Tag Archives: life change

I loved, I lost, I insulated some walls

In March, the love of my life went AWOL, and I insulated some walls.

Don’t talk to me, don’t ever come in my workplace again and sit there staring at me while you drink your coffee, I told you I wanted to be left alone, I told you to respect my boundaries, but you continue to ignore them, I want to remain friends with you but understand that nothing can ever happen between us again. Fine. I can live with that, because I know this has happened before, and with worse fighting, and we’ll just end up in bed together inside of 2 months when he gets lonely. I try to put away my concerns and focus on the trailer.

It’s finally starting to come together; the trailer looks more…real with the floor in place, like it could be a place to live, not a dingy mobile equipment shed. My stepdad comes over with his Sawzall to cut a hole in the side and top of the trailer to install a window and skylight. Since I can’t cut through the metal ribs that form the trailer’s frame, I chose a small window specifically designed for use in a trailer. There’s also trailer skylights available-try looking for an “RV skylight”, it’s just a specially shaped plastic bubble that can be installed on the roof of a trailer. I installed the window and skylight, sealing them against the weather with a healthy bead of caulk.

Then I started in on the insulation.

My father suffers from the after-effects of chronic Lyme disease, which he waged war against on various fronts for many years; one of these fronts, eventually, was IV antibiotics. They came packed in giant cardboard boxes, cushioned by gel refrigerant packs and squares of styrofoam. It was the foam squares I was after; we had a huge sack of this spent ordnance from the Lyme wars lying around the attic. With a little inventive measuring and cutting, the foam squares fit between the ribs of the trailer’s frame perfectly. Basically, I was following the pattern of a traditional frame wall, with a frame inside, insulation in the gaps, covered inside by paneling and outside by the trailer’s aluminum skin-an insulated, weathertight “sandwich”. I chose foam board for insulation over fiberglass or spray foam for several reasons, the most important being that it’s super easy to install and takes up very little space (important in my trailer.) I couldn’t have it sticking out past the metal ribs, because then I couldn’t attach my wall panels, so I went for the thickest piece that would work, which was about 1″. I also bought 3/4″ foam  board insulation to use on the roof, as it would bend to accommodate the slight bow in the roof. All in all, it took 1 bag of foam board squares and 3 large sheets of foam board insulation to insulate the ceiling and 3 walls (I left the back door uninsulated, planning to hang an insulating curtain in front of it so I could still use the door.)  Meanwhile, things seemed to be warming up a little between me and my angry lover. I even thought I might get to see him soon.

Motivated by foolish hope and happiness, I began to put my walls up. Most of the original paneling was in good condition, marred only by a few easily fillable dents, cheap trim, and ugly paint. I pried off the cheap plastic trim with a flat-bar and reinstalled the panels in their original locations, even using the original fasteners and pre-drilled holes (this was convenient, because the panels had to be attached to the metal frame, and drilling pilot holes into the metal was a pain. i went through many drill bits.) To fasten anything to the trailer’s frame, I had to use self-tapping screws, a type of screw that cuts threads into metal or plastic when screwed in. They’re identifiable by the small notch cut into the tip.

For the ceiling, which had previously been bare, I used sheets of 1/4″ plywood. I had to cut it into sections to be able to bend it enough. I cut it into thin strips that just spanned the gap between each set of metal ribs. Then, I covered every other section of the roof with the plywood, attaching it on both sides to the roof-ribs with 3/4″ self-tapping screws. To cover the spaces in between, I cut the 1/4″ plywood wide enough to slightly overlap the plywood I’d already attached. Obviously this didn’t look super finished and professional, but I liked the shingled look it gave my roof. Unfortunately, the wall panels didn’t reach all the way up to the ceiling, so I was left with a gap in the paneling where the top edge of the wall met the ceiling; it was at an odd angle, with nothing really to screw into. This would prove to be quite a pain later.

Then I made the worst mistake of my life: thinking he was about to come back to me. I was convinced that beyond all odds I had managed to be patient enough to merit a final chance at redeeming myself, but this was my downfall. Almost a month after he had first gone missing, he told me he was reunited with a previous girlfriend, who he had been seeing before me. He described her as the love of his life, and told me not to feel replaced because “what I have with her is nothing like what I had with you”. He reminded me that he had lived with her before moving to the area, a privilege I had never enjoyed. Every time I closed my eyes I imagined them together. It was torture, despite my daily reminders to myself that other people were far worse-off and had more difficult things to bear than I. So I tried to concentrate on building the trailer, so I could move on, away from a town where everything reminded me of him. But the construction was delayed for weeks while I flailed around helplessly in a soup of ugly feelings. Finally I managed to pull it together enough to salvage some trim from a trash pile behind a notoriously snooty local dance studio, and paint the walls with 2 coats of linen white left over from my mom’s house. Installing the trim was difficult; the trim nails were hard to drive in because the paneling behind the trim was really thin and absorbed the force of the hammer blows by bending or bouncing back. It was easy to bend a nail or smash a thumb; I did both many times. If you’re doing a trailer conversion like me, remember to nail into something solid, or consider using small screws, or use very thin trim and just attach with construction adhesive.

Anyway, I made it, and the hurt is a little less every day-even less now that I’m busier and know that I’m getting out of here soon.

 

And my walls still stand, and protect me from rain and wind just fine.

Advertisements

The 24-Day Minimalist Challenge

As someone who hates to sound self-righteous, this post sounds a bit self-righteous. Please know it’s not intended to come off like that-I have plenty of problems with unnecessary hoarding of crap, and I do a slightly less structured version of this bout once a year.

Before you begin: Identify the most cluttered parts of your living space; if you have things in a storage unit, garage, or at friends’ or relatives’ houses, include these too. Identify how minimal you want to go, and why. Your minimalist challenge will play out differently depending on how much and why you want to get rid of stuff.

Day 1: Where will stuff go when you need to get rid of it? Clear out a designated area of your house for things waiting to be donated, sold, or tossed. Research locations to donate items-you can start with Goodwill, but there’s lots of places looking for specific donations of specific items-for example, the library might light your old book collection, or some shelter dogs could sleep on your old towels. Also, sometimes you can re-sell your old books and clothes to a consignment store or used book store; just be sure they’re in good condition. Get plenty of empty trash bags and have a couple recycle bins handy.

Day 2-8: Identify the worst-offender cluttered areas. These don’t even have to be messy, just anywhere stuff has been sitting collecting dust. Sort that stuff into what you use every day (like your favorite coffee mug, your laptop, and-hopefully-your toothbrush), what you use maybe once a month (that weight bench in the garage) and things you only use once a year or less (does anyone in the family even like enforced snowshoe outings?) Put the daily stuff back in its place, but keep out the once-a-month/once-a-year things aside-you’ll be doing a little more sorting with these.

Day 9-10: What’s most important to you among the things you only use once a year or once a month? Decide your priorities-you would probably rather ditch a shirt you don’t really like and wear little, but not equipment for a hobby you can only practice seasonally. Also, for things you use this infrequently, see if you can’t do without some of them. Look into the options of renting or borrowing tools or equipment, or getting a gym membership rather than constantly stubbing your toes on workout equipment. You’re aiming to get rid of most of the “monthly” items and all but a few of the “yearly” items.

Day 11-15: Now it’s time to sort the stuff you decided to get rid of. Refer back to the list of donation places you made on day 1. Sort out donations, box them up, and designate a day for donation drop-off. Sort out items to be sold, too. You can sell collectible stuff, electronics, etc. on a site like Ebay or Craigslist, or through the classifieds. Less valuable stuff, like stuffed animals or old furniture, can be sold at a tag sale. Anything that’s just beyond the pale gets recycled or thrown out. Recycle metal, glass, plastic and paper; old ragged clothing can be cut up for cleaning/shop rags, and unfinished wood scraps and wood items can be burned in a nice bonfire!

Day 16: Have a tag sale! (you can skip this step if you live in an area that doesn’t permit it-instead, resell or donate as much as possible.) If you have kids who are reluctant to part with their old stuff, encourage them to sell old unused items by giving them the profits from the sale of their old clothing, toys, etc.

Day 17-23: Identify the paths through which excessive crap finds its way into your house. (Trash counts too!) Weigh out all the trash you make in this week and figure out where it’s all coming from. Is it your to-go coffee habit (I know I have that problem!) or is it excessive junk mail? Are plastic bags choking your trash can? Figure out a strategy to combat trash generation, whether it’s buying a shiny new travel mug to keep in the car or unsubscribing yourself from the junk mailing list. Also, look at your shopping habits-are you tempted by the lure of sales? Ironically enough, window shopping can break your bad habits. Often, it’s enough to just admire the items you like in a shop; you’ll discover that you can enjoy looking at whatever you lust after (whether it’s chocolate-covered Oreos, a new chainsaw, or anime figurines) without NEEDING to buy it. Unless it’s the chocolate-covered Oreos. Don’t fall into the trap of buying stuff on sale because “you might need it later!” Stuff is still going to be on sale in the future. And besides, by the time you really do need the thing, you’ll probably have forgot about the sale. (The only exception here is winter clothes and swimming suits; end of season sales are great for these, and you know you’ll need them eventually.)

Day 24: Pat yourself on the back. You made it! Now you actually have space to walk through your garage/basement/efficiency apartment/wherever! Congratulations! Go out for pizza or whatever floats your boat.

 

Beginning at the Beginning: Buying A Trailer

It was the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere. After being fired from my last job on a trail crew in Vermont (long story here) I was living back at home with my folks, and I had just ended an almost 3-month dry spell with work, finally winding up rolling burritos part-time in the tiny kitchen of my area’s most popular Mexican restaurant. I was basically in the same place in my life I had been a year back, when I had dropped out of college to spin pizzas at another restaurant just down the street. But worse: I wasn’t living on my own, I was driving an even older heap of a car (having wrecked the first one), and I had fallen back into the orbit of an on-again, off-again love affair that seemed to be slowly driving me crazy. And I didn’t yet have the full-time hours at the restaurant to distract myself. Something had to change.

Around the same time, I started working for a contractor who specialized in installing wood floors. I wanted the construction skills I knew I would gain; that’s how I justified the pitiful pay and put up with his overbearing personality. But it was tough; he wasn’t patient enough to teach an inexperienced person like me properly, and he would become angry when I made unintentional mistakes. If he had other workers on the site, he would angrily hush us when we tried to talk while working, even about work-related subjects. I did learn how to install wood floors though (see my future post about my floor…)

Between my two jobs, I would search Craigslist for a used cargo trailer. The cargo trailer, for me, posed several advantages over other tiny home options. Unlike a van, vehicle and living space could be detached, so in the even of a breakdown, I could still have living space while my vehicle was in the shop. Unlike a pop-up trailer, it could be insulated for use in all weather, and I could install a small wood stove. Unlike an RV or camping trailer, it was a fully customizable blank canvas. And unlike constructing a tiny frame house on a flat bed trailer, it was already a structurally sound, enclosed box on wheels-perfect for someone with my low level of construction skills (and when I say low, I basically mean zero.) Eventually I found the perfect trailer, a 6×12 enclosed Wells Cargo. Since my vehicle at the time was a 1990 Honda Civic, a tiny toy of a car that would struggle to pull so much as a skateboard, I had to get the seller to deliver-a favor for which I offered him $200 over his asking price for the trailer. I’m not exactly a fantastic negotiator. The only problem was, the day we agreed on for the trailer delivery, I was stuck working late for Floor Guy. We had to finish sanding and coating the new floor in a very fancy, very modern house miles out in the woods. He swore we would be out by 4:30, but as the hours dragged on, I began to doubt him, and he snapped at me every time I asked to leave. Finally, I called my father for a ride home, and we rushed back to the house, heedless of Floor Guy’s griping. We pulled in the driveway to find the trailer seller sitting in our driveway in his truck, in a surprisingly good mood considering we were almost 15 minutes late. I wrote him a check, filled out a bill of sale, and sat down to dinner giddy with excitement.

 

The next day, I went outside to look at my future house in the day light. It had a small door up front, a fold-down ramp door in the back, but no windows. The floor was rough plywood, painted with peeling black spray paint. The interior walls were covered with scratched, dented paneling painted a hideous industrial grey. There was no ventilation-the small vent on the roof had been blocked off-and no insulation of any kind. The trailer’s frame was made of metal ribs covered in a thin aluminum skin. The mostly-metal composition of the trailer later became my nemesis; it was impossible to attach anything securely to the wall without drilling into the metal frame. I broke many drill bits due to a combination of impatience and inexperience. But that was still a long way off; for now, the trailer was doomed to sit for almost a month, waiting for warmer weather and for me to summon the courage to pick up my (newly inherited) set of tools.

 

TO BE CONTINUED