Cape Charles motor lodge celebrates minimalism


BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

Sylvia and Eric Hawkins were living in Virginia Beach years ago when they decided having fewer belongings is better — and that the trappings of life can be a trap themselves. 

Or, as Sylvia Hawkins asked rhetorically, “Do you have stuff, or does your stuff have you?”

So they moved out of their 3,000-square-foot home. And Eric Hawkins told the 20 employees at his business that he was moving into a 400-square-foot travel trailer in a campground.

“It was all about having a fuller life with less stuff,” he said.

They wanted to share with others the liberating joy of minimalism. Near Cape Charles, they found the perfect place to do so.

They opened Cape Charles Tiny Livin’, a revitalized old motor court with rooms for rent for vacationers.

Two years ago they bought the old Esso Park Auto Court, which features small lodges and had been closed for decades.

The lodges are smaller than a regular motel room — but that’s the point. It prompts those staying to gather around the campfire, meet new friends, and get out to experience life. 

The overnight accommodations themselves, albeit tiny, are showplaces with themed decorations, central air, televisions, and remodeled bathrooms. 

They are rooms with a view — the Hawkins’ view that less is more. 

And what is ostensibly a story about a remarkable renovation project also became a tale of how two people who could have anything decided having very little was much better.

‘A better life with less’

He’s from Virginia Beach. She’s from Memphis. They had three children, worked hard, built careers, and owned rental properties.

But there was something missing.

“I wanted to prove I could have a better life with less,” said Eric Hawkins.

So they moved into a camper at a Virginia Beach campground, where they lived full time.

It was freeing. They pared their belongings to basic essentials. 

They found time for new experiences — there was less to maintain and no more grass to cut.

They lost weight — suddenly, there was no extra space in the refrigerator or pantry, and they developed more active lifestyles.

Their relationship grew closer — “If you live in 400 square feet, you’ve got to work it out,” Eric Hawkins said. 

They enjoyed traveling more because there was less at home for which to be responsible. 

“When you have all that stuff, you’ve got to be able to get back to it quickly,” Sylvia Hawkins said.

Further, with less room indoors, more time is spent outdoors, out enjoying nature or among people. 

Life became less isolating and more spontaneous. Without the responsibilities of home, they went where they wanted. 

Said Eric Hawkins, “Our kids would call us and say, ‘Where are you?’”

Eric Hawkins said he understood his minimalistic approach is contrary to society, which links happiness to belongings and prestige to big homes and big lawns. 

“It runs counter to everything we’ve been taught,” he said.

Maybe, he thought, he could help others experience being happier with less.

Minimalist getaway

Sometimes they’d daydream about having a village of tiny homes where people could stay for a few days during a minimalist getaway. 

They’d been coming to Cape Charles for decades but decided to wander around and look at other places in Northampton County.

When they came upon the old motor lodge, Eric Hawkins said he stopped in the middle of the road. 

“We immediately saw the potential,” he said. It wasn’t for sale and they didn’t know the owner. 

But they found out who it was. And their offer to purchase it was accepted.

Renovating has been a lot of work. Today, eight of the tiny lodges can be rented. More will be available. 

A renovated tool shed has hosted a wedding. The Hawkinses live in a small home nearby.

They’ve enjoyed researching the history of the property, which once included a restaurant and fuel station.

Jennifer Hogg, a Northampton native and a faculty member at the University of Virginia whose grandfather owned the motor lodge, has brought Eric Hawkins photos and other items from its heyday.

The Hawkinses are looking forward to another year of hosting guests — and already have seen the impact of their tiny houses on guests.

Eric Hawkins said last year several families met around the campfire. 

The next day, Hawkins saw the onetime strangers eating breakfast together in Cape Charles.

“You get to sit on your porch and literally talk to your neighbors,” he said. 

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