Micro-homesteading: one woman's journey into sustainable living
Categories: Life Stories
It's the real estate agent's mantra and the homebuyers' utmost concern. But for the average tiny-home-on-wheels dweller, “location, location, location” is a whole lot simpler.
"I've always lived in small spaces and seen how minimalistic I can be," said Peggy Mauro, a San Juan Island resident, owner of a tiny home. "A lot of people say 'I could never live that way'."
Mauro has no problem living comfortably in her 160-square-foot, 8-by-20-foot space with her collie-mix. Her tiny home was built on a double-axel trailer, making it easily transportable by no more than a heavy-duty pickup truck. These days her house is parked on the northeast end of the island, amidst sprawling acres of evergreens and a waterfront view. She has several permaculture gardens planted throughout the property and even keeps chickens.
Waterfront view? Dozens of acres? Mauro isn't wealthy in the traditional sense (unless wealth is measured by happiness and simplicity, then she's rich). In fact, she does not even own property. This is her second living location since moving the tiny house to San Juan two-and-a-half years ago, and she also practiced her hobby-farming ways on the other property she rented.
"If you have property it's a no-brainer," she said.
But even if you don't, a backyard in suburbia or an acre on someone else's land will do just fine.
Mauro originally hails from Buffalo, N.Y., and raised her three children, now grown, in Colorado. As a sales rep in the natural products industry she became increasingly connected to small, independent businesses and local, sustainably grown food. She always shopped at thrift stores, reused everything, never bought anything wrapped in plastic and rented small houses for her family. She was working toward a "less is more" lifestyle.
Her connection to San Juan Island came after her son was offered a job in Seattle and persuaded Mauro to also make the move west. Through her daughter's band, Elephant Revival, she was introduced to the San Juans.
The tiny house movement throughout the U.S. inspired Mauro to look into her own pint-sized options. She found an Oregon-based builder and visited his thoughtfully designed "wee little cottage." She liked what she saw, but it wasn't quite what she wanted. So, she asked if he would build her another one. The design is simple but the reclaimed and recycled door, fixtures, windows and skylights she picked out make her home unique.
The cost for her tiny-house on wheels was $16,000.
The house has no plumbing. Mauro uses a composting toilet in an outhouse and gathers her water everyday from a nearby well. She trades yard work and her chicken's eggs for access to other's shower and laundry facilities. Her rental property is outfitted with electricity, for which she is grateful, so she can use a single burner and crock pot for cooking, and a kettle for making coffee.
"But if I had to do it again, I would do wind or solar," she said.
She keeps her small refrigerator outside to free up space in the house and not be exposed to the incessant buzzing (which can be a bother when your kitchen and bedroom are basically in the same room) and uses a miniature wood burning stove for heat.
Because Mauro has to go outside for many daily activities, she follows the rhythm of the days, often going to bed when the sun goes down and waking up when it rises. She has also become more in tune with the seasons and welcomes the changes rather than cursing them.
"When there's a need [to go outside] you're oblivious to the cold or rain," she said. "And living in Colorado, I've had enough sunshine to last a lifetime."
Her biggest challenge has been adjusting to a smaller kitchen. With gardening as a way of life, preserving and canning food is key. She still does it, but had to scale back on kitchen fermentations and fruit dehydration. She has also gone from always having something cooking to eating mostly steamed or raw foods.
At 50-something, Mauro was looking for a more sustainable and closer to nature existence, and wanted to show other women her age that they could do it, too. But her ultimate drive to purchase and live in a tiny home was for her kids. With no retirement fund, she wanted to simplify her life as much as possible so that if she needed their help of care in the future, she wouldn't be a burden.
"I can just park my house anywhere," she said. "And they can bring me coffee."