Moving Up

Tiny Living Needs to be Enjoyable

Winnie C - Pixabay.jpg

Winnie C / Pixabay

As with all changes, the transfer from brick-and-mortar residence is not always easy. The downsizer invariably finds that he or she must give up most belongings, including personal treasures. If one is moving into a tiny house, travel trailer, or motor home, built-ins meant to make life easier oftentimes get in the way of a downsizer trying to keep as many of those treasures as possible. Manufacturers of mobile residences aren’t always timely in adapting to the different needs of residential RVers. For example, while a recreational RVer can save the laundry to do at home, the residential RVer needs ready access to laundry facilities. Most alternative housing does not have a washers and dryers, nor do many RV parks.

And, then, there are the aesthetic needs. While the weekend RVer might enjoy the dark browns and cowboy appeal of modern-day RVs, many permanent RVers want colors, textures, and patterns that feel like home. It is becoming increasingly common to see permanent RVers – and even some weekend ones – stripping out the built-ins in order to create a more home-like atmosphere. Many paint the dark faux-wood in light colors, replace the old shag carpeting with wood-grain laminate flooring, and create floor space and wall space to accommodate cherished possessions.

People with strong construction skills may take on more complete renovations. Some purchase worn trailers that they can strip down to the frame and build out to suit themselves. Sometimes, they outfit them to include as much wall and floor space as possible; put in a fully equipped (if not sized) kitchen; install a bathroom with shower; paint the walls a light color; install a wood-grain laminate floor throughout; and furnish it with some of their favorite furnishings. In short, they create a tiny house in an RV.

Notice that they take it down to the frame. Yes! Count on it with old RVs and mobile homes. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell what you have until you start to work and peel back the layers of construction materials. Case in point, in a restoration project on YouTube, a couple bought a 1970s mobile home with the intention of renovating it and making it their home. Some of the problems they encountered were

*  Water damage around windows, doors, and in corners

​*  Insect nests with resulting damage to insulation

​*  Rodent droppings and nests with resulting damage to insulation, walls, and attic material

​*  Lack of caulking around windows and doors, as well as in areas where insects and rodents could enter

​*  Cheap construction materials that have essentially disintegrated over time

​*  Single-pane windows that leak both air and water

By the time the couple removed the damaged material, they found themselves with little more than framing.  They encountered so many problems that I wondered whether they wouldn't have done better to have purchased a new mobile home. A double-wide the approximate size of theirs costs about $55,000 new. Take a look at the three videos posted on the renovation of their kitchen:

Diyfferent. Home Renovation. Episode 41.

Diyfferent. Home Renovation. Episode 42.

Diyfferent. Home Renovation. Episode 43.

To be fair, their finished renovation is beautiful! It no longer looks like a mobile home; rather, it looks like a small stick-built house. Actually, it is, except that it sits on the I-beam frame of the original mobile home. See how it turned out: Explore their page to see how their interior work progressed. They wanted a Scandinavian theme and achieved it nicely.

“Whoa!” you say. “My construction expertise ends with hanging a picture.” Not a problem. Companies exist that will do the work for you. Not only that, they will help you find an RV that is basically sound, meaning you won’t have to take it down to the framework and start over. You can focus primarily on cosmetic updating.

Trailer Trashin, a company based in College Station, Texas, specializes in Airstreams. They will renovate the trailer you own, help you find the right Airstream to buy, or sell you one they’ve already renovated. Best of all, they try to retain as much of the original features as possible to preserve authenticity and hold down costs. See one of their finished projects on their video ( and blog page (

Before you get started, know where you will park it. Many jurisdictions do not allow these types of structures to be used as residences or, if they do, do not allow them to be parked in most places. It’s not as simple as finding a vacant lot and parking your RV. In fact, in nearly all videos about tiny houses that I’ve watched, the homeowner says it is parked on land owned by family or friends. Otherwise, you are looking at going to campgrounds or RV parks, where limitations are placed on how long you can stay and rent can be high, especially if you need shore power.

That, of course, opens yet another consideration: Will you be on the grid or off the grid? That is, will you draw your utilities from the jurisdiction, or will you need solar panels, inverters, batteries, and white, gray, and black water tanks? As you can tell, you have a lot of research to do and decisions to make before you even go to Craigslist in search of possibilities.

To summarize, be aware of your limitations. Unless you’ve spent your career in the construction industry, you’ll probably be happier if you purchase something that is in sound condition, yet needs cosmetic work to make it meet your needs and to bring it into the current century. If you are older or completely lacking in construction skills, you’ll probably be happier if you buy something new or almost new. And, of course, know before you begin where you will be able to park your new home.