Friday, January 30, 2015

Packing a Nissan Juke for 1 Month Away From Home

We use to travel in our Honda Element. That car is like a storage unit on wheels. There is nothing you can't fit in an Element. Seriously, we've never lost the "That won't fit in there," argument.

But the Element is 12 years old and starting to show signs of aging. Its days of long car trips are behind us.

Now, we travel in a Nissan Juke. It is a great car with pretty decent cargo space (as a hatch back) but it is nowhere near as versatile as an Element.

So as we prepare to leave Asheville on February 4th for an entire month away from home, how do we pack everything we need for two adults and one cat in a Nissan Juke?

Luckily we have some practice. Downsizing to fit our lives in 120 square feet was a very helpful exercise. And, we also go on long camping trips each year. For those we need to bring not only our clothes but also a tent, kitchen stuff, and lots of beer.

We are also pretty good at packing for a 10 day European vacation in just a back pack.

So, here is a breakdown of what we will need on our adventure south:
  1. Enough clothes for 6-8 days. Three out of four of the places we're staying have washers and dryers so we only have to cover the span of about one week between washing. Of course, there is the weather question - we're on the beach but it is still February so we have to be prepared for warmish and coldish. Jeans are great for this kind of trip - just two or three pair will be plenty. Then it is just a matter of shirts, a sweatshirt, PJs, socks, and unmentionables. That's easy. 
  2. Computers. I can fit my entire workspace into one relatively small back pack. Matt, on the other hand, has one work laptop and one personal laptop. It is still more portable than a large PC. 
  3. Piglet's things. Things have gotten more complicated with Piglet now. Since her surgery she can't eat regular cat kibble so we have to feed her wet food. And, because cats are jerks, Piglet will only eat one particular kind of food that isn't available in grocery stores. So, we are actually bringing enough food for all 28 days. 28 days times 3 small cans of food a day.... well, that adds up. But its still cheaper than a pet sitter and, besides, we couldn't possibly be away from Piglet for a whole month. Besides food she also needs a litter box, treats, and bathing supplies. She'll basically have her own suitcase. 
  4. Other stuff. Matt plays guitar and wants to bring both an acoustic and electric one with him. Still smaller than a drum set so that's fine. We also want take our bikes. We have installed a hitch to Juke and can use a mounted bike rack. Easy. What else do we need? Well, some weird stuff like our own shampoo, some extra pairs of shoes, and laundry soap. But those can be packed in smaller bags and take up little spaces in the back of the car.
I think that just about covers it.

So - for the TL;DR version:
  • We need clothes, computers, Piglet's things, and some other stuff. All of which will fit in a tiny car. 
We have spent the last several years learning to live with less so it makes the idea of traveling for extended periods of time much simpler.

What would you take with you for a month trip away from home?

(Stick around for more about our trip south for the winter. We leave on Wednesday, February 4th and be home Wednesday, March 4th. During that time we'll share our experience and what it is like to live on the road for a month.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What Would You Do Differently?

 "Is there anything you would change about your tiny house?"

Back in 2012 when I first moved into my tiny house I would get defensive whenever anyone would ask me this question. I felt that it kind of missed the point. I built this house with my own hands and it was the culmination of years of preparation and hard work and to think I would do anything different came across as insulting.

But things change, including attitudes.

There are all kinds of things I would do differently if I did it all over again.

But maybe not in the way you would think. In truth, I wouldn't change a thing about our current tiny house. It served a purpose. It taught us lessons about building, designing spaces, and ourselves. It isn't perfect but it wasn't designed to be. It was meant to be a catalyst to living a very different life and in that, it has succeeded. 

If we were to build another tiny house in the future, which is always a possibility because we love projects, we would do all sorts of things differently. But that doesn't invalidate that choices we made in this house. It doesn't make our current house a disappointment.

When we started building there were very few other examples of tiny houses available on the internet. The few other self-builders who were blogging were invaluable resources for us - which is exactly the reason I started this blog. But as the movement gains momentum there are now countless tiny homes showcased on the internet for reference.

We made a lot of choices the first time due to our inexperience. That doesn't make them bad choices, but it did make them easier choices. But next time we would want to challenge ourselves more. For example, we would probably install dormers in the loft for extra elbow room. When we built our house we really wanted to keep the roof line as simple as possible.  Now we feel more comfortable with our skills.

So while I am not unhappy with my current house I do think there is always room for improvement in the next build.

If you had the chance to do it all over again, how would you approach things differently?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Small is Beautiful Presentation Featuring Life in 120 Square Feet

If you're in the Asheville area, check out this presentation at the Katuah Market on Thursday, January 29th. Matt and I will be talking about what it is like to live in a tiny home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Make More Milestones

On Monday, over a few beers at a local brewery, a friend of mine mentioned an idea he had. Someone told him it was a great blog post and he said he didn't have time. So I said I was going to steal it, and he gave me permission.  

I suppose that it my disclaimer.

Here is the idea that Boomer had that I am now going to muse about.

During the conversation that led up to this a friend of ours mentioned that 2014 went by very quickly. I said there was a reason for that.

As it turns out our perception of time is intimately linked with the memory of new experiences. That is why we remember nearly Christmas and summer vacation from our childhood but once we grow up and start creating routine we tend to forget more and, as a consequence, time zips by much faster.

Boomer said he referred to it as the Milestone Effect. As an adult common milestones include things like getting married or having a child, but beyond that many of us just go to work and come home every day.

When I was living and working in Atlanta, the time went by very quickly during the week. I got up at the same time every morning, I drove the same commute to work, I did the same job every day, I came home and sat on my sofa until it was time for bed. Then I got up and did it all again.

However, I was also very conscious that this was happening around me. This is one of the primary reasons we began to build the tiny house. It gave us a sense of purpose and it gave us the ability to look forward to a major milestone in our lives.

If you want to slow down time, make more milestones!

It doesn't have to be something like having a child, although that would work for many people. In can be an experience or travel. It can be building a tiny house. Just make try to make things count and continue to build new memories.

Matt and I made a huge decision to move away from our friends and family to a city where we knew nearly no one. Moving to Atlanta was a milestone.

After settling into a routine in Atlanta time started to move quickly. We began to think of the next steps in our lives. We hated the thought that we would wait until some future time when we felt settled enough to accomplish some lifelong goals. So we started working on it.
  • We bought land - that was a milestone. 
  • We started building a tiny house - that was a milestone.
  • We traveled to South Africa - that was a milestone.
  • I quit my job - that was a milestone. 
  • We moved into our tiny house - that was a milestone. 
I think you see how this works.

I'm not, by any means, saying that everyone needs to quit their job or start building a tiny house. But based on psychology and Boomer's theory, if you Make More Milestones you will effectively slow down time. You will remember more.

What milestones do you want to make in 2015?

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Embarassing Travel Secret (But maybe it can help you)

Piglet in the passenger seat.
It is no secret that I love to travel. It is one of my favorite things and I am so fortunate that I can experience new places and things all the time.

In February, Matt and I are exploring location independent living even further than we have before. We decided to travel for the entire month spending one week at a time in a different location.

Our itinerary is as follows:
  1. St. Augustine, Florida
  2. Savannah, Georgia
  3. Charleston, South Carolina
  4. Wilmington, North Carolina
Since our tiny home is stationary we obviously can't take it with us so we will be taking advantage of Air BnB during this trip. We will be driving, of course, so we can take all of our essentials as well as our Sphynx cat, Piglet.

So, here is the embarassing travel secret:

I have extreme anxiety while riding as a passenger in a car.

It is literally a flight or fight response. I feel absolute panic, I don't trust any other driver on the road, and I feel trapped. I scream at the slightest indication that something could go wrong. My brain simply won't let me sit back and enjoy the ride.

This is crippling for someone who really loves to travel. (And, as you might imagine, difficult on a relationship.)

I simply had to find a solution.

It turns out passenger anxiety is extremely common. I talked to my doctor about it and he prescribed a few anxiety medications. None of them really helped. Stronger medications completely knock me out and depending on the length of the trip overall that can actually be a problem since I might not be entirely conscious when we arrive to our destination.

So I read a lot about how other people cope with it. 

Some people solve this problem by always driving. It can be a control issue so that makes sense. However, I am not really any more confident behind the wheel than I am as a passenger so it isn't really the best solution for me. I get even more anxious if I am not familiar with where I am going.

Others try to distract themselves with a book or games on their smart phones. I, however, get car sick immediately as soon as I try to read something so that wasn't going to be an option either.

I was not making this very easy on myself.

I also read about people who try some form of sensory deprivation in the car. Many would build themselves a nest in the back seat surrounded by comfy blankets and pillows and restrict their field of vision as much as possible. Now I was on to something.

Since Matt and I downsized in everything, our car is also small. If we have to take suitcases, computers, guitars, and all of Piglet's accessories we usually have to fold the seats down in our Nissan Juke to fit things in. I can't take up valuable cargo space in our small car just to avoid a complete meltdown. So I had to find a way to stay in the front seat.

Enter: the sleep mask. 

Yes, that's right. Just a regular, every day sleep mask. I bought a cheap one at the drug store and later replaced it with a better one I got for free on the flight to London last year. I was able to entirely solve my panic in the car problem with this tiny accessory rather than expensive medications.

I have field tested it many times over the last year. We have driven as far as Minnesota and Michigan and it works perfectly. I don't use around the city here in Asheville but if I am riding in the car for more than an hour, I take the mask.

It keeps me from seeing what other cars on the road are doing so I don't exclaim out loud and distract Matt or make him nervous. I am still completely conscious and I can have a conversation with no problem. And, if I do fall asleep I am less likely to be woken up by small distractions. I can also take off the mask for parts of the drive where there isn't much traffic if I want to and just put it back on when I feel the panic coming back.

I thought I might share this insight because I know a lot of other people suffer from passenger anxiety. If your problems are similar to mine, this may help.

Over the next couple of months I am going to be concentrating on the travel aspect of our lives. I'll post about working remotely, the cities we're staying in, and how our tiny life has allowed us to do these types of things.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Meditations on Washing Dishes

I finally arrived home after spending two weeks in Michigan visiting family and friends. We are still in the 700 square foot house near downtown Asheville but we've made this small space as much our home as the tiny house.

After living in another person's apartment for two weeks I found myself taking pleasures in the simple things.

I stood at the kitchen sink with the hot water running. It seared my hands as I lifted each dish into the stream and began to scrub, the soap foaming to my satisfaction. I cleaned off every speck of take out sushi from our dishes. We had it delivered after driving home for 10 hours straight. I scoured the cat bowls that I had snatched up, dirty, and packed when we left my mother-in-law's apartment at 6am. I let my mind wander as my hands moved with the memory of what it was like to wash dishes by hand.

Before moving into the tiny house nearly three years ago we lived, first, in a 2700 square foot home with a dishwasher. After dinner we would pop things into the machine and turn it on. Emptying it was a chore that I hated. It was simple enough, but I made plenty of excuses why I couldn't do it every day. I would pull just one bowl out and fill it with cereal and milk before work and place the empty, dirty bowl in the sink to wait until I felt "prepared" to empty the dishwasher and start the whole process over again.

In an effort to simplify we sold the 2700 square foot house while we were still building our tiny home near Asheville. We moved into an 800 square foot apartment with a smaller kitchen. It still had a dishwasher. For some reasons dishes became even harder to manage here. I would get home from work every day and would pull clean dishes from the dishwasher to make dinner and then pile them in the sink until I had the energy to do something about them. I almost never did. Eventually the dishwasher would be empty because we used all the dishes in it. Then we would put them all back in like nothing every happened. There was practically no need for cupboards.

A dishwasher is a marvelous thing but I quickly found that these modern conveniences didn't actually give me more time. They just made me feel more disconnected with my life. I didn't have to wash the dishes. Once I found the energy to fill the dishwasher I could add soap and hit start. I had to find the energy to empty it again later. And then start over. It was set and forget, which is how I felt my life was going. Everything was on autopilot.

Now, with nearly three years of living a more deliberate life I actually find joy in the simple, tactile task of cleaning my dishes by hand.

These are the reasons I changed my life.

These are the reasons I built a tiny home with my own hands. I needed a catalyst to pitch forward without setting autopilot and expecting things to happen.

These are the reasons I chose to keep my tiny house as simple as possible. It isn't just about dishes. It is about feeling more connected with myself, my life, and everything around me.

I changed my entire life to live more deliberately. I have orchestrated my life to make everything mean something from my job to washing dishes and everything in between.

That is what tiny living means to me.