Truthfully, I don’t know when I decided to embark on a smaller existence. It must have been a night I was in an adventuresome mood and recommended to my husband that we investigate purchasing a 19 foot trailer or “caravan” as they say in Europe. He had dreamed of owning an American-made design called an Airstream, which is made from shiny aluminum. He now describes it as bear food because it looks like a large can of green beans. But the “silver bullet” became ours after much comparison-shopping. We purchased an older model and had our tiny house.
It took about four more years until (after Michael’s retirement) our lives were in a position to pack up and go where we wanted in our Airstream. That is where this “Living Small Part I” adventure starts. Because living in a 19 square-foot home for six months taught me much about downsizing.
The transition from our 3000 square foot house to around 120 square feet in our trailer (and that includes beds and built in tables AND about 24 square feet of actual walking space) began in October 2015 when I left our home in Washington (WA) state and traveled to Bellingham, WA to live with Michael who had moved there with the Airstream to do renovations on our first son’s newly purchased used mobile home. I would be there to help Michael; and although I had never done construction before, Michael, an expert in renovations, was going to teach me his passion. Not only did I learn how to use power tools and conquer black mold and dry-rot, but living in our Airstream provided me with a glimpse of how so many in the world live everyday—in simplicity and smallness versus in consumption and possessions. So with that background in mind, I want to share in Part I what I have learned about “Living Small—Food.”
Our Airstream has a kitchen with a stove, an oven, one small sink and refrigerator. My total kitchen counter space amounts to approximately two inches, and I am not exaggerating. That is not a lot different than most people around the world. The normal kitchen size of most North American homes is often large: not so for the food preparation space of many others in this world. Thus, food downsizing became a constant theme, for there was really no place to prepare victuals, and after preparation, one needed to store leftovers, and that was my biggest challenge. So each trip to the supermarket came with much forethought.
I had to learn to think “Small, Rich, and Real” (somewhat like last month’s blog entry). Small because the refrigerator and freezer space were tiny. Rich because there wasn’t room for choices of 1%, 2%, or 3% milk but just one container of milk or cream so we went “full-fat.” And Real because when you are living with less space, you want to eat wholesomely even if that nutrition means beans, rice, and corn tortillas. One wants to use his/her money wisely, for food becomes not just what you live to eat, but it assumes the natural position for which God intended: Food becomes what we eat to live.
Frugal dinners looked like a three-point picture. We consumed meat, often within a casserole type meal; vegetables, usually within a salad or canned vegetables; and a starch, generally incorporated within the casserole. The freezer/ refrigerator space negated ice cream or generally any kind of dessert so fresh fruit and nuts were our desserts. Leftovers were carefully packaged in small, clear, containers and all stacked cautiously on top of each other for maximum storage. But what I noticed from this three point presentation is that I gave much more thought to utilizing everything in the refrigerator—a concept which one doesn’t need to do when one has more refrigerator storage space because when food is out of sight, it usually is out of mind, and will go bad. Thus, I was much more economical in our food consumption because I was completely aware of what the refrigerator held. That is good!
And not only did we need to monitor the refrigerator space, but every item in our cabinets also became subject to scrutiny. Did I need two types of rice when one would do? What about keeping the dry foods in jars or containers so they would be easier to store and stack on top of one another? Everything had a place and a space for that place, or it didn’t deserve to be in our tiny home.
Another concept which became very important was to NOT buy the biggest size of an item, but the smallest. For example, instead of purchasing a COSTCO size jar of mayonnaise, I now shopped the Dollar Store to get tiny versions of my favorite products, and I found that they were often a better deal than their super-sized counterparts.
One area in which I became quite adroit was in using up leftovers. If you think about it, God is a master of knowing what He has, for scripture says that not one sparrow falls to the ground which He doesn’t know about so why couldn’t I be that prudent? “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Matthew 10:29 NRSVCE Once, for example, I had to feed six people (we always had someone over for dinner) by using one and one-half chicken breasts. In the past in my bigger-house kitchen, I would have used six breasts. Now I had to stretch the one and one-half into six portions by using vegetables, pasta, and cheese. It was a success for everyone became members of the “clean plate club.”
So what did this six months of living small with food teach me when we came back to our elder house?
Well for starters, we let our old freezer in the garage go to Habitat for Humanity. I wasn’t going to go back to buying in bulk and having things in the freezer expire for lack of use. And simultaneously our outside older refrigerator died too leaving me with one normal sized refrigerator inside of the kitchen. From these letting go’s, I am now not buying less food, and I am really using up everything which we have. I even look in the refrigerator with each meal to see what might be going bad and how I could incorporate it into the evening’s dinner. Last night for example, I put dying home-made blue cheese dressing on my steak and old jam in the canned corn for a zippier flavor. It was wonderful and “very frugal.”
So the moral to this Blog is that truly LESS IS MORE. That applies to not only food, but to possessions, which I will cover in “Living Small—Part II—Possessions.” Stay tuned for May.
The Frugal Catholic Stretched Casserole by Martha Wild King, M.Ed.
leftover starch like rice or potatoes
a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
canned vegetables if needed
a cup of grated cheese or any old shredded cheese
Combine the above and cover with cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45–60 minutes. Serve with the candles lit, some boxed wine, and heated bread spread with butter. Delicious!!