Becky & Todd in a Yurt

Greg & I chatted with Becky & Todd on the phone in October, and we recorded their interview. My plan was to publish a written Q&A with the audio. But due to technical difficulties, I wasn't able to play it back afterwards. Luckily these two were understanding and helped me piece their interview back together.
What I love about Becky & Todd is that they not only live this lifestyle, but they are building a community around it. They host travelers and share their passions for environmental stewardship and music with others.
The good you seek is seeking you.

Square Feet: 200

We live between a 16-foot yurt and a small-premade house on wheels, much like a trailer, which is 12 feet by 35 feet.

Make, Model, Year: 2009 Mt. Rainer Yurt Company.

We bought our used 16-foot yurt almost seven years ago.

Years Living Mobile: 2

Todd has lived here about 10 years, and I have lived here a little over two years. 

Currently Living: Santa Cruz, California

We live on 4.25 acres of redwood forest, oak forest and chaparral.

How many of you are living there?  

Besides us, Todd's daughters, both under the age of 10, live here half the time. We also have one large black dog, two cats, five chickens and two turtles. 

What were you doing before you lived small? 

Becky: I had been living at a research facility in Big Sur, California, the summer before I met Todd. My lifestyle was very dynamic, as I went from field jobs to living with housemates in Santa Cruz. In Big Sur, the only personal space I had was my two-person tent. I shared a yurt (another yurt!) with three other researchers, and we cooked and ate in an indoor/outdoor kitchen and had an outdoor shower. I had been used to camping or living temporarily in places, so living the “small” lifestyle with Todd was not unfamiliar or difficult to adapt to. 

Todd: Originally, I lived on the property with just the trailer. I bought the yurt seven years ago, as our family was expanding. Creating the outdoor living space was key to making this small space feel larger. The forest and immense redwoods help me keep space in perspective. Before that, I was renting rooms here in Santa Cruz while in college. Then I’d take the summers off to travel and roam around the US in my old pickup truck and camper shell. 

Why did you make the change? 

Becky: For me it was less of a change, and more like an evolution. I’ve been living with fewer possessions (than some) and in small places for a long time, and I like not having excess things. I was also already conditioned to compost my food scraps, to use biodegradable soaps and cleaning products, to conserve energy and water, and to grow and make as much food as I could, which is a big part of living where we live. When people visit and mention that our place is small, I realize that I don’t notice the smallness that often. We have exactly what we need, and it seems like it all just fits. I’ve spent a lot of time working on getting down to the basics in my own life, and it turns out that I can be really happy in a simple living situation.

Todd: I’ve always been a “less is more” kind of guy. I never yearned for more stuff or a bigger place to live. Being on acreage in the forest, I have grown to love my time in the mountains more than space and stuff.

What was the process like to move into your tiny home?

Becky: I moved in with Todd, so a lot of it was getting rid of certain things, so we wouldn’t have duplicates (we don’t need two mattresses), except the cast iron pots and pans. We have a collection of those now. I had to get used to monitoring the propane use and walking our cans a half mile to where the city will pick up the garbage and recycling. Otherwise, the experience wasn’t that different than other times I’ve moved.  

Todd: It was like any other move, considering I was a student going from rented room to rented room. The space became challenging. As I grew older, I felt society pushing me to accumulate more things and have more space for those things, but I never bought into that mindset. Also, the space becomes increasingly small with one kid, then two kids, but we manage, and do the dance, literally and figuratively (the kitchen is so tiny we find ourselves contorting and shimmying when making a meal).

What's it like living with children in a small space?

It can be a lot of energy sometimes. But most of the time it works pretty well. They are small now, but in the future, we think we actually will need more indoor space. More grown people living in this space would be difficult. Especially teenagers.

How do you balance work and living in a small space?

The cost of living in Santa Cruz is phenomenally high. Silicon Valley tech employees may be some of the few that can afford the high property costs here. And rent is insane. Our situation is uniquely cheap, perhaps because the landlord doesn’t feel the need to make as much rent as he can. If we didn’t have the rent we do, I would probably not be living in Santa Cruz County right now.

I quit my job at an environmental consulting firm to be a full-time graduate student, and I feel immensely lucky to be able to live with low rent in a beautiful place while I attend school. I recently set up a desk space and it’s awesome. I feel inspired to work at my desk here in the redwoods, and I think the space really supports me in the work I’m doing as a student. 

What do you do for health insurance?

I am covered by the California’s health insurance for the lowest income bracket. It is essentially free while I’m not making very much of an income. 

Where do you shower? 

We have a shower in the trailer that we use.

What are your hobbies?

We are both gardeners (Todd does it for a living), so tending to our yard and vegetable garden are our hobbies. We are in two musical groups, and that takes a lot of our time. We practice often and play locally at different venues and farmer’s markets. I am an amateur potter and throw pottery in a makeshift, indoor and outdoor studio space. 

We love living outdoors, so creating a healthy robust garden is second nature to us. Most of the summer we eat and practice music outside.

Our musical endeavors take up much of our time. Learning new songs and honing our crafts is a lifelong challenge. With our different backgrounds—me with old time music and Todd with Jazz—we breathe new life into standard tunes from either repertoire.

We pride ourselves on constantly trying to become better musicians and playing music with feeling, whatever that feeling may be on that given day.

We are in a trio (Santa Cruz Mountain String Trio) in which Todd plays mandolin, and in a duo (The True West) in which he plays guitar. Both bands are acoustic string bands, and we play an eclectic mix of old time, gypsy jazz, swing and blues. We play mostly around Santa Cruz and sometimes in the San Francisco bay area.

What are the top three go-to items in your tiny home?

Instruments: We love playing music and don’t have a TV, so these are really important.

Cast Iron Cookware: Cooking is a favorite past time of ours. 

Wood Stove: We have to stay warm in the redwoods in the winter.

What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?

We like that cleaning is easy, because there is not much space to clean. Living the way we do forces us to be careful with our belongings and really think before buying something. It forces us to be outside more, especially in the spring and summer months.

We love being in touch with the seasons and hearing the owls and frogs outside during the night through our thin, yurt walls.

What has been the most challenging?

When one of us needs space, sometimes it’s hard to come by. We end up spending so much time together in close quarters that we don’t notice we need a break until it’s too late. It’s challenged us to communicate better when emotions run high.

What is your advice to future homeowners who want to live small or hit the road?

Our yard is like another living room/kitchen (especially when we BBQ almost everyday in the summer). If you choose to live small and don’t own your land, be ready to live out of town (for cheaper rent), and be prepared for the type of living that comes with living up a winding road, away from an urban area. And don’t be afraid to try to fix it yourself. 

We would encourage anyone to think about the outdoor space where they live in addition to their indoor space.

What's next? Any news you want to share?

Our latest music project, The True West, is playing more, and we’re working on writing more original songs to add to our old time jazz and blues repertoire. I am also making more pottery (mostly stoneware) and will be opening an Etsy store sometime this year.

Also, the Trio continues to gain momentum and we look forward to creating more music in the years to come.

As always, we look forward to each season, every trip, to getting on the road in our Vanagon and venturing out into this great big world.

Follow Becky & Todd and their Music

Santa Cruz Mountain String Trio

The True West

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to the Santa Cruz Mountain String Trio.