Band-aid Fixes for Food Storage

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 πŸ™‚

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’tΒ  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 themΒ  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.

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19 thoughts on “Band-aid Fixes for Food Storage

  1. It’s the simple things that we take for granted. It sounds like a whole lot of work and planning to keep your food cold. You must have to shop often? It really is amazing just how little we can get by on when our situations necessitate it. We are rooting for you to get that house built!!!

  2. Ok, here’s a thought for Noah, the brilliant fix-it type that he is. Old refrigerators are generally easy to find, right? What about turning one into an ice box? You could set it outside since it won’t be plugged in, anyway. I’ll bet some of the homestead websites/mags would have some ideas…

      1. I don’t know how frozen they’d keep things (they’re even before my time!), but I seem to remember that ice cream could be kept at least for a while? But it’d keep your veggies, fruits, beverages cold and if you put the meat on the bottom close to the ice in the pan, it’d last for, I’m guessing, 3-5 days? And old fridges are cheap to find!

  3. So…how much of your house actually has to be built before you’ll be willing to move into it??? πŸ˜‰

    1. You know, the list of qualifications keeps getting shorter and shorter… πŸ˜€

      I think things will get easier once the building actually STARTS because then we’ll at least have temporary power (!!!) which will solve quite a few problems.

  4. What if you froze the gallons of drinking water, after drinking a bit to allow for expansion? You could freeze a few in a helpful persons chest freezer. It shouldn’t leak and you are buying water anyway. If you then store your meat under the jugs in the cooler it would last for a bit. I am so enjoying following along with your story!

  5. Ok – I know that Noah is a genius at fixing things. I realize he’s very handy. However, we do camp quite a bit, and the main reason our fridge in our travel trailer ever stops working is if the camper is AT ALL not level. Is there a possibility that the RV may simply need a little leveling? Do you even have to level an RV? Sorry if that sounds ridiculous. But it’s a thought.

    1. No, I totally appreciate the feedback – that’s a valid concern! We’ve made the RV as level as it is going to get by grading the area it’s parked on and putting boards under the wheels. The levels SAY it’s level, but who the heck knows?!

  6. Hello Sarah sorry to hear your having so much trouble that’s why we bought a fixer upper it was so much easier then going through all that red tape. It would have been great if the bus had been taken care of better then you might not be having so many problem your strong and smart I know you’ll accomplish your dream, we lived in the bus while we rebuilt the house, it was very exciting to finally move in it felt like we moved into a castle so much room your dream will come true be patient and keep working toward your goal and before you know it the bus will be nothing but a memory Wish You All The Best Dave & Family

    1. Thank you Dave! I was thinking about you guys as I wrote this, not in a bad way! You built it for your family (with only ONE kid, right? πŸ™‚ ) and we’re just trying to make it work for ours. You guys did an awesome job, it sat for a long time though.

      Glad you guys are still following along!

  7. Our rv frig wasn’t working. My husband pulled it out, and found out that the area where it needed to vent (has to have air flow to cool) was blocked. it had leaves and even a part of a wasp’s nest in it. Once he used his shop vac to clean it out, it has worked great! Hope it helps!

  8. Just wanted to say hi. I’ve been terribly busy with school and work, so I haven’t been keeping up with your story for some time now. I can’t believe you only have a few week left until the baby arrives. I’m sure it seems like a long pregnancy to you, but time has been flying by for me. I’ve enjoyed going back and reading what I missed. It sounds like a lot of turns in the road for you guys. I’m glad you got a new-to-you vehicle with AC and lots of space. Here is a joke for you to enjoy on me. My husband went to Florida for job training and bought a 2004 Volvo for really cheap and drove it home, which is a typical thing for him to do. But, the funny (terrible) part is that the heater doesn’t work. We live in northern Wisconsin where it rarely gets above ten degrees in the winter. I know he can fix it, but when is another story. Thankfully, we still have the 4runner with 312k miles on it that runs great and has heat.

    I think the comment about using an old frig to make a cold storage place is a great idea. Hey, do they have dairy delivery there? When we lived in Seattle, there was a dairy that delivered milk and all other dairy products. That could save you at least one trip to town a week.

    1. Yep, you might need a heater soon! My mom was born in Fairchild,Wisc., a village south of Eau Claire, but she left there when she was 5, so she didn’t have too many cold memories. When we went on a visit, I remember it as pretty, though!

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