Living Small Part I

Renae Brabham





Tiny living. Don and I have tossed the idea around for a couple of years. We’ve just grown weary of the stuff, the accumulations. We sold a full third of our belongings 5 years ago when we moved to Charleston from North Carolina. Now—the two thirds we have left feels like too much. 



We weren’t sure if it was possessions or continual indebtedness to someone else that made us feel like we were dragging around a ball and chain. The lifelong commitment to keeping a letter out of the mailbox from HOA for edging or oil spots on white concrete driveways has long lost it’s appeal. 


In 2015 we decided earnestly to act on accomplishing our goal of getting off the wheel.


We spent hours googling tiny houses, cabin kits, and container living. We watched videos, read blogs, scoured book stores and magazines for articles pertaining to the endeavor. We mentally chiseled down our belongings to what we felt we could live with and, more imporantly, without. I got sweaty palms just thinking about letting go of books and that second bathroom. Not to mention our California king bed. But saying that, pretty much everything else could go. We could spend our wonder years in bed like John and Yoko, reading the piles of books that we could turn into tables and other furniture. 





The tiny living idea is alluring to say the least, but whether it was containers, tiny houses, or campers, we kept arriving at a number that didn’t really speak small living.


The Cons

Tiny house: By the time everything was said and done, it came in at $20K without the land and necessary sheds to continue limited business. All in total, it was going to take about $50K, extending our commitment to purchase debt free in one year.





Container living: Electricity, plumbing, window cutting, building pads, county regulations and other unforeseen headaches—but I still want to have one on site converted into a garden/studio potting shed.





Camper: Still pretty high on the list for us at this time. Pricing is all over the map, and conditions are deplorable in some used offers. The good ones are snapped up quickly. Egads! What incredibly teeny bathrooms! County regulations to be covered in another segment.





We discovered niche living wasn’t as inexpensive as we imagined. We re-examined our motivation. Simplicity, debt free living, or as we would say in the '70s, a desire to “Stick it to the man.” We started from a different angle and asked ourselves, “What do we need to sustain ourselves without monetary pressure?” The second question was, “How soon do we want to acquire it?" We decided that whatever money we had saved after one year would determine what we would buy. 



We worked our butts off tirelessly for the next 6 months. When we had free time, we’d drive around various counties to look at land, view campers, or research county legalities (fast growing sour on independent, off-grid living.) As the year drew to a conclusion, we followed leads on Zillow, Craigslist, and others to scout out home possibilities.


Camper living was climbing pretty high up on the list. We checked out some year round campgrounds but found that, despite having the amenities, we would still not technically be debt free. We decided we needed to get land first. The bank account balance and the land price I was googling matched us up to several graveyard plots, but not lots. I knew we were going to have to move fast if something appeared. Morning and night, Don and I would pass off suggestions via e-mail. Our one requirement would be that it was 50 miles or less from Charleston, where we would continue our business on a smaller scale. 


One morning I found two new listings, both in our price range. I set out to meet the agent. One fell though immediately. On the second listing, the agent was clueless except for the single printed sheet she held that stated that is was an un-improved foreclosure and bank auctioned. She had no idea whether the place had a well or septic. 


I left when she did, but turned around at end of road and drove back. I got out and walked the property. It was quiet, surrounded by pines on all sides, the nearest neighbor was a few tenths down of a mile down the road, an abandoned chicken coop sat near the property line in back. Three Angel Oaks on the property, albeit in need of a good trimming, gave an aura of permanence, unlike the flattened lots I had been used to viewing in this price range. I could see its potential. A home had once been here, there had to be a well and septic. If not, the property would not be in our price range, because we would have to come up with the $12 to $15K to add them. When I got home I started researching online. I typed in the name of the road and street number to look for the previous owners, etc. Bingo! Because of it’s location in the outskirts of the city, the Google maps hadn’t been updated for years. The tiny photo in Google maps showed a home! I clicked the picture and could see the well cap in the yard. 


I didn’t feel comfortable with the unknowledgeable agent that I met the first day, but I noticed another agency was also listing the property online. I called and hit it off immediately with the realtor. He didn’t know if it was improved, the out of state bank was listing it as is. But I did! I told him we were ready to make the full price offer today. (Full price offers are a good thing with bank auctions as you are more likely to get it than pussy footing around and losing it to highest bidder.) Papers were submitted and in 3 days we had our bank acceptance and closing date. 28 days later we signed the papers, the day after we bought two pair of gloves, loaded the truck with a weed eater, two lawn chairs, Snowy (our 15 year old lab mix), and a cooler with beer and wine and drove to the land to sit on it.


Now on to the next endeavor—how small can we go?? We were still leaning towards camper living, but after viewing new and used ones, we couldn’t really tell how the flow of the day would be in one. There’s only one way to find out. I blocked out a weekend and called The Trail Center in North Charleston to rent a trailer for 3 days. The Trail Center owner Gloria Morgan and her staff and sales manager Bob White were so accommodating. Bob gave Don a half hour tutorial on hauling and operating the 17 foot trailer and off we went. 


Edisto Beach Bound!! Stay tuned for segment 2. “Teeny, Tiny, not so Tiny—Just right!”