Hi! I’ve got what should be a pretty good post lined up. But before I get to that, I really want to thank everyone who read and shared the first post. No, we didn’t bring down the Internet (or my servers), but I was seriously impressed and excited by how much support I received.
I’m going to do my best to post once per week and keep my little adventure exciting to follow — more stories, more pictures, and soon, videos. So keep reading, keeping sharing, and let’s see where we can make this go!
Following the first post, you all had a bunch of great questions about how to actually live in such a small space — how do you keep warm, how do you keep cool, how do you use the bathroom, what’s in all those colourful bags? All good questions, so let’s get to it.
The most significant adjustment I had to make was downsizing from 1,000 sq. ft. to 36 sq. ft. of living space. I was lucky enough to have an apartment bigger than some of the places you hear about in NYC, but on the other end of that, my trailer is actually smaller than anything I’ve ever seen available. Living — just living- doesn’t require that much space. All you really need is a space to sleep and some space to hang out. But I’ll tell you where extra space does come in handy: stuff. So much stuff.
It is shockingly easy to let “stuff” build up. Furniture, kitchen supplies, clothes, decorations and collectibles, etc. Especially when you’ve got the space for it, it’s amazing how much stuff we can accumulate in a short amount of time. When I moved from Montréal, I tried to get rid of a lot of my belongings that had built up. “I don’t need that many different pots and pans, do I? Or how about that extra table someone gave me?” I did alright, but in the end, that moving truck just got fuller and fuller.
There’s a phrase my dad would always quote, and whether I like it or not (I do happen to like this phrase) it’s ingrained into me:
Everything you own owns a little of you.
That is to say, every possession you have takes some physical or mental effort to own. Whether it’s money, time, stress, or all three, your stuff takes something out of you. I’m not saying that’s bad, but it is something to think about when you’re trying to downsize.
Some things are easy decisions. My computer, my bike, my small home recording studio — all are things I actively use and am happy to have. But then there are those other things that can often only be justified by an “I might need that one day.” Even worse are the ones that fall in-between those two extremes. Those are the ones you have to think long and hard about.
Living Out of a Backpack
To most of my friends, it’s no secret that I have a bit of an obsession with backpacks. I can’t explain it, and I’m not even going to try to figure it out, but finding my “perfect” backpack is something I’ve put a lot of time into; I love the idea of having one bag that holds all your vital stuff (a bag that would ideally last my entire life and have all sorts of character after a while.) Laptop, charging cables, sketchbook, contact lens supplies, glasses, a change of clothes, etc. — always all just in one place.
I knew there had to be a backpack out there just begging to accommodate this. Honestly, I’ll most likely end up writing an entire post documenting this indulgent quest, but in summary: I found it. It’s from a company based out of California called Vanquest, and the model is the Trident 20.
I know it’s not for everyone, but it is almost exactly what I was looking for. It’s made out of Cordura so it’s crazy tough. It’s a good size and can hold everything, but even more importantly, well designed organizational compartments make it so I don’t have to sift through a big wad of stuff every time I want to access something.
I love this bag.
Without even realizing how useful it would be in the coming months, I gradually started to live “out of my backpack.” Not literally, as I did keep clothes and such at home, but all my toiletries were in my bag. So were all the USB cables and chargers I actively used, and anything else I knew I could want on a day-to-day basis. Knowing what I needed vs. what was nice to have helped make the downsizing process a lot clearer.
Around the same time, I also became interested in simplifying my wardrobe. Instead of a bunch of different pairs of pants, many cuts and colours of shirts — all the glorious variety you could want (and let’s be clear about this: I own an amazing pair of loud floral pants) I opted for a simpler solution. I found one pair of neutral pants that fit well, and I bought four. I found some simple shirts and bought six or so. While I didn’t get rid of my other clothes just yet, I tried to only wear from that small, almost identical collection. What I found was that removing the minor decision of what to wear for the day was a lot more substantial that I would have guessed. I wasn’t going back.
When it came time make the “keep or donate” piles in preparation for moving into the trailer, it was fairly easy. I kept a few things that are really unique to pull out when the occasion calls, but at this point I maintain a very small daily wardrobe.
Before you call me a liar…
I don’t want you thinking my only possessions are what I have with me in the trailer. No. I am renting a storage locker right next to work so if I absolutely need something (or, inversely, if I realize I don’t need something) I have easy access. I kept my mattress, because damn those things are expensive! Most of my music equipment is there — my sketchbook archive, too. After a while in the trailer, I’m looking forward to pulling that stuff out and purging everything I didn’t miss.
Like I said, you all had a bunch of questions about the practicality of living in this box. You’ve now let me wax on about minimalism, having stuff, backpacks — blah blah. If you’re still reading, I thank you. Let’s get to the real meat.
My first night in the trailer was March 3rd (I know I’m a little behind; I’ll catch up, promise.) In NYC, March 3rd is still moderately cold. It’s not Montréal’s -30 C/-22 F, but it was still in the -5 to -10 C/23 to 14 F range. I had intentions to insulate the trailer, but ran out of time, so as of this moment, 1/4” plywood is my only barrier to the weather. Staying warm has, at times, been a challenge.
On this blog, I’m going to be like Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation; I will never reccomend a product unless I truly believe it’s amazing. This post in particular has me talking about many of the products I rely heavily upon, and because I genuinely want to share them, I will include links.
Some of those links are Amazon Affiliate links, potentially giving me a little monetary kickback if you buy the product from Amazon. You can always search for the product on your own, or better yet, find it at a local business and buy it from them.
First and foremost, for keeping warm, a good sleeping bag has been vital. As I’ll talk about shortly, my heating options are limited, and crawling inside a warm puffy sleeping bag is sometimes the best thing ever. I spent a lot of time at the store examining and discussing the many options, and I finally settled on the Sea to Summit TKII.
Beyond just the specifications being up to snuff, it’s not a lump of a hideous human cocoon; it actually looks decent. The thing has been amazingly warm and comfortable, especially with an added sleeping bag liner that both makes it softer and increases the temperate by a moderate amount. As a plus, it’s compressible and can squish down to be tiny if I want to get it entirely out of the way.
Along with the sleeping bag and liner, I have a pair of merino wool long johns that, on colder nights, have been the final layer that kept we warm enough.
Throw that all down on an insulated inflatable sleeping pad, and I’m good to go!
For generating heat, I have two options. I’m not connected to electricity, so the minimal reserve that I do have (more on that later) is not even close to being enough to power an electric heater. For most nights, I use an alcohol burning stove. It’s a simple thing that runs on the alcohol you can buy at a pharmacy. Alcohol burns without smoke, by the way, and produces minimal carbon monoxide that doesn’t reach dangerous levels if I burn it for an hour or two at a time.
The alcohol stove is great, and most of the time it’s just fine to keep me warm. But for the crazy cold nights and the mornings where I dread crawling out of the sleeping bag, I have an indoor-safe propane heater. It’s designed to heat a 100 sq. ft. space, so I only have to use that for 20 minutes or so to take the edge off.
I found that when I make heavy use of the heaters, a lot of condensation settles by morning. A couple times the outer layer of my sleeping back was noticeably damp. Whenever possible, I’ve since tried to avoid the heaters and just wear an extra layer or two until I’m ready to go to bed. It’s not always possible, but has helped with condensation tremendously.
I’m a software programmer. More than that, I’m a software programmer who likes to work on my own personal projects in the evenings. I absolutely knew I’d need electricity for when I’d be working longer than my MacBooks’s battery could survive. Solar isn’t powerful or consistent enough. A traditional generator is too noisy. After some searching, I ended up finding a great little device, the Goal Zero Yeti 400. It’s basically just a big ole’ 400 watt hour battery with a good inverter packed into a nice, somewhat portable package. To give you an idea of how much electricity that is, my laptop’s power supply draws 60W, and I can charge it 3-5 times. My phone draws approximately 5W; that’s over 30 charges. For my laptop, keep in mind that I’m usually running off its own internal battery. I’ll only use the Yeti to top it off when I need.
My one complaint about the Yeti 400 is that while it is possible to lug it to work to recharge, it does weigh a little over 30 pounds -- not the most convenient or inconspicuous thing to drag through the subway. Goal Zero makes a smaller version, the Yeti 150, which is a much lighter, more transportable version that should give me 1-2 laptop charges or can recharge the 400 if my laptop is doing fine. Bringing the Yeti 150 into the mix is still new, but so far it’s a great setup.
I’m not always working when I’m home. A lot of times, I’ll veg out on Netflix before I head to bed, and for that, one crucial thing is needed: the Interwebs. That’s a pretty easy one. My cell plan has unlimited high-speed data, and with that I get 5GB per month of tethering. When I want to watch TV, I’ll watch directly from my phone, and when I want to look something up or publish a blog post, I’ll tether. It’d be great to have more than 5GB or tethering, but that’s enough if I’m conservative in my usage.
For longer term use, I have a battery-powered LED camping lantern with a nice soft glow. It’s also from Goal Zero. Maybe I’m becoming a bit of a fanboy. It’s also got a hand crank that’ll give ten minutes of light for every one minute of cranking if the battery runs out and my Yetis are dead.
Food / Cooking
Finding food in NYC at any time of night is not difficult, and with the prices of groceries in certain gentrifying neighborhoods, it can often be just as cheap to grab a cheap bite than cook at home. That’s what I do most of the time.
I do have and MSR Whisperlite camping stove and a lightweight pan and skillet if I want to cook or boil water for tea. It’s a fantastic stove, but it’s usually easier and cheaper to go grab a sandwich than cook at home.
Toilet and Shower
Yes, we finally got to it, the number one question I’ve been asked by oh so many people — how do I go to the bathroom? There’s no holding tank in the trailer, so my only solution was to get a portable toilet for an RV or a boat. It’s a nicer model that includes a clean water reservoir and a manual flushing mechanism, as well as a tightly sealed trap that keeps in any smells. I admit, I was a concerned whether this would work out or not, but it’s been fantastically better than expected. There’s no chemical smell (or otherwise) whatsoever, and it’s an easy process to empty into a regular toilet every couple weeks as the chemicals completely dissolve the, err, stuff.
Now, for the shower… That didn’t turn out at all like I had planned. I naively figured I could put a drain in the bottom of the trailer, push my stuff off to the side, and use a propane-heated camping shower. No. On so many levels, no. I didn’t even try.
- The trailer is 5’ at its tallest point, so that already makes taking a standing shower clumsy.
- There’s no real room to push my stuff aside, and even if there were, everything would get wet from condensation anyway. I suspect taking electronic devices into a sauna voids the warranty...
- While it is legal, I am trying to keep this whole trailer thing a bit stealth and unobtrusive. Having steaming water pouring out the bottom of an otherwise unsuspicious trailer is, well, suspicious.
My girlfriend and her roommate have been ever so infinitely gracious in letting me take showers at their apartment. (Thank you both profoundly!) As a backup, the building I work in has showers in the basement free to use.
There's a lot more to write about my first month in the trailer, but I'll have to save that for next time. So far, it's been more comfortable and far more exciting that I would have thought, and I expect it to get better as the warmer months come. When summer hits, I'm sure I'll have a slew of new problems to deal with, but I'm looking forward to it.
Once again, thank you for reading, sharing, and commenting. It's really encouraging to see how excited y'all are to be following me! See you next week!