We are still newbies to both the camping world and to tiny living, but we are getting the hang of things as we go. As I adjust into a new position at a new school and Spence eases into his role as a stay-at-home dad for the first time, we are finding our way. It may sound crazy, but although we have only been in our new lifestyle for a week, we both feel like we have lived a lifetime this way. So, here are a few of the most valuable takeaways for us in our first week living tiny as a family of four.
Here are 8 Lessons We Learned as A Family of Four in A Tiny House:
8. Check Your Specs: So, while I did spend over a year researching tiny living, meeting with tiny house builders, attending tiny house webinars, and obsessing over all things tiny on HGTV and full-time RVing families on YouTube, neither of us were masters of camper-living. In the past seven days, we have bought six different hoses to three different tanks only to discover that at least four of them weren’t long enough. We came to the harsh realization that automatic jacks and auto-leveling jacks are two VERY different things. So now that we are parked and have set up shop, we are stuck leaning to the right because we haven’t bought a truck for the fifth wheel yet and have not yet figured out how to hoist it up to level it now that the ground has settled. We lived four days without proper electrical hookups, meaning no AC in the dead of summer because we just blindly nodded our heads when people threw out words like 50 amps, 30 amps, 110s and 220s. And how did no one mention the fact that you have to use a special kind of toilet paper!? For real, I gave away about 40 rolls I had bought on sale of typical 1st world toilet paper only to replace it with the most transparent version of 2-ply I have ever encountered.
7. You Can Hear Me Now: So it turns out that the R rating on camper windows is about a negative 57. Even though we live on a pretty secluded farm surrounded by a park and trees, the highway is on the other side of the woods. So we are adjusting to being lulled to sleep by the sound of Mac trucks and an occasional siren. I think that adjustment is hardest on our son who is very sensitive to noise. We countered the traffic with pumping up his nighttime jams so now we have WAY more dance parties…which is AWESOME!
6. Ricter Rating 8.5: It is no secret I am a heavy stepper. Even when I was a kid, you would have though a heard of elephants was walking in when I showed up. I’ve just always walked that way…with a purpose, I’ll say! But even our daughter gets this thing rocking. It is hilarious. We are pretty sure if we can figure out how to level us so it doesn’t appear that our camper rivals the Leaning Tower of Pisa, that may assist in the steadiness. For now, it is like being in that upside down Ripley’s museum in Gatlinburg every single day, which is kind of hilarious except when I had a migraine the other night and tried to lay down. Oooohhh never mix a migraine with a moving vehicle. Picture that night in college when you laid awake staring at the ceiling trying to figure out how you were spinning in circles. Not great.
Post Update: If you are living tiny in an RV, buy stabilizing jacks. SERIOUSLY! This has made all the difference for our comfortability long term. No more swaying and rocking with each step. Best money spent so far! *Note: They come in 2 packs so we needed to buy two for a total of four jacks.
5. Outside Beats Inside Every Single Time: As Spence has adjusted to life at home and our lives as a one car family with me at work, he has had the kids outside on adventures and explorations every single day. They have been hiking in the woods. They have learned disc golf (against my better judgement). They have walked to the park/splash pad twice. It is like a super cool journey every day. We are able to eat outside and play outside and Spence recently hung our “porch” lights so we have a nice, relaxing outdoor space for a fire and some downtime by the pond. The kids even take baths outside (by their choosing) since it is summertime. We use our outside shower and an oversized tote and they have the best time! We haven’t really even had time to even notice the size of the inside of the camper because we spend much of our time outside of it.
4. Slow Your Role: Probably the thing I have been most surprised by since downsizing has been how much more slow-paced our lives have become, even in just a week. Of course we are in the middle of selling our house back in Virginia, but once that is gone, we are down to one car payment, a camper payment (that is less than most car payments), and the land rental fee. We don’t pay utilities. We don’t have to constantly fix things. We are able to afford to live on one income. So since I am off at 3:00 each day, I am home in time to meet Spence and the kids at the park, run around in the water, play on the slides, and still make a home cooked, healthy meal and sit down to eat together and talk about our days. Since going tiny, we haven’t had an excuse to miss a single dinner together or bedtime story. It is absolutely my favorite part. The slow-paced life has never been my style but there are undeniable blessings in taking the time not to rush yourself, your kids, your spouse, or your life!
3. Cleanliness Is Next to Camper-ness?: Prepare for FULL transparency. I will be the first to admit (sorry mom) that while I live a color-coded, organized life, Spence’s dirty hippie ways have rubbed off on me over the last 11 years. It was not uncommon for us to accumulate a kitchen counter covered in dishes, have not dusted in weeks, have stains from a spill on the white kitchen tile floor, have old Cheerios smashed on the carpet, dead bugs in the light fixture, and don’t get me started on that one time I forgot to bathe Sparrow for four days. I know, hold your applause while they hand me my Mother of the Year award.
Living in the camper has sincerely changed all of that. Since the kids are outside everyday running around being sweaty, dirty, happy little kids, they need a bath everyday and they love it because they get to play in the bathwater outside. We have to do the dishes every evening after supper because otherwise there would be no kitchen counter for us to use in the morning to make breakfast and coffee. And lives are at stake if I don’t have breakfast and coffee. We sweep the floor at least twice a day because…kids. But it also only takes a maximum of three minutes. Most everything gets wiped down every night because I can do it in no time and when you are in such close proximity to everything you own, you notice when there is a spill or stain. Keeping things (and babies) clean is so much easier in a small space and with SIGNIFICANTLY less “stuff” that it no longer feels like a chore. It is just part of our daily routine.
2. Family First: So now that our budget and our bills are much smaller and we are homeschooling our son, we are obligated to almost nothing. It seems stupid to say, but how have I lived 15 years of my life working because I “had to” or working “for the weekend” or just living for vacation time? Why not the other way around? I mean, who sold America these lies anyway?! Yes, I have a full time job here, but I love it. I would choose it even if I didn’t have to work. And my kids are running, playing, and learning all the time. When I get home from work, we are able to go to the park, climb at the climbing gym, ride bikes, or watch a movie; literally do whatever we want to do. We will have the money to plan fun adventures when my school is on break. It no longer has to be slaving away somewhere that puts me in that jaded work funk where you don’t even act like your real self. I can pick my family first now and that is an incredibly liberating feeling.
1. No One Knows You Like You Know You: Let’s be real. People have told us how crazy we are since we mentioned researching tiny living as a possibility. It didn’t detour us. We are usually the outliers—the weirdos. I’m actually comfortable there. As we have made moves toward this lifestyle—selling about 3/4 of our belongings, our furniture, our clothes, and listing our house for sale—even more people expressed concern. Of course, most of the expressions were out of genuine love and a desire for us to consider all options and do what was best. Through it all, we have relied on God and on each other to prayerfully seek the way that offered the most promise for our little family. Sure we were tripped up by hoses and the most depressing toilet paper of all time, but we are joyful and we are steadfast. We have never wavered from our certainty that ultimately our choices are motivated by wanting the best life for our children; one that is filled with dirt, bugs, rocks, life lessons, friendship, laughter, and memories kids should have. And it’s okay if it looks different for your family.
We also know that Briggs’ needs don’t look like that of many kids his age. He legitimately cannot sit down to watch an entire TV show or play on a tablet because he is too busy jumping, climbing, and building things just so he can destroy them. As we prepare for his 6th birthday tomorrow (gulp!) we have to consider his sensory processing needs. We have to consider when he takes his meds and whether or not he will get overstimulated with so many people around; whether the pizza won’t look like “the kind he likes” or whether or not he will say something rude before thinking. The same goes for choosing where we live, what outlets there are for his energy, what educational opportunities, specialists, and doctors are available. No one else needed to ever approve of this decision for us because we know us. We know our children. And we believe that—even though our lives are crazy and unique—we were chosen to raise our specific kids for a reason.
So we are still super green in this adventure, but we are learning and we love it! We aren’t sure of much, but we are certain this was the right decision for us at this time in our lives. We know that, even if this isn’t a lifestyle we lead for a long time, our kids will make undeniably awesome memories and have a killer story to tell their grandkids one day about that time their whole family lived in a camper, learned some cool stuff, and had the best time ever!
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