It’s Eco-Friendly if You’re Rich, Trailer Trash If You’re Not — Nicole Sallak Anderson
When I was little, my parents took us to Old World Wisconsin, a living museum where homes from the Old World were set up to resemble little villages from times past. My grandmother was with us, and I remember her saying how she had been raised in a similar environment in her farming community in Michigan. I loved those old homes and often dreamed up stories of living in them. They were small, log-built structures, with one great room that contained the hearth, a huge pantry, and one bedroom for EVERYONE in the family to sleep in. Sometimes, they had a lean-to on the back for farming equipment, dry wood storage, and animals to sleep in. Everything about the place was cozy and my heart always longed to live in a village like that. Instead, I’ve spent most of my life living in 2000 square foot or more homes, sometimes in cookie cutter suburbs and other times in the forest, but never in anything so quaint or small-until now.
After the wildfires burned my last home, we opted to try something new rather than replace what we’d lost. A wise woman recently told me that these fires that are wiping out California homes and towns are a chance to rebuild something new, something more sustainable and eco-friendly. The sort of housing that the Earth needs us to live in, if indeed we are all going to live in peace on the planet. Rather than rebuilding what was lost and instead taking advantage of new housing styles, especially smaller housing styles, is a chance to retrofit our world, to rewind the clock, so to speak. For us, tiny homes on wheels were the answer. Not only because they can be driven off the land in the event of a wildfire, but they are lighter on the land itself. No foundations or digging are needed. Just a bit of leveling so your food doesn’t slide off the table, and voila, you’re done. It’s a simple way to live in nature without dominating nature. No waste is left on the site, the structures are built in a factory. They’re well-made and efficient, using way less energy. We had all three of our THOWs up here last month running the AC in each and we still used ½ the Kilowatts than our previous house did.
As I lay in bed last night, I recalled Old World Wisconsin and realized I finally had the cozy tiny home I’d always dreamed of. Why did it take so long? The answer is obvious…because this sort of living has long been associated with poverty. Taking out a 30-year mortgage on a big house that you must heat, cool, and maintain is the way of the wealthy. It is the way of progress and enlightenment. Those who have failed live in trailers. Those who don’t have what it takes live in trailer parks. To desire that even when you have been successful is, well, contrary to the modern narrative. The other day, a friend of ours came over and I showed him how I had to put my Peloton in a tent because it doesn’t fit in my home, and he said it was so “trailer park trash.”
Now that’s a euphemism we’ve all been conditioned to fear.
He’d said it in jest, he too is living in a THOW, but the truth is, we all know deep down there’s some sort of stigma living in a trailer, and that’s a real shame because one of the greatest impacts we can make in this age of climate collapse is to listen to the Earth and begin to create housing to meet the times. I’d wager that living in smaller homes is the way it always should have been, but somewhere between throwing the nobility off their land and claiming their freedom, the surfs forgot that one asshole in a mansion was a terrible thing, and instead created an entire nation of assholes in mansions declaring that progress. Fast forward to today where homelessness is on the rise and modest homes are no longer affordable for even doctors in many markets, and we might understand that living in a trailer isn’t trashy. Living in a small home isn’t poverty. Living within our means is keeping in balance with all other lifeforms on the planet. It was never really the asshole landowner that was the problem, it was his mentality that he deserved a home so large he had to have slaves to run it that was the problem. When the middle class thinks they’re entitled to the same thing-a McMansion that Spanish speaking folk clean and landscape-we might have perpetuated the problem, and that isn’t progress.
I don’t think everyone could live in a tiny home on wheels. You must be able to put up with imperfection. The trailer aspect means that when you run the laundry, the whole house shakes to the point that the bed is like those 1970s hotel beds that you feed quarters in, so they’ll vibrate. If I’m cooking, my husband must stay in the bedroom because there’s not enough room for him to walk behind me when I’m in front of the stove. Most of all, there’s not a lot of storage, so less stuff is an imperative. I love shoes and handbags and have already run out of space. Worst, as I’ve already mentioned, there’s not even room for a Peloton! Good heavens, what will this modern woman do?
Given our income level, most have seen our move as eco-friendly rather than a step down to trailer trash, and hands-down, it is good for the planet. Yet, I can’t help but think why the stigma is there at all. If we don’t get over our need to all be lords and ladies of the manor, to have huge homes with vaulted ceilings and grassy, green lawns, we won’t have the courage to see that living with less isn’t a punishment. Living in balance with nature is clever, it’s intelligent, and it’s the only way our children will have water and shelter. There are not enough homes being built that fit the bill for our current climate crisis, if anything larger homes are being built right in the places where the water is running out. The top 10 Covid migration cities-the places where the remote workers decided to move when they no longer had to go into the office-are already in climate collapse, either because the water is running out, wildfires polluting the air, or the opposite of extreme hurricanes and flooding. That we migrated into the fires, drought, and rising sea levels simply shows we are not thinking at all about the environment and what’s really happening to our ecosystems. We only think about our need to have the perfect manor in the mildest climate, far from the winter we all hate so much.
I’m not suggesting that our big homes make us bad people. What I’m suggesting is the impulse to build huge homes is antisocial. When we were surfs working under one lord, things were tough. Now many of us believe we’re the lords and we’re ignorant to the price the Earth, and yes the poor, must pay for us to live this way. How much is enough? I’m still struggling with this myself. I will admit I have great anxiety about the whole thing since the fire. Stuff still accumulates, I also have two houses now, the trailers in California and an old condominium in Chicago so I can be near my parents. The fire gave me a chance to reconfigure my life, but each day I’m presented with the chance to simply replace what I lost. The system is set up that way. I want to try living this way for a while. I want to participate in the Old World dream in some fashion, not because their poverty was glamorous, but their use of space was in balance with the rest of life with whom we share this planet. The land, trees, animals, insects, waterways, aquifers, birds, flowers, plants, soil, and the billions of organisms that live beneath our feet all suffer as we extract the resources of the planet to build, build, build. All of life need us to reconfigure our lives in some way, and tiny homes on wheels is one part of that solution. So are condominiums, smaller houses, and houses constructed with greener building materials and technologies.
There are many ways to live, but most sustainability groups agree that the future is small if we want a future at all. The stigma of mobile homes and trailer parks needs to be erased from our consciousness. We can raise children in less than 1000 square feet, and we can live without all the stuff. I’m not there yet myself, but I’m willing to try, because small is beautiful, even if you can’t run your washing machine at bedtime.