Friday, September 27, 2013

How Old Do You Think I Am?

On the Indian Ocean in Durban South Africa
I am often part of some very interesting conversations when it comes to my tiny house. One of the topics that has been of interest to me lately is the question of age.

Especially in the comment section of various blogs you will see statements like:

"It is great to see young people not make the same mistakes we did." 

"I love to see young people doing this." 

"Tiny homes are for the young. Those ladders would never work for those over 50."

So I got to thinking, how old do people think we are? 

If you look at the Tiny House Infographic created by Ryan Mitchell at The Tiny Life you will actually find that the majority of individuals who responded to his initial poll are actually over the age of 50!

At the time the poll was conducted I had to answer within the 21% between the ages of 30 and 40, but it won't be long until I am part of the 40 to 50 age group.

That is right, I am very nearly 40 years old. Well, I will be 39 in March so I have another year and half until I am in my 40s. Matt turns 40 in April so he is a little bit ahead of me.

I think it is interesting to note when people tell me how great it is that I can do this at such a young age or that I am young enough to pull this off. I chuckle because I'm not anywhere near as young as they think I am.

And the same is clearly true for the tiny house community as a whole. With a whopping 38% of tiny house dwellers being over the age of 50 it really does look like tiny homes are a great alternative to a conventional retirement. 

I sometimes think I wish I had started this process earlier. At the same time I am glad I didn't. I needed my 20s and early 30s to cook a little more. I would have felt woefully unprepared for the way I live now had I not had those experiences.

Everyone's journey is different. If you come to tiny houses at the age of 18 or 25 or 67 then it is the right age for you to start the process. We can second guess our choices for the rest of our lives but what does that really accomplish. If I had started the tiny house process when I was younger I wouldn't be the same person I am today.

I also don't think there is any age limit or required starting date to Live Deliberately. At any point you can chance your direction and embrace a new way of thinking that can profoundly change your life moving forward.That is the most important part.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Number 1 Tiny House Question...that I can't answer

Hands down the number one question that I get asked when it comes to tiny houses is:

"What are the codes in my area for building tiny houses?"

Now, this question can be formulated in a number of ways so it doesn't always look exactly like that, but the desire for an answer is always the same.

In talking with other folks in the tiny house community this question is popular across the board.

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but I wanted to take a moment to address this question because it is the one question that I can't answer. 

Building codes are, in general, implemented and enforced at a municipal level. This can mean that the city has one set of codes but the rest of the county that city is in works with an entirely different set of standards. This country is vast and the codes in rural Michigan are going to be quite different than those of the city of Portland, Oregon.

There is really only one way to learn about the codes in your area and that is to talk to the local government. But be prepared. Tiny houses are still a thing of mystery to most people. Even though we understand and value the concepts of building small homes doesn't mean that it will be embraced by the code enforcement office.

One fantastic resource to consider if you are interested in building and living in a tiny house is "Cracking the Code" an eBook by Ryan Mitchell which is available at his website, The Tiny Life.

I really wish I had a magic answer for all the people who ask me about zoning or building codes. My only suggestion is to chose the general area where you want to live and do your research about what is possible. Sometimes rural areas have fewer restrictions but this isn't a universal truth. Other times you may fly under the radar by putting your home on wheels, but you'll need to be prepared to deal with the consequences if you get caught.

It does make me happy to hear from so many people interested in moving forward with changing their lives. Keep up the good work and learn all you can about how to make it happen for you! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Live Deliberately: Following Your Dreams

One thing I want to make sure that all of my readers understand is that Deliberate Living doesn't have anything to do with the size of your house. Changing your life in positive ways doesn't have to be confined to 120 square feet. Going tiny was the one big push that finally gave us the opportunity, and courage, to do everything else we had been putting off in our lives. It kicked us in the ass and got us moving. Your motivation may be quite different.

The tiny house was a big project that we could put our whole effort behind that we knew in the end would change our lives if we allowed it. Building it was an adventure but living in it could profoundly affect everything. 

As I mentioned in my last post, going tiny allowed me to pay off my debts and reduce my expenses. That was only half of the process. It also allowed me to take a really big chance with my life and get out of a cycle that was slowly killing me.

For me, working a regular job in a corporate environment was not empowering. My dream since I was a little girl was to be a writer. For years I set aside the notion in order to do things that were more "practical" and ultimately more conventional. "Being" a writer is hard. All along I knew that no one was going to tap me on the shoulder and announce that I was now a writer. I was only one standing in my own way.

Everyone's dreams are different. You may love your job. You may love your home. This is absolutely great. I support you 100%. But if you don't, what are you doing to change things?

In my life I have known a lot of amazing people. Smart people. People who have a lot to contribute to the world. When we were in our twenties we were practically beating the drums of revolution. Now, twenty years later, I talk to some of the same people and find that they have set aside these dreams for more practical endeavors. They've lost that spark and it is hard for them to see how to get it back.

No one knows how long they have on this planet. You may think you have your entire life ahead of you but things can change in an instant. Matt's father died at 47 and this profoundly affected Matt's life at a very young age. He knew by the age of 8 that he couldn't wait until he was 50 to start living.

No matter where you are in life or what you're doing there is always a chance to rediscover passion for things you care about. Take small steps to make them possible. 

When I was coming home from work in tears more often than not I knew that I had to make a change or I would die. I don't mean this philosophically. I mean that it was absolutely critical I do something about my own situation or I would reach a breaking point. It was time to stop living this manufactured life that I thought was what I wanted and follow a different path all together.

There are always "reasons" to put things off. You can wait until you have a certain amount of money in savings. You can wait until you reach a certain age. You can tell yourself you need to get to a set milestone before you can start your own adventure. But all of these put off living.

Here is a true story that affected me greatly. While I was working in staffing we had a contact, an HR manager at a big company. She and her husband had been saving for retirement during their careers and they bought an RV. They planned to retire and travel the country. No more than a month or so after they both retired from their jobs, her husband passed away unexpectedly. They had planned their whole lives to have this time together and it never happened. I'm simply not willing to wait that long.

What dreams do you have? How can you follow them starting today?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Live Deliberately: Thinking About Money

I talk to so many people who are looking into to tiny living as a way to reduce their expenses and change their relationship with money.

I love this car.
I am, by no means, an expert when it comes to financial planning but I did quit my 15 year career to pursue something I love and the tiny house is what gave me the opportunity to do just that.

I jumped without a safety net. 

I didn't have much in the way of additional savings before quitting my job. I just knew that if I didn't do it right then I may never have the courage to try again.

The first step to financial independence is to reduce your debt. While we lived in our large suburban home I knew this was not going to be possible. My income and my monthly expenses were not compatible. We put our house on the market and with a combination of a great realtor and the right buyer we were able to sell it quickly.

I think it is important to note that during this time I did not have a car payment or student loans. My debt was lower than that of many Americans, and yet it weighed heavily on me. I felt that I needed to keep working to pay them off but the more money I earned the more money I would feel compelled to spend. It was a vicious cycle.

We moved into a modest apartment that was less than half the monthly cost of our mortgage. (This also helped us in our downsizing process.)

Our apartment decorated for the Holidays.
We lived in our apartment for two years while we finished building our tiny house and during that time I paid off my debts completely. This gave me the courage to begin building freelance business before I quit my job. I established a budget that would help me keep my spending in check. I knew it would do me little good to quit my job only to end up with more debt.

Moving in to the tiny house, especially without utility bills, gave me an opportunity to lower my expenses. I do not have rent. I do not pay for electricity, gas, or water. I do not have a car payment. (In fact, when my 10 year old car decides to give up the ghost we don't plan on replacing it and will only have one car.) My only expenses are my phone and Internet, groceries, health insurance and prescriptions, my quarterly taxes, and whatever fun plans we have each week. We don't hermit in our tiny house; we love being out in the community enjoying the beer and restaurant scene.

The steps were simple. 
1. Pay off debt.
2. Reduce Expenses
3. Create a budget.

One day my book will be finished, I promise! 
By doing those three things I was able to leave a comfortable, good paying job that didn't make me happy to being able to do something I absolutely love. Still, a year and a half later, I am happy with what I have accomplished. I make enough money to keep up with my expenses and business continues to grow. I could have taken the easy road and stayed with my job but I knew that I couldn't live that way. And don't think this is the naivete of youth, I'm not as young as you think I am. This was necessary for me and I believe that it is necessary for many people. Deliberate living can lead you to a place where it becomes possible.

What do you want to accomplish? How can you reduce your expenses to change your life?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Live Deliberately: Building Relationships

Asheville Blogger Society
So technically my "series" on deliberate living is over but as I was writing the five installments I was inspired by a few more things about our lifestyle that fits neatly into my philosophy.

I want to talk about how this life has allowed me to build new relationships in a way that my old life didn't offer. 

Let's not forget the source of my Deliberate Living Philosophy:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I know this sounds a bit isolationist but I don't believe that is the case. Looking at Thoreau's own life we can see that he was very dependent on others to make his lifestyle work. In fact, in the chapter titled "Visitors" he describes how he keeps chairs ready for people who might drop by. However, noticing the limitations in his tiny house he moves his gathering spot to an area out in the forest. He mentions that he has more visitors at his house in the woods than he ever did when he lived in town. He offers them hospitality in the form of conversation rather than food or drink and they still keep coming to enjoy these discussions. He feels that these guests don't interrupt his solitude but rather help broaden it. They give him a new perspective and way of thinking. 

Before we even moved into our tiny house we realized the importance of making relationships.

Friends helping us build the tiny house.
We quickly developed bonds with our mountain neighbors. There were more than a few things we couldn't have done without their help. It was also important to us that we get involved with the greater Asheville community.

Living in 120 Square Feet forced us to get outside and make connections with others in our community. This was very important to us and our journey.

Our suburban experience was very different. While we were surrounded on all sides by neighbors we didn't really know them. No one went outside their house to talk to each other. In fact, one of the only times we interacted with a neighbor was when we caught him blowing all of the leaves from his yard into ours and we confronted him about it.

My daily routine consisted of driving to work, spending 9 hours in an office, driving home and sitting on the couch for the rest of the night before going to bed, waking up, and doing it all again. Most days the only people I might see were my co-workers and Matt. I was mentally exhausted most of the time but it was a symptom of not being engaged. 

Overall, I felt very isolated. 

We made up for this by inviting friends over and hosting dinners and parties.Our friends were fun and the gatherings fulfilling. We miss them but we also realized that we needed a different type of community. We wanted to live in a place where neighbors were our friends. We wanted to live in a community that was identified by the connections it fostered.
Enjoying an Oktoberfest at Bar of Soap

That is how we found Asheville. 

How to find the right place for you is a different post all together, but I will say that discovering a community that was perfect for our personalities was an important to step to building community.

We make a point to go out, talk to people, and make new connections every week. Sometimes those are fleeting conversations and sometimes those develop into friendships or even creative partnerships. We have incorporated social interaction into our regular routine including our weekly trips to the local laundromat. We even love forging online connections to others in the Tiny House community. 

Building relationships is critical for our deliberate lifestyle. Just because we built a house isolated on a mountain doesn't mean we wanted to be hermits.

How do you build relationships in your life?

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Tiny Table: Pumpkin Yogurt

Let's take a short break from the philosophy of deliberate living. I want to share another recipe with you. Now that we are edging closer to Fall the weather is cooling off for many of us and the leaves are just beginning to turn. My culinary thoughts are wandering toward all things pumpkin.

In case your wondering, I do like some pumpkin beers, too.

I know it doesn't look exciting, but it is delicious! 
But this tiny table recipe is much simpler than that. I didn't make it up but I don't remember where I saw it originally. I love the simplicity of it. You only need three ingrediants.

1. Pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling).
2. Vanilla yogurt.
3. Cinnamon or nutmeg depending on your preference.

Here is how easy it is.

Spoon about some yogurt into a dish. I usually end up with something less than a cup. Add a large spoonful of pumpkin. I have no idea the measurement - maybe a tablespoon and a half. Mix it up. Taste it. If you want more pumpkin, add more pumpkin. If you like the combination then top it with some cinnamon or nutmeg and mix again. Yum!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Live Deliberately: Stepping Lightly

I will be 100% honest. Saving the environment was not, and probably still isn't, at the top of my list for reasons I built and live in a tiny house.

At the same time, I recognize the benefits of treading lightly and I really don't think it hurts to try to be more conscious. Essentially, the environmental aspects of tiny house living are a pleasant byproduct of the lifestyle.

For many other tiny housers, this is the number one reason they decided to make the transition. There is room in this movement for everyone.

Since I am no expert on this topic, I do want to point you to an article that I think gives a clear picture of how tiny living can be good for the environment. Simply by reducing your footprint in a tiny house you are starting out from a place of conservation.

In regards to our own story, there are a few ways in which the tiny house has changed the way we think about protecting our planet. The most obvious way is our water usage.

When we lived in Atlanta there were frequently droughts in the summer. The city and surrounding suburbs would ask families to conserve their water by doing things like turning off the water when you're brushing your teeth or not flushing the toilet every time. I dutifully did these things but I often wondered how much of an impact it made.

On average, each American uses 100 gallons of water a day! Much of that water goes to flushing our toilets which uses the same water supply that we drink from simply to eliminate our waste. If you turn off your faucet while you're brushing your teeth, how many gallons do you really save?

Our decision to keep our tiny house off the grid allowed us to experience water in a very new way. We decided not to plumb the house and instead we use water from our natural spring filtered with our Berkey, a gravity fed filtration system. We experimented with several shower options including gravity fed solar showers like the kind you might use camping. We also tried the propane heated pump. Finally we crafted an air pressurized pump shower using a garden sprayer and a shower nozzle. Each shower is about 2 gallons and if we heat about a half gallon of that water in a tea kettle and pour it in to the room temperature water we have a luxuriously hot shower.

Simply by changing our lifestyle we went from 200 gallons a day in our suburban Atlanta house to about 5 gallons a day in the tiny house. And don't worry, we're clean.

How can you change your relationship to the environment by living more deliberately?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Live Deliberately: Experiencing Solitude

First, I really want to thank everyone for the attention that this series has received. I have noticed a huge increase in traffic to this blog. Welcome to all the new readers! 

Today's installment of the Live Deliberately series focuses on the idea of solitude. Solitude isn't a perfect word for what I mean. Rather, I suppose, it is really a quietness.

Our Mountain View by J. Andrew Flenniken.
Before we moved into our tiny house I was someone who needed constant external stimulation. I would watch TV and surf the internet at the same time. When I was working I needed the radio on in the office or I would go out of my mind with the silence. I was ready to move into the tiny house but I wasn't sure how separating myself from the noise would look like. In any case, I was going to throw myself into the woods and see what happened. Instantly, everything changed. Our house is on a mountain pretty far from even our closest neighbors. We are surrounded 356 days a year by the seasons and suddenly I realized that this connection to silence was the very thing I was missing in my life. 

As I have mentioned, tiny living was a platform to change our lives. Silence and meditation isn't included in most tiny house building plans and you don't need it to be a bona fide tiny house dweller, but I'll tell you that it can't hurt. In my own solitude I found a deep well of creative inspiration that wasn't able to be heard over the noise of my previous life. 

Solitude and silence doesn't have to have a spiritual or religious overtone, but it can. Silence is something that can be very personalized for you and your own journey. 

My daffodils
On the most recent r(E)vo Convo podcast with Drew Odom, we discussed this topic for just a moment. Drew brought up an interesting point. In our culture we equate individual silence with negative energy. We see it as bad, introverted (which is not inherently bad, but often considered so), or a signal that something is wrong. But I have found that silence reconnects me to myself and to my own spirituality in a way that was missing when I lived a more conventional life. 

In many way this kind of quiet solitude goes hand in hand with the simplicity of my new way of living. I can find meditation in my chores or a walk in the woods. I can work without the radio and I'm surprised at how easily the words flow. 

I can experience this quietness when I am not alone, too. Matt and I have learned that we don't always need to fill the silence when we're together. We can simply enjoy each others presence. 

Are you comfortable in the silence? How can you reach into solitude and find yourself?  

Keep watching this blog for more on my philosophy of Deliberate Living. What was originally going to be a 5 part series is growing. I have thought of several more things that I want to share with you. Stay tuned!  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Live Deliberately: Eating Differently

Before I start on this post, because the topic sounds so different from the rest, let me reiterate that deliberate living doesn't have to be tiny. For us, a tiny house was merely a catalyst to change our lives and one of the ways we did that was changing the our relationship to food.

I am not a poster child for excellent health. I don't eat perfectly and the only real exercise I get is walking up and down our mountain to our tiny house. But we had to change our ideas about food when we moved into our tiny house because of one very deliberate choice that we made.

We don't have conventional refrigeration. 

Because of our intentionally scaled back solar power system we chose not to include even a small refrigerator in our house. We researched some options and decided that there were a few alternatives. In our case, we bought a Coleman stirling engine cooler (sadly, they are no longer in production) which connects directly to the batteries under our house. It is an efficient electric cooler which uses very little power to run. We use this for anything that is required to be kept cold. Truth be told, mostly we use it for beer and we don't leave it on unless we need it. 

For everything else we take a very simple approach. We buy fresh food and eat it quickly. We keep staples on hand like rice and pasta so we can always whip up a meal. We visit the local farmer's market at least once a week and joined a CSA. We learned that many of the things we automatically refrigerate in our culture don't need to be kept cold like vegetables and hard cheeses. We eat perishable foods, such as meats, immediately. We buy a lot of produce and farm fresh eggs which make excellent meals throughout the week. We love making things like stir frys with fresh vegetables.

I find myself with a lot more energy now that I don't eat a lot of processed or frozen foods. We don't have a refrigerator full of condiments any more.

There are lots of ways to eat deliberately. You don't have to go without refrigeration like we did. You can focus on eating local or you can choose a vegetarian or vegan diet. Gluten free food is becoming more popular and more available. These kinds of changes can really affect your quality of life in a positive way.

How can you change your relationship with food to live more deliberately?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Live Deliberately: Simplifying

When we decided to take the step to build and then live in our 120 square foot house we made a conscious choice to be off the grid. We chose a minimal solar power system that would run our lights, laptops, and other small appliances. We didn't plumb the house and instead we gather water from our spring and use our Berkey water filter as our primary water system. Our motivation for this was to prove to ourselves that we could do it. We decided simplifying our lives was the best way to live deliberately.

As it turned out, this simplification of our lives was the most important thing we did in this process. I found that reconnecting with more manual tasks helped me reconnect to my life in way that I didn't realize was a problem for me. In many ways this concept went hand in hand with the glorification of busy-ness in our culture. When you listen to your own language you may find yourself thinking - or even saying out loud - "wow, that person has too much time on their hands!" But, what does that mean? We have this expectation that we need to maintain a certain level of busy-ness in order to keep up with our own culture.

What I realized was that slowing down and doing things more deliberately was exactly what I needed to give myself more time. 

Here is what I mean by that. I work from home and I am a morning person. When I get up with the sunrise I am ready to hit the computer and start writing for my clients. Right around lunchtime I start to get a little restless so I will do my daily chores. In my case it is typically refilling the Berkey and emptying the gray water bucket into the artificial wetland. This burst of physical activity gives me a renewed energy to finish any other tasks for the day.When I was working in a more conventional way I would begin to lose energy after lunch and avoid productive work as much as possible until the clock read 5:30 and I could get the hell out.

Before moving into the tiny house washing dishes and doing laundry were the two things I hated the most. I always told myself I didn't have "enough time" to do them. When I got home from a 9 hour work day with a 45 minute commute each way I felt I "deserved" time to myself to not do any work. Dishes piled up in the sink until they had to be put in the dishwasher. Clean clothes would stay in the dryer until I needed to pull them out, de-wrinkle them as best as I could, and wear them for work. Now, with our simpler life, things have changed. Dishes are simply part of the cooking process. I changed my mindset and rather than hating the task I incorporated it into my daily routine. Laundry is now an absolute pleasure at Bar of Soap where we can wash our clothes and enjoy the company of others in our community.

Of course, you don't have to go primitive to enjoy a simpler life. Start by reconsidering the tasks that you hate the most. Think about ways you can incorporate them into your life differently so you change your entire approach to them. Rather than giving in to our culture of  busy-ness, take some time to step away from all of the outside stimulation and back into yourself.  Check out this post from Zen Habits to give you some ideas. As they say the short answer is to identify the things that are most important for you and to eliminate everything else. That is what I did and I wouldn't change a thing.

How do you live simply?