60 Square Feet of Wisdom

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Photo By Carol Venolia
Carol's trailer offers consistent comfort amid constantly changing backdrops.

This morning I woke up snug underneath my organic wool comforter, opened the blinds by my bed and gazed through paloverde branches at a clear blue desert sky. I opened the window and inhaled the cool, dry air with its overtones of mesquite and creosote. The calls of cactus wrens punctuated the peaceful silence.

A few days ago, I awoke in the same cozy bed and gazed into the branches of a sequoia. Opening the window brought the scent of forest and the sounds of jays and a rushing stream.
This is life in my tiny trailer. I love living in a familiar cocoon, yet waking up to new worlds outside.

Living large

When my first book, Healing Environments (Celestial Arts, 1988) came out, I was invited to lecture all over the country–crossing time zones, sleeping in strange beds in rooms with chancy air quality, eating marginal food and dealing with wrinkled clothes. It occurred to me that an RV would solve all those problems, but I didn’t want a monster bus with single-digit gas mileage. After much research, I bought a small, aerodynamic Casita fiberglass trailer and a four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma to tow it. Between the great gas mileage and my frugal use of propane, water and electricity, I now use fewer resources on the road than I do at home.

My 10-foot trailer offers 60 square feet of living space. At first I thought it might feel claustrophobic, but it turns out to be just right. And after a dozen trips, I’ve learned many unexpected things from living in this compact space.

Just enough

When people step inside my trailer, their first comment is usually, “You’ve got everything you need here!” The layout puts all the essentials within arm’s reach. My bed is at one end, the bathroom and closet at the other. The kitchen (small sink, two-burner range and a little fridge) is in between. The 3-by-4-foot floor space in the middle serves them all.

I have one overhead cabinet for my dishes, pots and pans; one drawer for utensils and tools; a small closet; a chest-high pantry with fridge below; an upper cabinet for personal-care items; and a cabinet over the bed for my extra blanket, maps, books and bags. Under the stove are cleaning supplies and tools. I’ve been amazed to find how little stuff I really need.

Cocoon on wheels

And talk about human scale: I can reach up and touch the ceiling. When I sit in bed to read, with my back against the curved “corner,” I feel like the world is my oyster and I’m the pearl.
In fact, I feel so safe and secure here that I sometimes escape my comparatively cavernous 1,300-square-foot house to curl up in the trailer. It’s an instant tonic–a great way to make the world go away.

Multipurpose rooms

Each part of my trailer serves multiple functions. For example, the bathroom is the shower space; the whole room sheds water, and I pull a shower curtain across one wall to protect the towels and toilet paper. The bed can be converted to a dinette. Solid covers turn the range and sink into counter space. A waist-high cabinet door is hinged on the bottom and converts into a horizontal work surface. And there’s a storage cabinet in every possible nook.

Clutter control

When I first got this trailer, I’d leave dirty dishes in the sink, toss my clothes on the bed and leave papers lying around. In no time, I felt like I was living in a wastebasket. I learned that the serenity of small-space living depends on minimizing visual clutter. When I stash everything away, the place sings.

Decoration follows a similar principle. Before I really “moved in,” this little beige bubble was pretty boring inside. I quickly found that a little décor went a long way. A touch of whimsy here and a bit of color there was all it needed.

Conscious consumption

Here’s the real kicker: I use insanely less water, gas and electricity in my trailer than at home–and I’m pretty careful at home. It helps that I don’t carry my garden with me. But it also helps that the trailer’s marine toilet uses about 2 cups of water per flush and the shower is a hand-held sprayer with a shut-off valve. One small light illuminates the whole trailer after dark. On the rare occasions when I need it, a few minutes of propane furnace time keeps the space warm for an hour.

I confess that I learned some of my frugality the hard way. Because I prefer campgrounds to RV parks, I’m usually limited by the amount of water in my holding tank and my battery’s capacity. On my first outing, I was heady with my newfound ability to shower and wash dishes while camping–and I drained the water tank in one day.

While experimenting with my 3-way fridge (propane/12 volt/110 volt), I ran it on 12 volts for several hours on a hot day–and had no lights that night. So I bought a battery-testing device, and I regularly check the battery’s charge. Now I camp in my little egg without hookups for five to eight days before I run out of water or power.

The great outdoors

I love my tiny, efficient space, but its magic lies in where it lets me be. I love to eat outside while enjoying great views and fresh air. I love falling asleep to the sound of coyotes and owls. I love to spend the day exploring, then return to my trailer to get out of the cold, wet, wind or baking sun.

My trailer has taught me how little space and stuff I need–because my satisfaction doesn’t come from quantity. It comes from feeling safe, snug and magical indoors, while having abundant life at my doorstep.

Carol Venolia is an eco-architect and co-author of Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green House (Lark Books, 2006). She teaches in the Sustainable Communities program at Dominican University of California (www.dominican.edu). E-mail her atcvenolia@naturalhomemagazine.com.