I’ve always been fascinated by small living spaces—their potential for providing more than what meets the eye; how they force their inhabitants to reexamine “need” versus “want”; and—perhaps most enticing—their portability when put on wheels.
I’m not really sure where this interest stems from, or what ultimately makes me think living in a 90 square-foot space with another human is fun. Maybe it’s because I’ve always rooted for the underdogs of the world, and the concept of “small” has always been overshadowed by “big.” Maybe I’m trying to defy the expectations of adulthood and prove to myself that you can be happy in an unconventional way. Or maybe I just want to avoid adulthood altogether and live out a weird, unfulfilled childhood fantasy.
But I’m not here to get philosophical. I’m simply here to tell you that my significant other and I have successfully lived in a camper for the last five months without it resulting in a murder-suicide.
So why are we doing this?
When I tell people about our living situation, the first and most common question we get is: Why? Or more specifically: What in the hell are you all thinking?
(Side note: We don’t advertise our living situation to get a reaction. It just happens to come up a lot organically since one’s neighborhood and commute are unavoidable topics of conversation in California.)
It’s a fair question, and one that I respond to with what I think is a fair answer: because we grew tired of paying $3,000+ for a one-bedroom apartment (pictured below).
For those of you who don’t know, Pier and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the average rent is $3,341 for a one-bedroom and $1,815 for a spare bedroom. We moved here in 2016 after I accepted a job with a tech company, and we were fortunate that my salary allowed us to move into a new apartment complex where we had our own in-unit washer and dryer (a true “luxury” here). Pier continued freelancing for the architecture firm he was working for in Los Angeles, and while his income would be perfectly livable in most cities, it was no match for the Bay Area.
With tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple fueling housing costs, even a $100,000+ income—enviable in basically every other part of the country—is quickly absorbed by the skyrocketing rent. And owning property? Fughetaboudit. The median price of a home hovers around $1.3 million. And the most recent Housing Affordability Index tells us that only 12 percent of households in San Francisco could actually afford a single-family home here.
Don’t get me wrong; there are cheaper options, like this $350,000 beauty featured in Fortune article:
So it’s a great place to work, build innovative products, and hone your technical skills—but what about all the other stuff, like living?
After our year of “luxury” living with a washer and dryer, it was time to find another option we could afford as a couple. A way to live that was not only sustainable, but also allowed us to build a nest egg. So I guess you could say our #1 reason for moving into a camper was our rebellion against the Bay Area housing market. Just because we COULD afford a $3,000-a-month apartment didn’t mean we WANTED to.
The second reason was our mutual curiosity with living in a small space. We had talked the talk for years—”I love the idea of minimal living,” we’d tell friends, “Have you seen Tiny House Hunters?”—now it was time to walk the walk.
So in August 2017—three months before the lease on our apartment was up—we made our purchase: a 1999 Lance camper sitting atop a 20-year-old Chevrolet 2500. We bought it off Craigslist from a young couple in Pacifica who had lived in it for a year while traveling the country. They came across as perfectly sane and still seemed happy together, and Pier and I saw this as a sign that we too could potentially remain happy and sane. The only logical next step was to give them $14,000 for something that, in all likelihood, would burst into flames a mile down the road.
Fast forward to November 1, the official first day in our new home on wheels. What we hadn’t sold or donated we put in a 5×5 storage unit. The rest came with us into the camper in the form of roughly 500 IKEA bags.
The first night we slept in the camper, we were parked outside of the apartment we’d lived in just hours prior. I remember occasionally looking through the blinds at our former neighbors walking by, dreading they would see us come out of our new abode. People I’d chatted with in the hallways for the last 12 months suddenly felt like strangers. I immediately discounted them as snobs who would judge me and Pier for our new living situation. What Pier and I saw as an adventure and experiment I assumed they would view as homelessness and defeat.
Prejudging people for being judgmental toward our choice was probably my greatest fault those first few weeks. I was admittedly fearful of how people would react. What we were doing went against everything people are conditioned to strive for. We were the picture of anti-success, and I was absolutely terrified of letting people make me think I was a failure.
The funny thing is, everyone we’ve told over the last few months—while momentarily bewildered—have had positive reactions. It usually entails a game of 20 questions in which I have to detail the logistics of living in a camper day-to-day. How do you get your mail? A P.O. Box. Do you have Internet? Yes. Where do you put your poop?
In an IKEA bag of course.
More to come! Thank you for reading!