An environmental science professor at a university in Texas is living in a 33 sq. foot dumpster for a year. Harvard-educated Dr. Jeff Wilson started this project in February and is now famous among his students by the name of “Professor Dumpster”. The purpose of this project is to show people that one can lead a pretty good life even in such conditions.
Currently, the dark green dumpster is parked in a corner of Huston-Tillotson University’s campus behind the women’s residence halls. According to Wilson, it is “the most thoughtfully designed tiniest home ever constructed”. Before their professor moved in, the students of Wilson cleaned and fixed the place for him to make it fit for residing in. They are planning to set up solar panels and an energy-producing toilet to make the dwelling as energy efficient as possible.
Wilson started downsizing his place of living after his divorce, firstly moving from a 2500 sq ft house to a 500 square foot apartment and selling off all his spare clothes and furniture at $1 per item. It was soon after that he realized how little he needed to survive. Eventually, this played a vital role in implementing this dumpster living idea.
Wilson, who had lived in his office for seven months after the lease on his apartment ran out, admitted, ‘Keeping that secret for seven months especially from the 3am cleaning staff and the 24-hour security, much less the students and my colleagues, was interesting in itself.’ But soon he pitched in the dumpster idea and got the university to sanction it and support it. The project revolves around the concept that the person will live on 1% of everything a random American uses, that is 1% space, 1% water, 1% energy and also producing only 1% of waste.
‘We could end up with a house under $10,000 that could be placed anywhere in the world,” Wilson elaborated while explaining the perks of the dumpster home. “Fueled by sunlight and surface water, people could have a pretty good laugh.” Being a minimalist now, Wilson only owns four pairs of pants, four shirts, three pair of shoes and a few bow ties. He stores all his worldly possessions under a false floor that was recently installed. His camping cooking equipment is also stored there.
Wilson got used to the place in a few months, and after installing some useful amenities, he started feeling comfortable at his new place. One of the first things was replacing the tarp roof with a sliding pitched roof with a weather station on top. Six months later, he fitted a modest air conditioner to cope with the extreme Austin heat.
“We didn’t want to make it too easy,” he said. “I wanted to see how elastic my sleeping habits would be relative to temperature and humidity. I found that I could actually get to sleep pretty well as long as I went to bed at about 11:00pm.” He tracks his personal climate in real-time using the weather-related data acquired through the weather station.
The project declares that Wilson will receive more amenities like a bed, a lamp and a dome to catch rainwater and get shade. The dumpster will also be featuring a tiny sink, a kitchen and locks, making it the only dumpster in the world with interior locking system. But what he’s eagerly waiting for is a toilet.
He currently uses the toilet at the university’s gym, but “getting to the toilet sometimes requires kind of a midnight run,” he said. It is believed that soon he’ll be having his own toilet which will be connected to the dumpster externally. “You don’t really want to have a composting toilet inside of a closed-up 36 square feet,'” he explained.
The third phase is to make the dumpster, ‘an uber dumpster home’. So it will be unplugged from the energy grid and solar panels will be installed to create its own energy and power itself. More aesthetic work is to be done as well, hence minimizing the dumpster effect. ‘We kind of want to do the outside in a modern Dwell look,’ he said. ‘We want it basically to be such that if you were blindfolded and placed inside it, you’d just think you were in a very tiny house.’
“We bring everything into the home these days,” he said. “You don’t really need to leave home for anything, even grocery shopping, anymore. What’s interesting about this (project) is it’s really testing the limits of what you need in a home. The big hypothesis we’re trying to test here is: can you have a pretty darn good life on much, much less? So far, I have, I’d say, a better life than I’ve had before.”
Wilson does have an arrangement in place in case he needs an occasional break from the project. His students occupy his place willingly for the night.
He is planning tours across the US to educate students about the concept of ‘less is more’, after this project year is over. He’s already covering the local grounds for the time being, visiting the local elementary and middle schools to talk about his experience for the last year while elaborating on the fact that one can survive in a home without modern facilities and still lead a pretty good life. One of the questions he got asked was, ‘How is Santa going to get in?’