Why two tiny homes are better than one big one – my life in a van and on a boat
The following is a guest post from Kristin Hanes, a journalist and writer in the San Francisco Bay area. She writes about alternative living – campervans, RVs, sailboats and tiny homes – at The Wayward Home.
I became a minimalist by accident. At first, I didn’t have a grand scheme of living with less, ditching consumerism and going small. But I did have one major goal: pay off debt.
It was 2015, and I was paying a ridiculous amount of rent near San Francisco for a tiny studio cottage. Even though I made good money as a radio news reporter in the city, I was still in debt – loans with exorbitant interest rates. So, I took a huge leap of faith, determined to pay off debt once and for all and save an emergency fund. I was 35-years old with hardly any money to my name.
So, I gave 30-days notice on my cottage and my boyfriend Tom and I started living in his Toyota Prius. Talk about tiny living! For four months, we stealth camped near San Francisco, and sometimes set up a real tent among the trees in Marin County. I barely told anyone; we did this before “van life” became a trending hashtag. Sometimes, I battled with feeling low about living in a car. Friends offered their spare rooms with concern.
I emerged from the experience of living in the Toyota Prius as a changed person. No longer did I need stuff to feel happy. I wanted to be in nature, have freedom and adventure. And best of all, I learned Tom and I can successfully live in a very small space.
We paid off our debt, saved money, and he bought a 41-foot sailboat with cash.
Our journey into the sailboat life
At first, living on the beautiful 1972 CT-41 ketch felt like camping in a teak box. We had no working toilet, a hole where the stove goes, no hot water and no heating. But still, I felt happy. I’d cook using our JetBoil Flash backpacking stove in our tiny galley, the companionway wide open. The feeling of fresh air on my face while I fried up turkey burgers felt like a dream.
I felt close to nature, in tune with the wind and rain. Being in the boat during a rainstorm is still one of my favorite things in the world.
Sure, we also had our difficulties. We don’t have a “legal” liveaboard slip in our marina, so we spent a lot of time sneaking around. I would pet sit so we’d have somewhere else to stay, or we’d travel and go camping or backpacking. Sometimes, we’d go back and sleep in the Prius.
Cooking on a backpacking stove got old fast, so we upgraded to a hot plate. Finally, one year after living on the sailboat, Tom installed a stove. A few weeks ago, almost three years after moving aboard, we have a working refrigerator.
Living on the sailboat with hardly any amenities has taught me a deep sense of gratitude. Never before have I been so grateful and so amazed by a working refrigerator! I felt the same way about our toilet, our stove, and hot running water. I will never take those luxuries for granted again.
Over the course of three years, Tom has restored the boat almost to the point where it can take on oceans. Our dream is to sail the world.
Why we also have a Chevy Astro van
While I deeply love the marine landscape and can’t wait to go cruising, I am also a forest, mountain and desert girl. And for that type of exploration I would need a land yacht.
Enter my 1994 Chevy Astro van.
I found the van on Craigslist with only 57,000 miles, and knew it had to be mine. I picked it up in Sacramento and moved all my belongings aboard. The van felt huge compared to my small sedan! Now, the van is where I store all my clothes and shoes. It’s my living room and also my bedroom.
Sometimes we use the van to sleep in San Francisco, or we take it to hot springs or national parks. The van is small, but cozy, and has so much character, like wood paneling, a 90s-era television and a high-top fiberglass roof.
We love cuddling up in the van to watch a movie with the little windows open, letting fresh air wash over our faces. I’ve gotten addicted to this fresh air, so that now when I sleep in a house, I miss it dearly.
Why we love our two tiny homes
The other day, we were housesitting a mansion in San Francisco. I was cooking in a gigantic kitchen with a five burner stove, double ovens and huge center island.
So, what was the problem? I couldn’t see Tom.
“Where are you!” I wailed.
“Out here!” he called. He was sitting in a chair in the living room, reading. Just on the other side of a wall, but oh, so far.
“You need to be closer! I’m used to seeing you while I cook.”
So, he came into the kitchen and sat near me on a bar stool, and I felt so much better.
I’ve realized I don’t like big houses. So much wasted space. So much stuff. So much to clean. Now, I think about the nature ruined to build such a big house. It’s too bad our society has evolved to put more importance on big homes than trees, creeks, salmon, wildlife, flowers.
I’ll never, ever be able to live in a big house.
One thing I can see myself having one day is a tiny home in the woods. Then, we’d have three. A van, a sailboat, and a cabin.
I don’t know what in life could be better.
If only everyone could experience living tiny. The connection to nature, to each other, to simplicity. The world would be a better place.
BIO: Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer in the San Francisco Bay area. She writes about alternative living – campervans, RVs, sailboats and tiny homes – at The Wayward Home.