What I Did First on the Road to Get Happy

I haven’t lived in a proper house in nearly a decade. In fact, I currently dwell in a space 93% smaller than the 4600-square-foot monstrosity I owned 10 years ago. I have a history, possessions, and a dog all in a home with the footprint of a one-car garage. I live comfortably in a tiny house and I love it.

After my second divorce (“It’s not you, it’s me.” Yes, I said that and yes, it was me, mostly because it was him) I moved with my son from that 4600-square-foot home to a 2200-square-foot home. There were three more moves in the following four years. I can give you more numbers if you like that kind of thing: 1963, 1192, 892. Square feet. Each move for its own reason, and all with challenges. Those are stories for another day. This story is about where I reside today, how I got here, and why I live tiny.

I had to want it.

There she was. The neighbor across the courtyard. The ungodly cacophony as she shouted into her phone. She lounged on her patio sucking down a cigarette, the star of her own one-woman horror show. She gesticulated and swore. She polluted the tiny oasis I’d created on my balcony. The colorful and fragrant potted blooms, the shaded cushioned wicker chaise all rendered intolerable by her proximity.

I stomped inside. After my son left for college, I'd moved again. I listlessly surveyed the living room of my new apartment and sighed dramatically. Shoulders slumped, I threw my head back and achieved an eye roll that rivaled Liz Lemon. Then I brought it all home with a long, loud raspberry. Curses, universe! This ennui was not new, but it’d become relentless.

My sweet balcony oasis

My sweet balcony oasis

Flopping onto the sofa, I grabbed my laptop. Aimlessly, I searched job sites and rentals; cranky with dissatisfaction. Even in my middle-age I carried the torch of adolescent anticipation that there must be something more for me. That something was still undefined; but it was on the horizon, in another town, perhaps just around the corner. Always out of reach.

Then I found it. The remedy to my restlessness.

Cue choir of angels.

Jason and Nikki Wynn. The most ridiculously golden and enchanting couple. They’d dismantled a comfortable suburban life to travel. More than that; they live, work, and play full-time on the road in an RV. I had no idea this was a thing! I read every word and viewed every video describing their adventures. I clicked dozens of links and discovered more people that do this thing. That night, I was completely seduced by this fascinating lifestyle. It promised to fulfill my lifelong yearning to give chase to points unknown. By sunrise, I was determined to travel and live in an RV. I wanted to be a road-tripper. I wanted it bad.

The first thing I learned was that I couldn't afford an RV. I was undeterred. Reality and practical long-term planning, not my strengths. I prefer immediate gratification. I consulted a financial planner who was adamant that I should not raid my retirement account to purchase a rig. She created a spreadsheet to help me plan a budget. Plan. A budget. Yawn.

My apartment lease was nearing its end anyway. Since an RV was but a dream (that I refused to surrender), I began yet another search for a less expensive place to live. Thus, I encountered Fortune. Petite, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, sassy, sensitive, smart - she could sell you a friggin’ bridge in the desert and you’d be grateful to buy it. In my case, she had a cottage that needed a tenant. She described it as cozy, even sent photos. So I took the trip to see it.

It was indeed…small.

Fortune counseled careful consideration, but I knew I’d take it on first sight. I had to feign prudence so she wouldn’t think me an idiot.

I’m not an idiot. At home, I evaluated the space I actually occupied. I wasn’t sleeping in my bed; I was spending nights on the couch. I never used the dining area. And, I’d managed to make meals in far smaller kitchens. The space I utilized approximated the square footage of the cottage. And, the cottage was furnished. It had everything I could possibly need. It was a studio space and the refrigerator was near my bed. Score! If I was seriously considering life in an RV, I reasoned, I should live smaller now.

In preparation for tiny house living, I decided to jettison nearly everything I owned. I had to redefine what was truly important to let it all go. That included disregarding other’s perceptions of who I should be and how I should live. It took soul-searching and a discipline I didn’t know I had. I don't deny there were days I was all Navin Johnson. And, I often questioned the wisdom of my decision. Still, I persevered. Over the course of six months I advertised big items on Craigslist and held moving sales. Furniture, appliances, clothes, shoes, jewelry, books, CDs, decorations, pots, pans, and plates. Sold. I condensed collections of photographs. T minus two weeks, I donated whatever I couldn’t sell. I digitized important documents, organized and filed others, then shredded everything else. On moving day I was confident that I’d kept only that which would fit in the tiny house.

As I settled in, I treated myself to some small purchases to create more storage and add color. No matter how Spartan I want to be, I really do need to love the space. After all, I'll be here until I manage to get that RV.

I don’t care what anyone thinks about my living in what is essentially a converted garage. I feel completely unburdened. Now, I can pack all my stuff in my car and leave at any time for anywhere. There's still a lifetime of work on the road to get happy. But I've already learned I would actually use a spreadsheet, plan a budget, and give up nearly everything I own to get there. 

Image Gallery: Click each image to see the next and learn how I use the small space efficiently. I feel so clever! Find descriptions at the bottom of each photo.