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.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."

--Henry David Thoreau

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tiny Houses and the Like-Hearted People

I haven't been able to write a great recap of our Tiny House Conference experience yet. Others, including Amy from The Tiny Life did a much better job.

But here is what I can tell you. I love these conferences. I love being in such a huge group of like-hearted people. Even if we all come to the tiny house journey from different places, we all have the same glimmer of understanding. We all speak the same language.

This year, our Tiny House Conference experience extended past the event itself. We were able to host Lina Menard of This Is The Little Life for an entire week. (If you're wondering, she stayed with us in our city house, but we did visit the tiny house.) For the most part, we just lived our lives. When work was done, we would go out and show her around town. It was a great time.

Photo by Kristie Wolfe. Beer provided by Chris and Kelly.
The day after the conference, when several people were heading back home, we got a call from Ethan Waldman, of His flight was canceled, and could he stay with us rather than a hotel by the airport? What's especially cool about this is that while I've known Ethan online for a couple of years, the conference was the first time we ever met. And of course the answer was yes! It was really fun to have him staying with us, along with Lina, for a day. We got ice cream and took them to a favorite park. It is rare to feel that at-ease with someone you've just met, but it happens to me time and time again in the tiny house community.

Unfortunately, Ethan had to leave before we went up to our tiny house. But some other tiny housers were still in town and came with us, including Chris and Kelly of Just Right Bus and Kristie Wolfe of Tiny House on the Prairie. And Lina, of course.

On Saturday, April 8th we dropped Lina off at the Asheville airport and she was finally heading home. We really enjoyed the company of everyone who was able to spend time with us before, during, and after the Tiny House Conference. We'll see you all next year in Portland, Oregon! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sometimes We Fart

“Oh God! What is that smell?” There was silence on the other end of the small sofa. “Did you do that?”
“Must have been the cat."
“I’ve smelled the cat. That was not the cat.” I grabbed the green pillow and fanned the air.
“Sorry, then, it must have been my butt.”
“It was your butt all right. Ack!” I pulled the pillow close to my face to act as a sort of crude gas mask.
The next morning, it’s my turn. And, rather than harbor my shame in secrecy, I just decide to announce it and declare my ownership. “Excuse me!”
He snorts and rolls over to face the wall, away from me.    

Here’s the thing, folks. The house is tiny. Very, very tiny. 120 square feet tiny, in fact. And you know what? Smells happen. All kinds of smells. If we don’t scoop the litter box immediately after use, it smells until we do. If we’re cooking onions, the house will smell like onions. If someone uses the very small bathroom, there is often an associated smell that hangs in the air until it dissipates. But, much like larger homes, our house also has windows. We even have a fan that can help with airflow. We can even buy air freshener. 

We also have a huge, enormous great outdoors where one can escape if something is particularly noxious. Escaping outside isn’t even that big a deal because in only 120 square feet the door is never that far from wherever a person happens to be in the house. 

Matt and I have been together a very long time. It was about 18 years ago or so that we stopped worrying about whether or not someone might pass gas in the same room as the other person. It didn’t ruin the romance. It didn’t make either of us love the other one just a little less. Bodies are just a fact of life and when we decided to share our lives with another body, it meant everything. Including farts with some sense of regularity. 

“How do you live in such a small space with another person? How do you not kill each other? What do you do if someone farts?” 

All of these questions are so common. I have answered them frequently over the years often with the same general theme. We can live in a small space together because we genuinely like being around each other. We haven’t killed each other yet because that would be messy and would end with a televised court case and, likely, jail time. When someone farts, we either ignore it or make a big deal out of it, or somewhere in between. 

We enjoyed spending time with each other before we built a tiny house. We enjoy being together in the tiny house. If we ever stop enjoying each other’s company, it may be time to reevaluate things. We don’t see that happening, but you never know. 

The tiny house is a thing. For us, it was an adventure that allowed us to grow together. As we say all the time, it was just one more weird thing in a long list of weird things that we’ve done over the course of 21 years. There was also that time we drove to New York City for New Year’s Eve in 1998 without any real plans. Or maybe the Halloween themed bathroom we had in our house in Atlanta. Oh, and the time we marathoned the last 4 Harry Potter movies at the local Brew and View movie theater and brewery. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. 

I’m not a relationship expert. In fact, since I have been in the same relationship since I was 19 years old, I am probably the opposite of someone you want to give you relationship advice. I have no idea how it works. It just works. But I can tell you that a tiny house won’t work for everyone, especially if you’re particularly worried about farts. 

And sometimes we fart.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Tiny House Conference in Asheville NC, April 2016

The 3rd Tiny House Conference is coming up quickly. This year, our own town of Asheville will host the event. I can't wait for all my tiny house friends to see my city!

Matt and I will be speaking both days. We are doing a presentation on Off-Grid Living, which we have done the last two years, and a new talk on Finding Land. Can't wait to see you all there! 

Watch the intro videos here! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Why The Tiny House Movement Isn't a Failure

Over the last month or so several opinion articles have been published on the interwebs that describe the failings of the Tiny House Movement.

There was this one that suggested that tiny houses were actually a nightmare. Practically a pox on the American landscape.
Sadly, these aren't the utopian living spaces that are going to save you from paying exorbitant rents or 30-year mortgages. There are plenty of unique problems that come with every kind of pint-sized living space, turning them from cute little dream homes into compact nightmares.
Then there was this post that called the tiny living movement a big lie.
And we could definitely kick the knick-knack habit. But how small can we shrink without wreaking havoc of a different kind? Are tiny homes really sustainable?
In this post, the author shares her story of living in a small space for a vacation and equates their desire to go home at the end with several stories of tiny house people who have since moved on from their small homes. It is a false equivalency, to be sure.

Matt and I speak at a lot of tiny house events. And one of the things we emphasize is that tiny living is not a panacea. There are a lot of considerations that people need to make before diving into the tiny life.

For example, because we built and live in the house together people often ask us how they can "convince" their partner to move into a tiny home. Personally, I don't believe that if one person has to be convinced that the path to tiny is right for that couple. Someone is going to become resentful, and that isn't a good thing. However, whether the tiny house caused the problem in the relationship or was simply the final straw - well, that's a question for relationship counselors, not me.

But here is the real truth.

Just because someone moves out of their tiny house doesn't mean that the tiny house movement is a failure.

There are many reasons someone might move out of any home. Matt and I, for example, have lived in a lot of places since we started dating. There was a duplex outside of Detroit. Then a bungalow in Dearborn, MI. Then we moved to an apartment in Atlanta. Then we bought a big house in Atlanta. Then we sold the big house in Atlanta and moved into a very small apartment. Then we moved into the tiny house. And finally, we now live most of the time in a 700 square foot Bungalow in Asheville, NC.


Because we, as a couple, love diversity and change and don't like to sit still for very long. The tiny house was a project for us. It was a catalyst to get our lives moving in another direction. And it was an absolute success. So much so that it gave us the opportunity to buy another home in a city that we love. Will we live in this house forever? Who knows. We just aren't those kinds of people.

The ultimate lesson was that the tiny house taught us about ourselves. 

The tiny house movement gave us an opportunity to better understand what we wanted, what we could do, and how we could achieve it. It got us thinking outside the box, as it were.  Honestly, the catalyst could have been anything - but it wasn't.

It seems ridiculous to assume that someone needs to stay in their tiny house forever just because they live in it now. People change. Life circumstances change. Places change. Needs change. And you know what, that is not only okay but it should be encouraged and embraced. But what people do come out of the tiny house movement with is a new way of thinking. I will say again and again, the tiny house movement isn't about the house at all. It is a philosophy. It changes the way you think about everything around you. It changes how you think about the place where you live and what you need to live there. It can give you opportunities, even if that is only for a finite period of time. 

To the authors of sensational op-ed pieces, it is time to stop thinking about tiny houses in black and white. What does or doesn't work for you or even for someone who tried out tiny for a while doesn't mean that it is automatically a bad thing. Or, automatically a good thing. A tiny house is just a thing. It is the people that matter, not the house.