Monday, January 18, 2016

Why The Tiny House Movement Isn't a Failure

Over the last month or so several opinion articles have been published on the interwebs that describe the failings of the Tiny House Movement.

There was this one that suggested that tiny houses were actually a nightmare. Practically a pox on the American landscape.
Sadly, these aren't the utopian living spaces that are going to save you from paying exorbitant rents or 30-year mortgages. There are plenty of unique problems that come with every kind of pint-sized living space, turning them from cute little dream homes into compact nightmares.
Then there was this post that called the tiny living movement a big lie.
And we could definitely kick the knick-knack habit. But how small can we shrink without wreaking havoc of a different kind? Are tiny homes really sustainable?
In this post, the author shares her story of living in a small space for a vacation and equates their desire to go home at the end with several stories of tiny house people who have since moved on from their small homes. It is a false equivalency, to be sure.

Matt and I speak at a lot of tiny house events. And one of the things we emphasize is that tiny living is not a panacea. There are a lot of considerations that people need to make before diving into the tiny life.

For example, because we built and live in the house together people often ask us how they can "convince" their partner to move into a tiny home. Personally, I don't believe that if one person has to be convinced that the path to tiny is right for that couple. Someone is going to become resentful, and that isn't a good thing. However, whether the tiny house caused the problem in the relationship or was simply the final straw - well, that's a question for relationship counselors, not me.

But here is the real truth.

Just because someone moves out of their tiny house doesn't mean that the tiny house movement is a failure.

There are many reasons someone might move out of any home. Matt and I, for example, have lived in a lot of places since we started dating. There was a duplex outside of Detroit. Then a bungalow in Dearborn, MI. Then we moved to an apartment in Atlanta. Then we bought a big house in Atlanta. Then we sold the big house in Atlanta and moved into a very small apartment. Then we moved into the tiny house. And finally, we now live most of the time in a 700 square foot Bungalow in Asheville, NC.


Because we, as a couple, love diversity and change and don't like to sit still for very long. The tiny house was a project for us. It was a catalyst to get our lives moving in another direction. And it was an absolute success. So much so that it gave us the opportunity to buy another home in a city that we love. Will we live in this house forever? Who knows. We just aren't those kinds of people.

The ultimate lesson was that the tiny house taught us about ourselves. 

The tiny house movement gave us an opportunity to better understand what we wanted, what we could do, and how we could achieve it. It got us thinking outside the box, as it were.  Honestly, the catalyst could have been anything - but it wasn't.

It seems ridiculous to assume that someone needs to stay in their tiny house forever just because they live in it now. People change. Life circumstances change. Places change. Needs change. And you know what, that is not only okay but it should be encouraged and embraced. But what people do come out of the tiny house movement with is a new way of thinking. I will say again and again, the tiny house movement isn't about the house at all. It is a philosophy. It changes the way you think about everything around you. It changes how you think about the place where you live and what you need to live there. It can give you opportunities, even if that is only for a finite period of time. 

To the authors of sensational op-ed pieces, it is time to stop thinking about tiny houses in black and white. What does or doesn't work for you or even for someone who tried out tiny for a while doesn't mean that it is automatically a bad thing. Or, automatically a good thing. A tiny house is just a thing. It is the people that matter, not the house.  

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Lessons from 5 years Ago

On this day, in 2011, Atlanta saw the first flakes of snow that would become an epic Icepocalypse. It wasn't the first blizzard Atlanta had ever seen, and it wasn't even the last one. There will be more. But it was my last, and worst, snow experience while living in Atlanta from 2003 to 2012.

And it was also my first taste of freedom. 

The Icepocalypse flipped a switch in me that was impossible to disconnect after the fact. See - we had already started the process of building a tiny home. We started building our home in the spring of 2009. We had already been working on it for two years - and about a year and a half longer than we had originally imagined. It is really easy to underestimate the time of a build, especially when you're doing things for the first time in your life.

In January of 2011, Matt and I were already living in an apartment on the north side of Atlanta. The year before we had sold our 2700 square foot house to begin the simplifying process. Our 16th floor high rise apartment was only 800 square feet but even in our first days I knew I could go smaller. I was so ready to make this change.

When the blizzard hit on that Sunday, everyone in the city knew that the next day would be a free day. Mondays are perfect for snow days. Schools were closed by 5pm that night. Bosses, like my own, called their employees in that evening and with the joy of a child waiting for Christmas announced that things would be closed on Monday. That night, I watched the snow fall from above the city, and it was magical.

And the next day, everyone in Atlanta felt that magic. Matt and I used this opportunity to walk to a local bar. The bars are always open, even when the rest of the city is completely closed.

On Tuesday, the snow was still there. In fact, it had begun to melt but froze again over night leaving behind sheets of ice rather than soft, glistening snow. Atlanta was closed on Tuesday, too. And Wednesday.

By then, local businesses began to panic. I worked in temporary staffing so no work for our employees meant no pay and while one snow day was fun, three were a problem. Our clients had business to conduct and our employees couldn't wait another day for 8 more hours of pay.

And yet, in this time off from work I relished in my freedom. I had been restless in my job for some time. In fact, it was one of the reasons I had for starting our tiny house project in the first place. It gave me a place to spend my energy and a goal to look forward to. When it was done, I would quit my job and BE a writer.

When the city finally went back to normal by the following Monday, all I could feel was a sense of dread. My tiny house was not yet complete and my dream would need to be deferred a little longer. I needed to act like nothing was wrong and do my job, but that week made it harder than ever. For the first time, I got a real taste of the freedom I was craving. I was in charge of my own time and I could be creative or go for a walk in the middle of the day. I wasn't chained to a desk until 5:30 at night regardless of whether I was finished with my work for the day.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't resent the company or the people I worked for. What I resented was that I had put myself in that position to begin with. That I had followed this path of least resistance that came with all the trappings. That we had bought a too-large house with a mortgage that we had to work long hours to pay off. That I had allowed myself to believe that having health insurance was more important than fulfillment. That I had given myself permission to get comfortable, and in turn made my own life unbearable.

Even though we had already started the process of building our tiny home, it was on this day in 2011 that I knew that I needed to do anything I could to make this new future happen for me. That I couldn't go back to this way of life that everyone seemed to think was not only normal but essential. That I needed this feeling of freedom every day, not just when nature bestowed it upon me.

I am thankful to the Icepocalypse. Looking back on it now, 5 years later, I can see it gave me the push I needed to keep working toward my goal. I am grateful that even a snowstorm can teach us lessons that will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: A Tiny House Year in Review

Every year I like to take a quick look at what I was up to and consider some ideas for the New Year. Here is this year's recap.

In January, I had a great conversation with a friend who suggested the best way to remember things every year. So I wrote a post about his idea of making more milestones.

For February, Matt and I went full nomad and traveled along the South Eastern coast for the month. While we were traveling, I wrote about how the tiny house facilitated this kind of lifestyle and what it meant to me. While we can't hitch our home up and take it with us, it has made everything possible.

March was another milestone for me as I celebrated my 40th birthday. But, in the same month, Life in 120 Square Feet celebrated 5 years!

April marked yet another important day in the history of our journey. On Matt's birthday, three years earlier, I quit my job.

In May, after we got home from the Tiny House Conference in Portland, Oregon, I wrote about the questions we were asked at the event.

For June I took some time to write about how the feeling of not doing enough only paralyses us from doing anything at all.

With summer in full swing, July was a time for reflection on the future and why I hate the idea of bucket lists. This has been one of my most popular posts this year.

Life was a little lighter in August when Matt and I welcomed Kai of Tiny House Dating and Tiny House Lending to our own tiny home.

As Autumn fell across our mountain in September, we found ourselves looking at what we are doing now and forward at what we will be doing in the future.

In October, I talked about some of the big changes happening in our lives including the small bungalow in the city of Asheville that now plays a large part of our lives.

Continuing on the role of huge changes in 2015, we chose to sell the Element in November. I hope it has a good home now.

December, of course is spend surrounded by friends and family as are visiting Michigan for the Holidays. We just got home from our trip yesterday. It was a lovely visit and now we are happy to be home.

Each year, after I've looked back at what we've done, we consider what we have in store for the New Year. We pick a word, or a concept, that will be the focus of the year. 2014 was Hospitality and 2016 was Adventure. 2016 will be full of transitions that we are looking forward to, so I suppose that is as good a theme as any. 2016 will be a year of positive Transition. I can't wait to take you along on this journey.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I'm an Expert!

Recently, I was contacted by PDH Contractor Academy and interviewed as part of their Expert Interview Program. While I did inform them that I was less an expert and more an amateur with a blog, they were still interested in hearing the story of how our tiny house came to be.

Check out this excerpt: 
What advice do you have for others who are considering building a tiny house? What are the most important things to think about?
The first thing I would suggest is to really think about the reasons why you want to build a tiny home. What is your motivation? Is it financial? Is it about travel? Is it about being environmentally-conscious? All of these things are important to consider so you can better decide how to approach the process. What you put into the house is what you’ll get out of it in the long run.
You can read the complete interview here. I'd love to hear what you think! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Goodbye, Element

I've written before about the things I couldn't live without in my tiny house and the tools that were most important while we were building.

One of our first trips after buying the land. 

But there has been an unsung hero in our tiny house journey: our 2003 Honda Element.

Matt bought the car new in 2003 the day we moved down to Atlanta from Michigan. See, he was driving a used Saturn and I was driving an old station wagon (a car I miss dearly but was totally impractical for Georgia). So I sold the car to my brother, who drove it for a while after that, and we moved down in the Saturn.

But, of course, we needed a new car and Honda had just released the Element - a quirky, shoebox of a car. Eventually, over time, the Element became mine.

We used that car to travel all over the south east exploring our new home. We drove it up to Michigan, even in a blizzard, multiple times.

And, most importantly, it was the car the enabled us to build the tiny house.

You can fit a surprising amount of things in a Honda Element. In fact, we've never lost the "that won't fit in there" argument.

Brush hog? Yep.
8 foot 2X4s? Yep.
Lots of them? Yep. 
A small cement mixer and about a million bags of cement? Yep.

We've camped in the Element. We've gotten lost in the Smoky Mountains in the Element. We've helped people get their cars out of the snow with the Element.

And, after we found ourselves spending so much more time in town at the city bungalow, the Element became less essential. I work from home, I'm within walking distance of a number of things, and if Matt and I go somewhere together we take his car. I was driving the car, on average, about twice a month. It was just taking up space in front of our house.

So I sold the Element. I posted the ad on Craiglist and less than 3 hours later, it was driving off with its new owner.

Thank you, Element, for helping us make our dreams happen. Thank you for driving back and forth from Atlanta to Asheville countless times between 2007 and 2012 from the time we bought our land to the time we finished our tiny home. Thank you for helping us make our dreams come true. Hopefully you'll have a few more good years and be a good car for someone who really needs a reliable set of wheels. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Gnomes for Everyone!

"Hahahahahah! I get it! GNOME Chomsky!"

That is every conversation I've ever had with everyone who visits our tiny house for the first time.

Sitting on our porch is a little Travelocity gnome that was given to me by my sister and her family for Christmas a few years ago. Our tiny home was nearly complete and they decided we needed a tiny gnome.

And then - because we are unoriginal and great big nerds - we couldn't pass up a chance to give him a punny name straight out of the video game Left4Dead2. In a game-within-a-game, called Guardin' Gnome, you can use the red-capped gnome as your only weapon to fight off the zombies. And, in the game, the gnome is cleverly named "Chompski," after both the American philosopher (Noam Chomsky) and how zombies bite (Chomp Chomp).

That, my friends, is the long story behind the name of our little porch gnome.

In fact, Chomsky is such a part of our tiny house journey that he warranted his very own section in my book, 120 Ideas for Tiny Living.

So when I got an email from THE BEST BUSINESS EVER, I couldn't possibly pass up the opportunity to share it with all of you.

If you've been reading this blog for very long at all you know that I include very little advertising. I almost never promote other products directly. But for the chance that all of you can have you very own tiny house gnome, I had to bend my own rules.

The owners of Gnome Depot have offered a special discount for readers of Life in 120 Square Feet!  The first 100 readers who use the code 120FEET will get 5% off the purchase of their very own gnome! Get one for your tiny house - or your not so tiny house - today!

Go get your very own Chomsky. Also, I think "Alaska" would make an excellent Gnome name. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

That Time We Accidentally Bought a Bungalow

It wasn't a complete surprise, but it hadn't necessarily been on our radar.

Our tiny home, up on the mountain with no road and no running water, wasn't designed particularly for the winter. Not to say we couldn't stay there in the winter but the plan had always been to travel during that time of year. First, we would go see family for the holidays and then we would go somewhere warm. Location independence was as important as building a tiny home. But somewhere along the way our priorities changed.

We fell absolutely, madly in love.

Asheville City Building
Not with each other. I mean, yes with each other. I mean we were already in love with each other. But we fell in love with the city of Asheville. Not in an "I kind of like it here, I think I'll stay" kind of way but in a desperate, soul-wrenching kind of way. I found that I simply couldn't breathe any more if I didn't have mountains in my line of sight. I found that the culture, community, and people were the ones that I had been searching for my entire life.

Asheville is, without a doubt, our home.

It is a city that gets under your skin, but it is also a hard city to live in. The cost of living is high and the jobs are scarce. But we weren't coming at it conventionally in the first place so we believed we could make a go. We decided after living in our tiny house 30 minutes away for almost a  year that we really wanted to put roots down within the city limits.

And that was how we accidentally bought a bungalow.

City House, Halloween 2014
Well, I mean it wasn't an accident as in, "Hey, how did that happen!?" I just mean that it wasn't exactly in the plans. Our first winter after moving into the tiny house was already sort of planned. We decided to go to Michigan for two months to spend time with family and friends. Originally we thought we might go somewhere else after that but the aching feeling of being away from Asheville for too long was hard to ignore. Then we thought maybe we'd rent for a couple of months downtown so we would have a downtown experience and go back up to the tiny house after that. Then we discovered that rents are high in Asheville, and higher still for month to month.

Just for kicks we checked out the local real estate market. And I'll tell you - that's not inexpensive either. But we were patient. So we worked with a local Realtor and started scouring listings in our spare time. When suddenly, a little 700 square foot bungalow in need of a LOT of TLC came on the market.

"There isn't anything in that neigborhood in your price range," our agent said. But we pushed him to look. He quickly changed his tune and said we needed to see it right away. So we did. But in those few minutes the seller had accepted another offer.

We started looking again. And to our surprise the first offer fell through for a variety of reasons so we immediately put in another one. We got the house. For way under market. But it needed a lot of work - which we were now prepared to do because we had just spent 3 years building a house from the foundation up. It's amazing how things work out like that.

As it turns out, part of the reason we could buy this house was because we had reduced our expenses so much. It is all related. Simple living meant more savings which meant more possibilities for the future. 

We just finished the attic in 2015.
So from 2013 to earlier this year we spent a lot of our time fixing up the city house. We're kinda slow that way. It was helpful to have the tiny house to retreat when things got a little messy. But in that time we realized that being walking distance to the downtown we love so much was something we didn't know we were missing.

The division of our time becomes more complicated every day. As we become more involved in social activities and advocacy in Asheville the less time we spend up in the mountains, but we have by no means abandoned the tiny house. In fact, as I continue to share some of other things happening over the coming months you'll see that the tiny house is playing a very large part in our future.

For now we are fortunate to be able to have both in our lives. And we are fortunate that it has given us immeasurable opportunities, and will continue to pay those dividends in the years to come.

I'd love it if you stick around to see what's in store next.