Monday, December 8, 2014

Happy Holidays from Life in 120 Square Feet

It has been a very long time since I've sent out holiday cards. Its not that I'm too lazy...well, it is in a way. I recognize that cards are a great way to keep in touch with friends and family but the internet age has changed the way we communicate anyway. So for the last several years I've written up a holiday blog post and called it a day.

I'll be the first to admit that 2014 was challenging in a lot of ways. That is much of the reason this blog has been kind of silent since about June. Don't get me wrong, a lot of great stuff happened but the more difficult stuff made it hard to find my voice.

I am inspired by Rowdy Kittens blogger Tammy Strobel and her recent announcement that she has moved to a 700 square foot home in town for the winter. Matt and I have also had the opportunity to make use of a 700 square foot home in the city of Asheville and with a variety of health issues this summer it has been a blessing. But before anyone starts to think that this is an admission that tiny house living has failed us, in truth it is entirely the opposite. Without the tiny house we wouldn't have been able to get through all of this turmoil. I couldn't imagine what it would have been like if I was still working a 9 to 5 job or if we had to pay a mortgage on top of medical bills.This is just a different aspect of tiny living.

So I thought for this holiday season I would take a look back at the year and share my favorite blog posts from each month.

In January we started the year by doing some tiny house land maintenance. It reminded me that nature will do its thing whether or not you're ready for it. It is a simple lesson that I remembered well throughout the year.

February was our 19th anniversary which got us thinking about our lives as we age. A question from a blog reader inspired a post on the subject.

In March I wrote the Fallacy of the One-Size-Fits-All Tiny House. This is a subject I am extremely passionate about. 

April was the first annual Tiny House Conference. As a presenter I found it an amazing experience to be surrounded by others who completely understood tiny living. It isn't for everyone. I feel so proud to be a part of this community.

In May I wrote about being a consumer of experiences.

In June, I took a summer vacation. I'm really glad I did because I had no idea what was coming in July and August.

Then the world seemed to fall apart. I was sick and ended up having to have some surgery. It was minor but nothing feels minor when it is happening to you. The good news is, I am 100% fine now. But in July I distracted myself just long enough to write this blog post about making excuses.

In August I was happy to be able to get away to the annual camping trip in Minnesota.

I am glad we had that month of normalcy because after that we faced another crisis. In early September, our beloved cat Piglet was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. I spent a lot of time away from this blog. But just like my own medical issues, Piglet was able to have surgery and she is doing great now. We bought our girl some quality time. In the middle of all that, September was also the Raleigh Home Show.

In October I was pleased to announce the formation of a local Asheville advocacy group. We are working with some great people to make tiny houses legally viable here in our city. Things are moving and shaking and we're hoping to have some projects for next year.

And that brings us to November. I took this amazing online class where I spent some time really thinking about writing and what I want to do with it. This blog post was the result of that, but there are big things to come in 2015.

So far in December we can talk about the feature in Our State Magazine. We usually travel back to Michigan for the winter holidays but this year we're staying put until the week of Christmas itself. We want to celebrate as much of the winter in our city as we can.

Last year I declared 2014 the year of hospitality. I wanted to spend time with people, invite them into my home, and become a part of my community. Even with all the hardships aside I think I accomplished this.

So, what's in store for 2015? I am declaring 2015 the year of Adventure. This doesn't mean I'll be jumping out of perfectly good airplanes but I want to focus on experiences this year. 2015 will be a milestone year in a few ways. Matt and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary and I will turn 40 in March. So I want to do stuff. And do lots of stuff. These experiences can be local or involve travel. In any case, I hope you'll join me.

Have a safe and wonderful Holiday Season! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Life in 120 Square Feet Featured in Our State Magazine

Our State Magazine right here in North Carolina just published their December issue. And there, tucked away on page 30 is a sweet little feature of my tiny house with amazing photographs of the house (and the people who live there).

I am really happy with this particular article. The writer, Christina Cooke, really captured all of the things I want to share about what tiny living means to me.

If you're in North Carolina please check out the issue and get your copy! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tiny House Terror: The Story of My First Night Alone

I wrapped my cable knit sweater tighter around me and sipped at my locally pressed fresh apple cider. Calico leaves of every fall color blanketed the forest floor and crunched under my feet.  While autumn descended on the mountain, my tiny house, in shades of brown and green, evoked a perpetual spring. 

My cat, Piglet, lazed in a sunbeam all afternoon. I filled the water filter, cooked dinner and every ten minutes or so, swept up the leaf debris I tracked into the house. I settled in with a book out on the Folk N' Ale, under the flame colored canopy. 

I was content. Piglet was content. No one anywhere ever had felt such serenity. 

Then the sun went down. 

Darkness engulfed the tiny house. The peaceful blue-sky seclusion of our home turned menacing. I held my breath to catch faint sounds coming from the blackness beyond the walls. Was that a footstep? The flutter of leaves signaled a deadly intruder. Moth wings drummed against the window screens. I craned my neck at every hoot and caw echoing through the valley. Danger lurked in every shape and shadow.
I knew there were things I couldn't see. Bogeymen and werewolves. Serial killers wearing masks of human skin hiding in the woods. I had even provided weapons – saws stacked neatly in toolboxes beneath the house. I knew the tropes. Suddenly I was the spooky cabin where horror movies start.
I was going to die before the opening credits.
The tiny house felt coffin sized. I would not give in to sleep. I brewed a cup of tea and curled up on the sofa with my purring and entirely non-threatened cat. 

I needed to choose a book wisely. Stephen King was out of the question. My final choice was Anne of Green Gables. I hadn’t recalled this scene:

"The goblins of her fancy lurked in every shadow about her, reaching out their cold, fleshless hands to grasp the terrified small girl who had called them into being. A white strip of birch bark blowing up from the hollow over the brown floor of the grove made her heart stand still. " 

Thanks, LM Montgomery. 

The night creaked on. A screenplay began in my head. 

Scene: Serial Killer in the Woods 
Serial Killer (SK): What is this? Why it is a tiny cabin in the woods. Looks like someone's inside. I should kill them. 
SK tries the door knob. 
SK: Well crap, it's locked. I guess I'll go find someone else to kill. 

So I locked the front door, switched on the nightlight, and scrambled up the loft ladder to the comfort of my blankets. 

My last thought was "What's that noise…?" 

The next morning I woke up…still quite alive. A quick mental checklist indicated I had all my parts. Good thing I locked the door last night. 

A ghostly gloom surrounded the mountains, but the sun's rays began to peek through the mist. A cool breeze filtered through the windows. Piglet pawed at my face to demand breakfast. I dismantled the mummy wrappings of my blankets and climbed down from the loft.   

In that moment I wanted nothing more than to reclaim my mountain. I was victorious against the monsters I had battled in my mind. I stepped out on the porch and closed the door. 

As soon as I heard the sickening click, I realized what I had done. 

Now, you may not know this about me, and you may not want to know this about me, but my preferred pajamas are no pajamas at all. 

I stood outside with the door locked behind me. 

In that moment the real, universal nightmare began. You know the one. Where you leave your house naked.  

But I learned it's surprisingly easy to break into my tiny house. Just jimmy a window screen and bam, you're back in. 

So why did I bother locking that door again?

Big thanks to Cindy Reed and her Storytelling for Bloggers class. This story was a product of the first ever offering and I think it is a huge success. If you're a blogger you can't go wrong by taking Cindy's class to learn how to engage your audience with stories. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

What We Did on our British Vacation

Much like Ryan Mitchell of the Tiny Life, one of the best benefits of our lifestyle is the ability to travel. Our expenses are low so we can save money to go toward experiences, we don't accumulate much stuff, and we both work jobs that can be location independent. This means if we wanted to we could pack up for months at a time.

This trip, however, was prearranged with friends who recently moved from Michigan to Texas. See, our NFL football team was playing a game at Wembley Stadium in London and we figured this was a once in a lifetime chance to see them. So we went.

We were in London for 10 days with the Lions game in the middle. We didn't want to go only for the game - we wanted to explore the area. Here is our trip in photos.

The Lions at Wembley

Hampton Court Palace, home of Henry VIII

Tom Baker's real costume from Doctor Who

The Gothic spire at Cardiff Castle in Wales

A fire place at Hampton Court

Carnaby Street

A view of London

Look Kids, Big Ben!

A historic marker for John Lennon

A view of the Thames and the London Eye

Matt requested this photo of the Iron Maiden beer

Me, wearing a 12th Doctor shirt, next to the 12th doctor's costume.

A view from the London Eye

The NFL Fan Rally on Saturday at Trafalgar Square

This guy

Matt at Hampton Court Palace - this should be an album cover

Cardiff Castle

Entering Wembley

The trip was fantastic. There are so many things that I didn't get photos of. The food. The beer. We spent quite a bit of time at a place near our hotel called The Craft Beer Co. It was, as you might imagine, a craft beer pub. We frequently stopped there before meeting up with our friends for dinner. Food highlights for me included Punjab, a north Indian restaurant right behind our hotel, and Belgo, an amazing Belgian restaurant.

My favorite part of the trip was visiting Cardiff. We took a train from London. I wanted to go to the Doctor Who Experience, which was about what I expected. But I wasn't expecting to really love the city. It was exactly my pace. We explored the castle, the downtown area, the waterfront. We found another great craft beer place called The Urban Tap House. I would love to spend more time there.

I'd love to hear about your adventures this summer and fall. Where were you off to? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Introducing Asheville Small Home Advocacy Committee

More big news from Life in 120 Square Feet!

Over the last several months Matt and I have been working with several local tiny house enthusiasts and builders to launch a project to make tiny homes more legally viable in the city of Asheville.
Asheville SHAC is a group of dedicated volunteers working together and with the city and Buncombe County to make micro homes a viable solution for affordable housing, urban density, and walkability of the city and surrounding areas.
We have been speaking with the city government and are actively seeking projects where we can go through the process of permitting a tiny house or a community of tiny homes within the city limits.

Our grand unveiling happened on Tiny House Listings and we have launched a Facebook Page so people can keep up with our activity. 

We would like to thank our partners in this process:
 I have linked the Asheville SHAC Facebook Page at the top of my page so I encourage you to follow it to get all the latest information. Our hope is that we can not only help our own city of Asheville NC but provide a blueprint of the process for other towns and cities across the country to follow.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Continuing Adventures of Life Outside 120 Square Feet

It has recently occured to me that my blog title is somewhat inaccurate.

I'm not going to change it or anything - it is part of my "brand" and ultimately the most important part of my journey. But building a house with my own hands and living in it has given me so many opportunities outside of the 120 square foot space that it doesn't adequately describe what my life is like.

Here are some recent events going on in our lives.
  1. Piglet is doing well. Piggy recently had surgery to remove a cancerous mass in her jaw. It was malignant but it appears they may have removed the entirety of the cancer. Our kitty is doing very well and continues to heal. While Piglet has been in recovery we have been staying at a house in town so she doesn't have to climb up and down the ladder or platforms in the tiny house.
  2. Our State Magazine's December issue. During the last couple months we have also been talking with Our State Magazine. We spoke with a reporter and they also sent a photographer out to our tiny house to take photos of us going about our daily business. The story, which will feature other North Carolina tiny housers, will appear in the December issue. Watch your newsstands to get the issue!  
  3. Traveling time! Now that things are mostly back to normal with Piglet we can focus on our next adventure: a 2 week trip to London, England. We planned this trip months ago. We are meeting two of our friends in London and exploring the city and surrounding area. We leave on Monday, October 20th and I am really looking forward to this. Travel is one of my greatest pleasures and the tiny house has afforded us the opportunity spend quite a bit of time in other places. Because I work for myself I don't have to worry about taking vacation time - I just readjust my schedule before I leave. We are also planning an epic month long trip in February. To get out of the cold mountains during late winter we are exploring the South Eastern coast from St. Augustine, FL to Wilmington, NC and several places in between. I can't wait for that trip as well. 
These are the things that living in a tiny house allows us to do. It really gives us the opportunity to live our lives outside of our tiny house in a way that enriches and engages us.  What could a tiny house do for you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tiny House Giant Journey's Trip to 120 Squre Feet

Earlier this summer, Guillaume of Tiny House Giant Journey was in Asheville, NC to host a workshop for Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. We met him at Bar of Soap on Friday night after I got off shift and had a couple beers. He invited Matt and me to the workshop the next day to tell a little bit about our story and answer some questions.

We are super glad that we did this and we met some great people there.

Here is the post I wrote about it after it happened.

But while Guillaume was in town he went with Matt and Art Cormier to see our tiny house while I worked another shift at Bar of Soap. I really wish I could have been there that afternoon but I am excited about the photos that Guillaume took!

Check them out! (All photos courtesy of Guillame Dutilh and used with permission.)

Our old barn.

Front view. This makes it look like 2 barns squished together, which isn't entirely inaccurate.

View from the Folk N' Ale

Matt at the Tiny House

Our trails.

Thanks so much to Guillaume for taking these photos. I love how he made our tiny house look huge and the land look magical. These photos gives me the same feelings I get when I realize how lucky I am to live in this little house on this mountain.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Where is Laura of Life in 120 Square Feet?

Hello 120 Square Feet readers.

I wanted to pop in and let you all know that I am alive and plan to get back this blog very soon.

However, just because I live in a tiny house doesn't always mean that life is always sunshine and rainbows. Right after the Raleigh Home Show Matt and I got some news that made us have to stop in our tracks and focus on just one thing. Our precious cat Piglet, a favorite pet of many tiny house aficionados, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of feline cancer.

We may have caught it soon enough and we rushed her to a specialist an hour away from us where they immediately performed surgery to remove the mass and other affected tissue. She is safely at the vet the remainder of this weekend. We will be picking her up on Monday. Once we get her test results back we will know if there are additional treatments or if the surgery might have been a complete cure.

There is a longer involved blog post in this story somewhere, I just don't have the energy right now to tell it. There can certainly be drawbacks to living in a small space but that doesn't entirely discredit the benefits of tiny homes either. While Piglet is in recovery we will be staying at a house in Downtown Asheville. However, our simpler lifestyle and flexible schedules means that we have the ability to do this for a little while.

If you do want to keep up with Piglet's care and story you can follow her Facebook page here. We'll be back soon with more blog posts about tiny living.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Raleigh Home Show September 6th and 7th

On September 6th and 7th Matt and I will be speaking at the Raleigh Home Show.

We will be speaking about what it is like to live in a tiny house and when we're not speaking we'll be at a table to talk with people and sell my book 120 Ideas for Tiny Living.

Also in attendance will be Teal and Gerry of Wishbone Tiny Homes. They will be bringing their model home on wheels for tours! 

For more information on my schedule and the other speakers you can see while your there, you can see the stage schedule here

If you're in Raleigh, we'd love to see you.

Matt and I are available for speaking engagements and have spoken at a number of events around the country including the 2014 Tiny House Conference and Earth Day events at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Please contact me to learn more! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

3 Questions a Tiny House Can Answer, and One it Can't

The "Tiny House Community" was largely non-existent when we started building our house in 2009. We could only reach out to a handful of people doing the same thing, some of whom have since fallen off the radar. Over the last few years the concept has spread like wildfire and has been popularized by an amazing documentary as well as some reality television shows. Tiny houses appear to be bigger than ever.

With the new interest by people of all walks of life there have been a lot of folks asking questions about tiny homes. They want to know everything from how to get started to how a tiny house can change their lives.

My tiny home absolutely, unequivocally, changed my life. 

But maybe not for the reasons you would expect. I didn't know while we were building that a tiny house would become bigger than the building. I had no idea that tiny living was a philosophy and in order to fully embrace everything a tiny home has to offer you really have to dig into parts of your personality that you didn't expect.

So I learned that there were things the tiny house could answer, and one big thing it could not. Let's take a look at what these are. 
  1. A tiny house can make you brave. When we started this process we didn't know the first thing about building an entire house. Sure, we could put two boards together with a screw but that doesn't necessarily result in a livable house. I figured if I had the confidence to learn how to build a house, I could probably do anything. I learned that tiny living is all about risk taking. It is about living outside of your comfort zone, no matter what you think your comfort zone is. 
  2. A tiny house can help with finances. The biggest reason I wanted to build a tiny house was to reduce my expenses and pay off my debt. It did exactly that. However, it wasn't the actually tiny house that helped. It was simply the thing that changed my mindset and got me away from thinking in such cyclical terms. My debt was paid off before we moved into the tiny house. I quit my job before we moved into our tiny house. And that takes me back to the item one.
  3. A tiny house can give you opportunities. I had no idea when I moved into my tiny house that it would affect the way I interacted with my community. I think this has been the biggest benefit so far. Changing from a situation where I got up at the same time every day, drove the same commute, worked the same 9 hours at the same desk, drove home again, and sat on my couch to one where I felt free to schedule my own time made me excited about exploring my community and meeting new people. This has really changed my life. 
But, there is one very important thing to understand that a tiny house cannot do.

The tiny house itself can't fix the things that are broken. 

All three of these things: my confidence, my finances, and my desire to connect with community were already things I needed to fix. The tiny house gave me a new framework (no pun intended) to work on fixing them. But ultimately, I was the one who needed to do all the work. Not the nailing of 2X4s. Not the roofing. Not installing windows. In fact, in some ways, those were distractions. But as it came together it gave me a new perspective. It gave me something to work toward to give me the opportunity to fix these things in my life on my own.

A tiny house is not a magic bullet. 

The second you move into a tiny home your problems will not be solved. It isn't the responsibility of the building to solve them for you. It can be a catalyst for you, like it was for me, but you still have to answer these questions for yourself.

I know it can be done. I've done it. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. The tiny house allowed me the confidence to do it, but there were infinite ways I could have gone about it. Your job is to pick the things in your life that you want to change most and work on changing them. Only then will the tiny house be a worthwhile stop on your journey.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Camping Festival 2014

I just got back from the annual camping festival in Minnesota that Matt and I take with our friend Cara Schulz, of Martinis and Marshmallows, and a host of other friends.

The flexibility of my tiny house life is what affords me the ability to take trips like this throughout the year. It is very special to me and important. So I went and pulled a bunch of photos off of various Facebook feeds and am unapologetically posting them here. I can't take credit for most of them....

This is our annual 6 course meal. We invite people we want to get to know better. We serve food and wine and offer topics of conversation.

Cara set up tea each morning. It was a great way to start the day.

Our new tent is actually bigger than our tiny house!

And because it was already blue and silver, we decorated it in a Detroit Lions theme. We camp in Minnesota and our friends bring their Vikings tent so this was a direct response.

Our friend Ryan looking pensive...after having neon orange paint smeared on his face by some rogue teenagers.

And Matt played us some music.

And we enjoyed afternoon cocktails with friends old and new.


We all bought tiaras at one of the vendors.

This may be my favorite photo. I don't even know who snapped it but I was tagged. That is my friend Heather and me wandering off to the stage to check out some music.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tiny Houses: How to Start When You're a Complete Beginner

People frequently ask us how to get started building a tiny house. Or, alternately, how we got started building a tiny house. I certainly don't know everything about building and I am not a professional or an expert but I do know enough to give someone a considerable head start.

Here are 5 steps you can take to start building your tiny house.
  1. Determine your finances. Sometimes people are surprised to hear that Matt and I spent 10 years of our lives saving money for this project before we even knew what we wanted to build. It started before we even moved to Georgia. We knew that we couldn't see ourselves in a suburban home working corporate jobs forever and the best way to give us an exit strategy was to start saving money. This gave us the opportunity to buy land in the mountains without knowing what kind of house we would build. It also gave us the flexibility to choose the right home when it came time to build.
  2. Figure out how much space you really need. Once we knew we were going to go tiny we needed to determine if we could fit our lives into that space. I'll admit, we kind of put the cart before the horse on this one. We bought plans for a 120 square foot house without deciding if we could fit in it. We just made our lives fit into it and it gave us a great experience learning to downsize and simplify. There was simply no going back.
  3. Read about other tiny houses. When we started our tiny house journey there weren't very many blogs on the subject. In fact, several of the blogs we used as our original inspiration are no longer around and I can't even point you to them. That is one of the reasons I decided to start this blog. Reading other people's stories helped us understand what we liked and didn't and could steer us in the right direction for us. Read a combination of blogs about how to build and how to live in a tiny house.
  4. Do a test build. Having had no previous building experience we decided to do a test build. We constructed a 6X6 deck that would be used as an outdoor shower. And let me tell you: it is the ugliest deck that has ever been built. But it gave us an opportunity to learn what we were doing. We got hands on experience, made lots of mistakes, and learned how to fix them when they happened. That's not to say we didn't make plenty of mistakes on the actual build but we were better equipped to handle them along the way.
  5. Just start. Finally, there comes a time when all the reading, planning, and everything else needs to translate to doing. Eventually we realized that we needed to pick up that hammer and start swinging or else we would never have a tiny house. We also realized that just reading and planning wouldn't guarantee a "perfect" house. In fact, building didn't even guarantee a "perfect" house. But the final step to getting started has to be getting started or else you'll just be planning forever.
What other steps do you think are important to building your tiny house?