Moving House: An Introduction

“That was the captivation of it to me. If it had ever been meant to be lived in, I might have thought it small, or inconvenient, or lonely; but never having been designed for any such use, it became a perfect abode.” – David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)

What if the house you built with your own two hands was capable of moving to any forest, lake, or city? That is exactly what the tiny living movement is making possible. Fed up with an exorbitant and elite housing market, many would-be-homeowners like myself are adopting alternative means of shelter. For some, the popular tiny houses built atop towable trailers are the answer. While it’s possible to travel with these wheeled abodes, the trailer setup requires a tow vehicle, a large parking space, and a considerable financial investment in the home itself. That monetary commitment is slim compared to a traditional mortgage, but it is still beyond the reach of most of most aspiring tiny house livers. 

The driving force towards minimalist housing is often a financial one. Such was certainly the case for me. A long-term student who moves regularly, I felt trapped under my rental payments. Hundreds of dollars a month went to spaces I didn’t like and roommates I barely knew.  Every month I automatically lost two thirds of my income just for existing. Beyond the financial stress, I longed for a space which would be truly personal. I needed more than a mattress on the floor and a shared, cluttered kitchen. I yearned not only for the freedom to paint my own walls, but to construct those walls myself.

Then the idea of tiny living, and vehicle dwelling in particular, stepped up in a big way. Although a modern motorhome would have provided me with my financially sufficient bed and kitchen, I knew that the cheaply constructed campers in my budget would not make a warm or artful home. Luckily, a quick search for the hashtag, #vanlife brought up hundreds of vans, originally designed as commercial vehicles, now lined with wood paneling, and looking every bit as homey as any tiny house on wheels. Beyond their quirky aesthetic appeal, I was drawn to the accessibility of these van builds. The freedom of movement they offer is incredible. It’s a lot easier to find parking and camping spots for a moving truck than it is for a full tiny house. The most popular van builds are Sprinter vans, but a closer look will reveal nomads of all descriptions living luxuriously in converted vehicles ranging in size and style from old yellow school busses to city-slick Priuses. My vehicle of choice? An old step van of the type used for local deliveries of bread, milk, and potato chips. Designed to carry heavy loads, their interiors are simple aluminum boxes; the perfect template for my 80 square-foot tiny home. It may seem odd, but it might fit my needs better than any rental.

Callum David Pengelly is a visual artist and a poet whose work has twice appeared in Selkirk’s own “Black Bear Review”. This Spring, he took on the challenge of building his own tiny home in the back of an aluminium delivery van. In his monthly column, he writes about the challenges and triumphs he has encountered on his tiny home journey.