Thursday, January 30, 2014

What We Wanted in our Tiny House and Why

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post for Tiny House Listings titled "How to Know What You Want in Your Tiny House."

In the post I discussed some of the important questions everyone should ask themselves before they ever buy a trailer or pick up a hammer and nail. I kept that post pretty general to allow people to see themselves in the answers, but I'd like to address some of those questions for my own project. It was very helpful for me to see the ways other tiny housers built and lived in their homes when we were building so I am hoping that our decisions can help others as well.

Here are some of the decisions we made and why.

  • Our bed. We chose to have a loft bed with a ladder. The reason we did this was very simple: that was the way the plans were drawn. It really doesn't get any more complex than that. We decided we wanted to use Tumbleweed Tiny House plans (at the time, Jay Shafer was still running the company) and the Tarleton model we chose had a loft. We did spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the ladder and what kind of bed to put up in the loft, but the actual loft was a simple decision. 
  • Our kitchen. Our indoor kitchen is very simple. We use portable burners and don't have an oven, a sink, or any sort of refrigeration. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible to start. We knew we could always add these things if we felt we needed them but it would be harder to invest and never use them. We also wanted to enjoy cooking outdoors so we built a small outdoor kitchen space as well.
  • Our bathroom. Our indoor bathroom was placed precisely where the Tarleton plans said it should go. We bought a 30 inch fiberglass shower enclosure and built the bathroom walls around it. We also opted for a composting toilet because our home was designed to be off the grid. 
  • Our entertainment. This was actually one of the easiest decisions for us. The act of downsizing and simplifying was very important for our process so we knew we wouldn't have a TV or a large collection of books. Instead, we have handheld devices and a tablet where we can read books on Kindle or watch TV shows and movies digitally. 
  • Our hobbies. It was very important that we were able to do the things we love in our tiny house. We included a wall mounted guitar hanger so Matt could play music. He also wanted to be able to use and store a large gaming laptop. Everything else, like our camping equipment, is kept in our barn. We were really lucky that our land came with an old barn and we used it a lot over the years. 
  • Our work. Matt and I both work from home. As a freelance writer everything I do is conducted on a laptop and online. Articles and invoices are all submitted electronically and all of my research is done through the internet. I wanted my job to be location independent so I could work from anywhere. Matt has a remote working arrangement with his company and can do most of it from a tablet computer. Much of his work is done via conference calls. 
  • Our systems. Part of the process for building a tiny house for us was to simplify our lives as much as possible to prove to ourselves that we cold live self-sufficiently. We wanted to see how little money this lifestyle took, so we began with extremely simple systems. Our solar power keeps our laptops, lights, and devices running. We planned on building a rain catchment system but our spring has proven to be very reliable. We haven't decided yet if we are going to upgrade system or not.

There were a few other necessary things we needed to take into account. For example, when Piglet couldn't navigate the ladder at first we had to think quickly to create a way for her to get up to the loft and sleep with us.

The beauty of tiny living is that everything you do is fluid. If we decided tomorrow that we wanted to add a heater to the house we could easily do that. We know how we built it and we know where to cut to install such a thing. We could add a sink or a stove if we wanted to. We could even build a second tiny house to try out new techniques and layouts.

Every single choice we made building and moving into this tiny house was deliberate.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Tiny Table: Turkey Chili

It has been ridiculously cold here in Asheville for the last month or so. I guess we have this polar vortex to blame. With other parts of the country facing much colder temps I am not going to pretend to be a winter martyr, but I will admit that I am not cut out for this kind of cold weather any more.

Since we are staying in town for the winter, we decided to buy a small crock pot. Depending on the type of energy you have in your tiny house, a slow cooker like ours would be perfect for just one or two people. We probably wouldn't use this at our tiny house because anything that converts energy to heat is a big draw on the solar power system.

But a cold winter is the perfect time for a hearty slow cooker meal.

Matt and I wanted a delicious turkey chili recipe so I turned to Pinterest where I found this delicious sounding meal.

We did this pretty much by the book except we left out the stewed tomatoes. I loved the use of garbanzo beans for this recipe. It was super easy to make. Browning the meat took the most time in the preparation. Well, that and dicing the onion. But once that was done we just threw it all in the slow cooker, plugged her in, and let it go for 8 hours. The resulting stew was absolutely delicious.

I did add cheese and sour cream when I served it. I also added more sriracha. You really can't have enough sriracha. (Also, those are Goldfish soup crackers artfully displayed on top!)

We ate about half of it on the first round and put the rest in the freezer. Leftovers are also something we never have in the tiny house. Because of our choice to live without refrigeration we make only enough for the two of us to eat for each meal. However, I am looking forward to heating that chili up again as the temperatures drop this week again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Work on the Mountain

Matt's brother came down to visit us this weekend. We were going up to the tiny house to chop down a tree that was dangerously close to the house and blocking the sun from the solar panels.

It figured, of course, that as soon as Jim arrived it began to snow. A light dusting of snow in the city of Asheville meant at least an inch on the ground in the mountains. But, we only had one day with Jim's help so we were heading up to the mountain no matter what.

Saturday I got up, put on my long johns, and we all hopped in the Element to drive up to Mt. Matt.
Let me take you through the event in photos.

I thought a nice photo of Chomsky in a winter landscape would be delightful.

The Folk N' Ale covered in snow.

Look - SNOW-lar panels! 

The sun through the trees. However, the problem at hand was once the trees have leaves again, the sun wouldn't get to the solar panels. We needed to solve this problem.

Tiny house in winter.

Matt wielding a chainsaw.

I just thought these trees were pretty when I looked up.

I took a short break inside to take some photos of tiny things. This is a little clock that we got from my parents.

And my sister gave us these tiny utensils. I should have put a nickle on the trivet with them for scale.

Chomsky even helped us with the project. We tied him to a rope to get him over the tree branches.
So, do you want to see what cutting down a tree on our mountain actually looks like? You're in luck.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Super Secret Asheville Supper Club

I admit it - I really love food. I love good food prepared well by people who know what they are doing. This can be a hearty meal lovingly prepared by friends or family or it could be an amazing 5 course meal designed by a professional chef.

For the holidays this year I bought Matt tickets to a super secret Asheville area supper club. That dinner was yesterday. And it was amazing. So, as a slight departure from my normal tiny living blog, I wanted to share some food porn of this incredible meal.

Though I do believe that fun stuff like this is a part of my deliberate life.

Check this out:

Course the first: Buffalo Carpaccio and mushrooms poached in butter.

The couple next to us ordered this delicious looking drink.

Chicken Carbonara with hand made noodles

Tile fish with nori butter and rice.

Braised venison and cornbread.

We were consistently fascinated by our neighbor's drink choices. A PBR and a jello shot.

Peanut butter and chocolate bombe with fig leather and blueberries.

I ate every tiny morsel of food placed in front of us. The event was amazing. You are able to BYO to these events so we also brought two 32oz growlers of beer from Asheville Growler, owned by the same folks who own our favorite laundromat/bar. We had to kind of guess at what to bring with us because we didn't know what the menu would be so we selected a honey Belgian beer and an English IPA. Both were delicious with the meal. However, the bar where the event was held has an extensive list of specialty cocktails so Matt and I tried a couple of those. So delicious.

What kind of fun stuff have you been up to this winter? 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Taking The First Step To A Tiny House

This post is the result of a discussion on a private Tiny Hose Bloggers group to which I belong. Big thanks to Gabe Craft and Andrew Odom for the conversation and putting together this shared post. 

No matter how many times the question is answered via blog post, forum thread, Q&A, book entry, or magazine article, many in the tiny house community are used to being asked

"What would the first steps be if I'm considering buying/building a small home for my future?"

It's a fine question. There is no doubt to that. But the fact remains that tiny house building (as with many things) there is no right or wrong, black or white, left or right. For every tiny house there is a different thought, process, or methodology. So a few of us had an ongoing conversation in an attempt to combine our personal responses into something more broad and more representative of a greater juncture.

The conversation began innocently enough with Gabe Craft of Small Home Ideas asking, "What steps did you make toward building/buying your small home? Sounds simple enough, right? We found out it was not. Responses came in from around the globe with some folks simply answering, "draw a sketch," "buy a Jay Shafer book," and even "find a good builder and buy something from them." But the conversation got deeper and more people began sharing personal anecdotes and experiences that led to deeper answers and truths that have not yet been written about. For instance Ella Jenkins of Little Yellow Door admitted to backing herself in a bit of a corner.
"Once I had gotten so far as to know that I wanted a tiny house, (there was definitely research and videos and blogs) I just started telling everyone. Like, EVERYONE. The discouragement and doubt were surprising but encouraging to me, and then I'd told so many folks I couldn't back out!"
This was a sentiment echoed by several others. Victoria Whitcher of Tiny Homestead Freedom added, "My husband and I started telling people too. All the negativity made us want to do it more." And that is something that comes up regularly; negativity. Whether it be from friends or family or outside influences there seems to be no shortage of strange looks, comments like "it might be good for you but....", and more! But the tone of the conversation changed rather quickly. We all know the negativity exists but few let it concern them. Most tiny housers ultimately look within to take that first step. Says Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders, "Start simplifying today. It's easy, It feels good, and many of the benefits associated with tiny houses can be achieved by simplifying." Laura LaVoie of Life in 120 Square Feet quickly added (and even wrote a blog post in response), "Deliberate living is very much a lifestyle that requires active participation. I came to this conclusion after years of following the path of least resistance and wondering why cool things just never happened to me." The idea of simplifying, searching within, and making deliberate choices in life became the theme it seems.

In her blog post 12 Monthly Resolutions to the Tiny House Lifestyle Macy Miller remarked, "I have heard from a few people recently that are wondering how they can get a little closer to the tiny house mentality/lifestyle. It inspired me to put together a list of monthly resolutions let’s say. These are things that I did, not necessarily over the course of a whole year but they were necessary in order to downsize and make the steps forward from my 2,500 s.f. lifestyle to my 196 s.f. house to see if it was going to work for me." In the post she outlines steps such as making a list of priorities that are essential to your happiness in a house, asking friends for support, and reconfiguring and downsizing each room of your house. Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life concurred with both an announcement and a though. "The book I will have coming out in June has about 80 pages on how to start, finding your passions, setting goals, and making your way to tiny houses and tiny living." Derek Diedricksen of and Andrew Odom of Tiny r(E)volution chimed in with almost identical answers that were a bit less internal and a bit more nose-to-the-grindstone practical.

Says Deek, "Start planning way ahead and read every blog, book, magazine, and view every potentially inspirational video you can get your little mitts on. Then start sketching ideas, and re-sketching ideas, asking questions of those who have already taken the path, all the while stockpiling whatever funky, free, found, and bargain materials you can get. Take the time to plan though- and contemplate all your options before you take action. If not pre-thought out, there's nothing worse than a "coulda, woulda, shoulda" mentality after the fact." Andrew added, "First step? RECONSIDER! Seriously. Reconsider. Have dialogue back-and-forth with yourself and whoever you will be living with asking "is it right for us? should we really?" This is not a light decision and should involve mental, emotional, and physical sureness as well as research and preparedness. Don't get caught wishing you had put a window here or a drawer there!" Kristie Wolfe of A Tiny House on the Prairie spoke up saying "I do have construction know-how but I must say that I just dove in [to building a tiny house]. I had a general floor plan but it greatly changed with the materials I found on Craigslist or at auctions." Even a general floor plan is enough to make you sure of your process. Sometimes the dreaming about a tiny house can become overly romanticized allowing you to lose sight of the actual processes and effort that will really be needed.

Someone who is familiar with the dreaming as she herself is the subject of many tiny house dreams with her Sol Haus tiny house, Vina Lustado paraphrased quite nicely. "1. Research, research, research; 2. Buy a small house book; 3. Try out a tiny house for a weekend; 4. Assess financial feasibility and if need be, get rid of debt; 5. Make a decision if it's right for you; 6. Jump in & buy the trailer (or a set of plans)!" What could be more spot on than that nugget of information? Nothing according to Stacey Whitcomb who did almost just that. When planning and building her Just A Smidgeon tiny house she, "[I] started asking for help. Tried to get a feeler for who in my social circle had "know how". [I] drew up my own floor plan and knew what [I] wanted it to look like. [I] collected tiny housers on FB and watched every youtube video available." Not typically the verbose one the humble and sagacious Hari Berzins of Tiny House Family agreed with the idea of planning before building and then with great aplomb revealed that she and her husband Karl are going to be launching a much-requested eCourse in a few weeks that will touch on aligning your spending with your values and goals, land selection, downsizing, and even dealing with permits and inspectors!

The conversation was an incredible one with so many tiny housers weighing in with their personal thoughts and responding with signs of support and agreement for each other. Of course the conversation would not be complete without the likes of Joe Everson of Tennessee Tiny Homes just quipping with, "Have a company build it for you for what most people pay to do it themselves!" And perhaps that is the answer in retrospect. Dream it. Contract it out. Pay for it!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Tiny Table: Seared Scallops

This weeks tiny table is cooked using a single skillet. one pot, and an oven - such as the camp chef camp oven. The main course is seared scallops and the side dishes are sauteed spinach and smashed potatoes.

This is a little more complex than most meals we cook in the tiny house but it was so freaking delicious. You just have to plan out your work space, clean as you go, and prepare for more dishes than normal.

In Asheville there is a seafood vendor who attends many of the local farmer's markets. This might not sound like the safest way to purchase fish and other seafood but as it turns out he is completely reputable and all the fish is extremely fresh. We grabbed some big delicious scallops and got to cooking.

The smashed potatoes take the longest. We used small red potatoes and boiled them until they were soft. Then we placed them on a cookie sheet and smashed each potato once using a potato masher. We drizzled them with olive oil and various seasonings (we used garlic and some Italian blend seasoning) before popping them in the oven. This is a very popular recipe on Pinterest so you will find a lot of possible options there.
Next, on to the spinach. If you have never made sauteed spinach before it really might be the easiest thing ever. You just need fresh baby spinach, olive oil, and garlic. Heat up the oil and toss in the garlic. Once it is slightly brown and smells really good, throw in a handful of spinach. It will cook down quickly and each time it does throw in another handful. Make as much as you want to eat.

Lastly, the scallops. These only take a few moments so set aside the cooked spinach and keep it warm. I just cover it in foil and it is fine. Then, use this recipe for the scallops from Alton Brown.

Once the scallops are done, pull the potatoes and spinach, plate and serve. Yum.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

5 Things We Couldn't Have Built the Tiny House Without

It seems like so long ago since we "finished" the tiny house. I say "finished" with quotes because no matter what size home you own, the work is never exactly done.

I get asked questions regularly about our building process. How do you get started? What books do you recommend? How do you learn how to build?

I thought I might offer some practical advice. These are the 5 things we couldn't have built the tiny house without.

Compound sliding miter saw from Harbor Freight. I know other builders will highly suggest that you invest in good quality tools. We did not do that. I can't say either method is right or wrong, but I can say that our $120 miter saw built the whole house for us. And we put that saw through a lot. It sat outside for months - maybe even years - with barely a covering. We would store it either under the house as it was being built or in the barn. It was a trusty tool and we are glad we had it. 

Honda generator. We made a pretty big investment early on in our building process. We bought the best super quiet Honda generator. Since we were building on a mountain without a road, much less power, we needed something that could run the miter saw and other tools. It came in quite handy when we ran the cement mixer to pour the piers and our air compressor (see next item). We also didn't want to bother our neighbors with any unnecessary noise. This generator was well worth the investment and we have since hooked it into our solar power system as a back up energy source. Though, since the house has been finished we have only had to run it a handful of times.

Air compressor. When we read the original plans for our tiny house, designer Jay Shafer indicated that he used screws for pretty much everything. We couldn't imagine the time it would take to install interior siding with screws, not to mention we weren't thrilled with the look that would achieve. We bought a Porter-Cable air compressor and were very pleased with how it worked. We used the finish nailer most of the time. We also bought this palm nailer that helped get into tight spaces.

Little Stumpy. This is the name we gave our corner or right angle drill. It is Ryobi, like this one but a much older version. A tiny house has a lot of tight spaces and just like the palm nailer, Little Stumpy helped us out a lot. It could fit into corners or cabinets or small areas without much of a fuss. Sometimes one of us was coiled up in a corner with Little Stumpy while the other stood over the space with a flashlight. Building a tiny house isn't always the most comfortable experience.

Friends. Yes, for just one moment I am going to get a little sentimental. Since building our tiny house was an adventure for us, we kept it open for friends to join any time they wanted to. Every year while we built we hosted an Independence Day party and invited anyone who wanted to up to camp and help build. People came up to Mt. Matt at various times throughout the year to see the tiny house, hang out, and lend a hand. While we did build this house by ourselves there are many things we couldn't have done without help. Plus, there is nothing like cracking open a cold beer and sitting by a campfire at night knowing how much you just accomplished during the day.

What tools and resources do you think are imperative when building a tiny house? 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Live Deliberately: A Plan of Action

Deliberate living is very much a lifestyle that requires active participation. I came to this conclusion after years of following the path of least resistance and wondering why cool things just never happened to me.

I realized the problem wasn't everyone else, it was me. 

So I changed my life. In my case, I built and moved into a tiny home and quit my job to pursue freelance writing. Your deliberate life may look completely different.

It really doesn't matter what your dreams and goals are, just that you actively work toward them. If you are already doing this in your life, congratulations! This is awesome and I encourage you to keep doing it. However, if you feel stuck there may be some things you can do to kick start your path toward deliberate living. I suggest creating a plan of action. For example, here is what my plan of action looked like between 2007 and 2012. (That's right. Looking back it took about 5 years to make such a big change in my life.)

  • Buy Land. We knew we wanted to build our own house near Asheville, North Carolina. We didn't know what kind of house, but something we could build with our own hands. To do this we needed land.
  • Research building techniques. Some might say we put the cart before the horse, but it was important to us to have our patch of land to get started. Then we looked into several building styles and settled on Tiny Houses.
  • Build. First we learned, then we practiced, then we started building. 
  • Downsize. The next step for us was to prepare for living in our new tiny house. This meant we had to scale back a lot of stuff. We sold our 2700 square foot house and moved into an 800 square foot apartment. That intermediate step helped with the transition
  • Pay off debt. I knew my next step was to pay off my debt. I didn't have very much compared to others, but I wanted to be free of any debt when I quit my job. Selling the big house was a huge help in this regard. It didn't take long to pay everything off. 
  • Start freelancing. Before I quit my job, I needed to start building a portfolio of writing work so I could get more clients. I pitched myself to a few places I thought might be interested. I landed my first client who, to this day, is still my biggest. I took the age-old advice to "write what you know." I took my 15 years of recruiting experience and turned it into my first professional writing job. 
  • Quit. Then, I quit. Once the house was built and I was making some money freelancing it was time to jump without a net. I put in my notice and six weeks later I was independent. This step also involved some things like buying health insurance and learning about taxes. 
  • Make connections. I quickly learned that making connections was probably the most important thing I could be doing in my new life. Some of these are personal and some are professional. Connections help keep me engaged in my new self-employed lifestyle and that is important for me. 
Your deliberate living plan of action should be significantly different than mine. Look at your goals, your ideals, and your dreams. What can you do today to start down this path of living more deliberately?