From Caravan Chaos to Tiny House Triumph
This blog post is an update and follow-on from my Out Of The Loop post a year ago.
Please read that post first, otherwise this post won’t make much sense — and you’ll think I’m even crazier than I really am!
With the assumption that you’ve read that post, I’ll carry on from where I left off.
It’s been a genuine struggle to get this information into just one post! Once I’d crossed the 8,000 word threshold (don’t worry it’s not that long!), I decided to turn the blog into an eBook instead!
Thing is, there’s an entire year to cover.
However, I still wanted to write something for those of you who just want an overview and have been kind enough to ask how I’m doing, so I’ve been pruning away at it to keep it short.
But I’ve failed miserably!
It’s still a long post, so grab your favourite beverage, put your feet up and dive on in. I’ve included many photos to show you my progress, and if you click on any of those images in the galleries, you’ll get a bigger view (you’ll have to click the back button to get back to this post.)
Deep breath — here goes:
The Teeny Tiny Caravan Chronicles
For 6 months, between December 2022 and June 2023, Ragz, myself and Shaggy lived in the Tardis’ distant cousin, Teeny Tiny Caravan, a space of just 3.5 metres x 2 metres.
Early on, my friends flocked to witness the spectacle of the madwoman in the caravan — it was like a circus, minus the popcorn and with a less impressive animal act. In the New Zealand summer, we enjoyed sitting outside at the table under an umbrella, catching up on life over a cup of tea.
In January, I was looking forward to a month of house sitting for Fiona and Jim, back in Raglan, while they went away on a kayaking holiday, towing Teeny Tiny. Sadly, this never materialised because of family health issues repeatedly delaying their departure.
February, the month of love
Or in my case, the month I committed to a long-term relationship with Fox Cabins. Forget chocolates and flowers, I signed up for a single level, 10×3 metre tiny house and a 10 square metre office/cabin!
Cyclone Gabrielle slammed us around the same time. A couple of kind friends, concerned about us remaining in Teeny Tiny, insisted we move out and stay in their houses. I packed up the dog, the parrot and myself and stayed with them for a few days until it passed.
Ah, the sweet embrace of a bed wider than a gymnast’s balance beam. It was like sleeping on a cloud, or at least, something softer and wider than my caravan bench-cum-mattress.
Mud, Mud, and More Mud
Once back to Teeny Tiny, I found the ground underneath the outdoor carpet in front of the caravan had turned to mud. Sludge oozed through the carpet over my sandals and all over my feet.
I used every dog towel I possessed in the following weeks to stop the sludge getting everywhere. I tried washing wash them by hand, in cold water from the hose, in a bin. Entirely ridiculous! Eventually they all got tossed.
Gabrielle was the sign of things to come as NZ experienced the wettest winter on record. We had so many other storms, and Teeny Tiny survived them all, even though she did a few jigs in protest. The teeming rain caused delays with just about everything, except the building of my tiny house, which was all being done under cover in the Fox Cabin factory.
Challenges of the caravan kitchen
In the fun-size space that was the kitchen area, I could use either the cooktop or the sink. I found it awkward preparing food without using both simultaneously. And, as summer and salads gave way to autumn and then winter, so did my best intentions of preserving the successful eating plan I’d maintained for over a year.
Salads aren’t appetising when it’s cold and wet, and I reverted to food that was easy to prepare and would fit into a single pan. Truth be told, I was comfort eating as well — and gained a pile of weight!
After a couple of months working, eating, and sleeping in the very same spot, I found myself hampered by stiffness. My exercise routine had also gradually ceased to exist, because of Ragz.
Ragz’s health issues
Ragz and I used to walk 4 or 5 kilometres around the Raglan harbour every morning, and another 1 or 2 kilometres in the evening. He turned 13-years-old in February 2023 and no longer wanted to walk those distances.
Although he seemed happy in himself, he’d lost a lot of hair had become rather ‘threadbare’. He was drinking buckets of water, seemed tired (but I put that down to his age), and he’d developed a sore toe, which all my attempts failed to heal. A couple of vet visits led to diagnoses of Cushing’s disease and a probable infected toe nail (which was later removed).
Signs of Cushing’s
Symptoms include excessive thirst, tiredness, increased appetite, separation anxiety, panting, hair loss, and a potbelly. I never noticed the increased hunger; Ragz has always been obsessed with food and seemingly permanently hungry!
He’s always had separation anxiety, but it got worse. Even leaving him in the car for a couple of minutes with all the windows open in the middle of winter led to him hyperventilating from stress. I had to take him out of the car and tie him up wherever I stopped. Then drive to the next place because he couldn’t walk the distance.
This gave me a dilemma: I couldn’t walk with Ragz, but I also couldn’t walk without him because of his separation anxiety. I attempted to tug him up the road on his lead. But over the weeks he became more tired, and once he ground himself into the tar seal and gave me his icy glare, I turned around and headed back to the caravan.
‘Walks’ have been none existent for some time. He’ll be 14 on Valentine’s day 2024 (I know, my little Sweetheart ❤️) and now he sleeps most of the time. He’s happy to just hang around home or pop up to see Celia and her two dogs when he feels more energetic.
I spent most of February and March with the joyful job of investigating toilet waste disposal systems for tiny houses; composting, incineration, macerating, septic tank, etc. The toilet cartridge in Teeny Tiny needed emptying every 4 or 5 days which meant a drive to Raglan. The emptying procedure is utterly revolting. I won’t say more — I’ll just leave it to your imagination!
I could write a book on what I learned about toilets and the disposal of human excrement — but don’t worry — I’m not going to!
Teeny Tiny troubles
A new kitchen sink tap in the caravan was leaking. The drainage from the kitchen sink began appearing in the shower tray! It was damp on the floor underneath the sink. I couldn’t figure out where the dampness was coming from, as no water was dripping underneath the sink. In the end, I just decided to use the bathroom sink for washing-up instead. I like to complicate things for myself!
At one point, the water pump gave up doing its only job — pumping. No matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Finally, I gave in and asked Jim to come and help. Turns out I’d accidentally flicked off the 12 volt switch by the door. But, as usual, Jim was gracious in handling it. He did his best to placate me as I felt like a total numpty for dragging him out for something so simple.
Excavation escapades: building the foundation
I needed another driveway to reach my tiny house on the part of Celia’s land I’m leasing. Plus a gravel base for the house and cabin, and a power trench from Celia’s garage. (The building to the left of Teeny Tiny in the photo below.) This meant a swift relocation of Teeny Tiny because it was sitting on the spot where the house had to go. Jim came to my rescue again, towing and settling the caravan to a new spot, where it stayed until my house was finished.
Matt, at Raglan Excavations managed to fit my job in towards the end of April when a big job he had scheduled was cancelled because of the weather. The digger operator was so skilful it was like watching poetry in motion!
House build begins
The framing, trailer, and floor for my tiny house all arrived on 16 March, and on 17 March the guys at Fox got cracking on my new home.
Managing unexpected costs
I had enough money to pay for the house and cabin, but I felt overwhelmed by the unanticipated and mounting extra costs. I wanted certain fixtures and fittings that weren’t included in the house price. For instance:
- Specific tap ware and bathroom fittings which were more expensive than those budgeted for
- Pendant lights above the kitchen sink and breakfast bar
- Glass splash back in the kitchen and bathroom
- Block blue lights throughout the house and cabin to protect and prevent sore eyes.
Sure, I could get these products later and stick with the budgeted alternatives. However, based on my experience, I know that I feel regretful if I compromise on quality — or what I really want.
I’ve always found there are other items that take precedence in terms of upgrades, because, after all, I’ve already got something else in place — just not what I wanted. And eventually it costs a great deal more to acquire and install what I genuinely desired. The pendant lights for example, would be nigh on impossible to retro fit.
So, I sold all my assets
I am also deeply grateful that my mom helped by gifting me some money. She said, “You’ll get it anyway when I’m gone, so you may as well have it now while I can see you enjoying it. But just remember that when I die, the others (my two brothers and sister) will have to have what you’ve already had.”
This generosity relieved me of so much stress. I still had lots more expenses coming up; sets of steps up to the house and cabin. Water tank, pump, filter, grey water system, and gas bottles — and a fence to hide it all.
House finalising: Adding the last touches
While I was struggling with storms, mud, rain and cramped conditions, my tiny house was coming along in leaps and bounds. I’d call into Fox Cabins a couple of times a week to see and take photos of progress.
When I called in in mid-May, an army of electricians, cabinet makers and plumbers had invaded my tiny house, all making the last push to get it finished. A few hiccups were inevitable during the build process, but everything was resolved keep the project on track. The house was scheduled for pickup and delivery to the site on 23 May.
“Don’t hold your breath with the delivery date”, Adam warned. “So many things can go wrong for the transport company; getting stuck in the South Island because of bad weather or other jobs taking longer than expected etc.”
The short term move
With the house ready and awaiting delivery to site, I rented a friend’s Airbnb for the few days between when I vacated Teeny Tiny, and when I moved into my sparkly new tiny house.
3 days before I left, we experienced yet another wicked storm: hail, torrential rain, gale force winds, and flooding. Raglan even received a tsunami warning because of an earthquake. It seemed far worse than Cyclone Gabrielle.
Even with a power outage at 7 pm, sleeping in the dark was impossible because Teeny Tiny insisted on rockin’ and rollin’ all night! Teeny Tiny weathered it all (pun intended) — as did Shaggy, Ragz and I.
Teeny Tiny goes home
The power was still out the next morning, and Jim had some time to collect the caravan. I packed essentials for me and the companions (sounds like Doctor Who!), and loaded them all into my car, along with the water tank and grey water hose. I followed Jim, who was towing Teeny Tiny with all her accoutrements.
During the six months I’d been using Teeny Tiny, Jim and Fiona had bought a van. They could travel more freely with the kayaks strapped on the roof of the van, rather than towing a caravan everywhere.
Teeny Tiny was going to be sold
I wanted to give the caravan a deep clean, and Fiona suggested doing it at their place since they had a water supply.😊 Plus, it would be much easier without the dog, parrot and all their accessories cluttering up the itty-bitty space.
I’d had several unwelcome intruders (aka cockroaches — aagh!) over the previous months. One night I woke up with one crawling on my bare shoulder. (The memory still makes my skin crawl!)
Nervously, I cleaned Teeny Tiny anticipating the cockroaches lurking, ready to jump out at me while I was cleaning. (I know they don’t really jump — they just appear like evil forces — out of nowhere.) But guess what? They had all evacuated on the journey back to Raglan! I didn’t find a single one.
Tiny house delivery disaster
The transport company finally shifted the house on the evening of 26 May.
It didn’t go well.
They arrived around 6.30 pm in total darkness, in the middle of winter and after completing a job in Wellington — a 6.5 hour trip. So I suspect they were extremely tired as well.
The driver ended up having to get towed out of the mulch on the side of my 3 metre driveway. Fortunately, he wasn’t towing my tiny house at that stage. But, what should have been a trouble free delivery and relocation onto flat land, turned into a nightmare. They positioned the house with one end in the sand, where the water tank was supposed to sit. Of course, the trailer sunk into the sand and the house was thus on a slope.
The transport company washed their hands of it, despite having received an advance payment of $3500 to move the house 15 kilometres up the road, and locate it in the place marked with florescent paint!
I was livid!
Over the next few days, some great neighbours, and the Fox Cabin team came to my rescue. Between them they moved the house to the correct position, out of the sand, and put it on blocks, so it was stable.
I decided to use ground screws for underneath the cabin. These are each 2 metres long, and screw into the ground, so you can bolt buildings on top. (Sorry if it’s obvious!) You can remove and reuse them as needed. The terrain slopes away a little on this part of the land. Therefore the cabin needed more elevation to achieve the same ground height as the house, for when the interconnecting deck will be built. Once the house was in the right place, the wonderful guys from Grounded NZ installed the screws.
They were even kind enough to lift my bed into place, once I’d put the legs on.
Moving day mayhem
On 1 June 2023, the first day of winter and exactly 6 months after I’d left my apartment in Raglan and shifted into Teeny Tiny, I moved into my new tiny house.
Big sigh of relief!
With all the mud. the back of the house looked like the battle of the Somme! I layered sheets of cardboard and a piece of plywood over some of it, terrified that someone would slip and hurt themselves. The outdoor carpet I’d had in the caravan covered more mud at the foot of the steps. I had electricity at this stage but no water — apart from the constant deluge outside.
I began bringing my stuff from Celia’s garage, from my car, and from storage. I had ‘stuff’ everywhere, as is the case with any house move.
My biggest joy was finally sleeping in my own beautiful bed again. With the weight of my cuddly wool duvet between crisp cotton sheets, I felt as if I’d died and gone to heaven. I spread my body like a starfish on meth to try to encompass as much of the bed as possible! I thought back on my 60 centimetre-wide bench/bed in Teeny Tiny.
So, what did I think of? My heart was overflowing with gratitude, to the point of tears, as I remembered all the wonderful and amazing people who helped and supported me to achieve this goal.
Over the next week or so, the plumbers arrived, put the water tank in place and connected a temporary down pipe. With all the rain we were having, it seemed ridiculous to not collect it. I didn’t have water connected to the house, so had to fill up containers from Celia’s hose, and was still showering in her bathroom.
The technician came and installed the heat pump/air conditioner. I got some decent steps built for the house.
The cabin arrived in mid July, about 6 weeks after the house. After the wretched experience of getting the tiny house moved, I was almost hysterical about the cabin delivery, even though delivery was with a different transport company.
I worried needlessly. The crane operator delicately manoeuvred the cabin over the water tank and onto the ground screws. The whole operation took less than 4 minutes! (I videoed it!) It was so quick I didn’t even get the name of the driver or the transport company. Then Adam (Fox, owner of Fox Cabins) secured it with massive bolts. The whole exercise was completed in about half an hour.
The waterlogged muddy mess
With the relentless rain, the mud all around the house was worse than ever. I decided the only way to make it safe was to cover the area with more gravel. My order of another 7 tonnes arrived a few days later.
Tim, a wonderful neighbour, who had also helped get the house in place, arrived on his tractor to push the gravel over the sludge. But after moving about half of it, his tractor got stuck in the mud and he had to abandon the job!
I had to move the rest of the gravel by hand.
With no wheelbarrow, I could only put 4 shovel-fulls at a time into my small silicone flexi tub — otherwise I couldn’t lift it! The furniture removal guys were arriving the following morning. So, I was desperate to get that gravel on top of the mud, so they wouldn’t get muddy or hurt. It was like making a gravel patchwork quilt. I was still shifting gravel after dark under the tiny house sensor lights.
“Obstacles can’t stop you. Problems can’t stop you. Most of all, other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you.” ~ Jeffrey Gitomer
Furniture delivery frenzy
The movers delivered some of my stuff from storage. Except for the settee in the lounge and the washing machine, they deposited most of it in the cabin. This was a pretty overwhelming sight, as you can see from this photo. I just about needed my own Overcoming Overwhelm process to cope!
I also suddenly acquired an ‘island’ in the middle of the kitchen; 2 massive bins with stuff to be put away or sold.
Over the next few months, I sold and gave away heaps of furniture, odds and sods, clothing and general ‘stuff’, but had to buy or pay for other things:
- Blinds and insect screens for the house and cabin
- Bar stools
- Bins and drawers for the wardrobe and cupboards in the bathroom/laundry
- New washing machine (that was a saga in itself after my original machine gave me a ‘waterproof error’ message and then flooded the bathroom the first time I tried to use it!)
- New fridge (yet another story)
- Splash backs in the kitchen and laundry
- New desk and chair in the office (another tale)
- Ground screws
- Steps to the office
- Tradespeople’s and delivery people’s costs
On and on it went.
I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of these costs, and so far this amounts to over $50K — and I still haven’t built the deck!
I did no paid training between January and December in 2023, just a few pro bono gigs. I still continued coaching people via Zoom, with earbuds in to avoid Shaggy trying to ‘contribute’ to the conversation. Clients seemed bemused but delighted to see a parrot sitting right next to me in the caravan. I might have to make him my unique selling point! Although I doubt he has any parrot wisdom to contribute.
Decision, decisions, decisions…
I found researching and managing the entire Tiny House Project was almost a full-time job.
I’m a researcher by nature, and there was much to investigate and analyse, because I wanted to make sure my tiny house was everything I wanted and expected.
It’s difficult to add or change things after a tiny house is finished, Careful consideration beforehand about how everything in the house would work for me was therefore essential. But hey, it was an excellent workout for my decision making muscles.
- Which builder to engage
- A deck or a cabin (I couldn’t afford both)
- The overall design
- The types of windows, how many, and their location
- Doors, how many, what type, and their location
- Heating source
- Kitchen layout
- Tap ware
- Splash back
- TV location
Adding my own style
In the 8 months since I moved in in June, I’ve steadily added personal touches to my new abode. And here I am today, February 2024.
Did I get what I wanted?
Absolutely! I utterly love my tiny house. It might sound absurd, but it’s incredibly spacious and light. Everything is perfect for me. I have all the things I want and need, and nothing I don’t.
I have my office/cabin organised and it’s comfortable and easy to concentrate. It works perfectly for me and my clients. With a gorgeous view of the bush and birds from where I’m sitting to write this, I can also see the house (No, I don’t have eyes like a chameleon — I just turn slightly to the right or left!)
The deck between the two buildings will wait until I build up some more funds. There’s no panic now. The ground has stabilised and is draining well. There’s no mud, even after torrential rain. I’ve even got proper grass growing — I can’t really call it a lawn. I’m also getting a vegetable garden established.
I’ve become more resilient, introspective and content. I’ve learnt a lot from the last year-and-a-bit. But those lessons are for another chapter. They’ll be in the eBook I’m writing now. I’ll include a lot more material about the process; the highs and lows, the challenges and the gifts.
Despite its length this post is very much an overview.
In the book I’ll be aiming for something that you’ll find interesting and funny. It’s not intended to be a technical handbook for future tiny house buyers. But I’m sure my own experiences will be of use to anyone considering going down this track.
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” ~ Andrew Carnegie
Yes, I used all the principles in my Goal Setting Book to arrive here. Go grab your own copy, and if you’d like some help to achieve your BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal), it’s much easier with a great coach (er, that would be me! 😀)
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