CAMPER or TINY HOUSE, a Ballet of Semantics

Do I live in a tiny home? This is a question I’ve asked myself often. In technical terms, I live in a Class C motorhome. In conversation I say, “I live in a camper,” but I feel very much a part of the “tiny house culture”. It is my ‘home’, and it is ‘tiny’, but it is also a ‘camper’. It all depends on the perspective. Are you describing the structure, or the mindset?

There are many different terms to describe the various pint sized domiciles available to those seeking an alternative space to call home. Some of these terms are technical or categorical, serving to differentiate between various styles. Some of them are simply subjective, and will differ from one person to another based on their perception. There are philosophical notions at play. When I speak the terms ‘tiny house’ and ‘camper’, they each evoke a separate image in my mind. Yet at the same time, both terms can evoke a common idea.

There are ‘motorhomes’ also called recreational vehicles or ‘RVs’. The characteristic here is that it is self propelled via it’s own motor – you can drive it. These are further broken down into classes. Class A is the behemoth, bus sized affair, that is usually nicer than many peoples homes. Class B is the smallest, and its basically a glorified van with some RV amenities installed. Many people will buy a common van and do a conversion, adding these amenities as they see fit. Folks living in these are typically known as “van dwellers”. Finally, a Class C is in between. Think of an ambulance. The front is a van, but the back is a larger box structure containing the living quarters, and the rear axel is a ‘dually’ (2 tires on each side). Then we have the ‘travel trailer’ which is the type that is towed behind a vehicle either via a hitch or a fifth wheel. All of the above are ’campers’, in my opinion. You’re free to disagree with me, but any rigid structure on wheels designed for the act of camping is, in my mind, a camper. Of course, most who own a camper would not call themselves tiny home owners. They just go camping in it. But once one decides to live in said camper, the very thought changes the nature of the space. It’s all how you look at it, kind of like the observer effect in quantum physics.

When I think of a ‘tiny house’, I can’t help but think of the standard residential style construction commonly called a ’stick built’ home. Stick built homes typically feature 2×4 frames, drywall interiors, a metal or shingle roof, and some type of exterior siding. My problem is that I get stuck on the word ‘house’, regardless of its size, and assume this type of construction. Many tiny homes DO fit this formula, like the fantastic and popular ones available from Tumbleweed, but many of them do not. As an interesting side note, Tumbleweed has taken to calling their trailer based structures “Tiny House RVs”, which I think may be a recent change.

The truth is, in my opinion, that the phrase ’tiny house’ is and should be divorced from any particular type of construction. It is really more of a state of mind that denounces the idea of an unnecessarily large home or an unnecessarily complex life. It applies to any compact living space, whether is a stick-built structure, a camper, a yurt, a boat, or just about anything else you can think of.

You can even live a ‘tiny house’ life in a giant house! If your looking to live in a tiny house some day, you can begin by ‘living smaller’ now. I will detail the process I used (and continue to use) in a separate post, but here are a couple of tips to get you started:

1. If your home has many rooms, try closing them off one at a time. Close the door, and consider it off limits, or use it only for storage of rarely used items. Get comfortable with having less and less space.

2. Pare down your belongings. It can be REALLY hard to say goodbye to ‘stuff’. If you come across things you never or rarely use, but think you can’t part with, try boxing them up and putting them in storage. Maybe just in a closet, or in a storage unit or one of the rooms you closed off. Put a dated sticky note on the item or box. If you truly need it, you’ll be taking it out soon enough. Revisit the box in several months to a year. You’ll likely feel better about getting rid the boxes contents when the dates prove how little you actually use those things.

3. Look at the items you use and think of how many different purposes they serve. Do they perform only one task, or several? Is there an item available that can perform several duties? Try replacing 2 items with one that performs both tasks.

I am frequently surprised by items it thought I didn’t need, but find out I do – and also by items I thought couldn’t live without that are now a thing of my past.

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