The Small Life: The “Big M Ranch” Camper Homestead

The Small Life: The "Big M Ranch" Camper |asmalllife.com
Hey ya’ll! On the blog I love to feature other people living “small.” That might mean living in an Airstream, a tiny house or just living a bit unconventionally. Today I want to introduce you to my new friends, Dana and Houston. Dana and Houston live full-time in a camper on a homestead called “Big M Ranch” in South Carolina. This is their inspiring story.

My name is Dana Mize. My day job is running and operating a Whole Body Donation Program for the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville and The Greenville Health System in upstate, South Carolina. I have been in the Death Care Industry since my 16th birthday and I enjoy the deep connections that grow between myself and others when I can help them through such a difficult time.

We recently moved from Easley, South Carolina where I was born and raised. The “booming metropolis” we moved to is Belton, SC. It’s a one street town on the outskirts of Anderson. Before we moved onto our homestead, we were all living together in my husband, Houston’s, family home. Since the move, Houston and I have purchased a 1985 Prowler camper to live in with our little weenie dog, Hickory. Houston’s family has also purchased a camper to live in. We wanted to stay a close knit family and living on the same property seemed like the best option for us.

The Small Life: The "Big M Ranch" Camper |asmalllife.com

Why did you decide to move into a camper?

A: My husband and I decided to move into a camper after we got married because it was necessary in order for us to move forward with our homestead. We bought a 50 acre tract of farmland in upstate South Carolina with my in-laws and we have yet to build home sites. Doing this also freed up what would have been “living expenses” in order for us to DESTROY our debt.

Did you remodel your camper?

We purchased a 1985 Prowler camper for $1800 on Craigslist. It was covered in really sexy wood paneling and linoleum flooring. I MEAN COVERED! We knew we would be living in it long terms and wanted to make it feel more like home. So we took about 2 months painting and refinishing the walls and cabinets. We fixed a few bad spots in the floor and put down laminate. Other than those few simple things, we left it as is. I think we spent roughly $500 on the remodel.

How long have you been living in an camper?

We have been full-time happy campers for almost a year now. Prior to moving in full-time, we stayed in the camper most weekends for about two years.

The Small Life: The "Big M Ranch" Camper |asmalllife.com Please describe your home.

Our home is cozy and quaint. Not many things match, but for us it is all about functionality, and being comfortable instead of style. We painted the camper with the colors we hope to use in our future home, so it is like we are enjoying a little piece of the pie early!

Our living room space doubles as our bedroom and triples as our kitchen. We decided after 5 months sleeping on an uncomfortable fold-down-couch-bed that we would need an actual bed, so we moved our Tempurpedic into the living room and ditched the futon couch. It has been a great trade off but it is kind weird when we have company and have to ask them to sit on the bed.

Our bathroom is the size of a medium-sized desk and you are lucky to get all the way in, close the door and turn around in it! We also joke that is doubles as my “home office” when I have to take midnight/early morning death notification calls for work.

The kitchen is actually really nice for the year model of the camper. It is basically a double cabinet base with a small, two section sink, about 6 inches of counter space, a four propane burning stove and a double upper cabinet with microwave. The people that owned the camper before us also lived in it and replaced the original refrigerator with a large dorm fridge. We also have a tall cabinet that we use as a pantry. All in all the kitchen is about 5 feet long.

Down the little hall way is what we call the main bedroom, it has the folding couch/bed that we just leave down, a double overhead cabinet for storage, one large floor to ceiling cabinet for hanging clothes, one smaller cabinet for hanging clothes and four drawers. Over the bed is a little alcove where there is a bunk bed on the other side and a little window to see the lower bed from the top bunk. This room can be completely closed off and made into an actually tiny room. Moving to the very back are 2 more beds. One is a low lying bed with a small closet for hanging clothes and the upper bunk bed. We have converted this space into a “walk in closet”!

We put a bar up over the lower lying bed for our clothes and we put all of our shoes and accessories on the upper bunk bed. For heat we use a small electric heater.

Did you purchase your land? What was that process like?

Yes. When we came upon this tract of land we entered an owner-financing agreement with the land owner. That allows us enough time to get ourselves in better financial standing. This has been a slow, two-year process, but we are finally at the time where all of perseverance and hard work are paying off!

The entire family :)

The entire family 🙂

If you feel comfortable, we’d love to hear about the financial part of RV life? What was your budget?

We went about life a little “backwards.” Houston and Brian [her Father in law] signed the agreement for the land about a year or so before we got married. I bought the camper with money I saved up from my side photography business. We entered the owner-financing agreement with Houston’s parents for an almost 50 acre tract of property for around $170,000. Split that in half and that is about $85,000 for 25 acres of mostly flat, farm land. Not too shabby in our area!

Since we have had the opportunity and about 3 years to make monthly payments (with no interest, per our agreement) we will be able to pay down about $15,000-$20,000 before we even take out a mortgage out on our future build. We hope to be completely debt free, including our home, land, cars, EVERYTHING by the time we turn 30.

Have you saved money since living this lifestyle?

YES! That is one of the main reasons we decided to take this route instead of just taking out a traditional mortgage from the get-go and going on about our merry way. We are slowly digging ourselves out of a hole that I’m sure most young people find themselves in these days by way of student loans, credit cards, car payments and medical bills.

I couldn’t imagine how slow our debt free journey would go if we had a mortgage right now or rent with expensive utilities and upkeep expenses. Life is just so simple in a multitude of ways. This lifestyle is so gratifying; it makes us feel humble and vulnerable at the same time. I can’t wait until we have accomplished our goals and we will finally put use to our FULL INCOME, to do whatever God calls us to do with it!

The Small Life: The "Big M Ranch" Camper |asmalllife.com

Please describe your daily life.

Our lives right now are extremely simple because of our living quarters. We all work and go to school during the day, most of us are gone for at least 12 hours a day. Right now it stinks, but all of this hard work will allow us to work from home in the future and REALLY get to enjoy our homestead!

We take turns taking showers in our little “out house” we built that has a full size 36” shower, stackable washer and dryer, vanity/sink combo and closet space. When we get home from work we normally let our little doggie out to play, while I am making dinner. Dinner is usually a crock-pot meal or some type of baked meat and a veggie. Our oven is so tiny we really can’t do much with it, so we keep meals simple. We typically eat dinners sitting on the edge of our bed with little TV dinner tables in front of us. We don’t have a couch or room for a table to eat at so sometimes we even stand. In the warmer months, we eat outside at a table where our whole family can sit together and fellowship. Throughout the week we will do mini bonfires after dinner.

Our bed is in our living room so we normally will sit and read for a little while. Then we sleep, wake up the next morning and do it all over again. Our weekends are spent working outside, clearing property, resting and resetting our lives for the next week to make it easier on ourselves.

What is your favorite part of your home?

How cozy and quaint it is. Most people look at me like I have three heads when I tell them where and how we live, but our home is ours. It is what we have adapted to in order to reach some very important goals of ours. It is a drastic change from what we had done in the past, but sometimes your system needs drastic shock to clear out all the junk and see clearly!

The Small Life: The "Big M Ranch" Camper |asmalllife.com

What is the best part about living in your home? The worst part?

LIFE IS SIMPLE AND TO THE POINT! I think the human race is presented with too many choices and the act of choosing becomes sensory overload. You spend all of your time choosing instead of doing. Can I get an AMEN?!? We have so many choices to make that we stress ourselves out over choosing the “right” one each and every time. I never realized how much of my life was spent on making menial choices until I moved into our camper and experienced the freedom of this lifestyle.

What advice do you have for other people who want to live a similar lifestyle?

JUST DO IT. The hardest part is making the decision and following through with it. Be prepared to sacrifice things that you think you “need.” I would also tell them to make informed decisions and do their homework before jumping into it. Make sure you are asking people who have done this before what to do and the best way to do it. Research, read and educate yourself on the pros and cons to see if you really want to take this step in life. Make sure you want this with all of our heart because this journey would be extremely taxing on our husband and wife relationship if we weren’t on the same page. Emotions are heightened, space is limited and you each need to know how to control and adapt yourselves. Lastly, WANT BETTER FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY. That is the reason. Point. Blank. Period. Why we started. I grew up in a mill town where my mom was a waitress and my dad was a truck driver. They are 52 years old and my dad is still trucking with 22 payments away from paying off their home. I want our family tree to get away from paycheck-to-paycheck living. The Small Life: The "Big M Ranch" Camper |asmalllife.com

You can find out more about Dana and Houston on their website, Life on Big M, their Facebook, YouTube and the Roku Homestead Channel, just look for their Big M Ranch logo!

Do you live in a tiny house, Airstream, camper or RV? Do you simply live “unconventionally?” I’d love to chat. Email me to be featured in future posts.