I normally don't interview people who aren't living full time in their tiny homes, but I am really inspired by what Taylor, Alex & Sam are doing.
Let me rewind for a second. It's funny to think that I met Taylor at Whole Foods of all places. We were both in line to get coffee, and Taylor was dancing by herself to the music playing in the store. I couldn't help but start laughing.
We got to chatting, and she said that she and her girlfriends, Sam and Alex, were passing through Colorado on their way to Idaho because they are part of SAM (Sharing America's Marrow). The three of them are on a mission to register at least 50,000 potential bone marrow donors in the U.S. so that they can help save the lives of patients with blood cancers and diseases like leukemia and lymphoma.
I mean, that's powerful stuff. But I don't have to tell you that. These three girls have a story of their own.
Square Feet: 132
Where are you currently living?
Alex, Sam and I (Taylor) are in constant motion. We've been on the road since late January and have been through 115 cities at this point. Our goal is to reach as many people as we can with our message and to see as much as we can in this year that we've given ourselves.
As I write this, we are driving through the dry vastness of Wyoming headed toward Idaho. We have Halsey's new Badlands album on, and it's creating a very sensational and other-worldly feeling.
Name the make, model and year of your home.
We travel in a 2015 Mercedes Sprinter with a 144" wheelbase that we call "Maggie."
We didn't quite have the capitol to purchase a car when we began this venture, and we knew we'd be putting on too many miles for a regular lease. Luckily, someone told us about a track lease, which means we can roll through as many miles as we want to without extra charge...endless opportunity!
What were you doing before you went mobile?
I was living in Alajuela, Costa Rica, working at a home for girls, Alex was at the Livestrong Foundation working as a fundraising ambassador and Sam was working on her bachelor's degree at Western Kentucky University.
why did you make the change?
We all went in this together and with the same motivations, I think.
Taking our campaign, SAM, on the road had two purposes in that way. At the same time it was the best way to reach as many people as possible at bone marrow donor registration events while also serving as a great opportunity to evolve.
Living and traveling out of a van offers a sort of lab environment or safe space where you can move through different phases without the usual cluttered distractions as certain people and places come and go. The van has been the only constant for the past eight months. We change with new experiences. Our relationship with each other and the rest of the outside world changes, and our settling is in eternal flux. But we consistently have the van to help center ourselves, reflect and use as a point of comparison; how we felt in the van on week three was much different than how we feel now. It's the only controlled and stable part of our lives.
How long have you been living there and do you live there full time/part time?
We are actually more so living out of the van than living in the van. We keep all our worldly possessions in the van, such as clothing, food, yoga mats, reading material and our business supplies. We sleep mainly at friends' houses, Airbnb spots and hotels.
Sam unfortunately has a chronic disease that requires her to get a lot of rest and stay in highly sanitary spaces due to a compromised immune system. To accommodate her and also to create enough space to use our van as a headquarters for our nonprofit, we decided that this was the best model.
We've been on the road almost eight months now, and we'll be ending our stint with Maggie on Christmas day this year.
What was the process like to move into your mobile home?
We spent a lot of time designing the inside, as Maggie was bare bones when she came to us. We had to decide between having a carpenter do a custom design to get exactly what we wanted and going with Sprinter-made built-ins. Ultimately, due to time and finances, we ended up going with the pre-made Sprinter built-ins. We needed cabinets for all of our registrations supplies (e.g., forms, envelopes, cheek swabs, informative literature, donor cards, merchandise), a modest amount of clothing to get us through all seasons and climates and space for food that we could keep and prepare in our mini-fridge/microwave combo.
We also wanted it to feel as much like a home as possible and not like a utility vehicle. Moving in was a fun process for all of us. You learn a lot about what's important to you when you're forced to select only what is absolutely necessary to have, and it was cool coming up with a food plan that was nutritious and of course delicious (and easily preservable). It took us about a week to get the space packed out and accessorized with extra netting and storage compartments. We also cut up bath rugs to fit the flooring in order to make everything feel more soft and warm.
How do you balance work and living in a small space?
Our van both acts as our home and mobile headquarters for SAM. We use this space to register potential bone marrow donors who can save the lives of patients with blood cancers and diseases like leukemia and lymphoma (registering consists of filling out a form and doing a cheek swab).
The namesake of our organization, Sam, was diagnosed five years ago with the life-threatening disease severe aplastic anemia and was unable to find a match for the bone marrow transplant she needed to be cured.
She is in remission thankfully due to intense drug therapy, but she still lives with the illness. That reality along with the fact that she is not unique and that several thousands of patients each year are unable to find a match drove us to begin this journey.
And at first, it was really hard. Normal things like eating, clothing ourselves and feeling mentally oriented seemed almost impossible. So adding on the heavy workload of running our own organization was a challenge of epic proportions.
But eventually we refined a system of living and a more organized work structure, which made doing the two of those not only possible but also enjoyable. We have way more time to explore, exercise and experience now—things that we find essential to a happy life. It was all about being flexible and willing to change the structure of things at the beginning. We did things differently almost every day in the first few weeks until we had a system that worked well.
What are your hobbies on the road?
We're fans of secondhand bookshops and even keep a small library in our van of books we pick up along the way. We don't have much free time, but reading is definitely a go-to hobby when there is some.
Alex and Sam are both painters and have art supplies in the van to draw and paint the different landscapes and people we encounter. Sam is currently on a new quest to illustrate tiny versions of building clusters.
Yoga, writing and the hunt for the best cuisine are all group favorites as well. I'm not sure if blasting music and dancing around is considered a hobby, but if it is, that would be another one that has gotten us through several bad days and tense arguments.
What are your top three go-to items in your van?
Library: We love the sheer entertainment of its wide variety of literature—ranging from impotence in 18th century France to Rilke poetry in its original German language (none of us speak German).
Glove Compartment: This contains our Wi-Fi hotspot and other wires necessary to keep modern devices alive.
Trash Can: Although we fail frequently, we attempt to keep the van clean and peaceful.
What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?
Stripping away distractions and routine is a great way to become very familiar with yourself. Of course it brought all of us to the dark and lonely places that only distraction can keep you out of. But once you get through that stuff, you come out the other side renewed and self-aware.
Also, we have registered more than 12,500 people to the bone marrow donor registry this year and found more than 95 potential matches for patients. It would have been worth it even if only one life had been saved from our efforts this year, but to be nearing 100 matches gives us the assurance that our method is working and the motivation to keep it up.
What is the most challenging thing?
Taylor: Navigating through our ever-evolving relationship with each other.
Alex: A good sense of humor and an understanding of each other is the way through that one.
Sam: Rejection. Bone marrow donor registration is wildly unpopular and has a huge stigma that needs to be broken down. That means we feel the sting of rejection several times every day.
What is your advice to future homeowners who want to live small or hit the road?
Taylor: Do it. As humans we can adapt to pretty much anything. Any initial roughness will pass.
Sam: You do not need as much as you think you do. The less you have, the easier your life will be.
Alex: When you have to live with fewer things, select the things that make you happy or remind you of good times.
What's next for you? Any news you want to share?
Taylor: I'll be moving to either New Zealand or Colorado without the semblance of a plan. We shall see what the universe has in store.
Sam: I have nine hours left to get my degree, so I'm picking my favorite spot in America and going there to finish up. I'm also honing in on my affinity for the drums.
Alex: I'm writing a book on this year and hopefully putting a documentary together, so be on the lookout for those!
Follow Taylor, Alex & Sam and their adventures on Instagram @sharemarrow2015. Check updates on their route on Facebook and Twitter. Browse their website to join the bone marrow donor registry, donate to the cause or host a donor jam.