Have you ever wanted to pack it all in and hit the road? Maybe you’ve looked around your house — at all the things to clean, put away, store, and maintain — and felt overwhelmed. Maybe you’ve looked at your heating and energy bills, your credit-card statements, and wished that you could radically simplify, take things back to the bare essentials, find your bliss.
For most of us, it’s an occasional but compelling fantasy. For Trish Jane, her husband, Jeff — or JJ — and their soon-to-be three-year-old daughter, Juna, it’s fantasy turned reality.
A year ago, they were living in a century home in Waterloo, Ontario — a house they’d renovated because it felt too small. JJ worked for a hedge fund, while Trish had left her job as a nutritionist at a health-food store to care for Juna.
But they were restless. JJ had always been interested in tiny living. “He brought it up on our first date,” in July 2011, recalls Trish. “At the time, I was so far removed from the idea of living in 300 square feet.”
Slowly, though, the idea took root. Trish had tapped into the notion of zero-waste living on Instagram and became increasingly intent on reducing the amount of waste — especially plastic waste — her household produced. “I thought I was doing really well, and then I took an online survey that measured my ‘green footprint.’ I thought I would have a really small footprint because of all the things I was doing, like making my own mayonnaise or canning pickles, but when I clicked on the results, I had a huge footprint, because of the size of the house. And that’s when it clicked.”
Not long after, JJ came home from work to announce that his office was closing. The couple had to decide on their next move. “We did our taxes, and realized that if we got rid of the house, we wouldn’t need to work full time anymore for a while — as long as we could drastically reduce our living expenses,” says Trish, 34. “At that moment, there was a lot of screaming and excitement — we could do this!”
Trish and JJ found their dream RV: a 1996 Ford E-350 Four Winds. They sold their car within hours of buying their mobile home, which they have christened ROLI, which stands for “Real Outdoor Life Initiative.” “A huge part of why we’re doing this is because we want to spend more time outside, interacting with nature and the environment,” explains Trish. Within the space of months, they had the fixed up the mobile home, sold their house, cancelled their second cell phone and their data plans, and radically downsized their possessions. “If it didn’t fit in the RV, it wasn’t coming with us. We had to get rid of some really nice things, and that was sometimes hard: the designer couch we’d just bought, my KitchenAid stand mixer, my food dehydrator.”
But it’s been worth it. In July of this year, the Janes set out on their adventure. “We’re framing it as an experiment. Our end goal is to find our ideal slice of Canadian paradise where we can settle down, build an eco-friendly, off-the-grid house, and be part of a community.”
Only five weeks in, says Trish, their connection as a couple has strengthened. “I’m learning so much more about JJ. For example, I didn’t know that he knew how to fix a solenoid in a car engine. We’ve never had a chance to be in the kind of situation where I would’ve found that out. Our last vacation was to an all-inclusive resort for one week. It’s a real gift to be able to slow down and get to know each other.”
Trish and JJ don’t know how long their ROLI experiment will last. In the meantime, they’re thrilled to be seeing so much of Canada. “I didn’t realize just how stunningly beautiful this country is,” says Trish. They’ve been out east thus far, exploring the Maritime provinces, renting a car to drive the Cabot Trail, visiting farmers’ markets in tiny towns — and also spending a certain amount of time in shopping-mall parking lots and laundromats and fast-food restaurants, because that’s the reality of RV living, especially in small-town Canada. They’re using the hashtag #RoliTheRV to document their travels.
The hardest part, though, isn’t forgoing endless hot water, or even wrangling a toddler within the confines of a mobile home. “The biggest challenge has been coming to terms with my privilege,” says Trish, tears choking her voice. “We’ve witnessed so much poverty across Canada that I wasn’t necessarily ready for. I mean, it’s one thing for me to take my own container for strawberries to a farmers market in Antigonish, but it’s another altogether to recognize just how out of reach zero-waste ideals are for most Canadians,” who are struggling to afford nutritious food and adequate housing.
Their zero-waste journey — which began well before Trish, JJ, and Juna set off in ROLI, and will undoubtedly continue long after — has taught Trish much about patience and perseverance, lessons, she says, that make her a better person and parent. It’s all about baby steps, she explains: making little changes that add up over time, not being derailed by occasional, inevitable stumbles and trade-offs — like relying on a gasoline-powered vehicle, or accepting that the McDonald’s waitress won’t use your reusable cup for that smoothie.
“When people tell me they don’t know where to begin, I say that I’ve never met anyone who wants to intentionally hurt the Earth,” she says. “And once you take a step back and recognize that about yourself, you begin to find ways, little by little, to protect the planet.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
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