Today marks the 1-year anniversary of my moving out to the property and living in a camper. I have to admit, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be 31 and living in a camper. My family was solidly middle-class, and we lived in nice houses custom-designed by my parents. Moving out on my own (good grief, it’s been 13 years ago!), I lived in a ton of apartments and one rental house before finally moving out here. The goal is still what it has always been: get the house built so that I can finally return to the standard of living I gave up when I moved out on my own all that time ago—and better: I’ll be living in my own house that I designed.
But we’re still four years out on that, and since I have had it on my to-do list for a while to write a blog entry on living in a camper, I figured today was an appropriate day for it.
Let’s see, where to start…
Tiny home on steroids
First off, it’s much smaller than anything I’ve ever lived in before. I mean, it’s not a 12×12 shed, but it’s almost that small. It’s 7 feet wide by 26 feet long, but at least a foot of that length is trailer tongue that is outside the enclosed living space, so I generally just estimate it at 7 x 25 for a total of 175 square feet. It’s not big.
However, with not big, there are some perks: it’s very easy to clean because there’s so little space to have to clean. It’s also not a very far walk for anything. It’s two steps from the bed to the dining area that acts as my desk, and it’s seven steps from the bed to the bathroom (at the opposite end). So, you get places quickly.
On the other hand, because there’s not much space, you end up putting a lot of stuff in a small space, and so no matter how well you clean it, it always looks cluttered. And because it’s small, you can’t really get away from things: if something looks cluttered, you’ve pretty much just got to fix it because there’s no other room to go into where you don’t have to look at it.
Emptying the black tank: gross, but not the worst thing ever
For those who have never lived in a camper or travel trailer before, I’ll tell you this: yes, it does have a toilet, and what goes into the toilet must come out. The black tank is where “all that” stays until you empty it. When I was contemplating buying the camper, I thought that would be the most intolerable, horrible thing. Butts gross me out, so dealing with what comes out of them must surely be the worst thing imaginable, right?
Actually, no. It’s not really bad at all. I close the valve to the gray tank (sink and shower water), open the black tank, and gravity does the rest. I don’t have to see it or mess with it. I do have an attachment I bought for the garden hose that I use to really spray down the inside of the tank, though: it keeps buildup down so that I hopefully never end up with a giant mound of…well, you know…that sitting in there, waiting for me to manually have to remove it. Ugh…nope. Noooope!
I empty the black tank once a week and spray it down most weeks. Some weeks I get lazy, and frankly from what I understand, most people only actually spray it down once a month or less, so I figure the occasional lapse won’t hurt. As for why I do it so often, it’s just a good habit to get into, I reckon. Means I don’t forget and lowers the chances of the aforementioned mound of that. I think I’m gonna start calling it MoT. Yes, MoTs are the worst. Cleaning the black tank, not so much.
Sitting down to shower: the worst thing
I’m sorry, I’ve lived a privileged life, I guess, where when I didn’t feel well, I’d go take a shower, and somehow everything would feel better. Not sure how that works, but whether it was stomach problems (except my gallbladder before it got cut out; that was the most intractable pain ever), headaches, sinus problems, or just feeling kinda blah, a shower would fix it. That is not the case here. Truth be told, I feel worse after showering here than I did before I got in. Cleaner, maybe a little, but my back ends up hurting because of sitting there hunched over, I don’t get that “ahh” feeling of having water flowing down my body, and having only 6 gallons of hot water means that I turn the water off after every rinse, so there’s not much therapeutic benefit to be gained.
I’ve thought about alternatives: an outdoor shower, a solar water heater, and so on, but frankly, I keep coming down to this: it’s temporary, I’m going to have a fucking awesome shower when I get the house built, and I don’t really want to spend the $300-$400 to build an outdoor shower that is reliable and that can withstand wintertime (word to the wise: many on-demand water heaters are not rated for cold weather and must be drained if they are installed outside). In the meantime, there’s the truck stop, where for $12 I can have as long of a shower as I want (it turns out the longest shower I ever want is about 50 minutes long; beyond that, I get bored). It’s not something I do all the time, but for the aforementioned aches and ailments when I really need some relief, it’s good to know there’s something I can do. For those skeptical about truck stop showers, all I can say is, the one I go to (a Flying J) has cleaner showers than some hotels in which I’ve stayed. I know the mental image of a truck stop is this dirty, seedy place, but my experience has been quite positive with Flying J, at least.
And then there’s the weather…
I have never felt as fragile as I feel in the camper. When the wind blows, the camper shudders. Admittedly, it’s never actually moved (knocking on wood right now), but it feels like it’s going to blow away when we get some of these 40+-MPH gusts. When it rains, it sounds like hail. When it hails, oh, my gosh, it sounds like somebody has the biggest dump truck full of marbles and is dumping it on top of the camper. It is deafening! I have literally worn ear plugs during some of the hail storms because it gets too loud to sleep. Mind you, these have been tiny hail stones, not even as big as marbles, and I have to admit, I’m really afraid of what would happen if we had some actual marble-sized—or worse, bigger—hail.
Before I got on good terms with one of my neighbors, we had a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado watch. I seriously debated with myself whether to stay in the camper and avoid the hail that came with the severe thunderstorm or go lie in the ditch in case a tornado came and took the camper away. I have to admit, I’ve never had to make that choice before. Fortunately, the hail didn’t do any damage, and there wasn’t a tornado. I talked to my neighbor shortly thereafter and asked her if I could stay with her during the next major weather event. Being the very nice lady she is, she readily agreed. I hate having to accept charity from others, but I sure do appreciate my neighbors, I have to say. They’re all good people.
…And the old appliances
In the last year, I’ve had the furnace have to be repaired (on a night when it was 19° outside, and thanks to my space heater, exactly 32° right next to my bed), had the A/C motor quit, and had the water heater spring a leak. The furnace was repaired, and I had to replace the A/C and the water heater. I hope sincerely that I am done replacing things. Between the appliances and the window that some jackass broke about a month after I moved in, I’ve spent about $3300 in repairs to a camper that only cost me $6000. Granted you get what you pay for, but I have to admit that I never thought it’d be so expensive to fix things. I very much hope that, having done all of these repairs, the camper is now in good enough shape to last me the rest of the four years. One can hope…
Very important: skirt your camper
I learned this from the repair guys when they came out to fix the furnace. My sewer line froze. Seriously: I’ve heard of water lines freezing, but sewer lines? Fortunately, it was just gray water that froze (no MoTs to deal with), but it still took about 2 hours with a heat gun to get it running again. I then learned of the importance of skirting your camper. It makes sense, but I had no idea when I bought mine. The skirt keeps the wind out from under your camper (where your tanks are). It helps your camper maintain its temperature (better for the propane bill!) and prevents freezes like that. It’s also important to insulate your sewer line going from the camper to the hookup to the septic: that can freeze, too. Mine is now wrapped in towels, duct tape, and heat tape to make sure it doesn’t freeze again. Coming into cold winter months, I’m partly terrified of a repeat of last year but hopeful that the fixes I put in place will keep me from suffering the same fate in repeat. Fingers crossed!
Conclusion: not as bad as I thought, but not as good as I hoped
The last year has been…interesting. Been a lot more stressful than I ever imagined, but it’s been good, too. Getting to see my herd every day, getting to go out and see them anytime I want (including 2:00 AM, which I have done at least twice), having space to lie in the pasture, and having the sense of satisfaction of having made it this far are all good things. There have definitely been challenges, but so far, so good, and I’m still moving towards my (slightly delayed) goal of living in my own custom-designed house by 2021 or 2022. Here’s to the years to come!