Thursday, November 20, 2014

Life Simply Is... Beginnings

Who knew that learning to live in a travel trailer would be anything but simple?

I had thought I had all the hoses and connectors I needed to hook up to sewer, but my trailer has an atypical design: in addition to gray and black water coming out under the bathroom, there is an entirely separate output under the kitchen. A neighbor, after seeing this, threw his hands up in the air and said I may as well get the missing parts before hooking anything up.

So for the first few days I lived with apprehension that my tanks would fill up, and I would be unable to use my toilet or sinks. Then another neighbor came over and saw no reason that I couldn’t connect what I had so that at least my bathroom waste water could be disposed of. That was a relief! I would just need to avoid washing dishes in the kitchen until I bought the missing parts.

Then came the next surprise: apparently you can’t just hook up the black water (what comes from the toilet; you can figure it out) to drain and be done with it. If you do, you run the risk of things building up and sticking to the walls of the holding tank. My neighbor gave me a very lengthy and graphic description of the correct procedure, which in short involves allowing the black water tank to fill up, draining it, then filling with water and draining again. And no this isn’t done inside; this is getting up close and personal with the nasty stuff.

If RVers have to go through this every few days, why don’t we all just have composting toilets?  That’ll be my first task once I’m able to move onto my own property.

To my dismay I found that my cell phone got absolutely no service in my new home. Worse, I’d just upgraded my phone to one with a decent camera. I was shocked and distressed to find that my provider would only offer a refund if I could return the phone to where I purchased it, an 18-hour drive round trip. After pushing them, they softened their demand to returning it to any of their stores, the closest one only 6 hours round trip. And of course they would retain half its cost for “restocking.”

This is a modern-day (and admittedly first world) conundrum. I have countless stories, as do you, of big companies lacking all reason, being completely rigid, and providing customer service that can be summed up as “fuck you.” The supervisor I spoke with actually praised himself for at least not lying to me. This was not my first time wistfully imagining living off the grid, returning that “fuck you” to the big companies and not entering into relationships with them: telephones, credit cards, banks, utility companies, all those businesses who at one time or another can hold us hostage because of our desire to live with modern conveniences. I’m not prepared to make that leap, to live without a telephone or credit cards. But I wonder if there will come a day when small businesses can offer an alternative to these traditionally big-business services. They certainly would get my business.

My neighbors have been extraordinarily friendly and helpful, and I am fortunate to live near other trailer-dwellers willing to show me the ropes. While I expect at some point to move myself onto some land, this is the prudent, if less private, choice.

My son helped me assemble the pet yard, which is simply the “catio” until I put together a ramp system for my dog. Gladys loves her yard, spending long stretches of the day perched on her cat tower observing the world, or wriggling in a patch of sunshine. Mags is happy too, since the lack of pet yard access means she gets at least two walks a day. Her beach romps have been my first experience letting her off-leash, and she blisses out.

Downsizing isn’t for the faint of heart. Even for a single person, moving from a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment into a 230 square foot trailer is like working a Rubik’s cube. My cupboards and closets have been filled with boxes protecting my belongings during the move, which of course I need to unpack and put away. But there is no place to put them away, since all the cupboards are full. So on non-rainy days I take some boxes outside to clear space, unpack other boxes, put things away as I’m able, take out any trash and recyclables, then bring back inside the boxes that are still full.

Three weeks after moving here, I have to accept that I still have too much stuff. My walls are decorated with art, but there are simply no horizontal spaces available to display items. I have a few boxes, after my rigorous thinning out, of knickknacks and books that simply have no place to be displayed. The kitchen cupboards are completely filled with food and the tools of food preparation; the bedroom filled with clothing, linens and toiletries. Where then to put files and office supplies? Electronics? Gear for hiking, camping, kayaking and biking?  Tools?

So my home is still a disaster, and I’m at a stand-still: caught between yearning for an open, uncluttered living space; and unwilling to be frantic or impulsive or spend money I don’t have for storage.

Trailer living is mini living. And I’m a small person; the transition must be extraordinary for a large person. I was taking a shower about a week after moving here, when suddenly my shampoo caddy came clattering down, striking and bruising my leg before loudly scattering items on the shower floor. I sighed a long-suffering sigh and replaced the caddy over the shower head. As I bent down to pick up the shampoo and soaps, the caddy once again came down, this time bashing into my head. I breathed deeply to keep myself from yelling out in frustration, oh so gently placed the caddy in a corner on the shower floor, and as I stood up smashed my head on the shower door handle. I turned my grimacing face into the spray of water, which by this time had turned cold.

After my first week, when I went to make some tea my stove would not light. Disbelieving, I went outside and saw that one of my two propane tanks was empty. It was easy to switch over to the second tank, but I was unhappy to discover I’d spent $20 on propane after one week. That would be $80 per month, not including electricity. I will have to experiment with those appliances that can switch between propane and electricity, and maybe even start bundling up a bit inside. The trailer doesn’t keep out that coastal chill very well, which makes sense.

But I have driven, walked, and ridden my bicycle down to the beach and started to explore the glorious surroundings of my new home. Despite it being November, we have been treated to an abundance of sunshiny days. One afternoon I took my dog to walk the Trinidad Head trail. Despite it having been overcast all day, when we returned to the beach I was treated to a spectacular sunset. And at night I can step outside my trailer and look up into the black sky and see the stars, so clear and brilliant away from city lights.

Learning to live in a trailer? Far more involved than I realized. The beauty of radical acceptance? Allowing it to be more complicated, adjusting my expectations, and accepting that all of this is going to take time. We will get to simple.

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