Why Is Simple Living So Hard? 5 Tips for Simplifying Your Life (From Someone Who’s Done It)

Why Is Simple Living So Hard? 5 Tips for Simplifying Your Life (From Someone Who’s Done It)

why is simple living so hardLast year, I did a no-spend challenge. For an entire year, I didn’t buy anything except food.

It doesn’t get much more “simple living” than living in a tiny house and spending nothing for a whole year, but even after I got into the groove of buying nothing, I still felt the pull of the busy world around me. So, throughout my no-buy year, I kept a list of all the items I wanted to buy when the year was over.

Ryan living simply in a tiny houseI live in a 150 square foot tiny house. I follow a minimalist lifestyle and own less than 1000 items to my name, but at the end of my no-spend year, there were 30 items on my wish list! However, as I went through my list and prioritized, I realized there was only ONE item I truly wanted. Despite my commitment to simple living, even I get tripped up by advertising traps and marketing. We live in a world where we’re constantly told that we need more things to feel happy.

It’s no wonder the simple life has so much appeal. Most people are stressed out, overloaded, and working themselves to the bone. If you look at the way American society has changed in the last 50 years or so, it becomes obvious. When I was growing up, I was told you go to school and get a degree. From there, you get a good job, do a good job, and build job security. You add money to your 401(k), buy a lovely little house with a picket fence. You’ll meet your future wife and create a family, living out the American dream lifestyle. Eventually, you retire fat and happy at age 65.

But in 2009, I graduated with my masters. I got a job and the company I was working for folded six months in. The rug was completely pulled out from under me. I realized the narrative I had been living wasn’t realistic, something had to change.

what's right for you, question to ask when you want to live a simple lifeNow, society is really good at pulling you back on the conventional path. For example, when I was looking for flexible employment I could do anywhere, I saw hundreds of options for jobs that would have tied me to a 9-5 corporate ball and chain. It was daunting to realize I had to create my dream job for myself. It would have been easier to follow society’s path.

What you should ask is what’s right for you…and also, what’s wrong for you? Simple living means different things to different people. Those definitions don’t work for everyone. Often, it’s easier to define what you don’t want. Most people hesitate to say exactly what they want, but they can quickly pinpoint EXACTLY what they don’t. “I don’t want to work for this jerk anymore,” or, “I don’t want to trip over clutter around my house,” or, “I don’t ever want to hear from a debt collector again.” Then, what you want is the opposite.

What You Need To Know BEFORE You Try Simple Living

what you need to know before you try simple living

Do you think you’re ready to rise to the challenge of simple living?

Before you try simple living, you must explore your reasons. People are often hoping to leave their old life behind but embracing a simpler life won’t magically erase your past. Simple living isn’t the ultimate solution to every problem in your life.

It’s important to unpack your baggage and deal with it. When people see others in tiny houses, they often say, “Look at that person, they look so happy! Tiny houses are the secret to happiness.”

Honestly, happiness doesn’t have anything to do with a smaller home. It’s because the person in the tiny house has decided, “these things are important to me” and “these other things aren’t.” When you see people living a simple life happily, it’s because they’ve gone through the pain of unpacking their emotional baggage.

simple living requires introspection

Simple living requires introspection. One affliction in America is the busyness culture. We are so afraid to slow down because we would be left alone with our thoughts and for most people, that is terrifying. So we put a screen in front of our face. We jam-pack our schedules. We keep our homes filled to the brim. We don’t allow ourselves to slow down and think. We can’t enjoy the experience because we’re too busy taking a selfie to show others how much “fun” we are having, so much so, we haven’t had a substantive conversation with the people we are with that would make a memory, but later that week we’d tell our therapist we don’t feel connected.

In my experience, the best investment I’ve made is time alone with myself. It was the most productive time I’ve spent, and it pays dividends every day.

One saying I follow is: people are happy because they’re happy people. It’s not because of the stuff we own, the house we live in, the place we travel to, or the job we do. We’re happy because we choose to be that way despite the bad things in life that inventibly come up.

The Pros and Cons of Simple Living Like A Pro

pros and cons of simple living

After my company folded, I did a lot of soul-searching. I realized I wanted a different, less-traditional job—basically, a job that I had to create for myself. Could I have taken the cube farm route? Sure! But I know I wouldn’t have been as happy or satisfied.

But building my simpler life didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow and steady process. If I had to take away one lesson from the experience, it would be:

it takes time to start to live simply

Simple living requires time to transition, but it’s so worth it!

There were plenty of bumps along the way too. Like, when I told my parents that I was going to take a simpler job, scale back, and blog full-time. I remember my mom was seriously worried (even though she’s incredibly supportive).

Then when I started to build my tiny house, I found that many people were curious and some of them critical. One day as I was working on my place a lady stopped at watched for a while. She started asking me all kinds of questions about my home. I’ll never forget her parting words, “Good luck finding a wife who will want to live in your tiny house.” I remember thinking maybe she was right. Perhaps I was making a mistake. Which brings me to the second point:

You need to question everything when you want to live a simple life

Simple living means people will question and critique your life.

But the truth is, those people are questioning you, because there are aspects of their own life they’re struggling with. That’s when I learned how self-centered people truly are. They may look at how you don’t need as much “stuff” or how you’ve chosen a less-traditional job, or a smaller home. You may hear, “I could never do that!” And the truth is, they probably couldn’t.

simple living isn't for everyone

Simple living isn’t for everyone.

I also discovered this as I started dating. I found out that there are pros and cons of living a simple life. Yes, people question your choices (and maybe even your sanity), but those who stay in your life are really worth keeping. I’ve found the women attracted to the simple life are really grounded. They aren’t hung up on superficial stuff, and they’re aligned with my worldview. Being open and honest about wanting to live simply, attracted women I wanted to date, and dissuaded those who wouldn’t have been a match anyway.

The same is true with friends. I’ve found that as my life has become simpler, I’ve found more time to spend with the people who really matter to me. It helps you narrow your focus and figure out who is truly supportive and needed in your life.

relationships are important when you focus on what's important

Simple living helps you form closer relationships.

Today, my friends sometimes joke I don’t work at a real job. I just “run a blog.” But then they see me headed off to other countries. They look on when I get to spend a few weeks (or months) in Croatia, Australia, Stockholm, or the UK. They ask me how I take morning hikes on a Wednesday when they’re working their 9-5.

The truth is, because I’ve chosen a simple, less traditional path, I’ve been able to accomplish many big goals. I blog for a living. I write books. I spend time with those who mean a lot to me. My time is more valued, and my life feels more meaningful. Although I’m not a trust-fund kid, by any means, I don’t have debt, and I travel often.

to live simply you need to know what your goals are

Simple living helps you achieve a life you design and remove obstacles.

When it comes to simple living, if you want it, it’s achievable. There’s no secret sauce or trick to simple living. It’s about deciding on the goal that’s right for you, figuring out how to align it with your lifestyle, and then pursuing the goal single-mindedly.

You might think, “Being my own boss, living debt-free, eliminating clutter, cutting back stress—those all sound awesome! I want that!”

And indeed, simple living is possible in some form for everyone. But there are a lot of misconceptions about simple living out there. A lot of people get an idyllic notion stuck in their head that isn’t accurate or aligned to their needs.

farm cabin tiny house

I’ve met a lot of people who jump into living in a cabin in the woods, or they go out and buy a full-fledged hobby farm in the country. They haven’t found out what’s right for them. They’re subscribing to someone else’s definition of simple living, which is a dangerous mistake that will only leave you searching for answers.

When you jump into a new lifestyle out of nowhere, you’re basically saying, “I don’t like my life now. I’m going to live a new life.” But what happens is you end up importing all the problems your former life had: all its definitions, labels, and problems.

understand who you are at your core

Simple living doesn’t change who you are at your core.

So, you want to become a homesteader. You go out and buy land and a barn in a spot you’ve never been to. You fill the barn with animals you’ve never raised before. Then you wake up one morning, and your life is not simple at all. In fact, you’re stuck with a pretty big problem. You never leave the farm because you need to milk the goats, tend chickens, and put the cows out to pasture.

It’s all about finding the simple lifestyle that’s livable for you. For example, I would love to own a few cows and goats, but I also love to travel. I can’t commit to animals that need milking twice a day, every day, or they go off milk. I couldn’t even leave for a weekend trip, and it wouldn’t work with my life.

its not a magic bullet

Simple living doesn’t make your life perfect, but it helps you find more meaning.

In fact, sometimes simple living is really challenging—even difficult. But, it’s in that struggle we find the beauty and satisfaction of a simple life. Research has found that when things come easy for us, we don’t derive as much value out of it. Although a life free of stress sounds terrific at first, it’s struggle and adversity that bring us meaning. I’ve found this very accurate for myself. The things I’m most thankful for were the most difficult. Striving and strife make us value it more. Simple living isn’t easy, but it also brings us a great deal of meaning.

The Logistical Challenges of Simple Living

challenges of simple living

Aside from the philosophical pros and cons of simple living, there are a few logistical challenges as well. It’s important to understand these barriers and consider all aspects BEFORE you move toward a simple life.

the space that you live in might not be largeSpace: When people consider moving into tiny homes, they think they have to live in a tiny house of 200-300 square feet when it might not be right for them. The truth is, 200 feet isn’t going to work for some people, particularly if you have a family. You won’t feel happy with five people in a super tiny home. So, maybe instead, you sell your 4,000 square foot house and buy a 1,000 square foot house. Find something for half the mortgage and use the money to travel as a family.

living simply might actaully cost more moneyMoney: It sounds counter intuitive, but even a simple life costs money, there are times where simple living may even cost more than your old life depending on certain factors. If you want to live simply in a city, you still need to earn an income. You still need to understand your budget. On the surface a simpler life may seem cheaper, but you still need to look at your relationship with money. Why do you spend? How can you simplify your finances and still feel satisfied? Is spending X dollars a month in rent or on your mortgage getting you closer or moving you further away? What steps can you take to get your money under control?

understanding why you buy thingsWants: You need to get down to the underlying reason you want an item. After all, no one buys a $100 designer t-shirt because they NEED it. They buy it because they want to show they can afford it. Why? Because they want a girl to like them? Why? Because they really want love and companionship. Many people are addicted to (fleeting) happiness they think they can buy, which doesn’t actually satisfy their needs. We’ve all heard of retail therapy. It’s a hard habit to break.

cutting out toxic relationshipsRelationships: People run into the obstacle of relationships because they don’t know how to prioritize and say no. Simplifying your life doesn’t only mean tossing out belongings you don’t need and downsizing. It means finding ways to get more control over your schedule. You want to spend time with the people who mean the most to you, doing things your love, in a way that is on your own terms. When I simplified, I cut back to only the people who were important to me and who I wanted to invest time in. The others, I cut out.

figure out what you do and don't want to spend your time onTime: Simple living takes time. One of the biggest obstacles I faced when simplifying was realizing I had to go through the process of figuring out what I wanted. I had to get out of debt. I had to figure out how to become location-independent, own my own business, and deal with my own baggage. It took me years from the time I started my blog to quit my job. During that time, I was downsizing possessions, building my tiny house, and navigating my path. What seemed so simple ended up taking me 6 or 7 years to achieve. And guess what, I’m still working at it even today.

simple living means making choices that are hardSacrifice: When I started to simplify, my family announced they were going on a trip to Italy. Now, family time is extremely important to me. But I had set really aggressive financial goals to pay off my student loans. I decided between the goal of paying off my loans or going to Italy with my family. In the end, I didn’t go on the trip. I’ve faced many of these hard choices over the last 6 or 7 years. I had to recommit every single day.

you'll need to redefine who you are in some waysIdentity: Many of us define ourselves by our career. It’s how we earn money. It’s what people pay you to do. When you introduce yourself, you say something like, “I’m a banker.” Well, you might be a banker now, but it doesn’t mean you need to be a banker tomorrow. If living a simple life means finding a fulfilling career path, you may wrestle with your identity. What are other ways to earn money, and what’s holding you back?

When I started living in a tiny house, my rent went from $1,500 to zero. That allowed me to take risks and follow new pursuits. I could start a company. Most of my pals were like, “I can’t do that because I have a mortgage and bills. I must stay in this cubicle.”

5 Tips To Simplify Your Life (from Someone Who’s Done It)

tips for simple living

No matter where you are with simplifying your life, there are 5 practical tips I recommend that you can apply today. These tips really apply to any new situation or significant lifestyle change you’re considering. If you’re wondering how to destress your life and build a life you love, it starts here.

Ask What You Want More Of – Look at your current lifestyle and write a list of all the positive aspects that bring you joy. What do you want more of in your life? Maybe it’s time, family, travel, health, or something else. What makes you the happy and what would you like to expand on?
Ask What You Want Less Of – Now it’s time for the flip side. Sometimes it’s hard to nail down what we do want, but people are pretty clear what they don’t want. What are all the aspects you’d like to eliminate from your life? Write down anything that drags you down, makes you unhappy, drains your energy, or causes you stress. It may include debt, your dead-end job, too much clutter, toxic relationships, or something else entirely. What do you want less of in your life?
Define Your Ideal Day – This journaling exercise really helps you pinpoint how your perfect life looks. Imagine your ideal day (or even your ideal week); walk through each moment from the time you get up to the time you drift off to sleep. What is your morning like? What’s your routine? Do you work? What type of work? How would it look? Get as specific as possible—what clothes would you wear, what would you eat, what people would you spend time with?
Define Your Goals – Behind every single success is a goal. Goals give us a marker to move toward. When you pinpoint your targets, write them as clearly as possible. Set SMART goals and define the parameters. Any time you want to achieve something big (or small), a goal will guide your way.

Write Out the Steps – This will look a little different for everyone. There isn’t a clear point A to point B roadmap and sometimes it seems like such an overwhelming task that you don’t even know where to start. The question is, what do you need to do next? Do you need to break down your goals into smaller steps? Do you need to set a budget?

If you ask yourself these questions about your ideal life, your vision will start to come together. You’ll match up your idea of a simple life with the reality of what works for you. Life doesn’t need to be complicated. Many people find the simpler their life gets, the more satisfying it becomes. Make time for the lifestyle that really matters to you.

Your Turn!

  • What does simple living mean to you?
  • What’s your biggest challenge when simplifying?

How to Start a Bullet Journal and Master Your Productivity

How to Start a Bullet Journal and Master Your Productivity

How to Start a Bullet Journal and Master Your Productivity

How to start a Bullet JournalAs someone who is obsessed with mastering my time and productivity, I can’t emphasize the benefits of starting a bullet journal enough. A bullet journal is a paper journal, but it’s also a planning tool. Thanks to the system of migrating tasks, it’s a powerful goal-setting method as well.

printable bullet journals for saleWhen you start a bullet journal, you’re essentially wrangling all the bits and pieces floating around in your head (and on post-it notes around your desk). You’re setting priorities and creating a deliberate, practical action plan. You’re able to track your status and know your next step each day. Bullet journals offer clarity and focus.

The concept that really sealed the deal for me on bullet journals was the system of migration. With bullet journals, you roll over, or “migrate” unfinished tasks each period (weekly or monthly). This methodology quickly helps you keep track of what’s on your plate at any given time.

The other feature I love is an index as page one of the journal. It’s searchable and convenient. Again, it’s such a simple solution, but that’s the appeal of bullet journals—they seem stupidly simple, but they’re incredibly useful.

Simple, but genius! That sums up bullet journaling.

productivity quote from Benjamin Franklin

Finally, there’s no understating the convenience of paper. Now, I know the trend these days is toward cutting back on paper and going digital whenever possible. I agree with this idea for the most part, as well. I’ve digitized much of my “paper life,” and it’s been beneficial for organizing. BUT a few weeks ago, Google Calendar went down. I logged off my computer and stopped working for the day. There was no way to know what I was doing, and that’s where paper wins—paper can’t “go down” like the internet.

There are many additional reasons to start a bullet journal as well. This is a great productivity system. Here are all the details you need to know to start a bullet journal and take control over your to-do list.

Why Bullet Journals Work So Well

why do bullet journals work so well to organize your life

I got turned onto bullet journals by my friend, Zach. I was visiting the school where he worked and during our conversation a question came up. He reached for an innocuous looking journal. He checked the index and then flipped right to his plan. Instantly, he had the answer.

I had to know more about this super-efficient notebook system. I asked a lot of questions: What was a bullet journal, and how did it work? How should I start a bullet journal? Most importantly, would a bullet journal actually increase my productivity and help with organization, or was it a pretty way to doodle (and waste time)?

As many of my readers know, I’m a big fan of any tool to organize the chaos of everyday life and bring a minimalist mindset to work. Bullet journals are no exception.

Keeping a simple office and minimalist working habits

I’ve explored a lot of productivity concepts, time management, and planning activities. Anyone who’s hoping to follow a minimalist approach to their schedule (cutting out the chaos, clutter, and stress) has probably looked into many of the products and ideas like the Pomodoro method, daily planners (like the Franklin-Covey system or the Happy Planner system), and digital tools like Trello, Basecamp, and Asana. There is no shortage of ways people try to tame the chaos in their lives.

While most of these productivity tools have pros and cons, I’ve found there are positive takeaways and lessons in each one. The main idea of any efficiency tool is organizing your time and taking control of your schedule.

being stressed out over time managmentChaos, stress, clutter, and confusion all stem from a lack of priorities. Minimalism is the counterfoil to chaos because it’s all about aligning your life to your priorities.

Do you know your priorities? Do you know where you’re going? Do you know how you want your future to look? Clarifying these questions and distilling down the solutions help you move in a productive direction toward the life you want. Bullet journals offer you a simple, clear road map to your destination.

The most appealing aspect of the bullet journaling process for me was the process called migration. One of the biggest problems with other productivity methods is the lack of a way to carry tasks forward. With digital calendars and apps, you check off a task and forget it, or you keep mindlessly rolling it forward and changing the date. With a paper list or planner, you turn the page, and it’s gone.

The idea of migrating tasks is shockingly simple at face value, but from a practicality standpoint, it makes a HUGE impact and is a big deal for me. Writing down each task reinforces your dedication when you migrate them forward. You are thinking about what you’re doing, and you’re solidifying the importance.

how to migrate a bullet journal

The other aspect of bullet journals, that I liked was the index. As I said, when Zach showed me his index, it was one of those “ah-ha” moments. I’d avoided the idea of a paper planner or journal because it seemed there was a lack of searchability (unlike digital tools). You must flip through every page to find your notes. The index feature of a bullet journal provided an analogue, but still effective solution to my hang up with paper journals.

The paper aspect of a journal is nice too. Paper is convenient; you can take it anywhere. There’s something very intentional and deliberate about writing by hand. You think of what you’re jotting down. You write it with purpose. If the bullet journal system resonates with you, I think you’ll find the paper factor is a pro rather than a con.

Since bullet journaling seemed to work so well for Zach, I figured I’d give it a try, so I jumped in and learned how to plan and organize my life with the bullet journal method. I researched bullet journals further and was blown away by the amazing and artistic spreads and layouts, interesting collections, and the system itself.

What is a Bullet Journal (and How Does it Work)?

what is a bullet journal and how does it work

A man named Ryder Carrol invented the bullet journal (or bujo as he likes to call it). The system of “rapid logging” was designed to help people quickly jot down their thoughts and ideas. This method consists of bullets and signifiers (symbols) to indicate the status of each item.

There are central components to a bullet journal:

  • Index
  • Key
  • Spreads
  • Calendar/Future Log
  • Collections (projects)

We’ll go into the definition for each of these components, but it’s important to realize there is a lot of internal jargon and lingo when it comes to bullet journaling. These terms may seem intimidating or off-putting at first, but let me assure you, the components and actions are actually straightforward and practical.

introspection quote by Ryder Carroll

In addition to the basic components, there are many different collections/projects people like to include:

  • Habit trackers – Meals, workouts, moods, and more…
  • Brain dump or mind map sheets
  • Goal sheets
  • Lists – Books/movies/podcasts, travel, shopping
  • Schedule or agendas
  • Plans for meals or workouts
  • Inspiring quotes
  • Vision boards

enjoy the journey with beautiful printable bullet journal pagesAs you see, there are endless bullet journal ideas out there. The bullet journal layouts vary for each collection. After viewing so many bullet journal ideas on Pinterest and Instagram, I have to say there are very talented artists out there! The aesthetics of bullet journals was one of the aspects that really appealed to me personally. They’re small works of art for some avid bullet journalers.

But again, it’s easy to get caught up or intimidated by beautiful layouts and designs. You don’t need art skills to create a bullet journal. Many of the signifiers (symbols used to indicate the status of items on your log) are simple: a star, a checkmark, a box, or a greater than/less than symbol. You don’t need to be a calligrapher or designer to create an aesthetically pleasing bullet journal.

Better still, there are many bullet journal printables and pre-designed layouts to help you get precisely the look at features you need—no artistic talent required!

masculin printable bullet journal pages of moutains

Bullet Journal Printables

Get a head start on your bullet journal and do it in style with these printable designs.

tropical leaves printable bullet journal pages PDF

Basic Terms of Bullet Journaling

Basic bullet journaling terms

In bullet journaling, there are many specific terms used to describe the various pieces. Here’s a quick breakdown of bullet journal terminology and their definitions:
  • Index: This is the first page of your bullet journal. Each subsequent page gets a number and is logged in the index. With a quick check, you’ll find each piece of information at a glance.
  • Key: Like the key on a map, your bullet journal key breaks down the symbols (signifiers) and colors you will use to indicate the status of your projects. Most people like to put the key in the front (or in the very back), so it’s easy to reference.
  • Signifier: Signifiers are the symbols indicating the status of each task. Usual signifiers include a square (for a checkmark when complete), a > (meaning a migrated task), a < (meaning a scheduled task), a – for a note, and a * for priority. Customize signifiers to whatever makes sense to you.
  • Spread: A two-page overview of the month. The left side contains the dates, usually written as a numbered list. The right page contains your tasks/to-dos for the month. Some people prefer a weekly spread.
  • Daily Log: The heart of your bullet journal, your daily log is used to write down bullets (rapid logging) each day. You enter multiple days on a page. The topic is the date (or dates) on the page.
  • Collection: Each page in the bullet journal has a topic, and those topics are referred to as collections. Every entry in your bullet journal, whether it’s a project, list, or tracker, is called a collection. You may have several collections aligned with the tasks on your monthly spread.
  • Future log: The future log is essentially a calendar where you will add your future tasks. You consult your future log when you set up your spread each month (or week).
  • Migration: When you set up your spread, you’ll migrate the incomplete tasks/to-dos from the right page of your last spread. The migration system ensures you never lose track of what you’re doing. Migration also really sets your intention for the next period.
  • Dot Grid: Many bullet journal users journals with dot grid pages. These dot grids are useful for tracking habits and to-do items. For example, each day you work out, you may fill in a square on the grid (or a line segment) to show your progress.
  • Doodles: While this isn’t necessarily a specific term for bullet journaling, many journals feature themes, doodles, or drawings. They’re often very beautiful with different motifs used throughout the journal. Many people find a beautiful journal is more motivating.

How to Start a Bullet Journal

how to start a bullet journal in a few easy steps

When you set up your bullet journal, you’ll create the index on the first page. Then you’ll number all the pages in your journal, if it isn’t already numbered. Decide if you want your key on the front page or the back page.

You’ll want to set up your future log next. This is a year-long calendar (usually set up with space between each month, covering 2-4 pages). In this log, you’ll add significant dates like vacations, holidays, birthdays, conferences, etc. Think of your journal as working from the broad to the specific, starting with your bigger goals and planning, then as you get deeper into the journal, you get down to the nitty gritty of weeks or even daily spreads.

You may want to leave a few pages to set up various collections as you go. You don’t need to set up your collections anywhere in particular, but some people like to put them in the front of the journal. These include lists like your bucket list, books, movies, podcasts, and more. You could add your goals, meal plans, and other collections here as well.

From there, you’ll set up your first spread. The left page should show the monthly overview, including the primary goals you’d like to accomplish, as well as other important or meaningful tasks. The right page is your focus for the next week, with a daily list of goals, tasks and other important items.
example spread pages
Your next pages contain your daily log. Each day, you’ll write down notes, to-do items, scheduled items, and goals. Next to each item, write a symbol to indicate the status. A sample log may look like this:
example daily spreads
Each day, you spend a few moments noting and then migrating tasks. The migration process really makes bullet journaling a great way to stay organized. Despite being an analog method for project management, I find bullet journaling simple and effective.

bullet journal migration steps

At the end of the week or month, you’ll re-write your tasks and information on the next spread. You’ll migrate the to-do list forward, adding any incomplete items to a new list (along with any new tasks). Each time you add a new spread or a new collection, you’ll add it to your index.

Thanks to the rapid logging and signifiers, the process is quick and efficient. Scan through a bullet journal very fast and know precisely the status of every item.

There’s no dogma to bullet journaling either. Similar to minimalism or living the tiny life, there are guidelines, but the process is entirely up to your interpretation. Find the ways bullet journaling works for you. Start simple, adjust as you go, and incorporate new ideas and new collections as you become more comfortable with the process.

how to know what to focus on, goal settings quote henry thoreau

Keep in mind, you WILL make mistakes (we all do). This bullet journal is for your personal use. There’s no way to really “mess it up” or ruin your journal. If you’re worried about aesthetics, you may want to invest in whiteout or use erasable pens before you go out and buy calligraphy markers (which are in no way a requirement for bullet journaling).

You’ll also want to remember this is your journal! Use it to make notes, jot down reminders, and make notations. The power of a bullet journal is that you can refer back to it for years and years.

Using a Bullet Journal to Manage Projects

using a bullet journal to manage projects at work

Where bullet journals really shine is as a project management tool. While bujos are also a useful tool for goal setting and getting organized, I find the method is also very useful for projects requiring step-by-step action.

For example, when setting up land for a tiny house build, a bullet journal is a highly effective way to manage all the lists, to-dos, and planning.

As you see, the bullet journaling process helps you organize and keep track of moving pieces. You’ll know the status of every part of the project. Easily adjust timelines and plans accordingly, add to the lists and refer back as needed.

Some people prefer to set up a separate journal for a big project like a build. Others prefer to keep all their to-dos in one place and manage the project in their single journal. I’ve found it’s nice to create a bullet journal for each project because it gives me plenty of information to refer to later. The journals are helpful for blogging and future tiny house projects. If I run into a question, I look back in the appropriate journal and know precisely what I did, how long a task took, and any complications I encountered on the job.

Bullet journals are practical because they give a home to all the moving pieces you’re tracking. You no longer need to hold everything in your mind, jot it down on sticky notes, or access an app to remind you of the status. It’s all right there in your organized bullet journal.

An example of a bullet journal page I created for setting up land for a tiny house:example page to set goals in a bullet journal

If you’re looking for a way to organize information clearly, keep track of your day-to-day activities, or get serious about your goals, I highly recommend bullet journaling. It’s a beautiful way to keep track of your life!

Bullet Journal Printables

tropical leaves PDF printable

Start your bullet journal today with these tropical plant inspired printable journal pages.

Rugged moutain masculin printable PDF bullet journal downloadable

Get organized with these mountain inspired printable bullet journal pages.

Your Turn!

  • What’s your favorite method for goal setting and tracking?
  • What do you like about the idea of using a bullet journal?

Shipping Container Homes: Hard-Learned Lessons from Those Who’ve Done It

Shipping Container Homes: Hard-Learned Lessons from Those Who’ve Done It

shipping container homesI get asked a lot about shipping container homes when people learn that I’m into tiny houses, and I do have some experience working with shipping container homes. My good friend, D.I. built his own container home here in Charlotte, using a 40-foot container. It was the first one I’d ever seen built out in person and it was neat to watch as D.I. built it over two years, learning along the way.

Living in a shipping container may sound a bit … unconventional. You may envision an old, rusty boxcar or simply a big metal box.

shipping container home living room

Surprisingly, shipping container homes are quite beautiful and economically friendly. Many are drawn to their affordable nature and modern lines. They do require a fair amount of work and preparation (and there are a few quirks to be aware of), but with effort, you can create a beautiful home from something ordinarily discarded and save thousands doing it.


What Is A Shipping Container Home?

what is a shipping container home

If you aren’t familiar with shipping container homes, they’re quite interesting. Charlotte happens to be home to one of the largest fabricators of shipping container homes, and I was invited to take a tour of their facility. It was really eye-opening to see how much work went into prepping the containers, so they were ready to build with. The common perception is, “it’s easy because the box is already there.” I learned both from watch D.I. and from my plant tour that’s far from the truth. There’s a lot of effort that goes into turning a container into a home.

Shipping containers are big metal boxes (like a boxcar or the box atop the trailer of a semi-truck), sometimes referred to as Conex boxes. These containers are typically built overseas (usually in China) and are used to ship goods all around the world. Shipping containers are widely available, and many are used only one time on a one-way trip from China (since the U.S. receives more goods than it sends back).

stacked shipping containers

These metal (aluminum or steel) Conex boxes are used to ship all types of materials—some hazardous, but mostly benign. Once they’re used and retired or put out of commission, they’re often stored near ports around the United States. Shipping containers are inexpensive to procure and readily available.

Shipping containers have been used to transport goods since the mid-1950s, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the first shipping container was patented for use as a converted home (although people used them as homes and buildings years earlier). Because the modular containers are easy to combine, there are large buildings built from multiple containers, including a mansion made of 31 containers and a hostel large enough to house 120 people!

Most people who live in shipping container homes, however, opt for the tiny house version, using one or two shipping containers as their home. Thanks to the availability, sturdiness, and modern look of Conex boxes, they are customizable.

Why Build A Shipping Container Home?

why build a shipping container home

Admittedly, I’m drawn to the idea of shipping container homes. My one hesitation is that I have no experience with metalworking. I’ve never used a plasma torch or welder before. It’s definitely one of those things I want to learn on my bucket list, but from seeing people actually do it—before you build a shipping container home, you need metalwork experience.

Due to the metalwork, shipping container homes are a little more advanced in terms of building and modifying. They aren’t always the right fit for the typical hobbyist or DIYer who doesn’t have prior building skills because there is quite a bit of technical work required (the obvious metalwork, plus other skills like concrete, engineering, etc.). The big appeal of shipping container homes really comes from the modular design and the modern look.

container home kitchen

That said, there are many other reasons why a shipping container home is an appealing option. The biggest draw of building or buying a shipping container home is that it’s often quite inexpensive. You can find single-use shipping containers for under $5,000 and you instantly have a shell to work in.

Shipping container homes are very strong and sustainable. They’re built to last with a tough exterior that holds up to hurricanes and earthquakes. It’s also nice to give life to the used containers that would ordinarily go to waste. Many shipping containers are used once and then sit empty in ports (or get melted down).

Shipping container homes are also fairly easy to transport intact. Yes, they’re extremely heavy, so they aren’t exactly a tiny house on wheels, but moving a shipping container home to a new foundation is doable without disrupting the structure of the home itself. The containers can be stacked to expand into multi-story homes or configured in interesting modular designs.

The Pros and Cons of Shipping Container Homes

pros and cons of shipping container homes

There are a few drawbacks to living in a shipping container home. One of the biggest challenges is that metal is conducive to heat and cold. Shipping container homes require insulation and ventilation for comfortable living.

Unlike wood, concrete, brick, and stone, metal is a little trickier for temperature and condensation control. They are also loud in windy climates. Thermal bridging is a huge issue in a shipping container home; the metal skin acts as a heat sink, drawing the heat out in the winter and bringing the heat in during summer. This all adds up to a less efficient building and can lead to moisture and mold issues if not properly managed.

welding shipping container homes

Shipping containers also require welding abilities to modify. Unlike wood and other home construction materials, you can’t simply create a window or cut a vent in your home without planning carefully. Welding takes time and is costly, so you’ll want to be cautious as you plan. It’s also a bit more difficult in remote locations because they don’t make battery-powered welding units.

Obviously, planning windows, vents, and other modifications means you need to be aware of load-bearing and structural elements before you make a change to the container. Openings cut in the skin often lead to you needing to reinforce the structure because each cut you make weakens the whole structure.

Shipping containers also require a concrete foundation or, at minimum, piers. You can’t simply put your container house on the ground unsupported and I’ve seen many novice builders attempt to skimp on their footings.

Laying a foundation takes time and adds to the expense associated with the project; it also means you need to be certain exactly how you want to plan the layout of your property. A shipping container home should be viewed as a more permanent construction (although they can be moved intact to a new foundation). It is a cost that you should make sure to budget in for expenses.

shipping containers in a row

Work with a contractor or someone with previous shipping container home-building experience, especially if you’re new to the world of tiny home building. Shipping container homes tend to be one of the more advanced tiny home options. Although they’re ultimately a simple structure, there are certain quirks and issues to be aware of.

Of course, you can find pre-made shipping container structures, but they’re often quite expensive. Creating a shipping container home by yourself is less expensive, but you’ll still need to enlist the help of experts. Even to procure the shipping container and move it to your foundation is a big undertaking. You’ll need a crane to deliver the container and set it atop your foundation. Shipping containers are extremely heavy. Depending on the length (20 foot or 40 foot) they weigh between 5,000-8,000+ pounds. You aren’t going to move a shipping container yourself.

When I worked with my friend, D.I. on his 40-foot container home build, the need for welding skills was a big issue. He didn’t know how to weld or use a plasma torch at all when he started to build his container home, so modifications were a challenge for him. It was important to plan ahead so he could have a contractor do all the welding at once (rather than paying him to return over and over again).

The other challenge D.I. faced was his container home was so immobile. You really need a crane to even move it a short distance or adjust it slightly on the foundation. This means when you get the container installed, you need to be certain of the exact placement you want.

container home bedroom

Finally, another big barrier is that local building code enforcement officials are often unfamiliar with shipping container homes. As a result, it can be tough to get the proper permits for them.

Although there are building challenges, the final look of a shipping container home is really appealing. They have a modern, architectural quality which I find really appealing if done well. They’re inexpensive, extremely durable, and are easily customized.

Here are a few reviews and honest takes on the pros and cons of living in a shipping container home:


How Much Does A Shipping Container Home Cost?

how much does a shipping container home cost

Shipping containers themselves, depending on size, cost anywhere from $3,000-$5,000+. It’s much less expensive to buy a shipping container that’s been used for a single ship than to buy a brand-new container. As long as you do your research and ensure the container didn’t contain any dangerous materials, the use is almost always undetectable. You can work with scratches or dents to cover them (or remove) as part of the design, even a little rust can be ground out and repainted.

The biggest mistake I see people make is not factoring in expenses of building a shipping container home to include transportation and placement of the container itself. The second biggest mistake is the foundation build, too often people skip or skimp on this step.

Even if you take the DIY route, chances are you will need to enlist expert help on factors like solar, electric (remember, metal is conductive), plumbing, and modification, especially if you don’t have much welding experience.

shipping container home room ideas

As I said before, because aluminum and steel are conductive, they must be insulated and ventilated carefully to prevent the buildup of condensation and to simply make living more comfortable. So, expert insulation, heating, and cooling will need to be configured into your cost as well.

That last area where I see people get tripped up is that you will also need to consider fees for permits, architectural designs, and plans. As far as permitting goes, as I said, there are many cities without much familiarity with zoning for shipping containers used as dwelling structures, so you’ll need to work with your local officials on the proper approval. This often will include hiring an engineer to work out plans to make officials feel comfortable signing off on it.

The question of cost really comes down to how much planning you will need to do, what you can DIY, and what you’ll need to outsource. Once you’ve procured the container itself, the other pieces can either add up or be done on the cheap.

Here are several outlines of storage container build-outs with pricing:

As you see, the costs vary greatly depending on your plans and the level of architectural design you want to put into your shipping container home. If you’re most concerned with functionality, then a single shipping container buildout is an inexpensive tiny home option.


How to Find and Buy A Shipping Container

If you’re ready to find and buy a shipping container home, you need to start researching the size you want. Shipping containers typically come in two standard sizes: 20 foot and 40 foot. The best containers for homes are listed as “HC” or High-Cube containers. HC containers are 9 feet “tall” (as opposed to the standard 8-foot container). That said, shipping containers come in many other sizes as well; you can find them ranging from 8-53 feet. The next most common size is 45 feet, but again, 20- or 40-foot containers are standard (and the easiest to find).

When choosing a size, don’t forget that you’ll be building inwards. You’ll need to frame out the inside and insulate it as well. Depending on your choices for these, you could be eating into your interior by 6-8 inches off each wall.

Shipping containers are graded by condition. “A grade” means the container is good quality with a clean interior and watertight with in-tact seals. The container grades go down to “C grade,” which usually means rust is present, and the container is 10-14 years old. The prices vary by grade but for living, chances are you’ll want to pay a little more for a higher quality container.

container home rooms

Shipping containers are also graded by the following: “One-trippers” meaning new containers that contained only one shipment. “Certified Cargo Worthy” meaning they’ve been used for multiple shipments but are in good condition. “Wind and Watertight” (WWT) indicating they’ve been used but are still in decent condition. “As-Is” means the container may have rust, doors that don’t seal or pinholes in the metal. Containers graded “As-Is” should probably be avoided for dwellings.

The other factors to consider are the land where you plan to place your container (and if you already have a foundation or will need to pour one). You’ll need to ensure the land is accessible for large trucks or cranes so your shipping container home can be placed.

To buy shipping containers check out:

  • Shipped is the biggest new and used shipping container marketplace online
  • BoxHub is another big new and used shipping container marketplace
  • Craigslist and eBay are also options for finding shipping container homes

Before you buy, you’ll want to review these resources and guides for buying a shipping container home as well:


Building Your Own Shipping Container Home

If you decide you don’t want to take the DIY route to building, there are certainly options for fully designed and built-out shipping container homes. These are, of course, going to be more expensive, but because the modular design is favored by architects, you can find really beautiful “pet projects” for sale. The design and build quality of these homes are often excellent.

Resources for pre-built container homes are:

Like most of us in the tiny home world, though, chances are you enjoy putting in the sweat equity. (I know I do!) Shipping container homes are a more advanced project and they require certain skills, like metalworking. Building the internal walls, insulation, plumbing, and electrical can all be completed yourself, but there are considerations so follow expert resources and instructions. It takes quite a few manhours to complete a DIY container home build.

building container home

Great examples of people who successfully DIY-built their container homes are:

Before you start your build, you’ll need floor plans and a strong idea of how you want your finished container home to look. As with any tiny home build, the planning portion of the process is vital.

For great shipping container home floorplans, you may want to view:

The fact that shipping container homes are pretty straightforward (one 20- or 40-foot-long container by 9 feet high and across), means configuring floor plans isn’t terribly challenging. Considerations like plumbing, window placement, and access to grid services are really all you need to keep in mind in terms of layout. If there are any dents or areas of your Conex box you need to cover, figure that into the design as well.

designing container homes

As you design your home, consider the needs of each person who lives in the home. Some shipping container homes are built in sections. One container may serve as the main living area, another container may become a guest area, and another container serves as the office. It depends on the functionality, amount of space you desire and how many containers you can afford or access. The good news about shipping containers is you can always add more, expand, and build out in the future.

After seeing the amazing floorplans and designs of shipping container homes out there, I’m sure you’ll feel inspired too. If you’re looking for a strong structure with a modern look and feel, a shipping container home might be the right type of tiny home for you.

Your Turn!

  • Do you prefer the modern design of shipping container homes?
  • What skills would you need to learn for your shipping container home build?

All About Teardrop Trailers: Take Your Tiny Life on The Road

All About Teardrop Trailers: Take Your Tiny Life on The Road

teardrop trailersI’ve been wanting to build my own teardrop trailer for years now, having seen my first teardrop trailer “in the wild” during a visit to Yellowstone National Park. We’d stopped to take some photos of elk and noticed an older couple happily fixing lunch under their pop-up galley hatch. Much to the embarrassment of my friend, I walked up to them and struck up a conversation. (I even got invited to join them for lunch!) Since that moment, I’ve been in love with the simple design of the teardrop trailer.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time living option or a weekend away, a teardrop trailer is a fun and functional tiny living project to take on.

yellowstone national park travel

What Is a Teardrop Trailer?

what is a teardrop trailer

Teardrop trailers originated back in the 1950s and 1960s when they were featured in Popular Science Magazine as a weekend project. They caught on like wildfire as Americans came home from WWII and Americans began to buy cars for the first time. People began to explore all that the US had to offer all from the comfort of their personal cars.

This led people to want a way to camp in a way that was a little bit more comfortable than a tent and campers hadn’t even been invented yet. Picture dad packing up the family for a weekend camping trip. He’d want a trailer he could hook to the back of the car and pull along. Often, these small popup trailers featured storage, perhaps a cooking grill or fold-out dining area (referred to as the galley), and in many cases, a small sleeping area.

This nostalgia explains the popular resurgence of teardrop trailers in the last few years. These trailers are popular with the Boomer Generation (and Millennials looking for an affordable way to camp with a little luxury). With enough space and utility for simple outdoor living, and enough comfort so campers aren’t exactly roughing it, teardrop trailers are a nice weekender solution.


Teardrop trailers are definitely small, they’re somewhere between a step-up from tent camping and a step-down from a typical tiny home, skoolie, conversion van, or traditional camper. There are, however, people who live in teardrop trailers full time (like this teardrop trailer couple on YouTube).

I personally like teardrop trailers because they’re the perfect balance of the creature comforts of home with a great kitchen. Yet, the trailers are small enough to easily tow behind most cars. Having towed my tiny house before, I have a newfound appreciation for smaller trailers—there’s not as much to worry about when you go out on the road.

Because teardrop trailers are meant to pull along behind a car, they’re built with an aerodynamic “teardrop” shape. Which not only saves on gas and makes them way easier to tow but looks great too.

towing a teardrop trailer

Teardrop trailers are an “all-in-one” camping solution. Simply pack in your goods, attach the trailer to your car, and head off on your next adventure. Many people keep them fully stocked so all they have to do is add their fresh groceries on the way out of town and they’re on the road fast.

They weigh very little (most less than 800 pounds), making them easy to tow along without effecting your gas mileage or speed. For camping, they leave a minimal impact, barely touching the ground with two wheels and stabilizing bars. Once you’re ready to move on, in just a few minutes, you fold everything back up and leave no trace. Having a comfy bed and a way to cook meals saves you thousands in hotel room costs and expensive dinners out.

oregon travel

The compact teardrop camper trailer can be used for part-time or full-time living. There are teardrop trailers that function as tiny homes. Some teardrop trailers are large enough to feature a bathroom, kitchen, and shower. Other, smaller teardrop campers simply provide an area for sleeping, storage, and the back galley for cooking. They usually sleep two people comfortably and are perfect for a camping trip.

I like that it’s a small package I can tuck away easily. Since it’s a smaller build, versus building an entire tiny house, it’s an approachable DIY project for almost anyone. That’s what attracted me to them, it was a challenging project that was still achievable and save thousands in the process.

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

Why should someone choose a teardrop trailer over a camper/RV?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“They are quick and easy to set up at the campsite as well as lightweight where just about any vehicle can tow one. They can usually fit into a standard garage which is great for those with HOA restrictions. They tow easy for folks that have little to no towing experience.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Teardrop campers are the easiest camper to tow and can be towed with the average automobile. This saves having to own larger tow vehicles just for camping. They are also less stressful to tow, great for people with limited towing experience. They also are easy to store and maintain compared to other campers and RVs.”

Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“People who value the ability to spend more time outdoors, have less maintenance, less mechanical complications, and more maneuverability will appreciate a teardrop trailer.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“There are many reasons to choose a mini-camp trailer, but only the individual can determine if it is a suitable option. Some of the benefits of a teardrop over an RV include: affordability; ease of maintenance and storage; and fuel efficiency.”

What Are the Types of Teardrop Trailers?

what are the types of teardrop trailers

There are several types of teardrop trailers. Because teardrop trailers are a great DIY project that’s easily customized, the varieties are practically endless. There are options for different sizes, shapes, and skins. Typically, though, most teardrop trailers fall into a few categories.

The three most popular teardrop trailer options are:

  • Traditional style: aluminum outside, insulated inside.
  • The Woody: Made from layers of wooden panels and a natural wood finish on the outside.
  • The Foamie: Made from insulation foam with an overlay.

teardrop trailer design

There are also various shapes of “teardrop” trailers. The classic teardrop shape is the most popular, but there’s the reverse teardrop, square, and several other shape options. The classic teardrop offers an aerodynamic quality that’s easy to pull along with a car without lag (but most small camper trailers are lightweight enough to pull along without impact) that looks great too. There’s also the canned ham shape trailer, which isn’t as popular but is a fun option as well.

No matter what shape camping trailer or which skin you choose—metal, wood, or foam—most teardrop trailers consist of wooden ribs connecting the two walls resting on top of the floor and anchored to the frame of the trailer. The trailer then sits atop a two-wheel base trailer with a hitch to tow along behind you. The walls are usually made up of layered materials—wood, insulation, and/or aluminum sandwiched together using epoxy or liquid nail.

national parks travel

Teardrop trailers are relatively easy to build and take minimal woodworking skills. Teardrop trailer kits and parts are so readily available, so it’s easy to piece together a part-DIY and part store-bought version of a camper trailer. The most challenging piece of a teardrop trailer to build is the hatch for the galley kitchen (depending on the size and shape of your trailer). But overall, a teardrop trailer is a fairly easy project even for beginners and a simpler design can make it manageable for just about anyone. Many teardrop trailers even feature a small table that folds out for eating, a covered space for food preparation (or relaxing), and a sleeping spot. Basically, it’s an all-in-one camping solution, a home away from home.

A teardrop trailer is perfect for a weekend away, to supplement as your tiny home when you travel, or with the right build, a full-time dwelling. It can even serve as a guest bedroom if you live in a tiny house!

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

What do most people get wrong about teardrop trailer camping?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Underestimating what their true needs and abilities are. We have had customers who went smaller only to find out they needed larger because of physical limitations.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“The struggle we see with someone new to teardrop camping is trying to use their decades of tent camping experience as a reference to how to teardrop camp. Just because you are used to doing something one way while tent camping does not mean you should continue exactly the same in a teardrop camper. Teardrop camping should be easier than tent camping. For example, a teardrop with a sink and built in water system. This is much simpler than using tent camping methods.That can take a little bit to get one’s head around that after doing it the tent camping way for decades.”

Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Many assume they cannot go off road. many teardrops are now able to go wherever any 4wd can pull it.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“It’s not RVing, it’s CAMPING! Most of your time should be spent outdoors; your mini-camper is a comfortable place to sleep at night.”

How Much Is A Teardrop Trailer?

how much is a teardrop trailer

If you’re DIY-ing your trailer, you can get away with the buildout budgeted anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars, but it seems like the sweet spot is $2000-$4000. Buying a teardrop trailer or mini camping trailer readymade will run you between $10,000-$20,000, so opting to DIY is a cost-saving endeavor. As with all DIY projects, your budget is determined by how complex or simple you choose to make it.

Here are a few cost breakdowns of DIY teardrop trailers:

In the debate of DIY vs custom made camping trailers, there are a few different options to choose from. You could buy a teardrop trailer kit or follow a DIY tutorial/guide and source all of the materials and labor yourself. You could also go out and buy a custom-made trailer (the most expensive option). Most teardrop trailer enthusiasts choose to DIY because frankly, it’s a fun project to show off!

national park

For teardrop trailer kits, check out The Teardroppers, which offers an array of teardrop trailer kit options. The Chesapeake Light Craft kit is also a fun and unique teardrop trailer kit option, so beautiful it almost looks like a piece of sculpture.

As for pre-built custom trailers, if that’s the route you choose to go, there are many options out there ready to buy (and to have customized to your preference):

If you decide to build it yourself, the most important thing is to have fun with the project and find a camping trailer design you’re excited about. Teardrop trailers are all about carefree camping and enjoying the mobility of taking your home on the road.

For the cost of a few nights at a hotel, you can build a teardrop trailer and take your bed anywhere you want to go!

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

If you were to buy a teardrop trailer, what three things would you look for when evaluating a model for sale?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Price point, quality of construction and materials used, and features for the money.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“1) Intended years of service. For some a teardrop camper is a stepping stone to larger campers. In this case an older used teardrop or a basic “entry level” model is ideal. For those who plan to travel well into their retirement years going to a more refined durable would be more practical in the long run. 2) Features and options. Our experience is the only regrets most teardrop buyers have is not getting enough options and accessories when they get their teardrop. Buy right the first time. 3) Reviews and owner feedback. Find an online forum for the brands you are looking and participate on there beforehand. Find out how happy the owners are when using their campers. Be apprehensive about asking input on forums about options and accessories, the unique configurations are often the most vocal.”

Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Fit and finish, aerodynamic profile and ergonomic layout”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“The company’s/brand’s reputation for quality and service. Will the size be adequate for my needs. Can options be easily added later.”

Ready to Build? Here’s How to Start Your Teardrop Trailer Project

how to start your teardrop trailer project

Just like I harp on planning with any tiny house build, a great teardrop build begins with planning too. I’ve found many tutorials and build walk-throughs online to get a feel for both the project and the lifestyle associated with teardrop trailers.

I recommend beginning with the Teardrop Trailer Build post on planning to get started. You may also want to explore the resources at Oregon Trailer. Teardrop trailers can be outfitted with water access, electricity, ventilation, heating, and even plumbing (again, depending on the size and your plans for the trailer).

oregon travel mount hood

There are many teardrop trailer plans and building guides out there. A few to explore are:

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

What advice would you give to someone who wants to build their own teardrop trailer?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“When you build something the first time that is when you make the most of your mistakes. It usually takes 3-4 to work out the problems. If a person is highly skilled in construction and does a lot of research then I say go for it. Although the old saying that you can’t beat a man at his own game still holds true.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Plan to be involved in this hobby for years to come. Most teardrop home-builders will typically end up building at least three campers in time before they are truly satisfied with their creation.”

Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Use a welded frame that will outlast the top structure, use kiln dried lumber for the cabin, apply aluminum skins to the undercarriage, apply three coats of spar varnish to the exterior before applying sheet aluminum.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“If you have a target date you’d like/need to use it, be honest with yourself about the skills and time you have to invest to finish the project to the level of your own satisfaction.”

Choosing a Camping Trailer Base, Parts, and Accessories

choosing a trailer base and accessories

If you plan to build a teardrop trailer, finding all the parts and accessories is a big step in the process for your build. I’ve spent hours researching and selecting each item that is going to go into my build. The biggest item you’ll need is the trailer itself.

Trailer bases for teardrop trailers are generally available in 4 x 8 foot or 5 x 8-foot sizes, but some people make their own custom sizes. As long as your trailer meets DOT requirements and it can hold the weight of your build, you can make it any size you want. Look at various teardrop trailer plans to decide on the size base you want. For those who don’t want to build their own trailer, many big box stores (like Home Depot, Harbor Freight or Northern Tool) sell towing trailers to use as the base of your teardrop trailer.

teardrop trailer for building

From there, you’ll need to figure out what the materials are needed for the outer shell of your teardrop trailer. Your two main options are to skin it in a stainless steel or aluminum cladding or go with a more natural look like the “Woodie” style. My plan is to go with stainless steel as it’s the most durable option and looks great too, the downside is potential for “tin canning” which causes ripples in the metal as it expands and contracts in the heat.

The interior structure can be built from your standard materials whether it’s standard 2x4s or a skeletonized piece of plywood or MDF. The two big considerations to take into account here is what tools you have available to you (plus your ability to use them) and weight. Options like MDF can add several hundred pounds to your build, so make sure your trailer can handle the weight.

oregon coast travel

The galley is the most difficult but iconic element of the teardrop. Even after years of woodworking and building my own house, I’m intimidated by its complex curves. To lift and hold open the galley hatch you’ll need struts, the hydraulic component for opening the back door.

Another consideration is that you’ll need to balance structural integrity with insulation in the walls. Many people “skeletonize” the walls with a router on MDF or plywood, allowing a ridged frame while still keeping you warm inside. My plan is to create my wall panels by cutting them with a CNC machine to create the cavities for the ridged insulation foam.

exploring with a teardrop trailer

Finally, many people want to have some basic power in their teardrop to charge their phones, run a few LED lights, and power a Fantastic Fan. Some even go as far as having AC in their trailers. For most people, a pretty simple power system and a couple of batteries will meet your needs, if you have a solar panel to top up along the way. You also should make plans to connect to shore power because many campsites will have an outlet for you to connect to.

The best places I’ve found for compact appliances, trailer parts, and accessories are below, but Amazon and eBay also offer a big selection of teardrop trailer parts and accessories, like fans, doors, and appliances.

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend the weekend or explore the world, then a teardrop trailer is a great DIY tiny life project to take on. I would suggest trying a smaller trailer as your first build to see how you like it, then expand from there.

roadtrip with a teardrop trailer

As I said, you may even decide to design your teardrop as a tiny house, or as a “vacation tiny house” for camping. Teardrop trailers certainly beat roughing it, offering you a nice, comfortable bed, a place to cook, and storage in a small, easy-to-tow package.

ask the experts about teardrop trailers

If someone wants to get into teardrop trailer camping, what advice would you give to someone starting out?

rustic trail teardrop trailers
Rustic Trail Teardrop website
Jonathan & Kathy

“Don’t over think it but don’t under think it either. Look at several different models and make a list of essentials and start there. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff that you might not need just because of the excitement of doing something new. The camping industry thrives on people over spending on cheap made stuff that they may not need simply because they are excited about their new adventure.”

camp inn teardrop experts
Camp Inn Teardrop website
Craig Edevold & Cary Winch

“Look at how you travel, in distance, time on the road and type of camping venues. Take this and double, maybe triple, it all because once you go from tent camping to a teardrop camper you will travel far more often, far more distance and in locations you never thought you would. Use this increased travel potential for determining your teardrop camper needs.”

Timberleaf Teardrop website
Kevin Molick

“Make sure their tow vehicle is rated for at least 50% over the actual weight of the trailer. Many buyers assume their little car can tow a 1500 lbs trailer if their rating is 1500 lbs. They should factor in gear, water and supplies and weight of car passengers.”

runaway campers teardrop experts
Runaway Campers website
Stephen Shives

“Keep it simple to start and don’t go all out buying every camping accessory that looks cool. After several times out, you will discover the things you need the most, and won’t have wasted time and money on the things you may never use.”

Your Turn!

  • Would you like a teardrop trailer for fulltime living or just camping?
  • What’s your favorite teardrop trailer design?

Van Life: Enjoy The Journey To Your Next Adventure

Van Life: Enjoy The Journey To Your Next Adventure

living the van lifeAre you ready for the ultimate in freedom lifestyle? Van life has the potential to be as romantic as it sounds—just you (and maybe your significant other, or your pet … or both) on the open road.

I met Van Lifers Wesley and Savannah (and their pet hedgehog Hermie, who has more Instagram followers than I do) at our Portland conference. I got to check out their fantastic van and I just fell in love with the whole idea of living the van life. I can totally see myself driving around the U.S. seeing all the national parks in a van like theirs. After meeting them, I’ve been very tempted to hit the road and become a YouTuber as I tour around.

Living in a van as an alternative or “less-traditional” approach to the tiny life is certainly an awesome option. Van life lends itself to portability like nothing else, which is why this lifestyle is perfect for many outdoor enthusiasts and those who have wanderlust. After all, if you love spending time mountain climbing, biking, or surfing, living in a camper van provides the perfect way to take your home base right into the outdoors.

What is Van Life?

what is the van life

Consider it a step up from camping. With van life, you’re converting a van into a camper or a tiny home. Van life offers a nice cozy shelter, plus the ultimate mobility of a car. It’s perfect for singles or couples looking for the pursuit of Instagram-worthy adventures on the open road.

You may scroll through the awesome pictures of #vanlife on Instagram or watch YouTube videos of people who make living in a van work well. It’s the ultimate in simple, minimalist lifestyle options. Most converted camper vans offer significantly smaller square footage than a traditional tiny house.

The biggest factor about living the van life is asking yourself if you can handle living (and driving) in your tiny house. This is especially something to consider if you’re taking your relationship on the road. While tiny living itself presents logistic issues in terms of privacy and space, van life takes those challenges to the next level.

van life on the road

But for many van lifers, freedom, and adventure are worth the sacrifice. Besides, as I learned more about the van life, I realized it’s really not far from living in a traditional tiny house like mine. It’s all about learning to simplify and owning only what you need to survive. Minimalism isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it and let go of your attachment to owning “stuff.”

Most people who live the van life do it because they love travel, exploring, and adventure, and they love being outdoors. This makes van life an especially popular option in warmer, outdoorsy areas like California, Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

Van life has been around for decades, in fact. Think back to the images of VW vans decked out with shag carpeting and custom murals as they journeyed to Woodstock. Eventually, van life gave way to the more practical, family-style camper van that was popular in the 80s and 90s. Over the last two decades, however, there’s been a return to the original love of the free and easy lifestyle of van life. Young couples realize taking their lives on the road (and sharing their adventures online) is exciting, fun, and yes, even comfortable.

ask the experts

Advice you’d give to someone just starting the van life?

Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Try the life out in your car for a while. Go on road trips in your car or SUV before you fully commit to the lifestyle. There are a lot of ups and downs, and pros and cons, in vanlife, just like in life. While the freedom to do as you please is appealing, there are still so many chores vanlife requires on a daily basis, like, finding where you are going to sleep for the night, every night.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Learn to minimize and prioritize the necessities but also things that you love. As you are minimizing, keep high quality multifunctional things.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Try it first. Hire a similar vehicle for a week or more and try to get a feel for vanlife. Create different scenarios, sleep in different environments try to replicate real van living, source water from various places for example and be honest with yourself.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“If you’re taller than 5’10” make sure you double check the width of your van!”

The Pros & Cons of Living in A Van

pros and cons of van living

The challenges of van life come from living in a very small space, of course, which is an issue for tiny lifers as well. Vans being vehicles present other challenges too, such as weather that’s too hot (vans have AC, but when you’re stopped, it gets very warm) and too cold (most vans aren’t awesome when driving in the snow). There are ways to insulate your van, which will help with temperature control, as can connecting to an alternative power source. There’s also general car maintenance that’s necessary, but the cost of caring for a van is typically lower than caring for a more traditional dwelling.

Most people who live the van life are young with mobile careers, allowing them to work from anywhere. Some earn a living as social media influencers living the van life and sharing their gorgeous photos online. Some are sponsored by companies who support their outdoor lifestyles (surfing, skating, climbing, running, etc.).

the van life

But not all van lifers are Millennials and younger folks. Van life is also a great option for adventurous seniors. After all, many original “hippie” Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age and they still have a fondness for the freedom of van life. What better way to see the world than traveling around in your camper van, living the original van life dream?

Are you wondering if living in a van is right for you? Here are a few great resources I’ve found with honest takes on the pros and cons of van life:

The greatest aspect of van life is that you can go anywhere! Settle in any spot for the night, camp out in your van and move to the next spot tomorrow. Van life is always an adventure. With many options for DIY van conversions and customization, you’ll have a comfortable bed, kitchenette, and storage added to the van, making it essentially a very tiny house on wheels.

So, if you’re ready to pack up and hit the road, consider van life a great option. Check out these van life photos to get inspired!

ask the experts

Best thing about the van life?

Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Surprisingly, the community. The people and the connections we’ve made on the road feel like we have a pretty extended van family. Sometimes we catch ourselves van-pooling for months at a time with strangers, but it feels like we have known each other forever. We trade stories and skills like climbing and surfing. We connect with each other and make lasting relationships. We always say we have friends all over the world because of vanlife.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“The freedom to bring your home to many amazing places in this world and often have the best views right out of your bedroom window.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“It’s the perfect balance of comfort and freedom.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“The freedom, and the low cost of living.”

What Are the Best Vans to Live In?

what are the best vans to live in

There are several vans that appear on almost everyone’s van life list. These conversion van options range in price, performance, and details.

The most popular vans for living the van life, seem to be:

  • Mercedes Sprinter
  • Mercedes Metris
  • Classic VW Bus
  • VW Vanagon (with or without Westfalia pop-ups)
  • Ford Transit Connect
  • Dodge ProMaster
  • Nissan NV 200
  • Converted Cargo Vans (like Chevy)

What it really comes down to is whether you plan to go with used/pre-owned and do the buildout yourself (unless you find a conversion van that’s already outfitted), or you buy a newer camper van. Obviously, much of this question comes down to a matter of your budget and your preference for DIY van conversions and customization (which is one of the aspects of van life many find appealing).

Most van-lifers recommend going with a used van and converting it into a camper. This is especially true for many of the classic vans like the VW Bus, which is no longer manufactured (although rumor has it, they’re releasing an electric version in the near future). If you buy used, you’re limited by your budget and the availability of a conversion van that suits your needs.

vintage vw bus

Like any car purchase, you’ll want to shop around carefully, unless you find a great deal you can’t refuse. Think about what you’re looking for in a van. Read reviews, consider gas mileage, cargo room, headspace (if any), and options.

Explore these resources to help you figure out which van is best for you:

Once you get an idea of what you’re looking for, I recommend you start shopping around. There are many vans for sale out there, but you want to purchase one suited to your lifestyle and plans.

ask the experts

What van did you choose?

Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“2007 Dodge Sprinter (used)”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“2014 Mercedes Sprinter 170 wheel base passenger van. We bought it used.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Mercedes Sprinter – used”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“2006 Dodge Sprinter Van – used”

How Much Does It Cost to Convert A Van into A Camper Van?

how much does it cost to convert a van

Much like any used vehicle purchase, cost varies depending on a lot of factors; mileage and condition of the van, where you buy it, and how picky you want to be.

As you’re shopping for conversion vans (or vans to convert into camper vans) you’ll want to check your local listings as well. I’ve seen great vans on Craigslist, third-party seller sites, and even eBay. You can find affordable vans priced between $2,000 and $8,000. Factor in the history, age of the vehicle, and the number of miles. You can always do an engine rebuild, but it’s not cheap. So, if you’re new to the van life, search for a van that runs (or plan a repair in your budget).

Building out the camper van interior is an additional expense too. The cost completely depends on the materials and equipment you plan to use and the overall look and functionality you’re seeking. Converting a van for full-time living will look different than weekend warriors seeking short term travel with a camping option.

van life conversion cost

Here are a few very different van conversion cost breakdowns from people who completed the van life conversion (Some include the cost of living on the road month-to-month as well!):

As you see, it definitely depends on many different factors. There’s also the possibility of finding a VW Vanagon Westie or another conversion van that’s already got a portion of the build-out included. The VW featured a popup tent top with plenty of standing room, a small kitchenette, fridge, swivel seats, and fold-down bed in the back (roomy enough to sleep four). These are out of commission but finding a classic may mean you simply need to make updates and cosmetic customization.

ask the experts

How much did your van conversion cost?

Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“$22,000 (Van and Build)”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Our materials were under $25K. We self-converted our van so this cost does not include the labor.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“£12,000 gbp”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay


How Do You Convert A Van for Living?

how to convert a van for living

The short answer is it completely depends on how particular you are and how much time you plan on living in your van. If you plan to live on the road full-time, then there are the basics to cover: sleeping, cooking, hygiene, electricity, heat, and water.

Many older vans are very roomy in the back, so it’s pretty simple to put down a mattress or a sleeping bag and sleep in your van. While it isn’t the glamorous “influencer version” of van life that you’re imagining, it’s certainly an option in a pinch.

Most van lifers want their van to feel comfortable, clean, and homey, so they start doing a little updating and customization. This is where the conversion van idea factors in—you’re converting the van for sleeping/living. Some vans come with built-in conversion accommodations, like the aforementioned VW Westies (with seats that fold down into a bed), others require a little more attention.

traveling in a van

If you’re looking to really deck out the van for living, you’ll want to consider your options, just like you would when building a tiny house. You can install solar panels on the top of the van (it’s fairly similar to the way I installed solar panels on my tiny house). You can put in a fridge, an additional battery source for power, water for washing and cooking, and even build in storage.

One of the drawbacks of most vans is they don’t have a built-in bathroom. With a space that tiny, it’s not so pleasant or practical to live (and drive) close to your toilet. The obvious answer is you need to stop at rest stops and truck stops on the road whenever you need to use the restroom. (Note: Many van lifers also keep empty bottles on hand as nighttime/emergency urinals.) For washing, consider a solar shower, gym showers, or taking advantage of campground showers wherever you go. For some people, this is a drawback, but others don’t mind.

As for other issues like heating and insulation, there are advantages to van life. Being in an inconspicuous traveling home means you can park and sleep almost anywhere, including indoor parking garages (but you may need to pay, of course). There are heating options, like small indoor-friendly propane heaters with oxygen detectors, crucial for sleeping in a small space.

If you’re wondering about the other logistics of living the van life, there are many great guides online with step-by-step van conversion information. These resources feature in-depth product reviews and other information you’ll need. Some are also specific to the make and model of your van.

If you’d like to live the van life but you’re not quite ready to take on a full van conversion/buildout yourself, simply look for a used conversion van. You can also get a custom van built for you (although they’re quite expensive).

Here are a few van customizers:

ask the experts

What was the hardest part of converting the van?

Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Getting started. It always seems pretty overwhelming, like you are never gonna finish and see the fruits of your labor. But, the more you chip away at it, project by project, the more you see it start coming to life. You see places in your framing that you don’t want to go to waste and you get creative and come up with ideas that can really blow you away. It really is a fun process.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Shower / bathroom was the hardest part of the build and it took the longest but it was definitely worth it, we love having it in the van. When building a bathroom, it is important to waterproof everything and know where your grey and black water going to go.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“I think the hardest part was the design. We spent months planning our layout as we wanted something bespoke to us and our requirements. Drawings or sketches on paper or computer can be really beneficial but a simple trick that helped us the most was getting a roll of masking tape and a tape measure and lay an outline of the plan inside the empty van. This really helped us visualize the overall layout.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“The electrical and battery. I recommend hiring someone to do it for you!”

How Do You Earn Money on The Road?

how do you earn money on the road

The biggest question most van lifers (and anyone who lives a nomadic lifestyle) face is how to earn a living. Granted, van living offers more freedom and less expense than many more conventional lifestyles. Still, there’s always gas, car repairs, parking expenses, maintenance, food, and general living expenses that will arise.

Living a minimalist lifestyle is no question if you’re living the van life. In such a small space, you’re really faced with paring down to the most basic items you need. Most van lifers report it’s a little isolating and claustrophobic at times, so they put in the effort to get out often, find personal space (if they’re living with a partner), and keep their van very clean inside. When you’re living and also working in your van it becomes extra important to stay aware of your mental health needs.

As for making money on the road, earning money in creative ways seems to be a millennial talent, which is probably why millennials adapt to the van life so well. There are many ways to earn money on the road, but most involve working online (so Wi-Fi is important)!

van life roadtrip

Many van lifers document their journeys in the form of monetized blogs, YouTube channels, or social media accounts. Others create and sell products like DIY van conversion how-to-guides, using affiliate links and sales to earn money off their books.

Van life is also favored by outdoor enthusiasts, so many van lifers are sponsored by lifestyle brands and outdoor products they promote on their social media accounts. They may also be professionally involved in sports like surfing, mountain climbing, running, or snowboarding, and secure sponsorships from equipment brands.

One thing is for sure—creativity is the key to earning money on the road…along with the ability to live and survive on a shoestring budget. While a 9-5 might not work with a nomadic lifestyle, there are always temp jobs, seasonal work, and other options for those who want to live the tiny life in a van but need to take a break from the expenses of life on the road.

road by ocean

Here are great resources from van lifers who’ve learned how to earn money on the go:

Living the van life is the ultimate freedom lifestyle. Pick up and travel anywhere at any time. Everything you own is with you. It’s just you and the open road (and maybe a sidekick or two). If this sounds like the lifestyle for you, you may want to consider your van life options. Share your adventures on YouTube and you just might end up inspiring others to join the van life!

ask the experts

How do you earn money while traveling?

Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“While we dabble in design (graphic and web design) projects, photography, and videography, as side hustles, we also have been dabbling in flipping vans. There seems to be a lot of people trying to get into the lifestyle, but are overwhelmed with the entire process of learning and researching, and then doing. Plus, people don’t have the time. We do. And, we enjoy the process, as well as, sharing our tips, knowledge, and our mess-ups via our Vankookz YouTube Channel.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Currently, we don’t live in a van full time but go on extended trips. We custom build vans for new van lifers and travel in our self converted Mercedes Sprinter between projects. We are working on expanding our YouTube channel to potentially allow us the financial freedom to travel more.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Any way in which we can. We’ve done all kinds of work from labouring to web design, pertinent to temporary, there’s always work available. Use it as an opportunity to learn new skills along the way.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“I’m a freelance writer.”

winding road

Your Turn!

  • What would you like about living van life?
  • Where would you want to travel if you lived in a van?