Don't worry, I didn't get rid of the truck.


My home is roughly 16' x 6', or 96 ft2. That makes it a little smaller than your average bedroom. In other words, it's in my best interest to optimize how I use my limited space. Two years ago, I talked about consolidating and defragmenting how I laid out my room. The diagram I used looked like this:

By rearranging my things (all three of them), I was able to clear up some space. Not that I actually used that space for anything, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Though as time went on, my tidy arrangement kinda…fell apart. I shuffled stuff around to help people move, I threw things away, I loaded and unloaded everything to make room for repairs, and just generally accumulated some cruft along the way. If I were to draw the diagram again as of last week, it'd look like this:

There's still some space, but it's certainly not optimal. Plus, that diagram isn't really telling the whole story. For one, Bed is in pretty rough shape. The springs have lost most of their will to spring, and the box-spring cloth is torn to shreds from being dragged back and forth across the truck half a bajillion times.

And Dresser…well Dresser has seen better days. Dresser took a tumble or two on some particularly tight turns, which ripped out my arts and crafts straps. Those straps, I might add, had already been shoddily replaced a few times. Adding insult to Dresser's mortal injury, previous water damage meant that I had to rip out most of the back paneling, making Dresser pretty wobbly. I had attempted to brace it with a spare 2x4, but even that was starting to give way.

Unsurprisingly, Ikea furniture was not meant for the trials and tribulations of truck life.

Dresser was coming apart at every possible seam. The last picture was taken mere minutes before Dresser met its timely death.

And the cherry on my sad truck sundae: the cruft and clutter. I had a big box full of Random Stuff™: bike parts, unsorted Christmas gifts, a Motorcycle helmet, cleaning supplies, a pile of insurance and stock documents, and god knows what else. And my shoes had clearly been wandering, evenly distributing themselves around the remaining space.

Even still, it's not really that bad. At the end of the day, it's still perfectly livable.*

I think at the heart of it, I just enjoy being organized. It's probably a control thing. If my home is organized and clean, I feel like I generally have my affairs in order. Conversely, when the truck looks like a bomb went off in a shared Home Depot/Goodwill dumpster, I feel unprepared.

It's also about keeping up some semblance of appearances. I'm living in a truck, I need to do something to make it look like I have my life together. It's why I try to wear halfway decent dress shirts to work, and (attempt to) maintain this blog. I can't live in a truck and have it look like a war zone. I made a helpful chart to illustrate my point:

Given the irrefutable evidence of the above chart, it goes without saying that something had to change. So I formulated a plan, and last weekend, I threw away all two pieces of furniture I owned.

The Plan

  1. Buy things - I can't just throw away all my stuff and live in an empty truck. That's a bit hardcore for my tastes. I have to find suitable replacement things first. I tried to stick to my general purchasing strategy: Think about what I truly need, and then make a careful purchase of some high-quality, long-lasting items that satisfy those needs.
  2. Assemble things - If you want something done right, do it yourself. Plus, it's cheaper to buy things unassembled. And some pre-built things are harder to get delivered. And you usually learn some stuff in the assembly process.
  3. Throw out things - Complete the catharsis. Kick the old stuff to the curb. If it makes sense to donate it, do that instead.

Straight-forward enough. But, as always, the truck throws some interesting wrenches in the mix. Where do I get large things delivered? Where do I assemble these things? Do I have enough room for both the old things and the new things? How/Where do I even get rid of the old things? I started by buying things.

Buying Things

I went in with a clear idea of what I needed: a bed and a dresser. Nothing more, nothing less. I kept an eye open for ways to make better use of the limited space, and let that inform my purchases. I started with the bed. I knew I couldn't have a mattress professionally delivered to me, I don't have a "real" address, and I don't think they'd appreciate me giving them some random GPS coordinates corresponding to a parking lot somewhere in South Bay. So my options were either 1) shop online and have it delivered to my mailbox, or 2) pick one up in a store. Both options were fine, but after a bit of research it looks like you pay a pretty hefty markup for shopping at a brick and mortar store. Unless I wanted to spend several thousand extra dollars for fun, my choice was pretty much made for me.

I started researching and comparing online brands. I'm not going to link to them because I'm lazy, but I was looking at Purple, Casper, Tuft and Needle, Leesa, Amerisleep, and a few others. After a week of reading reviews and comparisons, I had narrowed it down to Casper and Leesa, based mainly on price and volatile organic compound (VOC) levels. Price is a pretty normal metric to use. As for VOCs, I figured the mattress would be in a much smaller area than the manufacturer intended, with less air circulation. I don't want to saturate my limited air supply with irritants and sadness. In the end though, it came down to which one was cheaper after all applicable discounts, and Leesa came in at a riveting $6 cheaper. Not much of a difference, but fine as a tie-breaker.

Historically, my feet always flirted with the edge of the bed, so I ordered a Twin XL to replace my Twin. This meant I couldn't really reuse my tattered box-spring, even if I wanted to. I found a tall mattress base that looked good, and had the added bonus of giving me some under-bed storage space. I picked up new sheets and a memory-foam pillow for completeness.

To avoid annoying my postmaster with a 4 foot tall, 50+ pound package lingering around his shipping center, I picked it up within an hour or so of it being dropped off (according to shipment tracking). I did the same thing with the mattress base and the barrage of other packages. If there's any one single person I want to stay on good terms with, it's the dude who has complete control over my address and mail situation.

As for the dresser, I had failed pretty miserably with trying to make my own strap securements for the drawers, so I wanted something with a built-in locking mechanism. I guess I played it pretty fast and loose with my requirements, because I ended up getting a six-foot tall, welded steel garage storage unit, which I wouldn't really consider a "dresser".

28.5 ft3 of raw, storage-y goodness.

While unorthodox, this has a number of benefits over any dresser-based solution. For one, this thing is huge. Volume-wise, it's probably twice the size of the dresser I tossed out. That means I can fit all my clothes, and any remaining Random Stuff™ worth keeping. It's also made of steel, so it's more sturdy and durable than any wooden furniture I could have picked up. Even though I don't have any more water/leak problems, it's still nice to have something a bit more resilient to such things. Best of all, this thing locks, which means the doors won't be opening while I'm driving (provided I remember to lock it). It's also more secure, not that I'm worried about people stealing from me.**

Instead of having the 150+ pound unassembled cabinet shipped to me, I went to a local Home Depot to pick it up. Unluckily for me, the first Home Depot I went to didn't have it in stock, which was entirely my fault because I didn't check their handy online inventory system. Luckily for me, not only did the second Home Depot have them in stock, they had a display unit that I could look at beforehand to help figure out how I wanted to organize and store things.

Assembling Things

At this point, my truck has my old bed and box-spring, my new bed (in a box) my new bed frame (in a box), sheets, pillows, and an unassembled ginormous storage cabinet. It's getting pretty crowded in there. So right after I bought the cabinet, on a sweltering Saturday morning, I plunked the truck down in an unassuming, low-traffic part of the Home Depot parking lot and got to work.

I should note that, for better or worse, this isn't my first time assembling things in a Home Depot parking lot. I had done something similar for the Ikea dresser I was now replacing. Not that that makes it any less weird, but it ends up working out pretty well. For one, I'm always missing some tool or piece of hardware, but I never realize it until the assembly process is well underway. It's obscenely convenient to take a 30 second walk and go pick up the part I'm missing.

Case in point: I made nine independent trips into Home Depot that faithful day. The first one was when Home Depot that told me my storage unit was in another castle, but the other eight trips were picking up drill bits, repeatedly buying ill-fitting screws of different sizes, remembering I needed caulking, returning the drill bits I didn't need, buying plastic bins—you get the idea.

Assembling the bed was a breeze. Modern memory-foam mattresses come vacuum-sealed, setting them up is just unrolling them and gingerly evicerating the plastic casing. Bed frame assembly amounted to unfolding it and tightening four wing nuts.

Assembling the storage cabinet was harder, but still straight-forward. It required ~80 screws, which I lovingly hand-tightened with a small, provided hex key before realizing the other doodad in the box was a hex insert drill bit that would have made my work 1,000x more efficient. Such is life.

Throwing Things Out

Post-assembly, the truck was in far and away the most disheveled state it has ever been in. Sure, I had a bunch of shiny new furniture, but I also had all of my old furniture, plus a small mountain of garbage packing materials. On top of that, I had gone through all of my Random Stuff™ and tossed out everything I didn't need, like old building supplies, unnecessary documents, and parts of my now-defunct bike rack.

The truck was looking extra chaotic during (and after) assembly. At one point, large steel panels covered pretty much every available surface.

Which leads me to my previously posed question, where do I put all this trash? Conveniently, there's a public landfill in Santa Clara. It also happens to be a stone's throw from Home Depot…just not the Home Depot I had been assembling things at. Anyway, this landfill has a bunch of different rates depending on what you're dumping and whether or not you're a resident. Since my mailbox is in Santa Clara and that's what's on my license, I get the discounted 'resident' rate. I feel morally ambiguous about this, but not enough to actually stop me from continuing to use it.

The way the process works, they weigh your truck on the way in, and they weigh it on the way out. You're charged based on the difference, at a "general rubbish" rate of ~$20/yd3 for "residents", which usually means I pay like $10 to toss all my junk. Those units are kind of strange though. Cubic yards? That's a measure of volume, but they're charging based on truck weight, which means that they must have some idea of "average garbage density." I haven't the slightest idea what that would be, but I also don't care enough to try and calculate it from my receipt.

Tragically, I didn't get my rate of $20/yd3 though. This time, when I showed up, they asked me to open the back, which was definitely a first for me. The garbage was obscuring most of my actual living setup, so it probably wasn't immediately obvious that I live in there. Not that they would have cared, but I was there to clean out my closet, not to explain the skeletons in there. The only comment they had was that the two mattresses (old mattress and old box-spring) would cost $50 a piece to toss, which is at least 20x the normal rate for their weight. Not sure why this is the case, some sort of premium for not trying to sell them on Craigslist or something? Who knows. I paid my $108 and was on my way.

Good as New

When I got back to my usual stomping grounds, I did a quick sweep and tied up some loose ends, like finishing up some organizational matters and securing the cabinet to the wall. The black finish is so darn reflective it's hard to get a good picture:

Everything I own either fits in the cabinet or, for some of the larger things, under my bed.

Tallying up the cost of this home improvement project:

  • Sheets and Pillows: $79.54
  • Bed frame: $84.99
  • Garbage disposal: $108
  • Cabinet and accessories: $412
  • Memory-foam Mattress: $583
  • Not living in a disorganized truck dumpster: Priceless

*Naturally, this will depend on your definition of livable. The truck still doesn't have plumbing or electricity or anything normal like that.

**I'm always saying that if someone robbed the truck, they'd basically just be cleaning for me.

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