||[Dec. 3rd, 2013|12:08 am]
When you're a kid, you know it's time to go home when the streetlights come on. I know this because of multiple self-congratulatory memes from people who think they've been brought up right, unlike kids nowadays. Well, I have a hard time relating to these sorts of memes. The streetlights didn't pull me home. Streetlights weren't exactly ubiquitous to my childhood.
When I was growing up, I didn't always have bedrooms, electricity, or plumbing. My family lived in campers and travel trailers, strangers in strange lands where the people viewed us, the aberrant interlopers, with fear and distrust. People broke into our homemade camper looking for loot we did not have, peppered our livestock with pellet guns, stole our bony old gander, and destroyed an old dory my dad was fixing up. We had to drive to a neighbouring town for potable water because the livestock wouldn't drink from nearby streams. The water was poison, and we couldn't drink from the town well. The locals polluted it with used maxi pads and other filth. We grew our own food in frigid fields. I spent hours picking and planting potatoes. I was allowed to pick out a packet of seeds for a garden row--so long as it was for food and not for wasteful things like flowers. I picked out rape seed because I thought it sounded exciting and dangerous. I was nine.
I've seen people discussing how only rich, spoiled people can afford to have horses, and I'm boggled by such a one-sided view. People who say such things must presume horses are just four-legged toys that you wear fancy clothes to ride. Perhaps they don't think Mennonites, Amish, cowboys, or seaweed harvesters are real people. Maybe they don't know that people like me have relied on horses and ponies instead of cars for transportation, or that we used pony teams to bring back wood necessary for our survival. Several of the places where I've lived were heated by wood stove. I cooked on a wood stove, too. I know soft wood doesn't burn as hot as hard wood, and if you burn wood from apple trees, it'll burn so hot the cast iron stove will glow a bright cherry red. Don't burn too much of that. It's scary.
I didn't live in a place with streetlights until I was ten, and that wasn't for very long. I lived in a campground/trailer park. We lived in a camper, all six of us: Mom, Dad, my sister, my dog, and my sister's cat. The livestock had been sold or given away. We couldn't bring the animals across the country with us. I was allowed to bring three books and two toys. There was no room for anything more.
There's no such thing as privacy when you live in a camper. There are no bedrooms. The only possible escape is a bathroom big enough for a tiny camp toilet.
Lately, I've been seeing a lot of people posting links about people living in tiny little homes: places about the size of the camper where I was squashed together with my family. People romanticize this. They say how nice it must be to not have many things, to not be materialistic, to have only what you need. Life would be so much richer. It looks so cozy.
Maybe, just maybe, if you've grown up in suburbia, or in places with large public spaces like libraries and community centres and malls where you can escape when the weather is bad, maybe then, you could fantasize about living in such a tiny space for a while. Maybe the cabin fever won't seize you harder than it did me. The closeness of space packs you in tighter and tighter, and a band of stress wraps and pulls around your chest until breathing is strenuous, your heart pounds like war drums in your ears, and all you want to do is run and run, gasps of burning air stabbing down your trachea into your lungs. Just run until there are no people for miles. But you can't do that if you live in a little camper in a little campground. There's nowhere to go but the little laundromat, and you'll be kicked out for loitering. Or maybe, like I did in other times, you'll live in a travel trailer in the wilderness. Then there is no other building where you can take shelter. If you run, you've got to come back. Unless it's the right time of year, you will succumb to the elements. You have to come back. And so you return to a one-roomed squat that smells of portapotty, damp boots, hot food, and wet dog. You do your homework in your shared bunk with your sister who has the flu. You hear your parents having sex a foot or two away and be too young to understand, but know just enough to realize it's supposed to be private. You sleep with your fingers in your ears a lot, pillow pulled uselessly over your head. You fantasize about someday having your very own room.
Do you really think that little house is so wonderful?
Thankfully I've never lived as close to the bone as did as a child, but I've spent enough time living in travel trailers (like, almost 10 years) and in other cramped things, without water or electricity, that while I think those tiny houses are cute and would make nice things to have as a place to write, I sure as fuck don't want to live in one. I had the whole Mother Earth News pioneering spirit knocked out of me by experience. I've told my camping loving husband that my days of that are behind me, dog willing and the creek don't rise.
I think they'd make nice private getaways, but to live there? With other people? No no no....
Have you thought about expanding this into a full essay and submitting it for publication?
Not hugely. I'm still waking up. ;)
Well, when you wake up...
I think many people would benefit from hearing about your experiences. I agree that we idealize poverty to an extent and it makes me uncomfortable. I can't help wondering if part of our disregard for class disparity is due in part to the privileged classes having no understanding of how being honestly, really, and actually poor is a horrible situation.
Can I share this? I love it.
Of course! I'd appreciate a link back.
Is your feeling based more on lack of resources and privacy than on small living spaces per se? I certainly sympathise with that.
I think small living spaces are good in general, as long as some personal space is maintained and privacy is available when desired.
I think of the 1500+ square feet in this house and we maybe regularly use just a couple hundred of that, mostly kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and desks. Sitting/living room used daily but just for a few hours at a time. Utility room is used occasionally.
The rest is essentially uninhabited storage. We keep a lot of stuff because we were raised frugally.
If we had private spaces for personal and family use, and shared spaces for communal use, we could probably get by with a 100-200 square feet per person.
And by "we" I mean my family. Not speaking for others.
Some people need more space than others. As a dancer/athlete/artist, I take up a lot of room. I have projects spread all over the place and need room to exercise, and living in a tiny space wouldn't work for me, unless I had quick, easy access to a studio. When I was relatively sedentary and didn't make much art, I got away with living in a much smaller area comfortably. But I don't want to be sedentary or artistically nonproductive again.
"Do you really think that little house is so wonderful?"
Yes. But then I grew up with a hoarder who also was terrible about paying bills, so we packed up and moved every six months or so. And then I joined the Navy, married a career Navy guy, and moved our family every two years. And wouldn't you know it - my guy is a bit of a hoarder too. ("We might need that someday. That broken stereo system/heater/every gift we've ever been given... there may be a use for that.")
I'd not want a tiny house if I were going to live in it with anyone else. Private space is too important to me. But I've become aware that of all of the space we have in our home, I personally use very little of it. And when we are camping, I feel a sense of freedom in my (single occupancy) small tent with everything arranged 'just so' and doing double-duty.
There is a HUGE difference in living in a small place by yourself vs. living there with other people.
I love camping, but cannot camp with my family. That just brings back the dread.
Oh hey. This
just got published on The Toast.
The weird thing is that I didn't even consider my write-up as being about poverty, but the realities of living in a confined space. Though we didn't have much money, we never went without food, shelter, or medical care. To me, a lack of these things defines poverty.
Man, was the survivalist/poor as dirt mentality a JW thing? This resonates so much with me. I grew up in a small trailer with several relatives. When I went into foster care and had a room to myself, I got scared because I wasn't used to so much space, but when I came back to the trailer it felt claustrophobic. When I hitchhiked around as an older teenager, I was sometimes lucky enough to live in a spare bedroom or motel room for weeks at a stretch. By myself? No problem. Introduce another person or a family? PROBLEMS. I still love the idea of little houses, but only as a studio/clubhouse/treehouse concept. As in, a little place to go be alone from time to time, but with the option to return to a living space that accommodates everyone's need for privacy.
You nailed exactly what people don't realize when they romanticize the simple life/pioneer life. Fuck a buncha Little House in the Big Woods.
I don't think it was a JW thing, specifically, although in Valemount, BC, there was basically a commune of JWs who took care of one another. One family was expert at mushroom picking, and raised rabbits. My family, and another, were berry and rosehip gatherers, as well as hunters. So we'd trade moose meat for rabbit meat, and berries for mushrooms. Also, the families took care of one another's kids non-discriminately. That was actually pretty darned cool.
But this was also the exception. Every other place I lived, I didn't know any other JWs who lived like us. We were anomalous.
And I certainly knew a lot of people who were much, MUCH poorer. There were kids in some of the places where I lived who lived in cardboard lean-tos in full winter, and who wore rags. I also knew kids who were bullies, and would beat people up for their lunches. They did it because they came from violent households where they were not being fed.