Saturday, July 8, 2017

My New Book is Now Available! Life in 120 Square Feet: The Essays

My new book, Life in 120 Square Feet: The Essays is now available on Amazon in either paperback or kindle editions.

This book is a collection of essays from this blog, specifically essays that discuss the philosophies of tiny living and how building a tiny house change our lives.

If you've already read the How To books, consider reading this Why To.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Truth Behind the Hidden Costs of Tiny House Living

Recently, I was contacted by a writer about the costs of our tiny house. She asked me extensive questions about the costs and the benefits, which I answered in detail. After she received my answers, she asked one more simple question, "How much did your land cost?" I answered her question, but let her know that the land came long before the decision was made to build a tiny home, so the two don't go hand-in-hand.

And the article was published and this was the extent of my participation:
Other owners, such as Laura LaVoie, who lives in a 120-square foot home she and her partner built in North Carolina, already owned land; they bought their property for $100,000 in 2007 before the economy collapsed.
You can read the entire article here. 

Instead of talking about the financial benefits of tiny homes, she focused entirely on the costs with an effort to make it sound cost prohibitive.

But I thought I would, for the sake of clarification, share the original questions and answers so you can see what I really said rather than the way the article was spun.

1. I see that you built your home with your bare hands! How incredible! Good for you! What was that experience like, specifically pertaining to finances? Was it cheaper for you to build by yourself vs. a contractor?

For us, it really wasn’t about the house at all. The house was the catalyst that led to dozens of new things in our lives. Learning to build the house was part of that process.

In our case, we were living and working in Atlanta while traveling to Asheville to build our tiny, which is on a foundation in the mountains. We were only able to work on it about two weekends a month. 

We paid for every part of our build with cash that we had saved over the course of 10 years prior. We had always saved money with the idea of some future goal, but it wasn’t until we bought our land that we knew we would spend that money building a house. A tiny house just seemed like the most practical way to learn to build on a small scale. 

During the build, we were both still working corporate jobs in Atlanta. 

It was cheaper for us to build on our own than hire a contractor. We spent about $20,000 on the entire house. That included the materials, the tools, and all the mistakes. But what we didn’t have to pay for directly was labor, which is the bulk of the cost when you work with a professional builder.
However, if we were to build another tiny house for any reason, I would probably work with a builder this time. Our adventure was fun, but I don’t need to repeat it.

2. Did any surprise costs come up while you were building? Land? Permitting? Utilities? 

For us, all of these costs were factored into the build. In fact, we already had land before we knew we were building a tiny house, so that didn’t factor in at all. Our utilities are off-grid, and they cost us about an additional $2,000 and we factored that in. 

The biggest surprises we had are relatively small in the grand scale. For instance, we framed the whole house before we bought windows. We thought the window sizes were standard because we had inaccurate information. They were not standard, so we had to buy custom windows. But, ultimately, we are much happier with the windows we have.

3. Has your tiny home been cost-effective for you? 

Our tiny house has not only been cost effective, it has paid off. It was never about the house for us, it was always about what the house could represent. Because we reduced our expenses to move in, I was able to pay off my outstanding debt. When we moved in, I quit my corporate job and began writing full time. I am still writing full time. I couldn’t have done that without the tiny house. 

And, after we had lived in the tiny house for a little while, we were able to save enough money to buy a 700 square foot bungalow in the city of Asheville for cash. We couldn’t have done any of that without the tiny house.

4. What would you tell someone building a tiny home? Any cautionary tales?

I would say the most important thing to know is why you’re building. What is it that is driving you to want to live tiny? Is it about finances? Is it about simplicity? Is it about mobility? 

Ultimately, a tiny house is just another thing. It can’t solve any problems by itself. So it shouldn’t be something that happens without some serious soul searching ahead of time. When talking to people who have transitioned to tiny house living, they will all tell you it is never about the house.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

North Carolina, Tiny Houses, and a Street Festival

We always wanted to do something unconventional. We approached many crossroads throughout our lives that eventually led to falling in love with the mountains of Western North Carolina at the same time we discovered the tiny house movement. 

Our tiny home and the state of North Carolina area intrinsically linked. We literally couldn’t have one without the other.

Becoming involved in the tiny house movement and community has opened our lives to so many new opportunities, and I am grateful. 

Several years ago, I helped found TinyHouseNC, an organization dedicated to supporting the tiny house movement in our state. Today, the original group passed the reins to Andrew Odom, of Tiny r(E)volution, and he is working hard to continue the mission. 

Which is why I was so excited when he began to talk about his vision for the 2017 TinyHouseNC Street Festival. It is the first, and largest, North Carolina-specific tiny house event and it’s happening in Eastern Carolina on April 21st through 23rd this year. 

North Carolina is a gorgeous state with so much diversity in its landscape. You can travel from the Mountains to the Sea and through the piedmont, farmlands, and historic cities without leaving the state boarders. I’m grateful that I discovered NC, it makes me feel more at home than any place before. And I’m so excited to represent WNC at the first Tiny House NC Street Festival. 

The event will feature the largest assembly of tiny homes in North Carolina, including 15 professionally built models, trailer samples, and several DIY builds. 

But what I am most excited about is gathering with others from all corners of the Tiny House community. Since building my own home, I have been honored to be included in the company of several luminaries and I have never once been disappointed after meeting another tiny house personality. And, once again, we’ll be in the same place at the same time. I am looking forward to seeing Dee Williams and so many other tiny house friends again. And, I’m even more excited about reconnecting over a few beers from Mother Earth Brewing, a festival sponsor. Craft beer is a thing I love as much as tiny houses, so that’s pretty awesome.

There will also be several North Carolina specific Tiny House speakers at the Street Festival. Friends, like Christian Parsons and Alexis Stephens, who have been traveling the country making a documentary called “Living Tiny Legally.” I’m super excited to meet Jewel Pearson, whom I’ve known online for a while but, in spite of living only 2 hours away from me, haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. 

There are so many people I’m looking forward to seeing. It’s like a tiny house family reunion.

On top of tiny homes and speakers, I am also excited about some of the sponsors. Drew has really rocked this festival planning thing. It’s like he was born to do it or something. I already mentioned Mother Earth Brewing, my favorite NC brewery outside of the robust Asheville beer scene. And I’m kind of fangirling over the possibility of meeting Chef & The Farmer restaurant owners, Vivian Howard and Ben Knight. I binged watched their PBS series, A Chef’s Life, because I love seeing how culture and food intertwine in Eastern North Carolina, just like it does in WNC. Yeah, they’re sponsoring the event too!  

The event will be held in Pink Hill, just outside of Kinston, North Carolina. And even local businesses, like the Pink Hill Pharmacy, are getting in on the sponsorship action. North Carolina communities throughout the state are seeing the value of tiny homes, and we appreciate that support. 

Honestly, I started writing this post as a quick social media marketing message and it got out of hand. I mean, I haven’t really even blogged since September of last year, but I am so excited about this event I couldn’t stop writing. I can’t wait to see everyoneat the 2017 TinyHouseNC Street Festival in Pink Hill NC on April 21-23rd. I hope you’ll be one of those people.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

10 Things In My Life Made Possible By Going Tiny

If there is one thing I want everyone who reads this blog to understand it's that deliberate living is never about the house. The tiny lifestyle isn't about finding the smallest space possible and moving in. It is about making the most of the space you have, creating the life you want, and enjoying the process.

But, there are a lot of specific lessons I have learned over the years. And there are many things we have been able to do because of the tiny house.

This is my list of 10 things the tiny house made possible in my life. Your list will be different, but I am hoping this gives you some inspiration to continue on your journey to living deliberately in whatever form that takes.

1. I Started My Own Business

I have always wanted to be a writer. But for a long time, I talked myself out of it. It wasn't practical. I needed to be practical. So I spent 15 years in a career that I didn't love, but I was good at. Finally, building the tiny house gave me the courage to start writing full time. 4 years later, I am still writing full time.
Meeting Kai Rostcheck

2. We Bought a Small Home

If we hadn't built the tiny house, reduced our expenses, ditched our mortgage, and moved to Asheville, we would have never been able to be in the right place at the right time for a 700 square foot 1948 bungalow in town.

3. We Have More Time To Travel

I love to travel. I love to experience new places and have adventures. I love going to another city, or another country, and seeing what life is like there for the people who call it home. Without a mortgage and without a 9-to-5 job, I can do that.

4. We Could Join a CSA

Okay, this sounds like pretty small potatoes (see what I did there?), but I love being able to get fresh, local foods and supporting local farmers. Sure, we could have done this in our big house, I but I didn't even know it was an option then. I'm glad I learned.

5. I'm Able to Think Outside The Box

Quitting a job, building a tiny home, and moving to a new city are all huge changes. I was able to do them because I refused to look at problems with only black and white solutions. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Traveling to London

6. I Have Opportunities for Speaking Engagements

I had no idea that I liked talking to large groups of people. I had no idea that I liked to answer questions or help people learn from my own journey. I get to do that now and I get to visit all kinds of places and meet all kinds of people.

7. Our Community Has Expanded All Over the World

Speaking of, I am also grateful that I am a part of this collective tiny house community. I have never been disappointed by meeting another person living the tiny life. We are all risk takers, and we all have a similar philosophy.

8. I learned How Houses Work

I cannot stress this enough! Before, if something broke in our house I felt helpless to fix it. Now, I've put together an entire house by hand so I know, even in our bungalow, that if something breaks I can figure out how to fix it.
Podcasting with Drew Odom at the Tiny House Conference

9. We're Involved in Local Issues

Building a tiny house gave me all of these opportunities, and more, so it only seemed natural to work within my community to give more people the chance of changing their lives. That is why we started Asheville SHAC.

10. I Get to Do More Projects with Matt

All right, here's a sentimental softball for you. Matt and I were already doing a lot of crazy things before we ever started building the tiny house. But because we built this house, we get to continue doing a lot more crazy things. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Benefits of a Small Home

There is no doubt about it, tiny homes are popular. With a variety of reality TV shows across multiple cable networks, everyone has an opportunity to peek inside these minuscule dwellings.

But what if the legacy of the tiny house movement isn't small homes on wheels but a desire to choose a home based on its purpose and fit for your lifestyle?

This recent article from a Maine-based website makes a strong case for small, not tiny, homes

photo by Giant Dream Photography
The key point is that small homes are another possible option that is born out of the need to simplify our lives. While tiny homes on wheels are incredible and work for a lot of people, they don't work for everyone. And they shouldn't have to. It is a lot of pressure on a tiny house to assume that it is a on-size-fits-all solution for every American family.

Over the last 4 years I've had the opportunity to experience both tiny and small homes. We moved into our 120 square foot home in May of 2012 and lived in it for the first year. I loved every second of it. While living there, I never felt a pull to go bigger. It was comfortable and had all the things I needed. Any downsides we faced weren't a result of the home's size.

Then we were faced with an opportunity we couldn't pass up. A 700 square foot bungalow in the city limits of Asheville came up for sale for a great price. We could afford it because we had downsized. Because we had reduced our expenses. And because we had lived for a year in a 120 square foot home. So we bought it.

As we began to renovate the home, using our newfound skills from building, we also began cultivating relationships within the city and with the neighbors directly on either side of us. This sense of community was probably the only thing missing from the tiny house, which was deliberately built on private land in the mountains.

And that was when we realized that we were in the fortunate position to have the best of both worlds.

If the legacy of the tiny house movement results in individuals and families being more deliberate about the homes they choose to live in, then I believe we have achieved success. It isn't about the size of the house. It is never about the house.

I don't mean for this to be a small versus tiny discussion, as I see them as both valid choices. A small home can be anything from an apartment or condo to a single family home, generally below 1,000 square feet. Though definitions in the small and tiny home arena are often nebulous.

But what are the benefits of choosing a small home? Here are some of the lessons I've learned.
  • Reduced financial burden. Little or no mortgage, reduced utility bills, smaller property tax.
  • Less space to clean inside. It takes us only slightly more time to clean the city house as it takes to clean the tiny house. And we keep it neat, as a result of our new lifestyle.
  • Smaller yard to maintain outside. Very little to mow. Very little to landscape. It takes care of itself. You can do the work you want to do without worrying about what you have to do.
  • Choice of location. Do you want country or city? Do you want shared walls or single family?
  • Easier to comply with code and zoning. Are you worried about having a place to park your tiny house on wheels? Foundation homes, either small single family or Accessory Dwelling Units, might be a good compromise.
Our tiny house was an adventure and an experience. We built it ourselves to prove to ourselves that we could do it. We lived in it to prove to ourselves that we could. And we did. It was a catalyst that allowed me to quit my job. And all of that added up to benefits we never saw coming.

But when we started spending more time in our city house we realized that living close to the city was important to us. We realized that having good neighbors was important to us. We realized that we could use the same lessons we learned in building the tiny house, both practical and emotional, to make living in this bungalow a success. Small living and tiny living are two sides of the same coin.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is Home a Place or a Sense of Belonging? Can it Be Both?

A friend recently posed a question on Facebook.
"Without mentioning a specific place, what does home mean to you?"
And at first, I figured the answer was simple. Home is, clearly, wherever Matt and I are together.  And, ultimately, that is a true statement. We've lived a lot of places and we've always been reasonably happy and engaged with our lives. We like exploring new things together.

But it wasn't until we discovered Asheville, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, that we truly felt a sense of belonging.

I realized this intimately on a recent drive back home from a quick trip to Michigan. We visited my sister and her family in Kalamazoo, a place where Matt and I both lived for a time. We met in that city. We held a commitment ceremony in that city when we were just barely in our 20s. It has a lot of wonderful memories, good people, and fun things to do. But is it home? No, it hasn't been for a while.

On the drive back we stopped about half way in Kentucky for the night. When we started out again for the last remaining hours of the drive, I took the wheel. And for a short while I felt like I had made a huge mistake. I was tired. Drained. Lethargic. I felt like I might fall asleep. And then, as if by magic, Tennessee appeared and brought with it the majestic mountains that I love so much. A weight was lifted from my chest. I felt alive and vibrant again. My eyes were no longer heavy and I was just excited to be almost home.

It was this sense of belonging that led us to build the tiny house. We knew we wanted to be in the Asheville area. We knew with all of our hearts that this was where we belonged. Once the tiny house was completed, we also realized that the tiny house wasn't the finish line. It was just a step along the way. A way to get us closer to a town that we loved and launch ourselves into the kind of unconventional thinking that makes it possible to live in Asheville. That was why, after living in the tiny house for some time, we found ourselves buying a small home just north of downtown. This gave us access to the city. Just one mile away, rather than eighteen. And a neighborhood with neighbors. And places we can walk.

For me, home is intrinsically tied to Asheville, North Carolina. That's why, even with state politics that I don't agree with, I am far more interested in sticking around and making it a better place rather than leaving it behind. We can make a difference in our communities, but only if we feel like we truly belong.

Things will be changing for us again within the next year. In fact, there is a good chance that we'll need to be away from Asheville for several years. But we have never considered the idea that we might not be back. This city is in my blood. I can't breathe without the mountains.

Home for me cannot be separated between place and emotion. This is home. This is where I belong.