Huston-Tillotson University’s Dean of the University College and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Jeff Wilson, moved into a 33-square foot dumpster for one year.
Huston-Tillotson University’s Dean of the University College and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Jeff Wilson, moved into a 33-square foot dumpster for one year. - 
Listen To The Story

New homes in America are a lot bigger than they used to be. In fact since 1950 they've doubled in size, to an average about 2,500-square feet per home. And a bigger home generally uses more energy. So one college professor is attempting to trash some of our ideas about home ownership, by sleeping in a six-by-six-foot dumpster.

Everywhere he goes, students holler-call Jeff Wilson by his new nickname: Professor Dumpster. That's because, this month, Wilson moved into a sanitized recycling dumpster on the Austin, Texas, campus of Huston-Tillotson University.

"One day I was just sitting at a coffee shop, looking out the window, and decided that the dumpster I saw outside was the one I was going to be making my home," Wilson says.

It's not exactly comfy, but at least his dumpster's tall: You can stand-up inside it. And there isn't much stuff in your way. When Wilson moved out of his house, he sold almost everything he owned, for $1. Now, his clothes and gear hang from one little rack.

"And I'm happier, you know. There's not a whole lot of decisions I have to make in the morning on what to wear to work," Wilson says. "I have three pairs of pants, and one of them's bright orange."

Wilson will sleep inside the dumpster for an entire year, to make a point about sustainability. And he says, the goal of the Dumpster Project, as it's called, is to prove that we don't need to thousands of square feet to live in comfort.

"The hypothesis of this experiment is, you can have a pretty darn good life on the one percent: One percent the size, one percent the energy, one percent the water."

Wilson argues that our homes consume far too much energy. So, he's living the other extreme: hauling water from the river (which takes an hour, round-trip), using candles at night, and constantly hauling himself into a box with no doors, to prove that you life in thirty three square feet can really be done.

But this dumpster will undergo a renovation. Throughout the year, Wilson and his students at this historically black college will turn his green metal box into a solar-powered box. One without the rusty walls, but presumably with some insulation from the toasty Texas summer.

"By the end, you and I will be standing here, a year from now with a fully off-grid, sustainable home," Wilson says. But until then, this dumpster has one thing going for it that most Austin homes don't: A fully paid mortgage, and a clear view of the downtown skyline.

Wilson opens one of his "windows," and looks out. "Thousand dollar house. Million dollar view."

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.