passes for a wall between her and the rest of the room when she had to do her sick business). So me and the girls talked it over and decided we enjoyed that pretty good, so now we’re seeing about talking Carissa into being sick about once a month or so, so we can go back and enjoy a $39 sick day at the airport Radisson.