Canada series – downsizing in Calgary

Van with a Plan – how to beat the system with little money

National Post profiled a couple from Calgary who are quitting their lives in the city and building a tiny house on a trailer.  They told the magazine they are doing it because the system has not really worked for them – they worked hard all their lives but have nothing to show for it – no home and  no savings. So they want to get off the merry-go-round, and start having some fun. 

Being attached to society hasn’t really served us,” says Kirsten Shaw.  “We don’t have money in the bank, we don’t own a home. We don’t have any retirement money saved up. Quite honestly, at our age, that’s something we need to take seriously. If we can reduce our monthly expenses by $2,000 that is money that can go towards our children having fun and a retirement fund.”

Kirsten  works in a health store, and she and her husband are making their new home one paycheck at a time. When it’s complete, the 200 sq ft dwelling will sit on a converted van, where the family of three (which swells to six with children from a previous marriage) will live and travel. He is a building contractor which comes in handy on this kind of project.

“I guess the feeling is that we’ve never been able to get ahead financially doing what we’re doing,”” Kirsten told the Post. “So we decided we needed to change and when my friend introduced this idea to us it just really seemed that’s the thing that was going to help us out financially. As I said, we’re a family of six, between the two of us we have four children and I’m sure you can imagine how expensive that is. We have two 15-year-old and two 12-year-olds. And we would like to be able to do more with our family instead of just pay all our money into the house and bills and you know car maintenance repairs tires you know we need winter tires in Calgary and we’re looking at that expense soon.

So we just decided we didn’t need as much space as we had and we could pare it down and use what we have to our advantage.”

Are you going to be going off-grid [ie; completely disconnected from sewer, electricity and municipal water supplies]?
We would like to have that ability, however we’re always going to need to get our water from somewhere. We will be able to be off-grid for power, we’re going to have it set up for solar. So for electricity and heating we’ll be fine there, but we’ll always need to get a water source somewhere but if you’re by a lake or a river you can get water that way, too.

How do you picture what your lives are going to be like when the tiny house is finished?
A lot funner than they are now. Because we’ll be able to have those resources freed up to do things. We’ve been married for 9 years and other than a couple of vacations we’ve really not been able to do anything because of it not being affordable so this is a chance for us to travel around and have fun. My son is already in Internet school so for him it’s not an issue. He’ll just continue on school as he’s been doing it but it will be on the road.

How are you going to make money when you’re on the road?
We’re going to still work for a year before we quit our jobs so we plan on hopefully having a nice sum of money we also know we’re going to be quite a spectacle riding down the road and if anyone wants us to build a tiny house well we can do that for them if the circumstances allow. Or we’ll come back into town to make money. We can come back for a couple months if we need some money or go back to the coast and make some money there.

It seems like this tiny houses have become more popular, do you think that has anything to do with what you just described, that people aren’t really getting ahead?
It could be for us it’s that I guess I really have taken a good long look at the fact that you’re very much in a relationship with the government that you’re very vulnerable…If there was an oil crisis and the food stopped getting trained in and trucked in here well we can’t really grow things here in Calgary.

It’s more like giving us the security in that we have the power to do what we need to do to survive as a family and always make sure we’re provided for. If that means picking up and driving somewhere where food grows in the southern states or even out on the islands we can do that and not have to worry.

9 Responses

  1. We have a 7.5 ton horsebox Renault truck based and it does over 20 mpg fully loaded its similar to the one on offgridsteve.co.uk a little shorter maybe ! But true if your going to be doing a lot of miles may as well be streamlined, putting a large round on your side top edge reduces the chance of being blown over if your self building the coachbuild body.

    It’s far far cheaper to buy a box van than mess about building a box yourself on the back of a truck, large double decker coaches sell very cheaply worth checking out, and vintage trucks coaches are often exempt from mots and have free road tax also cheap insurance, or use a large agriculture trailer tow it with a tractor ! Or even a steam driven roller if you can find one,
    A way of getting around planning is to have two or three fields in different places and travel between them in what ever you choose to make your home, so the night is spent off site so they can’t get you !

  2. 2 things to consider, first wind resistance and weight, this will will be an issue when it comes to MPG, the average Moterhome will get 5 to 15 MPG
    and second you can park at any Walmart for free.

  3. Horse boxes the type built on a truck make great offgrid homes most have a cooker, shower, etc power from deep cycle battery’s charged from the engine this can have solar, and wind added so you can run your tv, laptop, phone, etc the horse area in the rear can be turned into what ever you need, office, bedroom, living space, workshop, checkout, eBay, horse and hounds, horse deals etc, there a ready made off-grid home and some are very cheap
    And you can leave site at the drop of a hat which out wits planners and the like, there a better deal than a caravan, and you can have them classed as livestock transporters at the DLVA, so there agricultural in propose ? So you can park on farm land. Think of them as a sort of land boat, canal boat sort of, stick a wood burner in for winter.

  4. I think its a good idea, with everything getting so expensive these days you have to downsize just to survive. I myself would like to live off the grid, on the land with a log cabin, a river nearby, good soil where i can plant my own vegetables and be self-sufficent. I have had enough of being scammed by corporate companies making big bucks while trying to rip me off, I want to live a more simple life with just the basics. A good site to go one to learn how to be self-sufficent is one called Homestead Survival, it is full of great and useful information.

  5. another thought is parks. not sure what you have there but state parks here will let you pay a fee to empty tanks an probably water. if you need a rest cheap place to take a break. also
    make contact with other off-gridders most of us are generous enough to allow short stay with

  6. I think it’s terrific. You have one life to live, and if your home isn’t working for you- in fact you are working for it- then it is time to make the change and awaken to living your life, not working it away. Congratulations!

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