It’s a serene home that sits in beautiful countryside – something that many people aspire to but don’t think that they could ever afford. However, one single mom with a budget of just $4,000 managed to not only create a charming and unique place to live, but to do it all by herself within the space of a few weeks.
Many people have gravitated towards tiny houses in the past few years. Some are driven by ecological concerns. Others like the portability that a tiny house affords. And then there are those who are simply drawn to the latest fad. For single mom Lulu, though, choosing a small house was a matter of both choice and necessity.
In addition to being a single mother, Lulu was also studying. Consequently, she wasn’t able to work full-time while also taking care of her daughter and her studies. And this meant that she couldn’t afford to pay a high rent. So when it was time for her to move out of her last home, a friend suggested that Lulu build something.
Lulu subsequently decided to customize a shipping container in California. “I think I’m a little claustrophobic, so the storage container was a little daunting, but I got the container for free,” she told Kirsten Dirksen of FairCompanies.com in a 2011 YouTube video.
“I had remodeled a boat once, and that was my experience in construction, which is not much,” Lulu explained. Still, the amateur builder managed to install insulation, floorboards, windows and doors into the 20 foot by 8 foot container, using a jigsaw to create the openings in the heavy steel walls.
Lulu bought everything she needed for her renovations second hand. This included bathroom fittings, cabinets and the flooring. She told Dirksen, “It’s incredible what you can find in the dump here you know, everything.”
The container house might essentially be a giant box, but it’s far from boring. Bookshelves and knick-knacks decorate the space, giving it a homey feel. There’s a comfy looking sofa, a kitchen with a large window and a small patio outside. And one of the benefits of a smaller living space is that heating it is really easy.
At first, the mother and daughter lived entirely within the modified container, but soon Lulu felt that they needed more space. She’d originally planned to build another story onto the shipping crate. Eventually, though, Lulu repurposed a flatbed truck trailer as her base and on it she constructed a room with a small loft.
“It’s really mostly built like a shed,” Lulu said of the improvised bedroom. “It’s a nice looking shed, but it’s really an eight by sixteen shed with windows in it.” What’s more, those windows provide both light and heat, and a view of the sky at night. “My daughter and I, we lay in bed, and we’ve had like a million astronomy sessions,” she added.
Lulu’s daughter isn’t entirely satisfied with her loft, however. According to her mom, she sometimes grumbles about the cramped space. Nonetheless, on other occasions she’s happy to show it off to her friends. “She’s definitely complained at times, but I also know that we have spent way more hours [together] than I would have if I had to pay rent.”
In the kitchen, cooking is done on a camping stove. The stove and a portable water heater both run on propane gas. It’s a basic set up, but according to Lulu, it does the job. She compares the compact quarters to a year she spent living on a boat. Measured against that, she calls her tiny home “spacious and luxurious.”
Also added on to the shipping container exterior is a 4 foot by 8 foot bathroom, complete with a full-sized bathtub. Lulu told Dirksen that the tub was a necessary luxury. “My priorities: I drink high-end tea, and I take an immersion bath,” she said. Like all the other furniture, the tub, along with the sink and toilet, are pre-used.
Although the shipping container home has been pieced together from used materials, it seems a comfortable and cheerful place to live. According to Lulu, it’s all a matter of perspective. “I grew up in Argentina,” she told Dirksen, “And, you know, the standards of living… like this would be a really nice house in Argentina.”
The single mom also believes that a limited budget inspires innovation. “When you don’t have money, you just get creative, you know. And I had to go to the junkyard many times and be like, ‘Okay, what am I going to do?’ and ‘Okay, I’ll pick that’ and ‘How can I convert that into a closet?’ and ‘How can I make that a sink?’”
The container/trailer home itself might be small, but it boasts a large garden and beautiful scenery. Indeed, Lulu’s daughter has an outdoor play area that would make plenty of city kids jealous. There’s a picnic table for friends to gather at, too, and even a couple of rabbit hutches for the family pets.
Lulu believes that her tiny home, in its peaceful countryside setting, has brought her closer to nature as well. This is in no small part due to the many glass windows that she’s installed. “It’s been pretty amazing to spend so much time looking outside,” she said. “In any of my other houses I never stayed connected with the world that way.”
Tiny houses aren’t for everyone, but for Lulu, hers made perfect sense. “I mean this was really a choice about, you know, how many hours do we have to our life and how do I want to spend those hours,” she explained. “And really about do I want to go and work more than 10, 20, 30 hours a week so that I can pay rent to have a big house, so that I can be a healthy normal mom?”
At the time the video was filmed, Lulu’s home was still something of a work in progress. She had bought some panels to build herself her own bedroom. Lulu also had plans to connect the container to the trailer with a greenhouse. The extension would provide protection from the elements when moving from one section to the other.
“Material things, all of it is on borrow right, we’re all just borrowing stuff,” Lulu said. “None of this is ours, and we try to secure ourselves in these identities like my house, my wife, my car, my children, my career.” She likens this outlook to the Japanese aesthetic known as “Wabi-sabi,” which accepts everything as imperfect and impermanent.
These days, shipping container homes have become so popular that you can even order one on Amazon. But to adapt and outfit one like Lulu has requires patience, ingenuity and a lot of sweat. The hardworking mom certainly thinks that it’s been worth the effort. She has no house loan to pay off and more time to spend with her daughter, as well as having created a unique and intriguing home.