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. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tiny Homes and No Kids

I started writing this post in early August and then shelved it. But tomorrow I leave for the first ever conference for women without children. And, oh yeah, I am the co-administrator of the conference. This is something I have always wanted to do but before quitting my corporate job, and freeing my time and money, I couldn't have attempted it. 

On Saturday, August 1st I woke up to an amazing surprise. It was International Childfree Day, a celebration designed to demonstrate that choosing not to have children is a valid life choice. On that day the annual winners of Childfree Person of the Year are announced.

And I discovered that not only had I been nominated but that I was given the honor of Childfree Woman of the Year.

I don't often talk about my decision not to have children in relation to having our tiny house. And I certainly don't think that being childfree is the only way to live tiny. In fact, many of my favorite people within the tiny house movement are parents. I respect all choices, which is why I expect others to be respectful as well.

But there are ways in which not having children has affected the decisions I've made around my home, my career, and more.

Let's take a closer look.
  1. Smaller space for fewer people. Our tiny house is 120 square feet, which is of course also the name of this blog. Many people suggest that this is too small for even two people. It isn't for us, but it might be for someone else. For us, it is the perfect size but we didn't have to make considerations for additional people so we had more freedom to choose a design that worked perfectly for our specific needs.
  2. Reduce expenses and income. One thing I couldn't have done if I had kids was feel free to quit my job without any sort of safety net. Not that other people with kids can't make similar choices but since I don't have kids I couldn't even begin to understand the trade offs and sacrifices that are necessary. I had plenty of fear that I couldn't sustain myself, but not having a mortgage and not having expensive bills that come with a large home helped give me the confidence to quit. 
Update October 6, 2015: 
The NotMom Summit

Tomorrow I make my way to Cleveland to meet a woman I have been working with since 2012. I am excited to bring together 125 women from all over the country (and Canada) who share this experience of not having children. When you don't have kids the conversation is different and we are just looking for our tribe.

And that's the thing about women without children.

We belong to all kinds of demographics from tiny house dwellers to large home dwellers. We are all colors, all cultures, and all ages. And for the first time we're getting together in one place to share our stories and learn from one another. And that I had a had a hand in it - because of the opportunities I've had after building a tiny home - is incredible. 

This is exactly what I mean when I say "Live Deliberately." 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tiny House Changes in the Air and the Future

This seems like a good post for the first day of fall!  Happy equinox everyone.

I'm not ready to share all the details but I wanted to give my readers a heads up that within the next couple of years there would be some pretty big changes happening here at Life in 120 Square Feet.

Don't worry, the tiny house will play a major role.

In the meantime I wanted to share some of my thoughts about my place within the tiny house community.

In October I have the amazing honor of helping to run the very first conference specifically designed for women without children. Being childfree by choice has been a big part of my identity as a woman, especially as I reached 40, and I've been working with The NotMom blog for several years. We finally decided the time was right so here we are about to launch a real life conference.

The reason I mention that is because not only am I the co-administrator of the entire event but I will be speaking on a panel titled "Lasting Impressions: Philanthropy, Volunteering, and Work that Gives Back." This topic is extremely important to me. As a childfree woman I have been told, far too often, that I am selfish and shallow for taking this path in life. I think it is important to break that stereotype and volunteering is extremely important to me.

That being said, volunteering and the tiny house go hand in hand. It was because of the tiny house that Matt and I had the opportunity to visit South Africa in 2011 and work with a group to build a sustainable shelter for orphans and other vulnerable Zulu children living in the townships outside Durban.

And now we are volunteering on a more local level.

We are working with the Asheville Small Home Advocacy Committee and the city of Asheville to make small and tiny homes more legally viable. We believe this could be one answer for the affordable housing crisis that affects our city. The city is interested and we are hoping to do more in the coming years.

Right now and for the foreseeable future this will be the biggest push for me as a tiny house activist. Our tiny home gave us many opportunities and we are grateful. There are things we couldn't have done, both with our time and money, if we had not built our tiny home. Because our experience was transformative I want to help others find ways to do this in their lives.

You can read about that experience at our website

So what else is on the horizon and why do I have to be rather cryptic? Ultimately it is not my story to tell, not yet anyway, but there are things that will affect my life moving forward that will be an incredibly positive experience.

In many of our talks about tiny house living Matt and I have been asked about our relationship and how it was affected by building a tiny house. I have become fond of saying, "We've been together a long time and building a tiny house was just one more weird thing in a long list of weird things we've done."

I think that sums it up nicely.

Rest assured the next phase will be one more weird thing, but weird doesn't mean bad. It just means unexpected. Stay around to find out more.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Asheville Housing Fair September 19th

Are you in Asheville? If so, I highly recommend that you swing by the Asheville Housing Fair on Saturday, September 19th from 10am to 2pm.

It's free!  

I will be there, along with my friends from Wishbone Tiny Homes and other members of the Asheville Small Home Advocacy Committee to share information about making tiny homes more legally viable in the city limits.

From 10am to 10:30 Matt and I will be outside the house that Wishbone is showcasing at the site answering questions about living well in 120 square feet. Come by and talk to us!

The rest of the day we will be primarily representing Asheville SHAC. We even have some informational brochures that describe our mission and what we're looking for in terms of a developer in town. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dragon Con 2015 Geeky Recap

This was our 9th year at Dragon Con in downtown Atlanta. The crowds set a record at 70,000. Certainly can't fit that many people in a tiny home! 

I love general geekery. It is like Halloween, Christmas, my birthday, and everything else fun that I can ever think of all rolled into one. This year we had friends from Asheville, Atlanta, Bermuda, Seattle, Michigan, Minnesota, and more all hanging out with us. It was the best Dragon Con ever.

You may wonder why I am posting about it on my tiny house blog. Well, as this is about my life in 120 square feet it is also about my life outside of it and Dragon Con is one of my very favorite things.

So - without further ado... photos! 
(These were taken by a variety of people in our friend group)

Emily and Bill as Wonder Woman and Batman

Bill and Emily as Rockabilly Batman and Bombshell Wonder Woman

John from EPBOT as Dreamfinder and Figment

Our entire group as Harry Potter adult characters.

Our entire group plus a Hagrid and Snape that we found

Heather as Liv Moore from iZombie

Heather and Jill as Princess Daisy and Luigi

Jay and Heather as Lupin and Tonks from Harry Potter

Our Super Mario group

Slytherin Karl Lagerfeld?

Emily and Bill as Steampunk Kaylee and Mal from Firefly

Matt with Thor's Hammer. It weighed over 50 pounds!

Matt and me as Lucius Malfoy and Sybill Trelawney
We'll be back for Dragon Con 2016 so stay tuned next year for more costumes and geeky fun!