"Live a quiet life, and work with your hands." For Katie Lindgren, a thirty-two year old middle school teacher, these are the words she lives by as she wraps up a ten month renovation on her 1989 Airstream Excella, which she's lovingly named "Trudy".
Katie's Airstream journey began during a season of hardship. After an eight year marriage, Katie went through a terrible divorce, losing nearly everything she'd ever worked for. She walked away with just her clothing, the money in her savings account, and her sweet pup Otis. Katie recalls feeling like a failure in those moments, yet strangely free for the first time in a decade.
Unsure of her next steps, Katie contemplated using her savings for a tiny house. She had been squirreling away a portion of her paychecks for years, building a nest egg for herself and her ex-husband, and after many long discussions with her dad, Katie came to the conclusion that a house just wasn't quite the right answer, and that's when her Airstream dream was born. She came home one day and asked her dad if he'd help her build out an old Airstream, and he simply smiled and said, "Now that's an idea I can get behind!" One week later, and Katie brought her Airstream home, parked it next to the garden, and began working that very day.
It's plain to see that this project is far more than just an Airstream project: for Katie, these past ten months working in her Airstream home has been a way to heal. When speaking with us about the work, Katie shared about her divorce and the depression that followed. At first, the Airstream was Katie's refuge. She would retreat into the work in solitude, not wishing to subject her friends and family to the pain she was going through. Yet over time, her friends began to come around and check in on her. Some folks would stay and spend the day helping her build, some simply brought her food and beer and move on.
Over time, Katie began to recognize the need for people in her life and is seeking balance in the work and having a social life. She loves how much the Airstream renovation has brought her family closer. Her mom has excitedly helped Katie decorate and shop for things she needs in her new home, and her brothers visit and bring their tools to pitch in. Katie speaks lovingly about her dad's help with Trudy, joking that she can do things better than any man, with the exception of her father. Katie is proud that she's learned so much on her own, and credits her dad for teaching her not just how to do certain tasks, but more importantly, to be an independent and capable woman, stepping back and allowing her to do the work herself.
Trudy is a partial gut restoration, purchased from a man who lived in the trailer for ten years prior. Katie reminisced a bit with us, sharing that the trailer was in pretty decent shape, with new axles, brakes and working electrical, but a tank leak had damaged the subfloor, and the walls were sticky and stinky. Katie chose to do a partial gut, replacing the subfloor and the insulation underneath, and simply patching and painting the existing interior skins. By reusing the kitchen cabinetry, and choosing a partial renovation, she was able to save a bit of money. Over the summer, Katie used her time off from teaching well, spending every single waking hour on her renovation. So far, Katie has invested about $14,000 in her tiny home, saying that she's over her initial budget of $10,000, but that number was based on having not done this type of work previously. Many of Katie's resources come from Instagram, along with websites specializing in vintage camper parts. She, like so many of us, love that this community is overwhelmingly full of positivity, kindness, and folks who share helpful tips and tricks.
When deciding on her interior elements, Katie wanted her new home to be happy, positive, and welcoming. She proudly tells us that it's very feminine - because Trudy is her home and she gets to decorate it how she wants! She painted the walls and cabinetry white to give the small space an airy and open feel, and added splashes of vibrant color in coral, orange, mint green, and cobalt blue. By repurposing cedar fencing planks, she built warm, rustic walls for her cozy bedroom. Katie's love for gardening and flowers is evident throughout the space, many of her friends and family have given Katie gifts for her new home, knowing she had nothing left and was starting anew. She marvels at how these random gifts all fit together so perfectly, and how most everything she's been given is covered in flowers.
Currently, Katie is nearing the end of her renovation. She has just a few big tasks left, including the shower and some repairs and polish on her belly pan. Smaller items, such as wallpapering, trim, facing around the fridge, and decorating, are on her to-do list. As of now, Katie has running water and is moving into Trudy full-time this week. She's been sleeping in Trudy up until now, but living part-time in her folks' home next door during the bulk of the renovation. Katie plans to be stationary through the end of the school year, but has plans to hitch up and travel around this summer. She hopes to kayak in North Carolina, go climbing out west, and see the Grand Canyon and the Sequoia National Forest. She also wants to stop in Colorado to see friends and then round out the trip by spending time with family, especially her grandmother, in Missouri.
Katie is looking forward to the simplicity life with Trudy will bring. She has found herself scaling down and living as a minimalist, realizing that she spent too many years spending money on fleeting things. She's found that she lives in the moment more and is putting emphasis on experiences rather than expenses - putting her extra money toward traveling, savings, and the people in her life. She believes this way of life is going to make her feel free.
Katie's life is truly reflective of the words she lives by. She spends her days teaching eighth grade students, coaching softball and the majorette team, and returning to her little Airstream home in the evening. Turning on her patio lights, Katie grabs a beer to sit outside with Otis and reflect on her day, sometimes strumming on her ukulele, sometimes she is simply still. She retreats to cook in her little kitchen, and then rounds out the evening working a bit on the Airstream before retiring to her warm, cozy bedroom. She loves when it rains, and she's looking forward to the spring, when she can polish Trudy and work in the garden.
It's amazing what a project like this can do, and the healing it can bring into our lives. Katie's story is incredibly touching and inspiring, and for me, struck home. Divorce can really shake up a person's life in so many ways, but hope and renewal are possible. Beauty can come from brokenness, and sometimes losing everything allows us to gain so much more than we could have ever thought possible. For Katie, working on her Airstream home has given her confidence she didn't know she had, and a sense of accomplishment she needed. She realizes that even though she walked away from everything she'd once worked for, by starting over and through the process of building her new home, she's gained more than she ever could have imagined. What a beautiful thing. We're so happy for you and your new life, Katie!