I live full-time in a 14’ cargo trailer conversion. Her name is Serenity.

This was only the beginning…

This was only the beginning…

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I wanted to own my own home, but I didn’t want to pick one place to live. So in 2017 I bought a box with wheels on it, and built my house in the box. Construction wrapped June 15, 2018 after about 9 months of nights-and-weekends work.

Construction Process

I bought the trailer used, from a family that had used it on a ranch in South Dakota before moving to New Mexico. I spent the first month stripping rust off the frame and protecting it with POR-15.

Then I took out the old drop-axle, replaced it with a straight axle which gained me ~5” of ground clearance, and added electric brakes.

I spend a lot of time in the desert, so I insulated the hell out of Serenity. Her walls and ceiling have 1” of XPS cavity insulation, with another inch of continuous insulation on the inside of that. The floor has 2” of polyiso insulation in between the floor joists, with pipe insulation covering the joist ends.

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Inner layer of continuous insulation going in.

Inner layer of continuous insulation going in.

The floor is beetle-killed pine, tongue and groove. Most people doing conversions use engineering wood or vinyl. Those are more functional options, but putting those kinds of materials in my home isn’t even on the table for me.

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I work from home on a laptop built to do heavy 3d work (75-150w continuous plus 50w monitor), so my electrical system is abnormally large for a rig this size. I have two 250w solar panels mounted on ladder racks on my roof, charging 360Ah of AGM batteries, and a 1000w inverter. I can plug in to shore power if I need to.

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I’ve since moved the negative connection to the far side of the battery array, per the diagram below. It’s best practice.

I’ve since moved the negative connection to the far side of the battery array, per the diagram below. It’s best practice.

Solar charger, fuses, circuit breakers, etc. They’re all mounted on what is now the inside of my closet.

Solar charger, fuses, circuit breakers, etc. They’re all mounted on what is now the inside of my closet.

As-built electrical system diagram

As-built electrical system diagram

I don’t have a fridge. I use a yeti cooler on casters. I might upgrade to an efficient DC fridge.

The cooler is on a platform with wheels and just rolls out.

The cooler is on a platform with wheels and just rolls out.

I store fresh water in a 14 gallon fusti tank, and installed a 4gpm foot pump. The copper sink drains into a 5 gallon grey water tank, which I have to keep my eye on and dump before it overflows.

Silver tank = 14 gallons of fresh water. Blue tank = grey water. A foot pump moves the water along.

Silver tank = 14 gallons of fresh water. Blue tank = grey water. A foot pump moves the water along.

My composting toilet has a small fan that vents to outside. I also throw food scraps and coffee grounds in there. I never have odor issues. I built the toilet box for less than $50. I have no idea why some people drop a solid grand on a plastic bucket with a fan attached to it.

Coconut coir is in the ammo can to the left. The conduit is the “duct”, and the j-box has a small case fan in it that’s always on, pulling air from the cabin, through the toilet, and out the side wall vent.

Coconut coir is in the ammo can to the left. The conduit is the “duct”, and the j-box has a small case fan in it that’s always on, pulling air from the cabin, through the toilet, and out the side wall vent.

The rear door serves as a balcony, yoga room, and hangout spot. This is one of the nicest features of my house, I love it. The only thing I’ll add at some point is an awning for shade and rain protection.

This is early in construction, when Serenity was still pretty much just an empty, insulated box.

This is early in construction, when Serenity was still pretty much just an empty, insulated box.

My main vent is a fantastic fan. It’s kind of loud and doesn’t move that much air. If I were doing it over again, I’d do it custom with a super-silent 180mm computer fan.

My couch pulls out into a bed, about 6” narrower than a Full. The cushions are all natural organic latex from diynaturalbedding.com, and I love them.

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Since the skin of my house is metal, I get poor cell reception inside if the doors are closed. Most of the time that’s just fine with me, but sometimes I need to use my phone as a hotspot to get work done. So I have a cell booster device.

This is my office setup. The next evolution is to get a recumbent setup installed (I’ve used two different versions of DIY recumbent desks in the past, and love them).

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What I would do different

The ladder racks for my solar panels were $250 each. It’s nice that I have about 75% shading on my roof, but they’re expensive and I hit tree branches when driving narrow forest roads. I’d look in to getting flexible solar panels instead.

I’d prioritize installing a window or two. When the doors are closed, the fan struggles mightily to pull a tiny bit of air. And, it’s just nice to be able to look outside sometimes.

I’d haggle. I paid the asking price of $3,500 for the trailer. I probably should have paid closer to $2,500, considering the rust and general condition.

I’d skip the thin plywood paneling and just do shiplap for all the wall surfaces.

Why do I do this

I moved into a trailer for lots of reasons. Most of them don't need much explanation: I get to nomad around beautiful backcountry; I get to live *at* the trailhead or near the crag; my cost of living is low. 

This was my backyard for a week.

This was my backyard for a week.

Another not minor reason is that trailer living increases my personal resilience to any number of disruptions.

I’m mobile. If an area I’m in catches fire or is threatened by storm, chances are fair I can just drive away.

I can save more/have liquid assets for emergencies. My minimum cost of living is tiny. For the first time in my life I actually have money in my saving account. If I lose my job, I can go into ‘emergency frugality mode’ and continue my lifestyle for a long time. Odd jobs would be more than adequate to keep me going. I’m never going to get foreclosed on or evicted.

I don’t have much to lose. I’ve got insurance for my trailer, but the truth is there’s not much net worth you can cram into 50 square feet. If everything I own burns to ash, that would suck, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal.

I’m not dependent on the grid. My solar panels provide all the electricity I need, I have a composting toilet, and I can get water from anywhere. I probably wouldn't even notice if there was a blackout nearby.

My lifestyle restricts consumption habits. Amazon can’t find me, and I don’t have any extra storage space anyway, so I buy less crap. More money in savings, less to lose, lower carbon footprint.

There are downsides of course. Lack of a stable community that I can embed in. I recognize that lone wolf mode is a terrible long term resilience strategy. Reliance on gasoline (eventually I will upgrade to veggie oil diesel truck). Inability to store much extra emergency food and supplies. (This is mitigated by my mobility: unless it’s a very widespread disaster, I can just go jacks up and drive to someplace that does have stocked grocery stores.)

I’m not unique of course. The vandweller movement is huge, driven largely by a sense of adventure and lack of better options. Playing by the normal rules makes way less sense now than it did for our parents' generation. And it’s not just millennials like me. Large numbers of retirement age folks are moving into cars, vans, and old RVs because it’s the least bad option they can think of.

I’ve traveled the country a fair amount, and everywhere is some strange Baudrillardian Disneyland of facsimile homes, buildings, cities, and lifestyles. No thanks. What I'm doing isn't exactly a long-term or broadly applicable solution, but attempting to force myself into the landscape just isn't attractive. And I’m fortunate to have options.

So I live in a small metal box on wheels, for now. And I love it.