Changing what you choose to call home

Out-of-the-box thinking can help you tackle debt

My life choices have affected my housing situation, just as my housing situation has affected my life choices.

In 2009, I was using credit cards and balance transfers to make house payments. This situation was not manageable, and I was forced to consider other living arrangements. So I rented out my 1,350-square-foot home in Stony Plain, and bought a 300-square-foot, 1969 Park Model trailer with single-pane glass windows for one dollar.

After creating a trailer pad, running a power line, and moving a storage shed, the site for my new home on my sister’s acreage was ready. I got one 500-gallon propane tank, four new trailer tires, a small propane furnace, and a trailer mover—all for $2,200. The move cut my monthly expenses from $3,400 to $575. Anything I earned over that went straight to the $47,000 in credit card payments. This debt was accumulated from trying to hang onto a house too big for me after making the foolish decision to buy it based on what I thought was eternal love.

I later discovered the guy who sold me my furnace must have thought my 300-square-feet was a dwelling with modern insulation, argon windows and protection from the elements. He swore 700 BTU was powerful enough to keep me warm. I lived there for two and half years, often waking up to minus five degree winter mornings in my bedroom. Snow blew in the cracks of my front door by the furnace and did not melt.

I just considered it long-term winter camping. I grew adept at typing with gloves on. I baked goodies in my propane oven to heat up my living room/office space. I traipsed across the acreage to my sister’s cabin for bathroom amenities, if an outhouse composting toilet qualifies as a bathroom. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

A Kijiji ad presented my next living opportunity. I became a resident manager of a 18 suite walk-up apartment just off 118 Avenue which quickly became my “hood”. The rent was “free” in exchange for shovelling walks, mowing grass, renting suites, dealing with service people, and other managerial duties. This stint also lasted two and a half years and was the best home I had found in my almost 40 years in Edmonton.

In a little less than five years, I was out of debt. This afforded me the opportunity to travel. I knew if I bought or planned my home right away, the adventurer in me would just settle down and dream of travel and blame my sedentary life on the circumstances and commitments I would continue to create.  At 55, how much longer would I want to carry a backpack and bounce about? It was really about forcing myself to avoid later regrets.

Last spring, I packed up my precious books and kitchen toys, creating a “blankie” box for each room, offloading extraneous possessions. Blankie boxes contained the items I wanted first for each room of my future home. Then everything went into storage as I began my “homeless” period of travelling to London and staying with my niece and her family as a home base.

During my time overseas, I took unknown airlines at odd times from out-of-the-way airports to visit Weeze, Germany and Rome, Italy; an all-night bus to Edinburgh, Scotland; a family car trip to Lille, France and Bruges, Belgium; a high-speed train to Paris; and numerous walking explorations of London. I also did a couchsurfing group trip to Stonehenge for solstice.

When I returned to Canada, my niece living north of Stony Plain offered me a space in her house. Dreams of bike riding across Ireland still pull at me. I fear if I create my home, my own reclusive aspects will pin me down. Time enough for sitting still with books and writing in my later decades.

The end of November marks 18 months of hanging my hat in a variety of ways: couch surfing, staying with a niece and helping out with her kids, bunking in with my sister, house sitting for family and friends, with some traveling mixed in between. For a reclusive homebody with a few sprinkles of adventurous spirit dust left, I am nearing my limit of living out of borrowed closets with just a few opened blankie boxes. I have only managed this long due to my sister’s unconditional love. I know I am the difficult “roomie.” Thankfully she also disappears in her own energy bubble, leaving me feel like I am alone despite the fact we are sharing her mere 300-square-foot renovated ATCO cabin.

I will likely be without my own home for close to another year. I have two more trips planned. In the wee hours of Halloween morning, I am off to work on an organic farm near Bogotá, Colombia for a month. After a couple months back with family over the holidays, I will be off to Florida for part of February and March.

My spring and summer plan is to make a home for myself. A home without a mortgage. A home that will be all mine. I plan to build a tiny home. Really tiny. I mean teensy. Two of them, though. I envision two side-by-side 108-square-foot cabins with lofts sharing a deck and an awning. One with a kitchen, sitting area, and an office loft. The other my workout area with a sleeping loft. My goal is to eventually have a 320-square-foot tiny home on wheels with two lofts. The small ones will become guest/artist retreat cabins.

Country and family hold my heart now. But I am part city and part country. I would like to supplement my country tiny home with a place in my old hood. I am looking to joint-venture on a home with Airbnb potential near the Avenue in the future. Anyone want to join me in my adventures?


Featured Image: Rusti Lehay in her 300-square-foot Park Model trailer she bought for a dollar. | Supplied

Rusti Lehay

A member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada since 2003, Rusti has been writing professionally since 1999. Her favourite word activity is immersion editing with memoir writers.

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