This is kind of a behemoth post about how something as basic as food storage becomes ridiculously complicated in an unconventional living situation. I could probably break it up into two posts, but I figure it’s better to just get it all out of the way at once
One of the best and most frustrating aspects of this whole bus-dwelling endeavor is the fact that it’s temporary. And by “temporary” what I mean is… that I actually have no idea what I mean by that.
When we first moved in we anticipated being out here at least a year. As of now, it’s been over seven months and I am still telling people when they ask how long we expect to be in this situation “at least another year” (if I’m feeling optimistic).
Aside from the obvious reasons that it’s kind of a frustrating situation to be in, it mostly makes it difficult to plan for things or make longish-term decisions – especially when it comes to improving our personal comfort or saving money.
If we had made the decision to live in the bus permanently, there would be things that we could and would have done when we updated the interior to maximize space, to better suit our lifestyle and to generally make things a lot easier on ourselves. When issues arise currently, we would invest in long-term solutions instead of slapdash “good enough for now” band-aid fixes. This is, I think, a huge part of why we haven’t been able to fully embrace this lifestyle as some others have been able to.
We would replace the current sliding cupboards with something functional, fix our bedroom so we could actually sit up in bed and finish the porch so that the naked sheets of plywood aren’t covered up with tarps and the roof isn’t just a (borrowed) easy-up tent. We would replace the kitchen faucet with it’s various drips and leaks, install a p-trap under the shower so that we don’t have to cover up the drain to avoid a bad small and fix the fluorescent overhead lights to keep them from flickering for a solid minute whenever you turn on more than one at a time. Heck, while we were at it we’d install a septic system too!
(Noah read over that list and then looked at me and said “having a rough day?” And I laughed.)
That’s just to name a few. Everything competes for time and money and we have to ask ourselves “can we deal with this as is if it’s not FOREVER?” (Of course, then I start thinking ‘what if it IS forever???’ and I die a little inside, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Then there are the things that we ARE planning to invest money in in order to be able to continue to live out here through the winter – such as putting in a wind turbine in addition to our solar panel to boost our power output when the sun’s rays aren’t as prolific (currently, we try to keep all major electricity – the computer & overhead lights – off on cloudy mornings until the sun comes out again and the batteries recharge).
Anyway, all that to say that our whole food storage situation is a work in progress as we evaluate needs and costs, so don’t judge. I’ve mentioned this issue before (and got some awesome responses – I’ve added powdered milk into our pantry, at least for the kids) and it still continues to be a problem we’re trying to mitigate.
The main issue we have is that the fridge/freezer unit in the bus doesn’t work and we don’t have the foggiest idea what is wrong with it. I’ll go into why it hasn’t been fixed yet in a minute. Also, our solar set-up isn’t powerful enough to run our full-sized fridge.
Originally, when we first started out here we just piled all our food into a cooler for the few days that it took to get the fridge in the RV up and running (via propane). Then, once the RV fridge/freezer was working, we piled all our food in there. Unfortunately, the darn thing kept turning off randomly and without warning and sometimes during really HOT days which resulted in a lot of food spoilage which resulted in a LOT more spending on groceries!
After dealing with that for a few frustrating weeks we eventually decided to go back to using the cooler until we could either figure out what was wrong with the fridge in the RV OR the bus or have someone come out and look at it:
Noah’s risk assessment of this method: “The only way that something can go wrong is if we forget to buy ice and then we’ll have only ourselves to blame.”
A cooler is obviously not a permanent fix, but we worked with it for quite a while. It was a mother having to buy ice every few days (not to mention that it’s not cheap) and, unless things were sealed PERFECTLY, water would leak into things and ruin them which resulted in a LOT more spending on groceries! (Are you seeing a theme here?)
It was supremely helpful when, a couple months ago, my dad remembered that he had an old mini-fridge sitting around that ran off propane and gave it to us (thanks Pop!). It goes through a 5-gallon propane tank over the course of about 2 weeks and we haven’t had any real issues with it (unless we don’t notice that the propane has gone out, which results in spoilage which results in a LOT more spending on groceries… etc).
It’s not the COLDEST unit in the world, so things like raw meat don’t keep for nearly as long as they do in a normal fridge (and I therefore don’t keep raw meat in there for more than a day before cooking it). It is also super tiny so I can’t store a ton of stuff, but as a TEMPORARY thing, it works. Ish.
To maximize the space in the mini-fridge we are also still using the cooler just to store beverages (mostly milk, because it’s so much better icy cold!). Because we’re only storing tightly sealed things in it we started buying blocks of ice rather than bags, which are cheaper and last longer. Now nothing gets spoiled so it’s not nearly as expensive, plus it allows us to store more than one gallon of milk at a time, which results in LESS trips to the store and LESS spending on groceries! Hooray!
Another thing that we’re in process of doing is storing our full-sized fridge in a neighbor’s garage (we’ve offered to pay them to off-set the additional electricity costs). However, we’re still figuring out how that would work out in practice. It would require a bit more advance planning and inconvenience, plus intrusion into their space whenever we want to fetch something out of the fridge. But it could save us more money on groceries if we’re able to stock up on good deals that need to be frozen or refrigerated.
Of course, another question is why don’t we just fix the fridge in the bus?
For one thing, it’s not THAT much bigger than the mini-fridge we’re using now (although it does have a small freezer as well) and it also runs off propane, so it wouldn’t exactly save us money. Also, it’s a couple hundred dollars to even have someone experienced in RV fridge repairs come out and so much as LOOK at it (not to mention that when I called around every repairman that I spoke with was rude to the point where I thought it must have been some kind of joke, which was very strange).
It all comes back to what’s more effective in this situation for the (if there is grace in heaven above) SHORT-term.
SO. That was a huge amount of words to describe what would normally be a simple problem, and yet, for us, in this situation, is NOT so simple.