Tuesday, August 19, 2014

3 Questions a Tiny House Can Answer, and One it Can't

The "Tiny House Community" was largely non-existent when we started building our house in 2009. We could only reach out to a handful of people doing the same thing, some of whom have since fallen off the radar. Over the last few years the concept has spread like wildfire and has been popularized by an amazing documentary as well as some reality television shows. Tiny houses appear to be bigger than ever.

With the new interest by people of all walks of life there have been a lot of folks asking questions about tiny homes. They want to know everything from how to get started to how a tiny house can change their lives.

My tiny home absolutely, unequivocally, changed my life. 

But maybe not for the reasons you would expect. I didn't know while we were building that a tiny house would become bigger than the building. I had no idea that tiny living was a philosophy and in order to fully embrace everything a tiny home has to offer you really have to dig into parts of your personality that you didn't expect.

So I learned that there were things the tiny house could answer, and one big thing it could not. Let's take a look at what these are. 
  1. A tiny house can make you brave. When we started this process we didn't know the first thing about building an entire house. Sure, we could put two boards together with a screw but that doesn't necessarily result in a livable house. I figured if I had the confidence to learn how to build a house, I could probably do anything. I learned that tiny living is all about risk taking. It is about living outside of your comfort zone, no matter what you think your comfort zone is. 
  2. A tiny house can help with finances. The biggest reason I wanted to build a tiny house was to reduce my expenses and pay off my debt. It did exactly that. However, it wasn't the actually tiny house that helped. It was simply the thing that changed my mindset and got me away from thinking in such cyclical terms. My debt was paid off before we moved into the tiny house. I quit my job before we moved into our tiny house. And that takes me back to the item one.
  3. A tiny house can give you opportunities. I had no idea when I moved into my tiny house that it would affect the way I interacted with my community. I think this has been the biggest benefit so far. Changing from a situation where I got up at the same time every day, drove the same commute, worked the same 9 hours at the same desk, drove home again, and sat on my couch to one where I felt free to schedule my own time made me excited about exploring my community and meeting new people. This has really changed my life. 
But, there is one very important thing to understand that a tiny house cannot do.

The tiny house itself can't fix the things that are broken. 

All three of these things: my confidence, my finances, and my desire to connect with community were already things I needed to fix. The tiny house gave me a new framework (no pun intended) to work on fixing them. But ultimately, I was the one who needed to do all the work. Not the nailing of 2X4s. Not the roofing. Not installing windows. In fact, in some ways, those were distractions. But as it came together it gave me a new perspective. It gave me something to work toward to give me the opportunity to fix these things in my life on my own.

A tiny house is not a magic bullet. 

The second you move into a tiny home your problems will not be solved. It isn't the responsibility of the building to solve them for you. It can be a catalyst for you, like it was for me, but you still have to answer these questions for yourself.

I know it can be done. I've done it. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. The tiny house allowed me the confidence to do it, but there were infinite ways I could have gone about it. Your job is to pick the things in your life that you want to change most and work on changing them. Only then will the tiny house be a worthwhile stop on your journey.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Camping Festival 2014

I just got back from the annual camping festival in Minnesota that Matt and I take with our friend Cara Schulz, of Martinis and Marshmallows, and a host of other friends.

The flexibility of my tiny house life is what affords me the ability to take trips like this throughout the year. It is very special to me and important. So I went and pulled a bunch of photos off of various Facebook feeds and am unapologetically posting them here. I can't take credit for most of them....

This is our annual 6 course meal. We invite people we want to get to know better. We serve food and wine and offer topics of conversation.

Cara set up tea each morning. It was a great way to start the day.

Our new tent is actually bigger than our tiny house!

And because it was already blue and silver, we decorated it in a Detroit Lions theme. We camp in Minnesota and our friends bring their Vikings tent so this was a direct response.

Our friend Ryan looking pensive...after having neon orange paint smeared on his face by some rogue teenagers.

And Matt played us some music.

And we enjoyed afternoon cocktails with friends old and new.


We all bought tiaras at one of the vendors.

This may be my favorite photo. I don't even know who snapped it but I was tagged. That is my friend Heather and me wandering off to the stage to check out some music.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tiny Houses: How to Start When You're a Complete Beginner

People frequently ask us how to get started building a tiny house. Or, alternately, how we got started building a tiny house. I certainly don't know everything about building and I am not a professional or an expert but I do know enough to give someone a considerable head start.

Here are 5 steps you can take to start building your tiny house.
  1. Determine your finances. Sometimes people are surprised to hear that Matt and I spent 10 years of our lives saving money for this project before we even knew what we wanted to build. It started before we even moved to Georgia. We knew that we couldn't see ourselves in a suburban home working corporate jobs forever and the best way to give us an exit strategy was to start saving money. This gave us the opportunity to buy land in the mountains without knowing what kind of house we would build. It also gave us the flexibility to choose the right home when it came time to build.
  2. Figure out how much space you really need. Once we knew we were going to go tiny we needed to determine if we could fit our lives into that space. I'll admit, we kind of put the cart before the horse on this one. We bought plans for a 120 square foot house without deciding if we could fit in it. We just made our lives fit into it and it gave us a great experience learning to downsize and simplify. There was simply no going back.
  3. Read about other tiny houses. When we started our tiny house journey there weren't very many blogs on the subject. In fact, several of the blogs we used as our original inspiration are no longer around and I can't even point you to them. That is one of the reasons I decided to start this blog. Reading other people's stories helped us understand what we liked and didn't and could steer us in the right direction for us. Read a combination of blogs about how to build and how to live in a tiny house.
  4. Do a test build. Having had no previous building experience we decided to do a test build. We constructed a 6X6 deck that would be used as an outdoor shower. And let me tell you: it is the ugliest deck that has ever been built. But it gave us an opportunity to learn what we were doing. We got hands on experience, made lots of mistakes, and learned how to fix them when they happened. That's not to say we didn't make plenty of mistakes on the actual build but we were better equipped to handle them along the way.
  5. Just start. Finally, there comes a time when all the reading, planning, and everything else needs to translate to doing. Eventually we realized that we needed to pick up that hammer and start swinging or else we would never have a tiny house. We also realized that just reading and planning wouldn't guarantee a "perfect" house. In fact, building didn't even guarantee a "perfect" house. But the final step to getting started has to be getting started or else you'll just be planning forever.
What other steps do you think are important to building your tiny house? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tiny House Weekend and Our Foundation

This weekend was fabulous. As it turns out, I discovered that Guillaume of Tiny House Giant Journey was going to be in Asheville presenting the Tumbleweed Tiny House workshop. On Friday, when he arrived to town, he met up with Matt and me at Bar of Soap just after I got off work.

We talked about tiny houses, beer, and other fun topics. It was grand. Then he suggested we come out to the workshop the next day toward the end and answer a few questions and stick around for the mixer afterward.

So, we did.

We met some really great people from the greater Asheville area. It was a perfect time for the workshop because the recent article in the local paper, the Mountain Express, was giving the local tiny house scene a push.

I know Guillaume has some photos... when he gets home maybe I'll get them from him and replace this sentence with pictures. Or maybe I'll make a whole new post.

However, I spent a while with a great guy named Bob who was very interested in learning more about our foundation. I thought I would also share this link from a post I did on Tiny House Talk a while back that goes through the steps.

Guillaume and Art even came out to see Matt play some music on Saturday night. Good times!  

On Sunday I had picked up a shift back at Bar of Soap so Matt took Art and Guillaume up to the tiny house in the afternoon. They seemed to like it...

It is always so great to meet others who have built and live in their own tiny homes. I am very happy to be a part of this community! 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When I Made Excuses

Today I am sitting in a tiny house I helped build and writing. I now get paid to write. I always wanted to write but it seemed like an entirely impractical job. So, I got a practical one. And I waited. 

All those years I waited I was really good at making excuses why I couldn't do anything.

  •  I can start writing as soon as I have saved enough money.
  • No one is interested in the things I'm writing.
  • I can't quit my job now, I need insurance.
  • When the mortgage is paid off I can start.
  • My job is good, I would be an idiot to leave.

The longer I made excuses the easier it was not to do the things I really wanted to do. I became comfortable and complacent. I followed the path of least resistance because it was easier. 

There is a lot of risk inherent in all of the things I've done over the last few years. Building a tiny home is risky. Quitting a well-paying job is risky. But I finally realized that the benefits outweighed the risks. I'm not saying I wasn't scared. I was terrified. I also knew that I was the only thing standing in my own way.  

When the days I came home in tears outnumbered the days I came home feeling pretty okay, I couldn't wait any more. 

It is easy to make excuses. It is easy to sit back and say you should wait until the right time or until you're ready. Maybe you would argue that I was ready when I finally took that leap. I would absolutely say that I'm still not entirely ready. But I also wasn't content to stay where I was any more. I decided against the devil I knew and headed directly into the arms of the one I didn't. I did it because I couldn't do the other thing one day more. 

Humans are really good at self-defeating behavior. There are always the reasons we can't do things but we hardly ever think about "what happens if I do it anyway?" All of the people we look at and see as successes and role models have one thing in common. They stopped making excuses. Instead they said "Why not?" 

What is holding you back from doing what you want to do?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day 2014

We broke ground on our tiny house in April of 2009. And, unlike builders who use trailers for their foundations, I mean it literally. While we had built the post and pier foundation we didn't really get started until the week of 4th of July that year. 

In 2008, before we even knew we were building a tiny home, we invited several friends to come down to North Carolina to camp for the 4th of July weekend. We had a campfire, food, and fun. It was a good time. So we decided to keep up with the tradition the next year, but this time it had a little added activity. We were going to have an old fashioned barn raising!  

Here is original post from my LiveJournal, the only blog I had at the time. (The only editing was to change names from LJ tags to actual names.)

Matt came to get me at work around 3pm on Friday June 26th. We drove up to Asheville and arrived at Mt. Matt around 7pm. We spent the rest of the daylight hours setting up the canopy that would become the kitchen area as well as the bathroom tents. When the sun started going down, we went to Ingles to buy the first round of food for the week. With only coolers for food storage, we knew we would have to make several trips (this was actually the first of four).

Around 10:30 or 11pm, the first of our victims...I mean guests...arrived: Andrew, aka Droid . We hung out and talked for a while, but I was in bed by about midnight.

The next morning, June 27th, we got up and started working on the foundation, which still hadn't been finished. Our original goal, way back when we were planning this trip, was to have all the foundation done by the build week. Alas, that was not to be. Our friend Chad didn't arrive until about 3pm that afternoon. He managed to get his tent set up just before an afternoon rain shower that stopped us for about 20 minutes. The skies cleared up again and we got back to work. I believe we finished the wood posts that afternoon and started on the joists. We broke for dinner, which was pasta and Italian chicken sausage I believe. Then Matt and Chad played Detroit Lions Tailgate Toss - a crazy game played with things that look like goal posts and "bolos" - two tiny footballs connected by a string. You throw the bolos at the goal posts and try to wrap them around the rungs. I think you would have to see it to understand. When it got dark, we built the first of many fires for the weekend and Matt and Chad played some music.

On Sunday, June 28th, we spent even more time working on the foundation. I believe we got all of the joists on and worked on squaring the thing. Droid left around 1pm that day to head back to Atlanta. Dinner that night was burgers, as I recall. Matt's brother was originally supposed to get there on Sunday night, but he ended up not leaving Detroit until Monday morning so he was a day behind. No problem.

Monday through Wednesday seem like a blur to me. I know that Jim made it there late afternoon on Monday. Matt and Chad went to Home Depot to get more supplies that day. I know that Chad had signed up for the Pool tournament at the local Marshall bar, Longnecks. We had been actually afraid of Longnecks but it turned out to be a really cool place with great beer and beyond fantastic desserts. Oh, I remember - on Monday the Home Depot didn't have any trucks available to rent to Matt and Chad had to go back on Tuesday morning to get all of the wood that wouldn't fit in the element. Jim and I went to the grocery store while they did that. I stupidly forgot my wallet and Jim had to pay for the groceries, but Matt paid him back. He was really excited about the complimentary watermelon that we got for buying more than $50 worth of groceries. I made steaks for dinner that night with a potato recipe from a camping recipe cook book that was pretty good. We also got all the plywood up to the worksite so we could finally finish the foundation. I do remember that when we were done working, we debated tarping everything but we looked at weather.com and it said 0% chance of rain ALL NIGHT LONG. Well, at 3:15am, I woke up to an insane thunderstorm. Lots of lightning and thunder. The thing about staying in a barn with a metal roof, though, is it always sounds worse than it really is. At that point, though, the damage was done. We checked the plywood in the morning. It had only rained for about a half an hour so it was just wet on the surface. Matt, Jim and I went to Lowe's to get box fans that we plugged into our generator and dried out the plywood. We lost half a day of work, but we quickly recovered. Chad left around 1pm on Wednesday and then Jim, Matt and I finished squaring and securing the floor. Since it was just the three of us, we decided that was a good night to go into Asheville proper. We went to Barley's Taproom for Pizza. We had wanted to walk around, but we were exhausted so we headed back to the land and went to bed.

On Thursday, July 2nd, I had one really big job to do: I got to screw in the entire sub floor of the house! It needed screws every 12 inches along every joist and ever 6 inches around the edges. We had put in a few screws the day before just to secure it down, but now I was going to spend the morning drilling screws into the whole thing. It wasn't really hard, just tedious. Coincidentally, my drill matched my tank top so the photos of me screwing the floor make me very happy. Once that was done we could *finally* start on a wall. We framed out the front wall (with the door opening) and got it all screwed together. That night, our friends Rob and Dann were supposed to arrive late, but they got a late start and, like Jim, they didn't leave until the next day either. So, I made dinner of more pasta but with meatballs this time. The meatballs were so good! We had another fire and went to bed early.

On Friday, we worked on the second wall. That morning, around 11am, Jill and Doug arrived at Mt. Matt. They were staying in town at a Bed and Breakfast that they stay in often. They started helping with the back wall. Around lunchtime, Andy arrived as well. He set up his tent and everything and we got back to work. We divided work up - Jill and Doug were on measuring and cutting. They were in charge of all the studs which needed to be 74 inches. They cut all of them for both walls. Matt, who had been working nonstop all week, had a brain meltdown while he was trying to measure the first of the two long walls. I'm sure all the numbers and measurements were just swimming in his head. Andy stepped in and volunteered to run the measurements. I went down to the barn with Matt for a break while we left our crew cutting and measuring. Jill and Doug had to leave around 5 to go back into Asheville. With Andy's help we finished marking the measurements on the top and bottom plates of the first long wall. Jim did all the small measurements and cuts of the bracing and window pieces. We called it a night and decided to go into Downtown Marshall for dinner at Bacchus Bistro. Dann and Rob were driving in and would be there sometime around 10. When we got back we built a fire. Eventually, Dann and Rob arrived and we hung out and they set their tent up in the dark. Most of us went to bed at a respectable time, but Jim and Rob stayed up with the fire until 6am. They burned every scrap of wood that we had cut and even went hunting for more.

Amazingly enough, both of them were up and running pretty early the next day. Jill and Doug came back around 10:30 and we started assembling the first wall. We measured out and assembled the second wall as well. Then our friends Bill and Susan arrived around lunch time. They got their camp set up and it was finally time to erect the walls! After we got the first couple of walls up, Nicole and Ben arrived. Our whole crew helped us erect all four walls and finally there was a real sense of accomplishment. I was so proud of everyone working together. We did good work!
Jill and Doug had to leave again after the last wall was stood up and secured into place. We wouldn't see them again, so there were hugs all round. We all gathered back at the barn for dinner. There was, however, an equipment failure and the beer-butt chicken we were going to make was not going to be cooked (a gas line problem with our Big Easy Oil-less turkey fryer caused the problem). Andy took me on an emergency food run when we grabbed a couple of rotisserie chickens, a package of fried chicken and some cole slaw. We had to abandon our chicken at a dumpster. I feel bad for it. The dinner turned out to be really good (we already had hotdogs that we were making anyway). After dinner we built a fire and played some music. Dann and Rob were in Superfiction with Matt back in Detroit and are now in a band called The Troubled Ones. They brought things like a tambourine and bongo drums. Other folks brought their own drums and Bill even brought his mountain dulcimer. We played a mix of Dann original songs as well as some covers. We were singing along and playing along and a good time was had by all.

Sunday was spent with everyone going home, mostly. Matt and I had to close up camp - including the work site and the barn/camping site. We didn't leave until about 3pm.

I would honestly rank last week as one of the best weeks of my life. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

You can see all the photos from our tiny house build at Flickr, including photos from the first 4th of July weekend. 

Our friend Andy took some great photos that weekend which you can see here.

Since we moved into the tiny house we've stopped hosting the Independence Day camping extravaganza. Instead, we do some other traveling in the summer. But these weeks (we did three of them total while we were building) were very important to us. We are grateful for our friends who came to help us each year. We also chose the 4th of July specifically because it wasn't just Independence Day for the U.S. but also because it marked our own personal independence. This was the start of our new lives where building a tiny house would free us from debt and allow us to do new things. 

So today we celebrate the 4th of July and the 5th tiny house Independence Day. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Tiny Bathroom

Tiny house bathrooms aren't as glamorous as kitchens or living spaces. They often don't get a lot of love on the internet. Yet, any time a tiny home is posted somewhere on the internet the comments seem to indicate that people are very interested in knowing more about the bathroom.

Our tiny house bathroom hasn't showed up too often in blog posts. Part of the reasons for this is because it is awfully difficult to take good photos of the smallest space in an already small space. I suppose the other reason is because a bathroom is a pretty private spot in the house. We don't usually want everyone and their brother knowing what goes on in our toilet or shower area.

But I thought I would give you a little peek into our bathroom space just this once so you can see some of the decisions we made while building it and how it works for us. 

We built our home using tiny house plans from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company while it was still owed by Jay Shafer. The model, called the Tarlton, featured an L shape kitchen and a corner bathroom at the back of house. This seemed easy enough for us to tackle as first time home builders.

The biggest challenge was finding a shower to fit the space. We had thought about building our own shower enclosure but because this was the first time we had ever built anything we didn't want to have any major problems with leaking water anywhere. So we decided a commercially available shower unit was our best solution. We found a 30 inch shower and built the bathroom walls around it. The bathroom extends all the way from the back of the house to the front of the loft by design which has plenty of room for one person to use it at a time. We also opted not to include a bathroom sink since our kitchen is just the other side of the door. We brush our teeth and such in there. In fact the house is so small I usually find myself wandering between the closet, the kitchen and the bathroom to get cleaned up and dressed anyway.

Here are some photos of the tiny house bathroom today. 

Here are the built in shelves above the toilet. We built them in to the framing of the walls.

 This is our dry composting, sawdust toilet. We went with the basic version straight from Joseph Jenkins' Humanure Handbook. It really isn't fancy or exciting. Also we had this plug installed in the bathroom before we built the toilet. As it turns out it is just in the way and we never use it. Oh well.

Here are the other recessed shelves as well as the mirror we have hanging on a hook. 

The small 30 inch shower with a pretty shower curtain. I was very happy with the way we built the surround for the shower. 

Inside the shower you can see the ceiling panels as well as the shower nozzle and hook to hold it up. As we've mentioned before we didn't plumb the bathroom and we use an air pressurized shower sprayer

A lovely view out the window. 

The light fixture, like all of the fixtures in our house, came from Ikea. We also used cedar tongue and groove wall panels for the bathroom. The rest of the house is pine. There wasn't a practical reason for this, just that it seemed cool to use something different in the one space that was separate. 

For the doors we build two half doors that meet in the middle so it is easier to get around them in the kitchen. We matched them to the kitchen cabinets. 

Is there anything you want to know about the bathroom in our tiny house?