Barnyard Saints Blog: Making space

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Walker Roman sketching in the trailer he and Danielle Mulcahy renovated for their road trip they began in the beginning of October. —Danielle Mulcahy

Island artist duo Danielle Mulcahy and Walker Roman hit the road at the beginning of October, armed with a renovated fifth-wheel trailer, all of their possessions, and art-making materials. Their goal is to make art, sell art at different venues and pop-ups, educate about art making, and live more simply, responsibly, and in the present. See more at barnyardsaintsart.com.

Before we renovated our trailer, we had seen plenty of cute photos on Pinterest showcasing the adorable tiny houses of other couples around the country. Danielle has done a great job of making our little home cozy and quaint. However, the real challenges of tiny living come down to hard numbers, tough choices, and unique problems with elusive solutions — it’s these logistical issues that almost exclusively become my responsibility.

We knew space was going to be tight. At 25 feet long and 8 feet wide, our trailer has exactly 200 square feet in which to squeeze our entire personal and professional lives. Clothing and living supplies have been easily managed, as we both have been preparing to downsize for over a year, and I really only wear one pair of boots (they’re Blundstones, like a typical boho Islander). I’m the son of a professional chef, and this is the leanest my kitchen gear has ever been.

Art supplies are an entirely different story, however. I can go without that jacket I really like but hardly wear, but discarding that second tube of Prussian blue paint I haven’t reached for in a year seems unthinkable. My supplies consist mostly of paint, panels, and brushes. Since Danielle is a multimedia, mask-making, costume-designing, fiber-artist-film-maker wizard, every item at the local recycling center becomes a potential art supply. As a result, I have two cabinets for art supplies. She has seven, plus half of my closet.

Not only is space limited, but every pound is tallied with a scale by the door. After doing some quick arithmetic, accounting for the weight of full water tanks, propane, solar panels, batteries, and built-ins removed during our renovation, cargo capacity comes in at a tidy 1,000 pounds, allowing an extra 250 pounds of wiggle room for consumables like groceries and toiletries. We currently have 999 pounds of stuff, so if either of us wants a new book, some other possession must be jettisoned. We have to seriously avoid home decor stores, as Danielle is still in nesting mode and wants to make everything beautiful. I end up being the weight Nazi. The scale never lies.

The means of acquiring and consuming resources also radically changed with our new lives. Electricity hasn’t been much of a concern, as our solar panels produce plenty. Water and propane for heating and cooking are very limited, though. Our rig carries two 30-pound propane bottles and 46 gallons of fresh water. With such limited capacity, every ounce of each is used deliberately. A single propane tank lasts about two to three weeks, depending on how cold it has been and who is winning the fight over the thermostat. Water can last anywhere from four to 10 days, depending on how indulgent we feel. While in New Hampshire, we were unable to fill our tanks for 3 weeks because of severe drought affecting most of the state. Our self-contained composting toilet has made us more aware of our waste than ever; and no, it doesn’t stink.

These changes in lifestyle accumulate into some minor daily inconveniences, such as having to dig paints out of a cabinet, taking apart the dinette to access felting supplies, or never being able to leave stuff lying around since there’s only one table. The upside to this is the increased degree of intentionality we live with daily. Each task must be completed fully before another can start, simply because there is no room to do two things at once. As a result, to-do lists have become shorter, and we have more free time.

While tiny mobile living hasn’t magically made us into unmaterialistic minimalists, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, our priorities, and what using less looks like.