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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Story Featured on MindBodyGreen

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by an editor of the popular website 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.