Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Job and My Tiny Life

We're in this middle of this amazing trip. I feel so fortunate to have these opportunities. People keep asking me how I started working for myself and how I got to this point in my life. I thought it might be helpful to answer it.

In 1999 I got my first job in the temporary staffing industry. I worked as a recruiter for a franchise of a national chain in Michigan. I made $12 an hour. That was the most I made an hour ever, so I was excited. I quickly realized there was a problem, but I didn't trust my instincts. It turns out the company hires "recruiters" in bulk. They hire college graduates who don't have a lot of experience, give them training, and then throw them from the frying pan into the fire. My training class had about a dozen people. After six months of working for the company, there were only two of us left.

A Facebook update from February 2012. I quit that April.
This was a red flag, but I am a resourceful person so I made it work. It was more money and experience than the retail jobs I had before. My college degree in Anthropology wasn't landing me anything else so I stuck with it.

And you know what? I was pretty good at it. 

So, after a year I started looking for another job in temporary staffing. I found a job with a small, local staffing firm and quit.  But I hated that job too. I quickly realized that my training from the first company was sadly lacking.

I was still good at it, so I stuck with it. Eventually, I got recruited away by a company who wanted to start internal recruiting. I took the job because I was unhappy.

That third job wasn't any better. I was making a little more money but they didn't have enough business to really justify a full time recruiter. I volunteered to work the front desk after their previous receptionist went out on maternity leave. I was making a recruiter's salary for answering phones and playing around on the internet. It wasn't so bad.

Then we moved to Georgia.

My first job in Georgia was actually the first I really loved. But the company was a start up and 8 months later I was unemployed.

So I went back to agency recruiting. I was good at it. It was easy for me. I just didn't like it all the time. 

I justified things a lot. My co-workers were pretty cool and it was a small office. My boss rocked. Those things were quite true. But the job itself? It just wasn't what I expected I would be when I grew up. I didn't always like who I was while I worked there. I was at that job for 8 years.

Somewhere in the middle Matt and I came up with this harebrained idea to build a tiny house on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. It would be off the grid and if we lived there we would have no expenses. Suddenly, I recognized the possibilities. If I worked really hard at this thing, I could completely change my life.

I realized one thing that I hadn't before.

I was the one who had to change, not my job. 

Every time I left a job due to dissatisfaction I thought a new place would be the answer. I thought things would be different. They never were. I finally recognized the truth that there is one common denominator in all of my unsatisfying relationships...and that was me.

I needed to make a big change in my life. I needed to change the way I thought about things. I needed to give myself permission to explore possibilities and even fail. I needed to stop following the path of least resistance because it was the responsible thing to do. I took a leap...without a net...and I didn't fall. In fact, I'm still soaring.

That's what deliberate living can do for you, regardless of the path that takes you there. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lifecation Part One: St. Augustine

There was a time when this blog cataloged the things we were doing as we built the tiny house. Not only would I write about the construction but also the adventures we would have while we were building.

I want to do that again.

This time in the form of a travelog of our month long adventures. We are calling this our Lifecation because we are doing all the same things we would at home, such as working, just from a different location.

St. Augustine

Piglet exploring our tiny cottage.
Of the four places we are visiting in our month along the southeastern coast, St. Augustine was the only one we hadn't been to before.

We left Asheville at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, February 4th and drove straight down until we got to Anastasia Island where our tiny AirBnB cottage was located. The owners created an amazing jungle landscape in the back yard of their own home where the little cottage was nestled.

And when I say small, I mean small. And that is no small statement for someone who lives in a tiny home. The square footage was probably about the same size as our tiny house but the layout was quite different. Most of the space was taken up by the bed. There was a very small kitchenette and a bathroom with a boat-style shower. We are very used to small spaces so we didn't have a problem staying in this cottage. There was also a screened in porch and a large backyard deck that allowed us to expand our living space a little.

What I will say is that over the course of the week we started to find it difficult to work in the small space. Because there was no desk or living area we were working from the bed which was fine for a while, but became frustrating. But we coped.

I very much enjoyed St. Augustine. It is a tourist town and so is Asheville so I am used to those types of crowds. We enjoyed plenty of great food and beer.

We also took advantage of the beach. We brought our bikes and rode down to one park and the next day drove to a beach that was a little further away. That afternoon we ate an amazing seafood boil on a restaurant balcony that overlooked the ocean. It was beautiful. 

We were able to meet up with some friends who had recently moved to the south Georgia area. They came down to St. Augustine and we all went on a Historic Pub Crawl, which was full of beer and history.

After a week in the tiny cottage we packed up and drove just three hours north to Savannah where we will continue this story next week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Location Independence and the Tiny House

London Trip, October 2014
Here's something you might not know. When Matt and I discovered tiny homes we were already working hard to become location independent.

What is location independence? 

The concept of location independence is that you can work from anywhere in the world. It is part work from home and part travel. Some location independent people are called "digital nomads" and there is a strong RV culture around it. There are so many possible careers that could be considered location independent. I spent years cultivating a career as a freelance writer while Matt works remotely for the technology company he's worked with since the late 1990s.

The main goal with location independence is to be able to take your work anywhere. And while we were looking at this as an option for our lives we stumbled across tiny homes. We realized that by building a teeny home that didn't require a mortgage or rent, or utilities in our case, we could save more money than we spend and transform our lives to be more location independent. And by building our tiny home on a foundation in the mountains we would always have a low maintenance home base that we could come back to any time we needed to.

There are so many possible paths to this lifestyle that there is no one right answer. 

Since moving into the tiny house we've practiced location independence several times. Within our first year we traveled to Michigan, where our families live, for two months over the winter holidays. We've traveled to New Mexico and Arizona. We've gone on extended camping trips. We spent 10 days in the UK.

As a freelance writer I no longer get traditional "vacations" - I either have to work while we're traveling or get as much done as possible before we leave so I can have more free time on the trip. I usually do a combination of the two. I love having this flexibility and I love to travel and experience new things so this is perfect for me.

So, tomorrow we leave for a month trip up the southeastern coast. By "we" I mean myself, Matt and Piglet. We travel every Wednesday relocating to different AirBnBs each week. We will both work and explore the town where we're visiting. I am very excited for this adventure.

Every tiny house is a catalyst for a new life. 

And for us, a new life means the ability to travel and work from anywhere in the world. There is no right way to do tiny living and it can be different for everyone. That is what I love most about this movement.

Why do you want to build and live in a tiny home?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tiny House Survey

February means its time for the 2015 Tiny House Survey. It will collect data on people who live in and are building tiny homes to be able to provide real numbers and details about this movement. The survey is anonymous so you can feel perfectly comfortable participating.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Packing a Nissan Juke for 1 Month Away From Home

We use to travel in our Honda Element. That car is like a storage unit on wheels. There is nothing you can't fit in an Element. Seriously, we've never lost the "That won't fit in there," argument.

But the Element is 12 years old and starting to show signs of aging. Its days of long car trips are behind us.

Now, we travel in a Nissan Juke. It is a great car with pretty decent cargo space (as a hatch back) but it is nowhere near as versatile as an Element.

So as we prepare to leave Asheville on February 4th for an entire month away from home, how do we pack everything we need for two adults and one cat in a Nissan Juke?

Luckily we have some practice. Downsizing to fit our lives in 120 square feet was a very helpful exercise. And, we also go on long camping trips each year. For those we need to bring not only our clothes but also a tent, kitchen stuff, and lots of beer.

We are also pretty good at packing for a 10 day European vacation in just a back pack.

So, here is a breakdown of what we will need on our adventure south:
  1. Enough clothes for 6-8 days. Three out of four of the places we're staying have washers and dryers so we only have to cover the span of about one week between washing. Of course, there is the weather question - we're on the beach but it is still February so we have to be prepared for warmish and coldish. Jeans are great for this kind of trip - just two or three pair will be plenty. Then it is just a matter of shirts, a sweatshirt, PJs, socks, and unmentionables. That's easy. 
  2. Computers. I can fit my entire workspace into one relatively small back pack. Matt, on the other hand, has one work laptop and one personal laptop. It is still more portable than a large PC. 
  3. Piglet's things. Things have gotten more complicated with Piglet now. Since her surgery she can't eat regular cat kibble so we have to feed her wet food. And, because cats are jerks, Piglet will only eat one particular kind of food that isn't available in grocery stores. So, we are actually bringing enough food for all 28 days. 28 days times 3 small cans of food a day.... well, that adds up. But its still cheaper than a pet sitter and, besides, we couldn't possibly be away from Piglet for a whole month. Besides food she also needs a litter box, treats, and bathing supplies. She'll basically have her own suitcase. 
  4. Other stuff. Matt plays guitar and wants to bring both an acoustic and electric one with him. Still smaller than a drum set so that's fine. We also want take our bikes. We have installed a hitch to Juke and can use a mounted bike rack. Easy. What else do we need? Well, some weird stuff like our own shampoo, some extra pairs of shoes, and laundry soap. But those can be packed in smaller bags and take up little spaces in the back of the car.
I think that just about covers it.

So - for the TL;DR version:
  • We need clothes, computers, Piglet's things, and some other stuff. All of which will fit in a tiny car. 
We have spent the last several years learning to live with less so it makes the idea of traveling for extended periods of time much simpler.

What would you take with you for a month trip away from home?

(Stick around for more about our trip south for the winter. We leave on Wednesday, February 4th and be home Wednesday, March 4th. During that time we'll share our experience and what it is like to live on the road for a month.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What Would You Do Differently?

 "Is there anything you would change about your tiny house?"

Back in 2012 when I first moved into my tiny house I would get defensive whenever anyone would ask me this question. I felt that it kind of missed the point. I built this house with my own hands and it was the culmination of years of preparation and hard work and to think I would do anything different came across as insulting.

But things change, including attitudes.

There are all kinds of things I would do differently if I did it all over again.

But maybe not in the way you would think. In truth, I wouldn't change a thing about our current tiny house. It served a purpose. It taught us lessons about building, designing spaces, and ourselves. It isn't perfect but it wasn't designed to be. It was meant to be a catalyst to living a very different life and in that, it has succeeded. 

If we were to build another tiny house in the future, which is always a possibility because we love projects, we would do all sorts of things differently. But that doesn't invalidate that choices we made in this house. It doesn't make our current house a disappointment.

When we started building there were very few other examples of tiny houses available on the internet. The few other self-builders who were blogging were invaluable resources for us - which is exactly the reason I started this blog. But as the movement gains momentum there are now countless tiny homes showcased on the internet for reference.

We made a lot of choices the first time due to our inexperience. That doesn't make them bad choices, but it did make them easier choices. But next time we would want to challenge ourselves more. For example, we would probably install dormers in the loft for extra elbow room. When we built our house we really wanted to keep the roof line as simple as possible.  Now we feel more comfortable with our skills.

So while I am not unhappy with my current house I do think there is always room for improvement in the next build.

If you had the chance to do it all over again, how would you approach things differently?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Small is Beautiful Presentation Featuring Life in 120 Square Feet

If you're in the Asheville area, check out this presentation at the Katuah Market on Thursday, January 29th. Matt and I will be talking about what it is like to live in a tiny home.