The Burgers are a fun-loving family of four living in less than 300 square feet. Their brave matriarch is Brynn, aka The Mama On The Rocks. She has been blogging about your family’s real-life experience raising a child with disabilities, as she puts it “the good, the bad and the ugly.” Brynn’s blog is comforting and challenging. She reminds me that perfection is overrated; a beautiful, vibrant life is full of imperfections and bumps in the road. The way you overcome and navigate around these hurdles is how you become a stronger person and stronger family.
Four months ago, the Burgers went tiny and have been loving it, despite the challenges. Mama Burger sat down with me, virtually, to share stories from their journey.
Tell us a little about you and your family.
My husband and I actually met working at a camp for people with disabilities after I had sold everything that wouldn’t fit in my car with my dog and moved three states away, knowing no one. My husband has a Parks and Recreation degree and had a dream of living on a dilapidated houseboat before he met me. So, we are accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle.
We love to hike, rock climb, bike and take naps in our hammock. We have two stellar kids who are six and one. Our oldest, Briggs, has several behavioral diagnoses. His needs were a large motivator for us to downsize and go tiny. Sparrow, our daughter, is as wild as they come, so she gives her brother a run for his money. Our pup, Lucha, showed up one day while we were playing outside. She had a huge scar on her face and a wide open demeanor, so she fit right in. We aren’t the typical family, so we live a non-typical lifestyle; makes perfect sense!
Why did you launch your blog, The Mama On The Rocks?
Our son’s behavior disorder diagnosis (he has 5) has been our primary focus over the last four years. We have made most of our major decisions around how to meet his needs and create an environment that encourages him to be successful.
I have always been a writer. Turns out, writing is incredibly therapeutic when you are going through a season of life that feels paralyzingly isolating—even from those closest to you. I launched the blog as a way for myself to cope with things we were going through and an avenue to connect to other mamas dealing with the same day-to-day that had become, as I put it when we launched, “both my prison and my passion.”
It was a lightbulb moment for me.
I had no idea it would take off the way it has. It is now this awesome community of tiny dwellers, parents, minimalists, and Roadschoolers (because the term “homeschool” didn’t fit our lifestyle) who are a support system for each other and whose comments bond them together in the two words that may be more powerful than any others, “me too”. This “me too” mentality has navigated me through posts about being overweight, minimising and selling most of what we owned, and being hilariously honest and sometimes violently vulnerable about the most cob-webby parts of our lives. It has allowed me to see that I am not alone.
What inspired you to go tiny?
When I was on maternity leave with our daughter, I must have binge-watched every episode of Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Expedition, and Tiny House Hunters.
As I waded through hours of episodes watching single after newly married couple building their THOW and hitting the road, I wondered if this life were possible for a family. My husband and I had been on a get-out-of-debt journey for years and then our daughter was put in the NICU after she was born so back in the black hole we went.
It was a lightbulb moment for me. I realized we could live the life we had always wanted and taught our kids the way they deserved to learn all in exchange for mountains of junk we didn’t even need. It was so simple that it was brilliant. So I pitched the idea to my husband and he was ready to pack up and leave that night.
He is a spontaneity rockstar. I, however, am a calculated risk-taker. So we spent the next year researching tiny living, off-grid living, boondocking, RVing vs THOWing and talking with tiny house builders. We went through several purges until we were left with only the essentials. I secretly interviewed for jobs within a five-state radius, and we decided on one, quit our jobs, sold our house, and announced that we were hitting the road to chase the adventure we’d always dreamed of, all within a two-week span. People looked at us like we had three heads, but it is the best decision we have ever made.
Describe your tiny home.
We had been planning our tiny dream home, but, for us, the liberation from debt was far too attractive to us than sinking what we’d made off of the sale of our home into another monthly payment. So, we opted to start our journey in a used 36ft fifth wheel camper. We now live in a 2011 Jayco Eagle with a bunkhouse for the kids and a separate bedroom in the front for us. That was a MUST as we shopped around. The bunkhouse has two slides. There is a super slide in the living room, and one slide in our bedroom. All told, it is just under 300 square feet of living space.
We wanted something to still feel like home and, as with many in the tiny community, we are unique, so we wanted to avoid the sterile RV feel. We went with a used trailer so we can make it our own without the fear of losing so much in the resale value.
We use propane for the stove and heat, and electric for the microwave, air conditioning, and fridge. We have adjusted to the smaller appliances and supplemented a lot with simple things like grilling outside more often and working our crockpot like a BOSS! We use a hand crank washing machine and line dries our clothes, which has proven to be a GREAT task for our severely ADHD son. He loves it and he gets the feeling of helping out the family.
Honestly, people ask us about “stuff” and storage all the time, but we have drawers and cupboards that we don’t even use. It is pretty freeing! We each have about 50 pieces of clothing, shoes, and coats per season. If something no longer fits or we don’t feel good in it, we give it away. I no longer own an entire tote of clothes I hope to squeeze back into one day, and that is awesome.
What do you most enjoy about your space?
We are outdoor people so we really enjoy the fact that a tiny indoor space encourages us to spend more time outside. I have honestly taken more naps in our hammock in the last three months than in my entire adult life. It is glorious.
This life isn’t for everyone and we don’t pretend that it is.
It also affords my husband to stay at home to Roadschool our kids, so with me as a teacher, I am home by 3:30 and we have the entire afternoon to play together. It is so incredible and has sincerely brought so much joy to our little family. No more late hours at the office. Instead, we spend long hours by the fire ring and have infinitely more family dance parties. It is kind of the greatest!
Where are you parked?
This is bizarre, but so is our whole life. I found a place on Airbnb while we were contemplating a job offer I had in Dayton, Ohio. I contacted the couple and, long story short, they agreed to let us park on their 20-acre property for a land rental fee. They are easily the most amazing people on the planet. I mean, guys, they have fruit trees, a garden that would be made a farmer jealous, and they have dog sat for us when we travel. Incredible.
We are parked between a beautiful pond and a field of hearty trees. The bike path is literally steps out our door and we are hooked up to a house they haven’t renovated yet, so we have electricity and water with no problems. It is near a killer hippie town with folks that don’t think we are crazy weirdos, delicious foodie restaurants with hometown people, and a solid homeschooling community of friends for our kiddos. While we plan to hit the road this summer, we are so overjoyed to be spending our first year here.
What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of living tiny?
For us, the rewards are endless and the challenges are few. What we find on the more irritating side of things isn’t what most people would probably imagine. We don’t mind the reduced space a bit! Our kids still run through the house, play in the floor, climb on the furniture. We still eat dinner at the table together every night. We watch movies and cook together like we always did before.
Now, we just have to schedule things like draining the gray and black water tanks (from sewage and shower water), and time to fill up the fresh water when it is below freezing at night. We allow more time for laundry since we wash it by hand and line dry or hit up the local laundromat in extra cold temps. We wash dishes outside to save space in our gray water tank so that is getting pretty chilly in the northern November weather. But none of these are major issues for us. It is helping our kids learn to pitch in and help out. Our daughter loves to help me unload the dishes and our son’s favorite new task is “helping daddy drain the poop tank”. I don’t understand six-year-old boys!
We used to rush around everywhere.
The most rewarding parts of tiny life for us come with the financial freedom it has afforded our family. We are now able to Roadschool our kids because only one of us works outside the home. By the way, my husband is a total machine. He handles all of the outside yucky stuff while also teaching the kids while I am at work. As a teacher, I create the curriculum and lesson plans around what our son is interested in so his units are on things like aviation and we are able to go on rad field trips to places like the National Airforce Museum near us and teach math and science lessons like trajectory and history lessons about the birth of the air force. It also allows his behaviors to take a backseat to his gifts so he can channel where he excels. Instead of surviving the daily public school pressures of desk seating and standardized testing, I come home to him constructing an entire barn out of sticks in the yard for his farm unit. It is probably my favorite part.
We no longer live paycheck to paycheck. We have a savings (say whhhaattttt!?). And we are able to give generously. This is something we have been desperate to do but our funds were stretched so thin before. We are now able to buy dinner for the air force soldiers at the next table, tip our pregnant waitress $20 extra, and simply give our “stuff” away instead of being worried about posting it for sale. We just don’t need it.
The emphasis is now placed on making memories and experiences together instead of accumulating “things”. We spend so much more time together doing worthwhile activities like playing outside, training for races (my husband and son are currently training for a Spartan race), and learning new hobbies like skateboarding and skiing. We are able to teach our children to serve others, to invest in their community, and to share what they have; in this crazy world, that is a gift.
What does intentional living mean to you?
Remembering life before going tiny, even though it was only three months ago, is like trying to recall who I was in high school. I mean, did that even happen in real life? We used to rush around everywhere. I don’t remember when we weren’t in a hurry. This constant rush caused major stress for our son’s behaviors and daily would induce meltdowns that lasted hours. It was a painful way to survive.
This is probably the greatest gift of going tiny.
Now, every day is a choice. There is no more “have to’s” only, “what do you want to do’s”. We are able to accomplish things we never had time for before downsizing. We spend so much more quality time both with our kids as well as together as a couple. And we no longer have excuses like “I can’t because I have to clean…” or “Sorry, I have to do all the yard work.” I clean, scrub, and sanitize our entire house in under 45 minutes every Saturday and my husband keeps up with the mowing, weed eating, and outside RV chores with help from our son. It is miraculous.
What do you hope your children will learn from living tiny?
We really want to allow our children to experience life instead of spending their time in rows of desks and watching us work tirelessly to pay for things that don’t even make us happy. This is probably the greatest gift of going tiny. We wondered if this life was even doable with two adults, two kids, and a dog, but it is the absolute greatest. Our kids don’t get hung up on things because they know we just don’t have room. They also know every few weeks they are going to go through their toys, books, and clothes to pull out what they haven’t used or worn so we can pass them along to people who need them more than we do. My husband and I do the same. In three months of tiny living, we have already done four purges.
I teach in an inner city, second chance high school for young adults from situations I wouldn’t think up in my worst nightmares. Many come to my classroom straight from the jail that shares our back parking lot. What our little family has been able to give to these students is a blessing. My son asked the other day if one of my students could come home with us for Thanksgiving, “because I don’t want them to not get to eat.” You guys. This is priceless to me.
This life isn’t for everyone and we don’t pretend that it is. But of all the decisions we have made in nearly 12 years together, most of the wild and seemingly insane to the innocent onlooker, this is our best one. We honestly cannot see ourselves “putting down roots” or buying another traditional house, maybe ever. This life of chasing adventure, giving back, and the freedom to go, play, and do is just too irresistible to pass up. We hope, one day, our kids will appreciate these memories that mean so much to us.
Follow the Burger family’s adventures and life lessons on http://themamaontherocks.com.
-Alexis Stephens, Tiny House Blog Contributor
My partner, Christian and I are traveling tiny house dwellers. Together we’ve been on the road two years for our documentary and community outreach project, Tiny House Expedition. We live, breathe, dream the tiny home community every day. This is our life and our true passion project. We are very grateful to be able to experience this inspiring movement in such an intimate way and to be able to share our exploration with all of you.