After six months and multiple delays, at noon on Isaac’s birthday a truck rumbled down our road to unload a rusty blue shipping container beside our driveway. Inside it were all the things we had decided to bring with us when we left San Francisco, including a ton of building materials for our tiny house. Isaac ran down the driveway to help while I waited for the kids to wake up from their naps, wondering what it would be like to crack open those big steel doors and see what was inside.
The journey our stuff has taken to get here was pretty intense. We were told the day before our move that there wasn’t a shipping container available for us in the Bay Area, so our moving company was going to load our things into a truck and take it to a storage facility. We have an Apple “Airtag” tracker on our big electric bike, and checked regularly to see where it was once the moving truck drove off. Weeks went by and it was still in storage in San Jose. Then months passed. The date we expected to receive our stuff came and went in October, and still our things sat in storage.
Meanwhile, ships backed up into the hundreds outside California ports. As New Zealand welcomed Covid and went into lockdown, every shipment from the bay area to New Zealand was cancelled. Finally, our movers decided to re-pack our stuff into a truck and drive it down to Long Beach, where we hoped to get a spot on an outgoing ship. The cost of shipping containers had gone up four-fold by this point in the pandemic, and we footed the bill for some of the additional cost, eager to just get our things and move on.
A few weeks after arriving in Long Beach, our stuff was loaded into a container and onto a ship. We watched as the tracker on our bike went off the grid. When it reappeared in early December, it was in Auckland. But that wasn’t the end of the road.
Our stuff had to get unpacked again to go through customs, which included a thorough inspection and biosafety decontamination. Then, it got packed up again and sent to a warehouse where, finally, it was reloaded for the last time into a secondhand container we had purchased here in Auckland. That was ferried over to the island and hauled by truck across the narrow island road to our driveway, where we would have a digger haul it up the hill to its permanent home.
It would be a miracle, I reasoned, if everything was in tact after all that.
When the kids woke up, I grabbed some snacks and their shoes and we ran down the driveway together. The huge doors creaked as Isaac cut the bolt on the container and opened it up. “Our bike!” yelled our 3-year-old, followed closely with “Where’s my crane truck?! And the legos?!” We spent the afternoon sifting through things, unloading bikes and surf boards (our priorities!), and digging out the four boxes of toys we had brought with us, much to the kids’ delight.
Everything was there. And all I could think was that everything was so clean. The clothes I pulled from our boxes were so soft they felt brand new. The towels too. The kids’ toys were shiny and bright. “Wow,” I said to Isaac, “this makes me realise how hard life here is on things.” The clothes we have had with us since we got here are by now faded from the harsh UV sunlight, and stained from days of playing in the dirt or the mud. Even the toys and books brought on the plane with us have aged in the living conditions, turning rusty or rumpled. “Yep, the island takes a toll on your stuff,” Isaac replied.
Stepping into the container of our old life was akin to walking into our old apartment. Or slipping on an old skin. As I pulled a pair of Birkenstock’s from a box and put them on, I noticed how calloused and rough my feet have gotten from going barefoot so often. I unwrapped our old full length mirror, and my face in it looked different – new freckles on my nose, un-plucked eyebrows, and sun spots on my chest. I hardly look in the mirror here, so it was like seeing myself for the first time. Turns out when you live outside, you begin to look as if you do.
I picked up furniture with ease, my arms and back stronger now that I’m on my feet all day instead of sitting at a desk. I felt physically transformed from my old self. And in the end, I left most of my things in their boxes. A swimsuit, my tarot cards, a pair of pajamas, and a sun dress were all I brought inside for myself. Everything else seemed too nice, too pristine, to be useful to me in this environment. I re-sealed the tape on the boxes and stacked them back in the container for storage.
Part of the roughness of living here is also having two young kids. They track mud and sand into the house, reach for hugs with berries squashed on their hands, or dribble popsicle juice on my lap. Case in point: we brought the full length mirror inside and propped it against the bedroom wall where we wanted to mount it. I went downstairs to find a nail and heard a BANG. I ran back to see the mirror smashed on the ground, knocked over by our youngest, who cowered in the doorway unharmed. Our stuff survived the massive journey across the Pacific, but couldn’t hold up against our toddlers.
That evening Isaac’s parents came down to put the kids in bed, gifting him an evening out with me for his birthday. We hiked a picnic up the central ridge of the island to a spot where you can see the whole thing. The endless edge of the pacific expanded to the east and the shadows of the mainland rose up from the west. “What do you think of living here, now that it’s been half a year?” Isaac asked. It had been a day of reckoning, and these things were on our minds.
As is so often the case, there is no simple answer. Just a feeling. It feels right, I said, but nothing like I expected. Building a tiny house with kids in the mix is so much harder than I imagined. The pandemic is worse here culturally than I could have predicted, with people’s feelings around vaccination and mandates revealing political divides akin to those back in the states. But the island is more welcoming than I pictured, and we have friends here that we really like. Everything is more beautiful to me than it ever was on vacations here in the past, now that we are a part of it. We’ve all changed since we got here – I like who I’m becoming, and there’s not much more you can ask for than that.
A few days after the container arrived, we charged up the electric bike and inflated the tires. The kids climbed in front and we took off. They giggled the whole way down the valley, pointing at the cows and shrieking into the wind. This bike was the reason we shipped our things to New Zealand – we loved it too much we didn’t want to part with it. So before we moved here, I had pictured myself riding across this island on it – with the kids in front and the wind in my hair, confidently settled here in this new life and in this new skin. As we rounded the bend and the ocean popped into view, it felt just like that.
I haven't written in a while about the progress on our tiny house, and so much has happened. I can't wait to post this week about that – it's so exciting for those who, like me, love the geeky side of building projects.