The downside of living in a 200 sqft Airstream

Published May 9, 2016   Posted in Airstream

Hey gang! So when we bought the Airstream, I promised to give you an honest assessment of how we like it, not just a glorified “we rock and big homes suck” picture that assumes every day is a vacation. Because, well, it isn’t.

Pinterest: Downside of living in a 200 sqft AirstreamI’ve said before that our downsize from a 1600 sqft house into our 200 sqft Airstream “Charlie” was a success, and it was. We honestly love living here. We love the campground life. We love our evening walks around the grounds and looking at all the RVs and saying “hi” to everybody who we pass.

But with anything in life, there will be…the downside – the honest-to-goodness straight-shootin’ look at both things that we like as well as the things that we don’t. In this post, I discuss the things that I don’t like about living in a space this small.

Things I don’t like about living in our Airstream

Believe it or not, the thing I hate the most is headroom when working in the kitchen. Both my wife and I have banged our heads against the upper cabinets more time than we can count. I’m truly surprised that we didn’t give ourselves a black eye after we first moved in.

The kitchen in the Airstream

The kitchen in the Airstream

We are getting used to it, but it’s something that we painfully remember is a problem every now and again.

I am also not a fan of my workspace in the Airstream, which is the nook at the moment. While we have plans to gut the nook area and replace it with a much more functional desk for our computer equipment, right now we’re rockin’ the traditional nook and seating area that I’ve had to occupy as my full-time desk and “office”. It works, but far from ideal.

Interior of our Airstream: Look at how cramped it all is!

My work area is on the right (Apple Macbook and monitor)

Next, there is very little external storage, which is both good and bad. Naturally, recreational vehicles cannot offer the same storage space that a traditional “sticks ‘n bricks” house can. But Airstreams are even worse. Β While 99% of Airstreams don’t have slideouts (which we like), they also don’t have “basement” storage compartments like larger motorhomes do. Β These compartments are only accessible via the outside of the RV and offer a relatively large space to store stuff.

We don’t have that luxury. Β We do have one externally-accessible storage area in the very back of the Airstream that also happens to be accessible by lifting up on the bed. Of course, this area is packed full of stuff, like my tripod, our winter clothes, extra toilet paper and paper towels, luggage, dog food and other larger items. It is also our main bulk-item storage area.

Under the bed storage in the Airstream

Under the bed storage in the Airstream

The good thing about our relative lack of storage is, well, we cannot accumulate stuff! We just gave ourselves an excellent reason to completely transform the way our family does gift-giving – at least to us. We aren’t yet as bad ass as Our Next Life, who convinced their family to adopt a “No Spend Christmas”, but we have at least found a way to stop the gift-giving madness in our direction.

There are no laundry facilities in this Airstream. Many larger motorhomes and 5th wheels do have small areas for 2-in-1 washers and dryers, but there isn’t nearly enough space in our 30′ Airstream for that. This means we gotta do the laundry in laundromats. We also get a little more creative with how many times we wear clothes…it may sound disgusting, but stick with me for a second.

Of course, we never wear clothes that truly need washing. We have a little transportable hamper in our main closet where we throw the clothes that can’t be worn again. But yes, I do often give my clothes the “sniff test” and, if they still smell minty fresh, I am not opposed to re-wearing those items. And to my surprise, a hell of a lot more articles of clothing are minty fresh enough for another round!

Lastly, I miss my king sized bed. I’m not a big fella – 6-foot even, about 200 pounds, but I still enjoy a little space to move around in bed. Without slideouts, there’s no bloody way a king bed would fit in the Airstream, so we sleep in a queen. Can anyone say “first world problems”?

And before wrapping up the post, a quick note about the black water – yes, the black water tank holds the poop water. Water, along with any contents contained within, gets flushed from the toilet and held in the black water tank underneath the Airstream. Naturally, this tank requires emptying every week or so, and many consider it to be a “shitty job”, literally.

Our sewer hose running from the trailer down to the campsite's hookup

Our sewer hose running from the trailer down to the campsite’s hookup

But honestly, it’s really no sweat. In fact, I don’t even need to move or touch the sewer hose at all during this process. All I do is pull the black water tank release handle and watch that beautiful brown poop water drain out of the tank, through the sewer hose and into the sewer. Then, I connect the fresh water hose (a regular garden hose) up to the “black water rinse” receiver line and wash out the black tank, as well as the sewer hose itself, with fresh H2O. When complete, I push the release handle back in and go on about my business.

I don’t even need to wear gloves during this procedure. Hardly any smell emanates from the hose or sewer system. Though I felt compelled to mention this process, it is NOT one of my dislikes, actually. It’s all a part of the process of living in an RV that has toilet facilities.

And that’s it! Luckily, everything I’ve mentioned isn’t life or death. It’s just something that we get used to as a part of this major lifestyle change that we decided to pursue. When you want to change your backyard every couple of weeks – like we do, this is a darn great way to do it!

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48 responses to “The downside of living in a 200 sqft Airstream”

  1. Thanks for the honest review! I can believe that it would be a little hard to find the space necessary for everything. Sure, it helps you not keep as much stuff, but I’m sure it can be hard to find proper space for the things that are important enough for you to keep.

    Is the campground your living in a full-time residency one? Or are a lot of the people coming and going?

    • Steve says:

      Hey Thias – the campground isn’t necessarily designed around full-time residency, no. Though there are some people here who spend many months at this campground, most people come and go – especially the weekenders. Actually, I am finding that the people we see here the closer that we get to summer, the better the likelihood that they are full-time RVers. Otherwise, why stay in a campground when the temperatures are nearing the 100 degree mark? πŸ™‚

  2. Is the campground fairly quiet? I was wondering if you hear much noise at night. Thanks for the review! This is helpful. πŸ˜€

    • Steve says:

      This campground is fairly quiet. There is an event center that holds events occasionally on Saturday night, and that you’ll be able to hear. But other than that, it’s pretty darn quiet, especially this time of year. It will get noisier during the winter when there aren’t any vacancies, though. That’s when *everybody* wants to be in the southwest!

  3. Thanks for the post! It is good to hear the cons. I have a couple questions I just thought of though. First, how is security for the Airstream? Do you feel it locks up pretty safely?

    Secondly, even though it doesn’t sound like a very “shitty job”, are there other facilities you could use nearby rather than yours? Weird question, but that’s probably what I would prefer if I moved out of sticks & bricks

    The Green Swan.

    • Steve says:

      This thing locks up incredibly securely. It honestly reminds me of an aircraft fuselage. The door is incredibly secure. You could break the windows just like anywhere else, but they’d be more difficult to actually get into because they are so high off the ground. Yup, all in all, we feel this rig is very secure.

      Regarding your second question, yeah, this particular campground does have facilities that can be used by anyone here, to include sinks, toilets and showers. I haven’t used one of the public toilets, but I will occasionally use the shower, especially after taking a dip in the pool. πŸ™‚

  4. EM says:

    Your downsides don’t seem bad at all! I’m going to have to strategically hide your posts about your Airstream from my girlfriend somehow, so she doesn’t get second thoughts about our plans to go on long trips in an old Volkswagen bus. The Airstream has many more perks!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks EM – yeah, all in all, they aren’t too bad. I’ve already gotten used to most of them, actually. πŸ™‚

      Hey, that Volkswagon bus has some advantages, too – lower cost of ownership for one, probably easier to drive and you can get places where we just can’t in a rig as large as ours. As long as your VW is dependable, there’s nothing wrong with that plan. Truth be told we might do something similar in the future and drive down the coast of Mexico.

  5. Interesting. I’m sure you’ll bump your heads less as your brain starts to better memorize the space. The storage comments remind me of a conversation my wife and I always have. I like to stock up on things that are on sale, but she always says “Don’t buy more than we need now. It’s called a ‘store’ because they ‘store’ things for you!”

    • Steve says:

      That’s very true, actually – my subliminal mind is finally beginning to instinctively “duck” when I need to and just generally being aware of what’s right above me. I’ve hit my head a few times, but it’s getting less and less the longer that we live here. πŸ™‚

  6. I thought sniff test was appropriate even if you aren’t living in an Airstream… Thanks for the honesty. All those downsides make perfect sense.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! I’d occasionally use the sniff test before we moved into the Airstream, but most of the time I just threw used clothes into the hamper. Bad habit, but fixed now! πŸ™‚

      • I totally agree! Anything that isn’t smelly gets reworn in our house — even though we have laundry in our house, it’s water and energy we don’t need to use, money we don’t need to spend, plus a shorter life for our clothes. Not gross at all. πŸ™‚

        Thanks for this rundown! I’d love to see a follow-up to this after you guys hit the road and have the experience of moving from place to place more often. I know you’ve talked about doing more wild camping, where there’s no handy sewer drain, so I’m curious how that will go! πŸ˜€

        • Steve says:

          Honestly, we are looking forward to getting out there and figuring all this out as well. It’s true that boon docking is very, very different than a full hookup campsite with practically all the amenities. The easily availability of laundry facilities, for example, is an awesome perk of staying here, and I already know that’s probably going to be a pain the ass once we start full-time traveling. But, it’s another one of those things that we will just get used to and build into our lifestyle. I hope. πŸ™‚

  7. Apathy Ends says:

    I was curious how things were going, I was surprised that General “clutter” was not on the list – any flat spot in our kitchen gets covered with something – you must have done a great job diwnsizing/ organizing

    • Steve says:

      Hey Apathy! Keeping up with clutter is utterly important! We have established a place for pretty much everything and we stick to that pretty well and keep clutter down. I admit that my “desk” (which is the nook) can get a little cluttered, but other than that, as long as you keep up with it, clutter isn’t a big deal. πŸ™‚

  8. Thanks for sharing the real about living in the Airstream. I can imagine the headspace for cooking would get on my nerves, too. I’m sure with time you’ll get completely acclimated to it, though.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true, Kalie – just one of those things that you get used to. I am almost completely “over it” now and instinctively move my head when I am working in the kitchen so I don’t hit my head. I’m sure I’ll hit it again (and again, and again), but the frequency is getting less and less! πŸ˜‰

  9. Mr. PIE says:

    From corporate world crap to Airstream crap, I can imagine you will take the latter every day….

  10. Mr. SSC says:

    I just keep thinking of Rusty in “Christmas Vacation” hosing his sewage straight into the street sewer while in his underwear. πŸ™‚ Classic!
    I was wondering about headroom, and even the “office space”. I had a big carpal tunnel, thoracic outlet compression issue flare up when I was super busy and working nights at home from a less than ideal setup. It took a couple of months of PT to get that knocked out, but it was surprising how quickly it came about. Good luck getting settled in and it still sounds better than the previous setup for sure.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Mr. SSC – I think you mean Cousin Eddie who was emptying his sewage. Yeah, love that movie – watch it every year. πŸ™‚

      And yeah, I am still super glad that we made this move. It’s allowing us to get into a routine well before we actually start traveling full-time, which will definitely help us to feel as comfortable and confident as possible once the time finally comes. Soon!

  11. Don says:

    Thanks for the straight dope on RV living, alway appreciated reading your articles. Here’s some outside the box thinking while reading and going through your picture. How about instead of having napkins, wipes…you can get a rag for cleaning/drying then you wash it as needed. Instead of going to Costco and buy 6 roll and take up precious storage space? Or have one of those toilet with streaming water for cleaning – toro (might be expensive to install, but a pleasure to use). Anyway, enjoy.

    • Steve says:

      Most welcome, Don! Yeah, we have considered the rag solution as well and may very well go that route. The only downside is the water it will take to wash the rag, but we’ll be taking trips to a laundromat anyway, so we’d be able to throw those rags into the wash easily enough. Regarding the toilet, we will probably switch out our system to a composting toilet in the near future. πŸ™‚

  12. It doesn’t sound bad at all! Of the things you mentioned, the lack of laundry facilities would be my biggest concern. It’s great to toss in a load of wash, wait 20 minutes, toss it in the dryer and refill the washer with the next load of wash. I guess we have more laundry for the five of us than you do with 2 of you, but it would be a headache to spend a couple hours in a laundromat once per week.

    When we travel and rent Airbnb apartments, we usually get places with washer and dryer for the convenience.

    Oh, and that queen size bed would bother me too. I’m very used to the expansive real estate offered by our kind size bed. Sleeping in queens or even doubles is like living in the third world (first world problems indeed!). πŸ˜‰

    • Steve says:

      Hey Justin – yeah, all in all it’s really not that bad. But like you, I definitely prefer king sized beds, but we are getting used to the smaller queen pretty well. It takes some time, but nothing that we can’t handle.

  13. Thanks for the look inside what it’s like to live in the Airstream.

    My grandparents actually lived in an Airstream for many years. Actually, in your part of the world. They spent winters in Phoenix and summers up in the AZ mountains (Lakeside).

    When we would visit, it didn’t feel overly cramped or small. I think it’s more our parents’ generation that started us down the path of buying big houses with more space than we need.

    It’s nice to see you embracing a more sensible approach.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Financial Slacker. I think you’re right, it was the previous generation who helped get the ball rolling, but our present generation definitely grabbed it and ran, upping the ante each step of the way to bigger and bigger houses. I personally think that eventually this will come full circle and the big home fad will primarily be a thing of the past…might take some time, though! πŸ™‚

  14. Being under five feet tall, I am made for airstream living! I would get sick of lifting the bed to access the storage space though. Sound like, all told, you haven’t found to many dislikes!

    • Steve says:

      Yeah, so far at least, we really haven’t found that many dislikes. Yes, it’s a small space, but that’s something that you quickly get used to. We were walking through some showroom motorhomes over the weekend and I literally said, while walking through one of them, “What would we do with all this space?”

  15. […] taking hikes in national parks, dreams to reality of frugal homesteads, and driving around in an airstream. It’s not that I don’t look at these things and enjoy each one, just sometimes when I look at […]

  16. ZJ Thorne says:

    This is an interesting way to see contiguous land. Almost makes me wish I or my girlfriend was more comfortable with driving. Still grateful to live in a place where we don’t need to drive, but our movement is then limited.

    • Steve says:

      Yeah, you definitely need to be okay with driving to make this lifestyle work. Luckily, we are…especially when we get to see some of the most beautiful places this country has to offer. Soon! πŸ™‚

  17. […] had sleepless nights with loud noises, the black tank smell, lp detectors chirping at 4:30am, sore heads from the lack of head space, and middle of the night jaunts to bring in the awnings with high winds, but after all that we are […]

  18. Steven says:

    First, I love this: Copyleft 2016 Β· Β· Wait, what the heck is Copyleft?

    Second, yeah those items don’t seem to bad in the grand scheme of things, what parts are you guys hanging out by?

    I can see the storage being annoying and then bring happiness into the picture, I say this after cleaning up a little storage area that I wonder why we keep….Oh yeah so we can have a place to keep stuff, ughh

    The workspace will be an upgrade down the road but I understand the need for some comfort. I still need to write about it but we stayed in a tiny house just recently, we should compare notes one day with a post.

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, thanks Even Steven. Yeah, so far it’s been great living in the Airstream. Storage is low, but then again, it helps us to NOT acquire a bunch of stuff, too, which is nice. Interested in hearing your experience in the tiny house! πŸ™‚

  19. John says:

    Interesting update, Steve. Thanks for the honest update.

    No living arrangement is perfect, I suppose. Cleaning our 3,800 sq foot house is a huge chore, so at times 200 sq feet sounds pretty inviting!

    Life is full of adventures! Even if you don’t live in the Airstream as long as planned, I’m sure it’s creating great memories!


    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, John. True, nothing will ever be perfect. And wow…yeah, a 3800 square foot house must take forever to clean. Big difference from what we’re living in for sure. But hey, I bet you don’t bang your head against your cabinets in the kitchen, either! πŸ˜‰

  20. Appreciate the honest review Steve. Hope your head is okay. πŸ™‚ Already renovating the new home? sounds like your old home. πŸ™‚ Going from 1600 sqft to 200 sqft is a major change. I sure it will take a few months to fully adjust. If this is the worst of the transition so far, sounds like you settled in no time.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Brian – head is doing okay. πŸ™‚

      We aren’t actually renovating yet, but we are discussing what we’d like to do to this place. The difference is we’ll be switching things up in our new place NOW for us to enjoy rather than later for the next dweller. So, we get to enjoy the renovations rather than somebody else!

  21. Thanks for the continued insight into Airstream living! While I’m not sure I could ever talk Mrs. HackNow into moving into an RV of any sort, it is fun to consider and hear the pluses and minuses. We have some family who live in their Airstream during each summer to escape the Texas heat. They always hook up at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. That sounds like a possible solution that would make both of us happy!

    Here’s my question, and you’ve probably covered this before, what do you use for wifi?

    Again, thanks for the insight!

    • Steve says:

      Hey there!

      We don’t use Wifi at the moment, and it is notoriously inconsistent and unreliable at campgrounds. Instead, we have an unlimited 4G data plan through Verizon that we use for our Internet. Thus, so long as we have Verizon signal, we’ll have at least some Internet. If we don’t have Internet at our campsite, we may go into the nearest down every once in a while to login and check on things. Using coffee shop Wifi connections will probably be in our future too – especially if Verizon signal is weak. πŸ™‚

  22. […] I decided to be generous and “let him in” (he’s a pretty cool guy who’s living in an Airstream, so I gave him a break!) Β His dad taught him: Β “You can have anything that you want, but […]

  23. Mike says:

    My wife and I lived in a 36′ 5th wheel for 4 years. When we eventually sold the trailer, we used the cash to buy our first home.

    I loved this post, although the airstream is quite a bit smaller than our Holiday Rambler, I was reminded of how much I ‘loved’ hitting my forehead on cabinets, scratching around for storage and dealing with endless humidity.

    I used to drain the black tank into the blue portable tanks, load it into the truck and take it down to the dump station. I once had a hose explode with 3-4 people watching. It was the shits…

    • Steve says:

      Sounds like you guys had a great time, Mike! πŸ™‚

      Yeah, humidity is no bueno. That’s why we will be spending the majority of our time out west. Our composting toilet removes the need to store waste water as well. We do have gray water storage, of course, but we use the black tank as well, more than doubling our capacity to store used sink and shower water.

      Haven’t yet had any explosions around here, but hey, our new lifestyle is still very young. πŸ™‚

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