Saturday, December 29, 2012

A look back and a look forward...

2012 may have been the biggest year of my life. So much happened that even in previous years where I could say a lot happened they pale to 2012 in comparison.

January and February started out kind of slow. This was mostly because we were already planning some big changes and wanted to enjoy the winter before we had to get down to work. But in January I started writing for my first regular blogging client. I still write for them. We spent February working on some indoor stuff in the tiny house getting it ready to live in.

March had some excitement when we spoke at the Tumbleweed Tiny House workshop held in Asheville. We were able to meet Pepper Clark and really enjoyed the experience. We also slept in the tiny house for the first time ever in March. It is crazy to think that we hadn't before.

In April, I gave my notice for my job and we let everyone know that we would be moving in to the tiny house in May. When I look back at it I think about what a big scary decision it felt like. In truth I couldn't have done anything else. My life had been standing still for quite a while and taking that leap was extremely important. I am very pleased and proud by how it has turned out so far.

May was a month of huge news. We packed up the Element and Matt's car with all of our belongings. Piglet and I drove the three and a half hour trip from Asheville to the tiny house for the last time. We were home. May also brought my first guest post with Tiny House Talk. This has turned into a regular thing and I love working with Alex.

In June we put the Location Independence concept to the test by traveling for two weeks. We went to Michigan to spend a week with family and then met some friends at a camping festival in Illinois. June was also the month where Piglet learned how to climb the ladder.

July was both hot and rainy this year. But it finally stopped raining long enough for us to get our solar power system set up. 

In August we hosted our first gathering since moving into the tiny house. We used our new outdoor kitchen set up to smoke a pork butt. Matt and his friends played music all night on our new deck/stage, the Folk N' Ale.

In September, I started my second Tiny House Blogging gig with Steven at Tiny House Listings.  We also got our geek on at Dragon*Con in Atlanta. It was a busy month with all of that but we also found time to finish the trim on the exterior siding of the house and build our gray water reclamation system. Oh, and I had a great time doing the Tiny r(E)volution podcast with Andrew Odom.

In October we started winding things down in anticipation for our two month trip to Michigan for the holidays. This was going to be another test of the location independent lifestyle. It worked out marvelously, by the way. We also made arrangements for a place to stay in the winter once we returned to Asheville. This was a bit of a controversy but we decided that we wanted to take some time away from the tiny house and live in the city for the winter.

In November, we made it to Detroit for the first half of our holiday trip. I also did an interview with the Huffington Post. That experience taught me an important lesson about the internet. I was hurt and upset by many of the comments. And when I expressed that these upset me the internet was no additional comfort, telling me I needed to grow a thicker skin. It took me a little while to process and understand those feelings but I think the experience has made me more comfortable sharing my story.

December was full of holiday cheer and family time. We enjoyed it very much, but by the end of the month we were completely ready to go back to Asheville. We left yesterday, in fact, and drove home. We're at our 700 square foot city house where we will set up shop for the next couple of months. I can't wait to get back up to the tiny house. While we're out of it for the winter, and before the green things start to grow in the spring, we have some little projects to do.

The big lesson from all of 2012 for me was Engagement.  By downsizing our lives and eliminating distractions and stresses we were able to engage in our lives and our community. I want more of that.

Which brings me to the next half of this already lengthy post. The plans for 2013! 

I'll try to keep this brief. These aren't resolutions per se, but rather things that we intend to do this year.

  1. Rain Catchment. This would have been done sooner if we hadn't discovered the spring on our land. 
  2. Beer Making. This is something I missed in the tiny house. The tiny house isn't really set up for brewing and it would take up much of the usable space to do it so I put it off. I plan to brew some beer this winter while we're in the bigger house. I can't wait. I already have a recipe for Chocolate Milk Stout to start with.
  3. More Traveling. We plan to do quite a bit of traveling again this year. It is also a big part of our chosen lifestyle and the tiny house makes it possible.
  4. Tiny House Workshop in Wilmington NC. I am pleased to say that Matt and I have been invited to speak at this workshop hosted by Deek of Relax Shacks and Steven of Tiny House Listings! 
  5. Get involved. I really want to be involved in the Asheville community this year. I want to work with the Blogger Society to get some activities up and running. We also just discovered that we are less than a block away from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and that would be a great place to meet new people. 
  6. Publish "120 Ideas for Tiny Living." I plan to have the book available by March 29th, which is my birthday. I know I will be doing an eBook but I may also offer a print option. I'm working on editing and organizing it now. Then I need to figure out what photos I still need to take. 
I'm sure there will be more things that I will think of as time goes by. I may even pop back into this post and add them as they come up. 

What are you looking forward to in 2013?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Winter Solstice

The world didn't end. 

But today is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Starting tomorrow the days begin to get longer. I am grateful for the return of the sun.

Unfinished Tiny House in the Snow 2009

From now until New Year's day feels like a liminal space. It will be filled with food and gifts and family. I want to enjoy this time but I am eager for the beginning of 2013 and the start of another new adventure.

Happy Winter Solstice and I hope all of your holidays celebrations are festive and full of wonder.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It has been a long time since I've felt anything that I would call "homesickness."

Today, I am missing my mountains. I am missing Asheville and all the people there, even the ones I haven't met yet.

One of our first trips to Asheville while we still lived in Atlanta, and before we built the tiny house, was for New Year's Eve. That year they did a big outdoor event with fireworks and they had imported some snow to make a sledding ramp in a parking lot. It was magical. This year, we'll be home in time for New Year's and I plan to really celebrate our homecoming.

Yesterday, we drove out to the town of Rochester, Michigan. Their display of holiday lights are talked about throughout the area and wanted to see them for ourselves. As we got out of our car and stepped onto Main Street, it began to softly snow.

We wandered over to a local brewery, the Rochester Mills Beer Company to get in out of the cold and enjoy a pint. By the time we came back out, it had stopped snowing.
It was beautiful, but it wasn't home. I miss Asheville and I want to be in my mountains by my river and in my city. I want to see the art deco buildings in the winter. I want to bundle up and walk downtown wishing for snow.

The holidays are next week and it will be full of family parties, food, and friends. It will be a joyous time and celebration and will get caught up in the energy of the days before we do pack up and head back home in time for New Year's Eve.

In only somewhat related news - I have been pouring through my photo files and I don't have many photographs from downtown Asheville!  When I do it is usually of a pint of beer. This will need to change when I get home.

Summer Beer Festival

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Think Big, Build Small: A Tiny House Community

I thought I was dreaming big.

Back in 2011 I started a Facebook page to foster community between tiny house builders all over the country. I invited friends and people "liked" the page. I linked it to this blog (you'll see the badge if you scroll down on the page).

Over time, my idea for this page started to change. When I left my 9-5 job to pursue a career in writing I wanted to really focus on the 120 Square Feet Brand. I started working on my first book, 120 Ideas for Tiny Living, which will be out in the spring.

I really wanted to change the Think Big, Live Small community to a 120 Square Feet page, but Facebook rules state that if you have more than 200 "likes" you can't change the name of the page. I figured that was okay, though, because people seem to get that the page belongs to me.

Earlier this week I noticed I had 943 "likes" on the page. I asked people to spread the word to see if I could get up to 950. It quickly surpassed that number and rose to 959 the last time I looked. So, on a whim, I thought I would see if I could get 1000 "likes" by the end of the year.

Then Ryan Mitchell at The Tiny Life posted a shout-out on his Facebook page...

Next thing I know, the community has 1009 and counting! 

Seriously - is there anything that can't be accomplished through the power of social media?

So I want to thank everyone who is a part of the 120 Square Feet Community and Think Big, Build Small over at Facebook. I appreciate everyone coming along for the ride as Matt and I built our tiny house over the course of three years and continuing to read once we moved into our tiny space.

As a thank you to everyone, all of the products at the 120 Square Feet Store have been discounted from now through the end of the year! Thank you for being part of this site! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Debt Free Living

When I moved into my tiny house, I was 100% debt free.

I still am. I have expenses of course, but I pay every bill when it arrives.

Lots of people want to know how I did this. I will tell you, I am no expert when it comes to money. In fact, I prefer to interact with it as little as possible because I just don't have the mind for math. But there are a couple of things that I did to make sure that I was comfortable financially.

The first step was to get rid of our big house in the suburbs. When we moved down to Georgia we still had it in our minds that we needed a large house with lots of space. Looking back on it, I'm not really sure why. We tried to use the space as much as we could. We entertained a lot - we would host holiday parties and summer parties. We had a couple of friends over once a week to cook dinner and watch a movie. That was a lot of fun. But ultimately having that large a house cost us more than we got back from it. It wasn't just the mortgage payments but also the maintenance and the utilities. It cost us a fortune to heat in the winter. After having the house for some time we just decided that our personal goals were not in line with having that big of a space. We sold the house and moved into an apartment in a high rise at the north end of Atlanta.

I loved our apartment. It was small - I think about 800 square feet - and I could have gone smaller. (I did, in fact). It was easy to maintain. All of the living space was in one place. And, best of all, after living there for about a year I was 100% debt free. All of the money I saved from not having to pay for the bigger house or the utilities paid off all of my other debt.

I knew I was taking a big leap at that point. I intended to quit my job so we could move to Asheville and live in the tiny house full time. This was a pretty scary move. I was comfortable and made a reasonable salary, but I was emotionally tired and burned out. I came home drained every day. But I began to pursue my real passion and quickly found people interested in my work. I do consider myself fortunate, but it also required a lot of hard work on my part. Now I live quite comfortably and I am able to pay all of my expenses while making less than I was in the corporate world.

The key to it all is reducing my expenses to begin with. Living in the tiny house made that quite possible. With our power and water all off the grid my utilities bills were $0.00 a month.

And I didn't institute austerity measures, either. We very much enjoy going out to experience the local breweries and restaurants and we didn't limit ourselves on those activities. However, reducing my overall expenses was an important step to being able to afford my own life.

I'm really not here to give financial advice - in fact, I'm the last person you'll want to take actual advice from when it comes to money. What I am here to say is that profoundly changing your life can have many added benefits. If you're thinking of making any sort of transition to a different mode of living, consider what you really want and what you really need and figure out the steps to make those things happen. If I can do it, anyone can.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas in 180 Square Feet

We're back in Michigan for the rest of the Holidays. Since we're here for a while we thought we would bring our tiny tree and set it up to give our lives a little holiday ambiance. We've had this little lime green tinsel tree for about 10 years. A few years ago we decided to get some pretty glass ornaments to hang from it. Each of the ornaments represents something from Greek Mythology.

My friend, neighbor and fellow blogger, Cyndi, has started a holiday photo project over at her blog. She's been doing a lot with photography and I've been inspired by her work. I was looking at a couple of the photos that I snapped of the tree and I wondered if I could do some photo effects to make them better. I am by no means a pro at this stuff, but why not give it a shot. Here are a couple that I liked after I did some modifications. If you want to see much prettier pictures, go to Cyndi's blog above.

How are you decorating your tiny space for the Holidays? Do you have any traditions that you like to share?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Other Asheville TIny Houses...sort of

Every year the Grove Park Inn in Asheville hosts the National Gingerbread House competition. Gingerbread builders of all ages and skills create edible masterpieces which are then displayed in the beautiful and historic Inn.

Turns out, the 700 Square Foot city house is totally walking distance to the Grove Park Inn. It is uphill, but it is a nice walk, so we wandered that way earlier this week. They allow viewings by locals during the week and tourists, I believe on the weekends.

I thought I would share some of these teeny houses - and some designs that weren't houses at all.

This Alice in Wonderland themed house of cards would be of interest to several of my friends.
See the teeny Cheshire Cat? This was a teen entry, if I recall correctly.
This 100 Acre Woods themed house was a child's entry! 
All the food made of food! 
You can barely see it in this photo, but the barn said "See Rock City"!
A lovely advent calendar house.
I loved this 12 Days of Christmas
I wish I could have gotten a better photo of this but it was placed awkwardly. It is a cat looking at herself in the mirror.
 I didn't get a photo of the grand prize winner - it was behind glass and I couldn't get a photo that wasn't horribly blurry or with the glare of the flash. However, the grand prize winner wasn't nearly my favorite. This one was. I'm sorry the photo isn't the best - there were lots of people standing around so I couldn't take my time.

It was called "Not a Creature was Stirring". Look at all that detail!
I did get a photo of the baby mice sleeping in their walnut shells. SOOO cute!  

Our trip back down to Asheville is almost over. We're heading back up to Detroit until just after Christmas. I really miss Piglet - she's been staying with Matt's mom. I'm sure there will be some fun holiday adventures to share - the rest of our trip is booked solid with events of one sort or another. See you all soon.

Happy Holidays! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Announcing: 9 Lives in 120 Square Feet

Happy Caturday!

We all know the true intention of the Internet, right? 

It isn't an exchange of information. It isn't the ability to connect with friends and family all over the world. It isn't for commerce.

Nope. The real purpose of the Internet is to look at photos of cats. 

So capitalizing on Piglet the Sphynx's minor Internet celebrity, I now present to you my own project to share with the world photos of my cat: 9 Lives in 120 Square Feet.  

I have some future ideas. Matt and I thought of a couple of potential kids book ideas featuring Piglet. Those might be a little ways off, since I really need to concentrate on getting 120 Ideas for Tiny Living published on time.  (Watch this space for more announcements!)

So, please - if you like cats and if you like Piglet and even if you think hairless cats are a little "weird," please visit Piglet's page. You'll see a tab conveniently located at the top of this blog along with our store. Right now there is just one post, but from now on I plan to share all of Piglet's adventures there exclusively. If I'm lucky, I can get a video of her climbing the ladder once we get back to the tiny house! And let me know if there are things you want to see there. For instance, I can be persuaded to add Piglet themed merchandise to our product line. I could also share some information about the sphynx cat breed and what it is like living with the little hairless beast. The sky's the limit!