Tuesday, September 6, 2016

10 Things In My Life Made Possible By Going Tiny

If there is one thing I want everyone who reads this blog to understand it's that deliberate living is never about the house. The tiny lifestyle isn't about finding the smallest space possible and moving in. It is about making the most of the space you have, creating the life you want, and enjoying the process.

But, there are a lot of specific lessons I have learned over the years. And there are many things we have been able to do because of the tiny house.

This is my list of 10 things the tiny house made possible in my life. Your list will be different, but I am hoping this gives you some inspiration to continue on your journey to living deliberately in whatever form that takes.

1. I Started My Own Business

I have always wanted to be a writer. But for a long time, I talked myself out of it. It wasn't practical. I needed to be practical. So I spent 15 years in a career that I didn't love, but I was good at. Finally, building the tiny house gave me the courage to start writing full time. 4 years later, I am still writing full time.
Meeting Kai Rostcheck

2. We Bought a Small Home

If we hadn't built the tiny house, reduced our expenses, ditched our mortgage, and moved to Asheville, we would have never been able to be in the right place at the right time for a 700 square foot 1948 bungalow in town.

3. We Have More Time To Travel

I love to travel. I love to experience new places and have adventures. I love going to another city, or another country, and seeing what life is like there for the people who call it home. Without a mortgage and without a 9-to-5 job, I can do that.

4. We Could Join a CSA

Okay, this sounds like pretty small potatoes (see what I did there?), but I love being able to get fresh, local foods and supporting local farmers. Sure, we could have done this in our big house, I but I didn't even know it was an option then. I'm glad I learned.

5. I'm Able to Think Outside The Box

Quitting a job, building a tiny home, and moving to a new city are all huge changes. I was able to do them because I refused to look at problems with only black and white solutions. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Traveling to London

6. I Have Opportunities for Speaking Engagements

I had no idea that I liked talking to large groups of people. I had no idea that I liked to answer questions or help people learn from my own journey. I get to do that now and I get to visit all kinds of places and meet all kinds of people.

7. Our Community Has Expanded All Over the World

Speaking of, I am also grateful that I am a part of this collective tiny house community. I have never been disappointed by meeting another person living the tiny life. We are all risk takers, and we all have a similar philosophy.

8. I learned How Houses Work

I cannot stress this enough! Before, if something broke in our house I felt helpless to fix it. Now, I've put together an entire house by hand so I know, even in our bungalow, that if something breaks I can figure out how to fix it.
Podcasting with Drew Odom at the Tiny House Conference

9. We're Involved in Local Issues

Building a tiny house gave me all of these opportunities, and more, so it only seemed natural to work within my community to give more people the chance of changing their lives. That is why we started Asheville SHAC.

10. I Get to Do More Projects with Matt

All right, here's a sentimental softball for you. Matt and I were already doing a lot of crazy things before we ever started building the tiny house. But because we built this house, we get to continue doing a lot more crazy things. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Benefits of a Small Home

There is no doubt about it, tiny homes are popular. With a variety of reality TV shows across multiple cable networks, everyone has an opportunity to peek inside these minuscule dwellings.

But what if the legacy of the tiny house movement isn't small homes on wheels but a desire to choose a home based on its purpose and fit for your lifestyle?

This recent article from a Maine-based website makes a strong case for small, not tiny, homes

photo by Giant Dream Photography
The key point is that small homes are another possible option that is born out of the need to simplify our lives. While tiny homes on wheels are incredible and work for a lot of people, they don't work for everyone. And they shouldn't have to. It is a lot of pressure on a tiny house to assume that it is a on-size-fits-all solution for every American family.

Over the last 4 years I've had the opportunity to experience both tiny and small homes. We moved into our 120 square foot home in May of 2012 and lived in it for the first year. I loved every second of it. While living there, I never felt a pull to go bigger. It was comfortable and had all the things I needed. Any downsides we faced weren't a result of the home's size.

Then we were faced with an opportunity we couldn't pass up. A 700 square foot bungalow in the city limits of Asheville came up for sale for a great price. We could afford it because we had downsized. Because we had reduced our expenses. And because we had lived for a year in a 120 square foot home. So we bought it.

As we began to renovate the home, using our newfound skills from building, we also began cultivating relationships within the city and with the neighbors directly on either side of us. This sense of community was probably the only thing missing from the tiny house, which was deliberately built on private land in the mountains.

And that was when we realized that we were in the fortunate position to have the best of both worlds.

If the legacy of the tiny house movement results in individuals and families being more deliberate about the homes they choose to live in, then I believe we have achieved success. It isn't about the size of the house. It is never about the house.

I don't mean for this to be a small versus tiny discussion, as I see them as both valid choices. A small home can be anything from an apartment or condo to a single family home, generally below 1,000 square feet. Though definitions in the small and tiny home arena are often nebulous.

But what are the benefits of choosing a small home? Here are some of the lessons I've learned.
  • Reduced financial burden. Little or no mortgage, reduced utility bills, smaller property tax.
  • Less space to clean inside. It takes us only slightly more time to clean the city house as it takes to clean the tiny house. And we keep it neat, as a result of our new lifestyle.
  • Smaller yard to maintain outside. Very little to mow. Very little to landscape. It takes care of itself. You can do the work you want to do without worrying about what you have to do.
  • Choice of location. Do you want country or city? Do you want shared walls or single family?
  • Easier to comply with code and zoning. Are you worried about having a place to park your tiny house on wheels? Foundation homes, either small single family or Accessory Dwelling Units, might be a good compromise.
Our tiny house was an adventure and an experience. We built it ourselves to prove to ourselves that we could do it. We lived in it to prove to ourselves that we could. And we did. It was a catalyst that allowed me to quit my job. And all of that added up to benefits we never saw coming.

But when we started spending more time in our city house we realized that living close to the city was important to us. We realized that having good neighbors was important to us. We realized that we could use the same lessons we learned in building the tiny house, both practical and emotional, to make living in this bungalow a success. Small living and tiny living are two sides of the same coin.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is Home a Place or a Sense of Belonging? Can it Be Both?

A friend recently posed a question on Facebook.
"Without mentioning a specific place, what does home mean to you?"
And at first, I figured the answer was simple. Home is, clearly, wherever Matt and I are together.  And, ultimately, that is a true statement. We've lived a lot of places and we've always been reasonably happy and engaged with our lives. We like exploring new things together.

But it wasn't until we discovered Asheville, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, that we truly felt a sense of belonging.

I realized this intimately on a recent drive back home from a quick trip to Michigan. We visited my sister and her family in Kalamazoo, a place where Matt and I both lived for a time. We met in that city. We held a commitment ceremony in that city when we were just barely in our 20s. It has a lot of wonderful memories, good people, and fun things to do. But is it home? No, it hasn't been for a while.

On the drive back we stopped about half way in Kentucky for the night. When we started out again for the last remaining hours of the drive, I took the wheel. And for a short while I felt like I had made a huge mistake. I was tired. Drained. Lethargic. I felt like I might fall asleep. And then, as if by magic, Tennessee appeared and brought with it the majestic mountains that I love so much. A weight was lifted from my chest. I felt alive and vibrant again. My eyes were no longer heavy and I was just excited to be almost home.

It was this sense of belonging that led us to build the tiny house. We knew we wanted to be in the Asheville area. We knew with all of our hearts that this was where we belonged. Once the tiny house was completed, we also realized that the tiny house wasn't the finish line. It was just a step along the way. A way to get us closer to a town that we loved and launch ourselves into the kind of unconventional thinking that makes it possible to live in Asheville. That was why, after living in the tiny house for some time, we found ourselves buying a small home just north of downtown. This gave us access to the city. Just one mile away, rather than eighteen. And a neighborhood with neighbors. And places we can walk.

For me, home is intrinsically tied to Asheville, North Carolina. That's why, even with state politics that I don't agree with, I am far more interested in sticking around and making it a better place rather than leaving it behind. We can make a difference in our communities, but only if we feel like we truly belong.

Things will be changing for us again within the next year. In fact, there is a good chance that we'll need to be away from Asheville for several years. But we have never considered the idea that we might not be back. This city is in my blood. I can't breathe without the mountains.

Home for me cannot be separated between place and emotion. This is home. This is where I belong.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Story Featured on MindBodyGreen

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by an editor of the popular website MindBodyGreen.com. She asked if I would write about my journey to go tiny. I was excited for the opportunity to share my story and the philosophy of tiny living. 

And, aside from the stock photo of someone else in their tiny house, it turned out pretty good. Though, the title is also misleading. They called the essay, "Why Quitting My Job To Build A Tiny Home Was The Best Decision I've Ever Made." In truth, it was the other way around. I built a tiny house to quit my job. But that is a small distinction. In the post, I discuss how the journey started and what we did to make it happen.
"The problem with fallback jobs is they’re far too easy to fall back on."
 You can read the entire article here. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

On Risk and The Option to Fail

I tend to get reflective this time of the year.

It was 4 years ago this week that I worked my last day as a recruiter in temporary staffing. I took a risk and jumped without a safety net.

It was terrifying.

But here I am today doing the thing I love most in the place I love most and it was all because I was willing to take a risk.

I didn't want to fail, but I knew that if I didn't at least try this, I already had. 

This is what the tiny life has been all about for me. It has never once been about the house. The house was just one very tiny component in my journey. But it was an important one.

See, we had been restless for a while. When we moved to Atlanta in 2003, we continued on the traditional trajectory. We were nearly 30 and we had good jobs, so we did what we thought you were supposed to do. We bought a house. Our house in Atlanta was 2700 square feet and it was a good house. We did all we could to enjoy it fully, often having out of town guests or hosting social events and parties. But that size house also came with some less than pleasant side effects. We had to keep working to pay the mortgage and all of our free time was spent fixing it up. It wasn't making us happy.

And it was the day we accepted that there were other options was the day all of our possibilities opened up.

We started building our tiny in 2009. It took us 3 years and people often comment that building such a small house should have never taken that long. But I know my own truth. I know that those three years weren't just about building a house. They were about a journey of self-discovery. I wouldn't have been ready to quit my job in 2009, but the as the house neared completion it became a symbol of my progression.

I was able to tell myself if I could build a house, I could do anything. 

Today, I write. I am so happy to be able to do what I love every day. Moving into a tiny house wasn't the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to change my life in a way that allowed me to live it on my own terms. Now, my time is my own and I am grateful for every step that led me here.

And this isn't it for our adventures. Matt and I are not the settling down types, which was why we built a tiny house to begin with. There is more to come and over the next year, I'll be able to share some details.

It is never about the house.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."

--Henry David Thoreau

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tiny Houses and the Like-Hearted People

I haven't been able to write a great recap of our Tiny House Conference experience yet. Others, including Amy from The Tiny Life did a much better job.

But here is what I can tell you. I love these conferences. I love being in such a huge group of like-hearted people. Even if we all come to the tiny house journey from different places, we all have the same glimmer of understanding. We all speak the same language.

This year, our Tiny House Conference experience extended past the event itself. We were able to host Lina Menard of This Is The Little Life for an entire week. (If you're wondering, she stayed with us in our city house, but we did visit the tiny house.) For the most part, we just lived our lives. When work was done, we would go out and show her around town. It was a great time.

Photo by Kristie Wolfe. Beer provided by Chris and Kelly.
The day after the conference, when several people were heading back home, we got a call from Ethan Waldman, of  TheTinyHouse.net. His flight was canceled, and could he stay with us rather than a hotel by the airport? What's especially cool about this is that while I've known Ethan online for a couple of years, the conference was the first time we ever met. And of course the answer was yes! It was really fun to have him staying with us, along with Lina, for a day. We got ice cream and took them to a favorite park. It is rare to feel that at-ease with someone you've just met, but it happens to me time and time again in the tiny house community.

Unfortunately, Ethan had to leave before we went up to our tiny house. But some other tiny housers were still in town and came with us, including Chris and Kelly of Just Right Bus and Kristie Wolfe of Tiny House on the Prairie. And Lina, of course.

On Saturday, April 8th we dropped Lina off at the Asheville airport and she was finally heading home. We really enjoyed the company of everyone who was able to spend time with us before, during, and after the Tiny House Conference. We'll see you all next year in Portland, Oregon! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sometimes We Fart

“Oh God! What is that smell?” There was silence on the other end of the small sofa. “Did you do that?”
“Must have been the cat."
“I’ve smelled the cat. That was not the cat.” I grabbed the green pillow and fanned the air.
“Sorry, then, it must have been my butt.”
“It was your butt all right. Ack!” I pulled the pillow close to my face to act as a sort of crude gas mask.
The next morning, it’s my turn. And, rather than harbor my shame in secrecy, I just decide to announce it and declare my ownership. “Excuse me!”
He snorts and rolls over to face the wall, away from me.    

Here’s the thing, folks. The house is tiny. Very, very tiny. 120 square feet tiny, in fact. And you know what? Smells happen. All kinds of smells. If we don’t scoop the litter box immediately after use, it smells until we do. If we’re cooking onions, the house will smell like onions. If someone uses the very small bathroom, there is often an associated smell that hangs in the air until it dissipates. But, much like larger homes, our house also has windows. We even have a fan that can help with airflow. We can even buy air freshener. 

We also have a huge, enormous great outdoors where one can escape if something is particularly noxious. Escaping outside isn’t even that big a deal because in only 120 square feet the door is never that far from wherever a person happens to be in the house. 

Matt and I have been together a very long time. It was about 18 years ago or so that we stopped worrying about whether or not someone might pass gas in the same room as the other person. It didn’t ruin the romance. It didn’t make either of us love the other one just a little less. Bodies are just a fact of life and when we decided to share our lives with another body, it meant everything. Including farts with some sense of regularity. 

“How do you live in such a small space with another person? How do you not kill each other? What do you do if someone farts?” 

All of these questions are so common. I have answered them frequently over the years often with the same general theme. We can live in a small space together because we genuinely like being around each other. We haven’t killed each other yet because that would be messy and would end with a televised court case and, likely, jail time. When someone farts, we either ignore it or make a big deal out of it, or somewhere in between. 

We enjoyed spending time with each other before we built a tiny house. We enjoy being together in the tiny house. If we ever stop enjoying each other’s company, it may be time to reevaluate things. We don’t see that happening, but you never know. 

The tiny house is a thing. For us, it was an adventure that allowed us to grow together. As we say all the time, it was just one more weird thing in a long list of weird things that we’ve done over the course of 21 years. There was also that time we drove to New York City for New Year’s Eve in 1998 without any real plans. Or maybe the Halloween themed bathroom we had in our house in Atlanta. Oh, and the time we marathoned the last 4 Harry Potter movies at the local Brew and View movie theater and brewery. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. 

I’m not a relationship expert. In fact, since I have been in the same relationship since I was 19 years old, I am probably the opposite of someone you want to give you relationship advice. I have no idea how it works. It just works. But I can tell you that a tiny house won’t work for everyone, especially if you’re particularly worried about farts. 

And sometimes we fart.