Renovating an Old Trailer for under $1,200

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I’m touched by Nicolettes’s story. She found an abandoned structure and with no money and no tools she managed to build herself a tiny house out of trash and scraps and donated supplies. In total it took her a year an a half and about $1,182 to make this space a home.

This structure was given to her for free in exchange for its removal. The wagon (as the Germans like to call it), somehow in its 20 years as a backyard garden shed had its wheels sunk 2 feet into the ground. It had to be excavated and moved 25 miles to its new location in Mainz, Germany, where the renovations would begin.


“Nikki, you’re not going to be able to fix up the whole wagon without any money.” The words of a non-believer. “You’re going to need materials, tools.”

“I can borrow all of the tools. And maybe in the end I will have to buy a few things, it’s looking like stain and paint right now, but so far I’ve found everything I had on my “to buy” list when I started. It’s turning out to be a damn good thing I didn’t have any money then. The longer I wait, the more I’m finding.”

He shook his head, thinking I was naive. I shook my head, thinking he was mighty skeptical for someone who also regularly dug through the trash.


Of course with makers of all sorts her “trash house” project is never quite finished but I’m happy she shared these photos with me.

On Nicolette’s blog you’ll find well-written stories of dumpster diving adventures, the brutally honest struggle of DIY home renovations, and life in a wagenplatz community in Germany.

Photo credit: Click Clack Gorilla

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clickclackgorilla 01/13/2011 at 1:44 am

This is so lovely! Thanks for putting together such a nice post about my project! Abosoultely love clicking through all the purdy projects on this site. Keep up the awesome work. Three cheers for tiny dwellings!

Missy 01/13/2011 at 8:13 am

Love it!

Is there a bathroom?

deborah 01/13/2011 at 1:20 pm

Colorful, cozy, and delightful! I see a pot on the stove and I see a hanging strainer on a wall but is there really a little kitchen area? Bathroom? Or is this just a hide-away for a backyard?

Hillary 01/13/2011 at 1:24 pm

Oh yes, maybe I’ll add another picture I found (looking in the other direction) that includes what appears to be a tiny kitchen and a bathroom and/or closet. Maybe Nicolette can clarify. 🙂

Gypsy Ward 01/13/2011 at 3:12 pm

Love your story…..I am intending to do a similar thing and it is inspiring to know it can be done even when you are an old nanna.

Hillary 01/13/2011 at 3:55 pm

Go for it Gypsy! You rock!

clickclackgorilla 01/14/2011 at 3:40 am

Missy: In this particular structure there is no bathroom. But let me explain. I live in a community of 17 people who all live in similar structures. We’re an intentional community–not an accidental neighborhood–so we do a lot of things together. What this means is that we have a handful of these wooden trailers that we use for communal stuff. One is bathroom, one is living room (with a television and movies and a ton of board games, couches, and a big table), and we have four separate trailers where smaller groups of people have kitchens together. The kitchen that you see in here is what I like to think of as my “tea and winter kitchen.” I make small things in there all year round, and when it gets obscenely cold everything in the communal kitchen I use ends up frozen, so I prefer to switch to my little kitchen (where I keep the wood stove burning more steadily) during those times so all the damn lettuce doesn’t end up frozen. 🙂

There are a ton of these communities in Germany where I live, mostly on squatted land. Every place is different, but we’re one of the few that has grid electricity and has a bathroom with running water. In the trailer community I lived in before this one in another city, we had compost toilets, also outside of our trailers of course.

Deborah: I think I answer part of your question in the response above. But be assured, this is not a garden hideaway, this is where I live full time. Going on three years now in this spot. The wooden trailer that I lived in before this was much smaller and so adorable…looked like a shoe.

Gypsy: Awesome. Best of luck! If someone told me five years ago that I would have done a project like this I never would have believed them. Before this renovation project the most complicated thing I’d ever built was a cd shelf. Haha.

Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural 01/14/2011 at 5:50 am

It came out so pretty. I love it. It reminds me of when I lived in my school bus, which I miss very much.

jason roberts 01/18/2011 at 3:47 pm

awesome story cool house

Hillary 01/19/2011 at 9:59 am

Thanks Victoria and Jason. And I’m glad to have that clarifying info, Nicolette. Keep in touch!

Derek 02/16/2011 at 8:11 pm

Great article and site. Will be back for ideas on our current downsizing plan 🙂

Hillary 02/24/2011 at 12:12 pm

Thanks Derek!

George 03/03/2011 at 12:36 pm

Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy. I actually work for the CheapOair travel blog. If you’re interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: gchristodoulou(at)cheapoair(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Steven 04/14/2011 at 6:51 pm

It’s amazing how cheap you can live and your dwelling can be when you’re intentional about it.

Heather 07/30/2011 at 6:09 pm

I love this post! Your trailer turned out beautifully.
One question, I have been reading about the wagenplatz communities, and I was wondering how you go about living in one of those communities. Can you just show up? If you could give me more information about it I would be super appreciative!

Mari 04/22/2013 at 3:34 pm

Just Beautiful!
Please share new updates when you can.

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