The dimensions of the average American living space have been steadily on the rise over the last few decades, with even small spaces in America being large in comparison to the rest of the world. The United States Census shows an increase in the average home size from 1,740 square feet in 1980 to 2,392 square feet in 2010. This expansion in living quarters has occurred despite the fact that the average family size has declined. Although as a whole, Americans seem to be stretching their legs and spreading their feet – square feet, that is – some people are making the choice to live a smaller and simpler lifestyle. Sharon Pieniak is one such person. She has taken the time to share her experience of living in an Airstream trailer, a home consisting of approximately 167 square feet.
There are various reasons why people opt for small space living. Some do it for economic reasons, others for environmental, and some simply enjoy the freedom of having less material possessions along with the option for adventure. Sharon’s reasoning is the latter. She explains, “It was definitely the adventure. I’m not sure it’s really that green for me, since traveling burns gas and I don’t get the best gas mileage with a full-size pickup truck. But now that I’ve lived in it for almost 7 years, I like the humbleness of a small space and the challenge of having only what I need and can fit. It’s an incredible sense of freedom to live lightly.”
Sharon’s trailer, lovingly named “The Silver Snail,” is one of many models available of Airstream trailers, and Airstream is itself just one option in the many brands of travel homes. Sharon’s home is a 20-foot-long Flying Cloud model, which is sleek in appearance and easy in which to travel. Her trailer is a fairly new one, complete with all the amenities that her personal and work life require. In terms of the cost efficiency of her lifestyle, she says, “Factoring in the cost of a new Airstream, it’s about the same for me to live in the Airstream as it was before [in more traditional housing]. But of course, it’s all relative to your income and style of living. Monthly rental of an RV parking space can range from free to $2,500, depending on what you’re looking for and where you are. The nice thing about living this way is that you have many options. The costs come from your location and amenities. If it becomes too expensive to stay in a particular place, it’s easy to move someplace cheaper.”
With cost not varying from her large space living, she maintains that her small spaces life is the best thing. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t miss anything, and I truly love living this way,” she says with great enthusiasm and honesty. She did add that there are some challenges to living in a small space, but overcoming them is well worth the lifestyle. The biggest challenge for her is overnight guests and simply finding the place to put people. Sharon flies somewhat solo in her home, accompanied only by her furry canine family member, Harley. Regarding she and Harley’s solo travel, she says, “Having another person to travel with can be nice to share the load of set up/break down/navigation/research…but I like the freedom and independence of traveling solo, too.”
Sharon’s advice for people looking to live full time in an Airstream, or in small spaces in general, is this, “If you’re downsizing, take your time to reduce, reduce, reduce. Don’t pay for a storage unit. Keep only what you can accommodate in your small space, or what a friend or relative can easily hold for you (in the case of precious treasures).” She and Harley’s most treasured space saver in their home is a Thule roof-top box. She says, “It’s a great place to stash things I don’t use everyday, and is added storage that is out of the way.”
With various forms of work available on the road, ranging from internet-based employment to jobs at campgrounds, the sky and the open road are the only limits. Living in small spaces can still mean living large, but in a different way. For more on Sharon and Harley, check out their site below. For additional options for small space dwellings, see Jay Shafer’s site on Four Lights Tiny Houses. These look more like a “traditional”-style home, but are still small and efficient living spaces.
Commentary by Latasha Alvaro