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Why most tiny house toilets aren’t for me

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Exploring the delicate bathroom issue, and other tiny home troubles

"I couldn’t possibly eat and sleep with poop plopped on the floor a few feet away from my head," I thought, over and over, for weeks on end. "That is not going to happen."

This troubling thought was the first thing that raced through my mind after being given the assignment to stay inside any Bay Area tiny home for one night. And I didn’t know what to do.

Oh, I have seen the shows. I know the stories. The tiny home revolution, wherein eager people ditch their cluttered, oversized lives in exchange for simpler, more tightly-packed ones, has been all the rage over the last two years. Programming like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House, Big Living detail not only the joys of smaller living but also the challenges—the biggest one being number two.

When it came time to choose my tiny home, my deep-seated toilet and sanitary issues far outweighed any concern over location, construction, and decor. For me, proper 20th century plumbing was very important; flushing isn’t a lifestyle, it’s a necessity. And in a tiny home, a modern toilet is never a guarantee.

I’ve heard of the small-home alternatives for bodily waste disposal: compost toilets, the luggable loo (i.e., a bucket topped with toilet seats), bathroom closet with a makeshift well where one covers their bodily waste with wood chips (wood chips!), and even incinerators where your fecal matter is torched to ashes.

There’s not enough Glade Mountain Air in the world to mask such a stench.

So when it came to selecting where to stay, I eschewed a Berkeley tiny house (a prototype that fit in perfectly with the traditional tiny home theme) and a rustic Santa Cruz tree house stunner in favor of a renovated Airstream—the "land yacht," as their known—in the tony Northern California town of Mill Valley.

While the little home’s facade had been restored to its original chrome-tastic gleam, the interiors of the 1969 Airstream had been entirely remodeled. Retro decor, cable, wi-fi, large geography map-covered bathroom with roomy shower, updated kitchen, and more invite you to what was ostensibly merely a trailer.

More importantly, it came with a beautiful, regular-sized porcelain toilet replete with modern plumbing. Glorious. One flush and digestive-tract troubles are flushed far, far away. Out of sight, out of mind, out of sniffing range.

This felt, at last, like home.

Located in the backyard of a downright delightful Mill Valley couple, the ‘60s trailer is completely secluded and private. Foliage hides you and your Airstream from any possibly prying eyes.

Views of Mt. Tam proved a refreshing vista compared to the Bay Bridge traffic I usually see from my apartment windows. And the deafening silence at night was a welcome respite from the city traffic din that cuts like a serrated knife through my SoMa apartment.

While the hills of Mill Valley provide many nature-filled highlights, like hiking trails galore and spiderwebs aplenty, I opted to stay inside the Airstream for the night and binge watch American Crime on my MacBook while I waited patiently for my French food delivery, care of Fast Food Francais, to arrive.

Munching on piping-hot pommes dauphines while watching Emmy-winning fare in a comfy queen-sized bed is my definition of roughing it.

When night fell, it was a shock to see something I had not seen in eons—stars in the sky. It’s easy to forget how much light pollution major metropolises suffer from until you spend an evening in (what I consider to be) nature.

After an unusually quiet and peaceful night’s sleep, breakfast waited for me in the fridge in the form of fresh organic raspberries, French-pressed coffee (Blue Bottle, of course), and artisan French-style yogurt.

Given my druthers, I would have preferred Greek style with a touch of honey. But if tiny home living has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t always get what you want. Alas, the struggle is all too real.

Could I live inside this Airstream? Sure. For a month. At the most. Then I would start to miss luxuries like insulation, closet space for my massive wardrobe, and room for pacing around while anxious.

While this renovated Airstream would be ideal as a permanent home for some folks, especially those who want their tiny home with a clear retro theme, I couldn’t deal with this lifestyle full-time. Besides, this part of Mill Valley gets terrible AT&T reception. And I’m not about to give up my unlimited data plan for a quieter, simpler life.

Something to keep in mind is that this particular Airstream is booked weeks, even months in advance, as this shiny jewel of an Airstream was featured in numerous publications over the year, including the New York Times.

Overnight stay comes to $150. More than most tiny home stays, but well worth it if your idea of living the smaller life still demands life’s minor luxuries.

Watch: Decor tips for living in a tiny cottage