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California shipping container tiny home & cargo trailer room

Lulu is a single mom who’d gone back to school and didn’t have the time or interest in working full-time to pay for rent. So when she had to move out of her more conventional home, she decided to move herself and her daughter into a shipping container.

“I think I’m a little claustrophobic so the storage container was a little daunting, but I got the container for free.”

DIY container home

With no building experience, Lulu spent just one month cutting windows and a door and installing insulation and a basic kitchen (complete with propane-powered campstove and on-demand water heater).

Then she and her daughter moved into the 8 by 20 foot square foot home, fitting a bed, couch, bookshelf and kitchen cabinets into the 160 square foot box.

A flatbed trailer bedroom addition

When Lulu decided they needed a bit more space, she went from shipping to trucking waste and began to build their bedroom on a used flatbed trailer.

“It’s really mostly built like a shed. It’s a nice looking shed, but it’s really an 8 by 16 shed with windows in it.”

Salvaged furniture

Using only recycled building materials- including used floorboards, windows, cabinets, doors, bathtub, toilet and sinks- she built the entire thing for about $4,000 (trailer included).

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 be like ‘okay, I’ll pick that’ and ‘how can I convert that into a closet’ and ‘how can I make that a sink’ and ‘how am I going to make that fit’.”

Living smaller, working less

Now Lulu and her daughter have 288 square feet, or a bit more if you include the square footage of her daughter’s lofted bed. She says her daughter sometimes loves her little fort and other times she complains, but Lulu doesn’t doubt her decision.

“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 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. So this was my choice and she’s definitely complained at times, but I also know that we have spent way more hours than I would have if I had to pay rent.”

Lulu didn’t want to add a mortgage to her student loans, but her choice of home was also a reflection of her love of imperfect beauty.

“I showed this to my brother in Argentina and he said, ‘you’ve always like poverty with a lot of style. Always like elegant poor’… although now it’s fashionable to be wabi-sabi right?”

Wabi-sabi home

Wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a Japanese aesthetic that values not only imperfection, but it’s also a worldview that appreciates that everything is temporary. Lulu likes living in a home that reflects the ephemeral nature of stuff.

“Material things, all of it is on borrow right, we’re all just borrowing stuff… 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. You know the bigger the more, I’m sure that I am myself and it’s like oh no, this house is really a prison and I’m tied to the bank.”

In this video, Lulu- while babysitting 3 other children, besides her own- gives us a tour of her container plus cargo trailer home and talks a bit about her wabi-sabi “elegant poor” style of life.