Thursday, July 2, 2015

Independence Day is More than a Holiday

Independence Day 2009
Independence Day has always been important for our journey toward tiny. We actually use the title "Independence Day" deliberately rather than the 4th of July. For us, this marked a start to our path toward our own independence.

We bought our land around September of 2007 so in July of 2008, before we started building the tiny house and before we even knew we would build a tiny house, we invited several friends to our mountain for a long camping weekend. It started a tradition of marking the holiday with steps toward finishing our project.

Last year I shared my original LiveJournal post about our second Independence Day trip to the mountain in 2009. 
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!
In 2010 we took another week long vacation to work on the house. We were much further ahead with progress than we were the year before, even though it felt like it was taking absolutely forever at the time.
The big project for the 4th of July was building the overhang for the porch.  Matt and Bill figured out the engineering of the project by determining the math and angles and constructing a temporary structure to hold it up before a porch and posts were built.  Once the engineering was complete, the actual construction went quite smooth.  Sunday night, we made steaks and camping potatoes for dinner and built a fire.  Our neighbors came up to hang out by the fire.  We played music and sang by the fire.  
In 2011 it seemed simultaneously that the house would never be finished and was so close to being complete.  Because the house was nearly done the weekend was spent mostly with friends relaxing, playing music, and eating.
The morning fare - scrambled eggs, biscuits and pork sausage patties.  It was yummy and the perfect brunch.  After breakfast, some folks went out to Lowe's to get the stuff to build a new fire pit.  When they got back and got unloaded, there was discussion among some to take a drive out to Mt. Mitchell.  I stayed behind with a couple other campers and we had a lovely afternoon hanging out by the barn and enjoying some beer.  When the rest of the group got back we were regaled with stories of the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi.
Since we moved into the tiny house in May of 2012 we didn't host a camp out and work party that year. We had traveled for several weeks over the summer just before the holiday so we wanted to stay at home. We were pleased with our new lifestyle of independence.
For several years we have hosted a 4th of July camp out here at Mt. Matt. This year we decided not to do it for several reasons - we took a two week trip, people have been visiting us on their own schedule, and we're just getting ourselves involved in the community. However, the reason Independence Day has always been important to us here is because of the real sense of Independence that this tiny house provides us.
Pulling up the blog posts from July of 2013 shows that I didn't write anything about the 4th of July that year. I do remember thinking about blogging a lot that summer and realized that the adventure of building the tiny house had given way to the real life of living in it. But I did write this blog post about why I work from home which certainly has the theme of independence.
I don't see a big difference between what I do and how I live. I don't even think there are words for it in the English language. We are so ingrained to see work in terms of "Career" or "Job" that there is a sense of separation that is inherent in it. The closest I have come to the right phrase to convey what I feel about working is "Work/Life Blend." Even still, that article makes a case for 24/7 connection to your job and working on vacations, which isn't exactly what I mean.
Summer of 2014 wasn't a banner year. I had some health complications that impacted how we spent time in our tiny house. I won't lie, it was difficult and I am still recovering from it; if not physically, mentally. That's why, rather than talking about what was happening to me, I reposted about our first build trip at the mountain.

This year I am continuing the theme of Independence. I am typing this blog post from the kitchen table of a friend's cabin while they sleep in. I chose this lifestyle so I could have the freedom to work from anywhere.

There are actually some big changes coming to Life in 120 Square Feet over the next few years. They are amazing things that I can only hint at for now but will impact our lives tremendously and it is all part of the same path of independence.

I would like to wish you and your family a wonderful and safe Independence Day! Tell me, what does independence mean to you?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Three Years Tiny

In May of 2012, Matt and I packed up our cars and drove for one last time from our former home in Atlanta to our new, tinier home near Asheville.

Three years ago I had just quit my job.

Three years ago the smallest place I had ever lived was 800 square feet if you don't count my college dorm room.

Three years ago I had no idea if I could make a living on my own.

Three years ago I only knew a handful of people in Asheville.

Today, in June of 2015, I can say that moving into our tiny house was the single best thing we have ever done. It forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. It gave me security to try something new. It put us in a city where we wanted to get involved and felt like we could make a difference.

This is why the hearing on the proposed changes to ADU regulations in the city of Asheville was important to me. Living tiny, reducing my expenses, and paying off my debt has led to my success as an independent business owner and a member of the Asheville community. I want to pay it forward and give others this change. 

So much has changed in the last three years. The biggest change has been in me.

I don't know where my life will take me in the next three years. Or thirty years. But I am grateful for every step in the process.

What has tiny living given you? 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Asheville SHAC, Public Hearings, and ADUs

Tomorrow is a big day for Asheville SHAC.

Our city has proposed changes to the regulations surrounding accessory dwelling units, making them easier to build in the city. While this doesn't necessarily help the cause of tiny houses on wheels it is one step in the right direction of making small and tiny houses viable in Asheville. Our city is facing a major housing crisis and every small change makes a big difference.

So, tomorrow, the representatives from Asheville SHAC and any support we can drum up from the community will be at the city council meeting at City Hall starting at 5pm.

If you're an Asheville voter, we could use your support. If you're interested in helping your city make similar changes, you can follow along here and at the Asheville SHAC Facebook page. We will be documenting the experience.

Thank you for your support! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Solitude is Not the Same as Isolation

Emily recently asked a question on the blog:

Are you guys relatively close to a decent grocery store? I know that if you can buy food every three to four days, you don't need to worry about a fridge/freezer. But you seem pretty isolated. Maybe looks are deceiving.
That's a great question and probably not something that we've addressed much on this blog. We frequently talk about how we built our house on a remote spot in the mountains. We talk about how we hike up to our house from where we have to park the car. 

But I sometimes think that maybe we haven't defined what that really means.

For me, solitude is not the same thing as isolation.

I love the solitude of our mountain. I love the quiet, contemplative space we've built in the middle of nature. But a short walk gets us to our cars and a short drive will get us to the nearest civilization. We are in the Appalachian mountains but we aren't in the wilderness. We are near a very small mountain town and only a thirty minute drive to the city of Asheville.

When I moved into the tiny house one of the best surprises in our new lifestyle was how much more engaged we felt with out community. We don't stay in our tiny house 24/7. We frequently go out with friends or to events in town.

In fact, that connection to community has become the most important thing in my life and it was facilitated by the tiny house.

So in a direct answer to Emily's question we are not too far from a grocery store and we can get food multiple times a week if we want. We make an event of going to local farmer's markets and there we engage with the sellers and support local agriculture.

While I imagine isolation is the goal for some tiny home builders almost everyone I've met in the tiny house community loves interaction, developing friendships, and sharing our experiences.

What is the role of community in your life? Do you want to engage more with the people around you? 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

You Have to Start Somewhere

Recently, I've been seeing this uplifting post everywhere. I love the fact that this 20 year old is kick-starting an initiative to do something about ocean pollution.

I am frustrated by some of the responses. 

Several friends criticized the action that it wasn't doing enough. Cleaning the surface layer of the oceans won't solve the problem of pollutants deeper in the water. Yes, this might be true but that doesn't mean we don't try to clean the surface of the water.

It isn't just about this young person and their desire to help the environment. Inaction is a systemic problem that I see over and over again in all aspects of life. We become so paralyzed by the fact that we can't do everything, or we can't do it perfectly, that we don't take any action at all. And this is the problem.

A long time ago, before we moved into our tiny house, we had a friend who told us that he didn't like to start any project until he read everything about it and learned as much as he could. I had a huge problem with this line of thinking. Time and time again I saw him not taking any action at all. Sure, I read things too but at some point I put down the book and pick up the hammer. There is always one more book to read. There is always more to learn. But waiting until you think you know how to do something perfectly to even start is the best way to never have to start.

We often speak at events and conferences about our tiny house experience. The first thing I will tell anyone is to get practice. Learn how to build by building. The first few projects may not be perfect, but you'll get better and better as you go along. I'm not saying don't turn to resources or read books or even strive to get it perfect, but not building is worse than building something that might have a few flaws.

When we went to South Africa to help the Zulu Orphan Alliance we were criticized that we weren't helping enough kids or that we weren't going to solve the problems caused by rape and poverty in the townships. Or that we were helping the wrong kids because there are plenty of American children in difficult situations. Yes, all of those things can be true. But did that mean we should ignore it all together? I'd rather help just one child anywhere in the world than worry about not being able to help them all. 

Just because a solution doesn't solve everything doesn't mean we shouldn't try to solve anything. Perfection or negativity just breeds inaction. I would rather live in a world where we are willing to try new things and learn from our mistakes than never try anything at all.

What can you start today to make a small difference in your life or someone else's?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

TV in Our Tiny House Lives

We got into this tiny house thing at just the right time in history. I can have a vast library of books and music on my phone so my tiny house doesn't get cluttered with things I love but take up too much space.

Just today, a friend asked on his Facebook page:

If you could only keep one of these would you keep the pleasure of movies, books, TV or music?

As much as I enjoy each of those things, I didn't hesitate to answer.

I would keep TV. 

And thankfully, once again, that I live in a time when TV doesn't have to tether us to the cable companies or even an actual television for that matter.

I do love TV. I love the art of TV. I get really into certain TV creators and have to watch everything they've ever done. Like Joss Whedon. Or Bryan Fuller. Right now I am really into Brian Fuller, especially with the premier of Hannibal season 3 coming up. I don't just like to watch TV. When I see something I like I need to learn everything I can about it. Is it is a historical story? Is it based on something else? Who are the actors? Are there hidden Easter eggs? What else has this writer done? I read reviews of every TV show I watch just to get someone else's perspective.

I thought I would have to give up TV when I moved into the tiny house. And for the first six months, I did. And some people would think this was the noble act. Our culture spends too much time in front of the TV, of course, so why would someone want to go back to TV after abandoning it?

But I missed it.

What I didn't miss was the filler TV that I would watch in my life before. You know, the marathons of reality TV. I would find myself in front of the TV for hours on a Saturday watching things I didn't actually care about when I just didn't have the energy to do anything else.

But I missed the art of TV.

The answer was simple: streaming television. We didn't need cable to watch most of the shows we really love. We just needed a good internet connection and services like Hulu Plus. And so a new era of TV enjoyment was born in our tiny house. The era where TV watching is deliberate.

Of course, streaming television doesn't provide access to everything. Our solution to the things we can't watch over the internet is to make them social events. Shows like HBO's Game of Thrones we watch with friends. We go to a local bar to watch Detroit Lions football games in the fall. These experiences make them more than just TV watching. 

Simplifying your life doesn't have to mean giving up all your creature comforts or even luxuries. Each tiny house is different and should reflect the lives and interests of the people who live there. If you love books, by all means figure out a way to store your favorite books in your tiny house. If you love TV, have TV. Keep your musical instruments, your knitting, or your painting. If you love sports, incorporate them into your lives and your tiny home. Your tiny house will be different than mine and that is not only okay, it is encouraged.

What do you love that you couldn't give up regardless of the size of your home?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Live Deliberately: Gratitude

It is not happy people people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.

I learned years ago on my journey toward a more deliberate life that I am eternally grateful for so many things. Every day I discover new and wonderful things for which I am thankful.
A while back, Ryan Mitchell over at The Tiny Life shared this video "The Science of Happiness" several times. I loved watching it. It really drove home the point that thankful people are happy people.
I am thankful for all of my friends and family who have supported me and who have helped me along the way. There are too many to name.

Except for Jill - I want to name Jill. Years ago we challenged each other to write more. We said we couldn't call ourselves writers if we weren't writing. So we wrote more. Now I make my living with writing and she's been published in several anthologies and is working on a couple novels. I am grateful for that kind of friendship and encouragement.

And, of course, this entire adventure wouldn't have been possible without Matt. We are partners in every way. I knew it was the right decision when neither of us thought building and living in a 120 square foot house was a crazy idea at all.

I am grateful for the entire tiny house community. We are scattered across the country, and even the world, and yet we are able to come together and discuss the most intimate parts of our lives.

Deliberate living is a philosophy. It is a way of thinking about your life and making every moment count. Thankfulness is an important part of that process for me.

What are you grateful for in your life?