Collecting the tools of a sustainable, self-directed life

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04- '99

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I live in a camper. 

I call her "’99" after the year she was born, which was just on the cusp of something new. 

’99 is a Lance 1120, 19.5 feet long and 7.75 feet wide. She’s still got her original paint job, white with a few tan and gray flourishes across her side. She welcomes you inside with a broken white tile in the entry and cracked, yellowed linoleum on the galley floor. Her white wall paper with pastel pink and blue flowers coordinates with the blue upholstered couch and valences. Aesthetically, she needs work; functionally too. While I was away over the winter, a chipmunk left a couple of nuts in the folds of a black scarf in my closet. My plywood fix to the hole underneath hadn’t been quite snug enough. This spring, duct tape has become a good friend.

I decided last fall to buy a camper to live in on my land while planning and building my real dream—a tiny house on a foundation. I estimated being in the camper until the end of this month. 

When I agreed to buy '99 at full asking price, I requested that she be delivered with a full fresh water and liquid propane tanks, a fully-charged battery and empty gray and black water tanks. Since I didn’t know how to supply a camper any of those things myself and I had no access to utilities on my property, her former owner agreed to the terms and volunteered to show me in detail how everything worked at delivery.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I realize that with '99, everything is a thing. Living in her requires regularly:

  • Fetching six 50-lb jugs of water and two 50-lb LPG tanks;

  • Installing them nearly 6 feet into the air;

  • Reading electrical meters;

  • Learning about electrical gauges, volts and currents;

  • Storing, sorting and dumping my own trash and recycling;

  • Draining, toting and disposing of gray water;

  • Managing and maintaining composting toilet system;

  • Lighting the oven pilot for baking;

  • Readjusting cleaning habits to minimize water use;

  • Organizing everything I own in limited storage and living space;

  • Forestry work with little-to-no tools or experience;

  • Washing and drying clothes at the laundromat while working out and showering at the gym next door (a genius discovery that I’m quite proud of),

  • And much, much more.

Before ’99, I was a planner, a researcher. I had designed multiple tiny homes, been researching homesteading, shopping for land and writing budgets for years but I’d never actually done anything with that preparation. 

With ’99, consequences are cutting.  More than once I've awakened to my breath puffing up in icy clouds from beneath my covers as her gas furnace coughed for fuel. I learned what a missed calculation or LPG check means and I've become a doer. I know that I can only wash my dishes this morning because I spent an hour in 30-something-degree weather pumping water into my camper yesterday. Keeping up (and preferably ahead) of her needs (and mine) requires that any new knowledge be practical, inform my immediate actions and improve my care of her. I’m changing.

In the few months I’ve spent with her, I’ve learned to distinguish a multitude of sounds: the furnace settling, her electrical panel humming, rain drops hitting her siding, a leak in the hot water heater, the happy grunt and even the thirsty sputter of her water pump. Because every sound means something different, I’ve learned to pay attention to the full experience of every moment. My presence and awareness is expanding. I’m growing.

And because of her, I have the time and space to both work out my ideas and write about the process for you. She helped make that autonomous, passion-based life I dreamed of a reality and understand the power of changing my definition of work.

’99’s unlike any other home I’ve had before. She’s not a resting retreat from the hustle and bustle of the world but a place where I’m active, learning, growing, changing and reproducing. With her I’m doing everything that biologically defines life itself.  

I’ll say it again but this time with gumption:

I LIVE in a camper. I call her ’99.