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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Story Featured on MindBodyGreen

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by an editor of the popular website MindBodyGreen.com. She asked if I would write about my journey to go tiny. I was excited for the opportunity to share my story and the philosophy of tiny living. 

And, aside from the stock photo of someone else in their tiny house, it turned out pretty good. Though, the title is also misleading. They called the essay, "Why Quitting My Job To Build A Tiny Home Was The Best Decision I've Ever Made." In truth, it was the other way around. I built a tiny house to quit my job. But that is a small distinction. In the post, I discuss how the journey started and what we did to make it happen.
"The problem with fallback jobs is they’re far too easy to fall back on."
 You can read the entire article here. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

On Risk and The Option to Fail

I tend to get reflective this time of the year.

It was 4 years ago this week that I worked my last day as a recruiter in temporary staffing. I took a risk and jumped without a safety net.

It was terrifying.

But here I am today doing the thing I love most in the place I love most and it was all because I was willing to take a risk.

I didn't want to fail, but I knew that if I didn't at least try this, I already had. 

This is what the tiny life has been all about for me. It has never once been about the house. The house was just one very tiny component in my journey. But it was an important one.

See, we had been restless for a while. When we moved to Atlanta in 2003, we continued on the traditional trajectory. We were nearly 30 and we had good jobs, so we did what we thought you were supposed to do. We bought a house. Our house in Atlanta was 2700 square feet and it was a good house. We did all we could to enjoy it fully, often having out of town guests or hosting social events and parties. But that size house also came with some less than pleasant side effects. We had to keep working to pay the mortgage and all of our free time was spent fixing it up. It wasn't making us happy.

And it was the day we accepted that there were other options was the day all of our possibilities opened up.

We started building our tiny in 2009. It took us 3 years and people often comment that building such a small house should have never taken that long. But I know my own truth. I know that those three years weren't just about building a house. They were about a journey of self-discovery. I wouldn't have been ready to quit my job in 2009, but the as the house neared completion it became a symbol of my progression.

I was able to tell myself if I could build a house, I could do anything. 

Today, I write. I am so happy to be able to do what I love every day. Moving into a tiny house wasn't the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to change my life in a way that allowed me to live it on my own terms. Now, my time is my own and I am grateful for every step that led me here.

And this isn't it for our adventures. Matt and I are not the settling down types, which was why we built a tiny house to begin with. There is more to come and over the next year, I'll be able to share some details.

It is never about the house.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."

--Henry David Thoreau

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tiny Houses and the Like-Hearted People

I haven't been able to write a great recap of our Tiny House Conference experience yet. Others, including Amy from The Tiny Life did a much better job.

But here is what I can tell you. I love these conferences. I love being in such a huge group of like-hearted people. Even if we all come to the tiny house journey from different places, we all have the same glimmer of understanding. We all speak the same language.

This year, our Tiny House Conference experience extended past the event itself. We were able to host Lina Menard of This Is The Little Life for an entire week. (If you're wondering, she stayed with us in our city house, but we did visit the tiny house.) For the most part, we just lived our lives. When work was done, we would go out and show her around town. It was a great time.

Photo by Kristie Wolfe. Beer provided by Chris and Kelly.
The day after the conference, when several people were heading back home, we got a call from Ethan Waldman, of  TheTinyHouse.net. His flight was canceled, and could he stay with us rather than a hotel by the airport? What's especially cool about this is that while I've known Ethan online for a couple of years, the conference was the first time we ever met. And of course the answer was yes! It was really fun to have him staying with us, along with Lina, for a day. We got ice cream and took them to a favorite park. It is rare to feel that at-ease with someone you've just met, but it happens to me time and time again in the tiny house community.

Unfortunately, Ethan had to leave before we went up to our tiny house. But some other tiny housers were still in town and came with us, including Chris and Kelly of Just Right Bus and Kristie Wolfe of Tiny House on the Prairie. And Lina, of course.

On Saturday, April 8th we dropped Lina off at the Asheville airport and she was finally heading home. We really enjoyed the company of everyone who was able to spend time with us before, during, and after the Tiny House Conference. We'll see you all next year in Portland, Oregon! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sometimes We Fart

“Oh God! What is that smell?” There was silence on the other end of the small sofa. “Did you do that?”
“Must have been the cat."
“I’ve smelled the cat. That was not the cat.” I grabbed the green pillow and fanned the air.
“Sorry, then, it must have been my butt.”
“It was your butt all right. Ack!” I pulled the pillow close to my face to act as a sort of crude gas mask.
The next morning, it’s my turn. And, rather than harbor my shame in secrecy, I just decide to announce it and declare my ownership. “Excuse me!”
He snorts and rolls over to face the wall, away from me.    

Here’s the thing, folks. The house is tiny. Very, very tiny. 120 square feet tiny, in fact. And you know what? Smells happen. All kinds of smells. If we don’t scoop the litter box immediately after use, it smells until we do. If we’re cooking onions, the house will smell like onions. If someone uses the very small bathroom, there is often an associated smell that hangs in the air until it dissipates. But, much like larger homes, our house also has windows. We even have a fan that can help with airflow. We can even buy air freshener. 

We also have a huge, enormous great outdoors where one can escape if something is particularly noxious. Escaping outside isn’t even that big a deal because in only 120 square feet the door is never that far from wherever a person happens to be in the house. 

Matt and I have been together a very long time. It was about 18 years ago or so that we stopped worrying about whether or not someone might pass gas in the same room as the other person. It didn’t ruin the romance. It didn’t make either of us love the other one just a little less. Bodies are just a fact of life and when we decided to share our lives with another body, it meant everything. Including farts with some sense of regularity. 

“How do you live in such a small space with another person? How do you not kill each other? What do you do if someone farts?” 

All of these questions are so common. I have answered them frequently over the years often with the same general theme. We can live in a small space together because we genuinely like being around each other. We haven’t killed each other yet because that would be messy and would end with a televised court case and, likely, jail time. When someone farts, we either ignore it or make a big deal out of it, or somewhere in between. 

We enjoyed spending time with each other before we built a tiny house. We enjoy being together in the tiny house. If we ever stop enjoying each other’s company, it may be time to reevaluate things. We don’t see that happening, but you never know. 

The tiny house is a thing. For us, it was an adventure that allowed us to grow together. As we say all the time, it was just one more weird thing in a long list of weird things that we’ve done over the course of 21 years. There was also that time we drove to New York City for New Year’s Eve in 1998 without any real plans. Or maybe the Halloween themed bathroom we had in our house in Atlanta. Oh, and the time we marathoned the last 4 Harry Potter movies at the local Brew and View movie theater and brewery. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. 

I’m not a relationship expert. In fact, since I have been in the same relationship since I was 19 years old, I am probably the opposite of someone you want to give you relationship advice. I have no idea how it works. It just works. But I can tell you that a tiny house won’t work for everyone, especially if you’re particularly worried about farts. 

And sometimes we fart.