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The Purpose Of Stuff And The Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

Recently I came across this post about “The purpose of stuff” and I thought it was a really great way of thinking about the items in our lives.  To Summarize, we have all this stuff in our lives and they largely fall into four distinct purposes: Functional, Aesthetic, Nostalgic, and Dream Placeholders.

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I liked this line of thought and realized that this frame work is useful, but it contains a lot of pitfalls.  For example: Functional.  There are a lot of things that could be deemed functional in our lives, kitchen gadgets are the first thing that comes to mind.

Many of us have drawers stuffed with gadgets that will peel garlic, steam broccoli and core an apple.  The kitchen gadget industry has come up with a solution for every possible problem.  The truth is, much of these purpose built items don’t make us better cooks and most of these things serve an outlier need.  How often do you actually core apples?

So I wanted to offer up some questions that can help you navigate around the pitfalls of each of these.

Functional:

There are things that we simply need to get through our daily lives.  We need a bed to sleep on, a fridge to keep food in, a towel to dry our hands and so on.  Much of what is in my tiny house has a very strong functional purpose, but it’s easy to say we NEED something.  What most people fail to do is examine motivations and take a step back and understand the motivations.

compact-can-openerA perfect example for me was: do I need a washer and dryer?  I was convinced I did, but I didn’t know how I was going to fit it in my house.  It was then I took a step back and said “I hate folding clothes, why would I want to have a thing in my house that caused me to do things I hate doing?”

Now it would be easy to say, well everyone wears clothes, clothes get dirty, you need to wash them, therefore, you need a washer.  That is a pretty logical argument, it’s how most houses are built, and how it’s been done for a long time.  But I was willing to ask myself, what if I didn’t have a washer/dryer?  So I said, well maybe there is someone that I could instead pay to do my laundry in lieu of buying an expensive compact washer/dryer.  Low and behold I found a company that will come to my house, take my laundry, wash/dry/fold, then bring it back to me… for $15!

Ask yourself these questions around functional items:

  • What assumptions am I making about this item and the “need” it fills?
  • What are other ways I could achieve this same end result?
  • Is there something I could use instead that does this in a smaller form or is multi-purpose
  • How often do I actually do this function?
  • What if I didn’t have this thing?  What would the impact be?

Aesthetics

There is a great quote from William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  Aesthetics is very important in a small space and for minimalists, we have very little so we must be intentional with all our decisions.  When it comes to minimalists choosing beautiful things for our lives, we need to be discerning.  This is the case where less is more, not out of some dogmatic adherence, but by have a few beautiful things we bring focus and honor to their purpose: enrichment through beauty.

have-nothing-that-is-not-useful-and-beautifulThe trouble with aesthetic items we can have too many of them, which leads us to have a cluttered feel.  Focus on a few select things that allows you to enjoy them without being distracted by other things.  If you find yourself not appreciating it’s value each day, it might be a sign it needs to go.

Ask yourself these questions around Aesthetic items:

  • Where will this item have a home, a spot, in my house?
  • How do you want your space or home to feel?  How does this item help you achieve that goal?
  • Is there enough space to draw your focus on this item each day?
  • What items will distract you from enjoyment of this item?

Nostalgic

This is the most difficult of them all, because we are human beings and as such, we are inherently laden with flaws and complications.  Nostalgia is a powerful force of the human experience and its valuable, healthy and an important part of life.  There are times when it can weigh us down.

memories-posessionsIf you ever have watched a show of Hoarders, you hear over and over again how people don’t want to throw something away because it reminds them of their late spouse, passed away family member or some other part of their past.  While hoarding is an unhealthy expression of this need to connect with the past, we can all relate to these feelings.

For me I spent a significant amount of time sifting through my memory boxes and was able to organize into a few albums and boxes.  I then placed the whole thing into a large waterproof container for safe keeping.  I think what I really need to do is get better is spending a little more time enjoying these memories.

Ask yourself these questions around nostalgic items:

  • Is it possible to keep this memory from some other prompt?
  • Is this a healthy memory to keep coming back to?
  • Would a picture of the item suffice?

Dream Placeholders

I have a soft spot for nostalgic items, but when it comes to items that are place holders for our dreams, hope and even fantasies I take a pretty hard line.  Dream placeholders are things that we involve in our lives that nod to a life we wish to live, the are things that we want in our lives, but we don’t have them, so we instead have things that remind us of that.  Dream placeholders are toxic. Period.

We should have goals, but the difference between goals and a dream is that goals are things we work towards, we are driven to achieve and we make meaningful progress towards; dreams are things we just remind ourselves that we don’t have them with no end in sight.

born to liveIt’s the difference between someone saying they hate their job and going home only to do it all over again, versus a person that works 9 to 5, only to come home and work on their side hustle until midnight.  It is the difference between people who say they want to live in a tiny house and the people who I’m going to do it and are building their dream home weeks later.

Dream placeholders can be toxic.  Living this lifestyle is one of purpose, of intention and of pursuit of your best life.  If you can’t actively pursue something, then it’s best to come to terms that it will not happen and move on.

Ask yourself these questions about Dream Placeholders:

  • What have you done in the last week to achieve this dream?
  • Why haven’t you achieved this already and is it just an excuse?
  • Does this item serve a function in getting you closer to your goals?
  • Should I lay this dream to rest and move on?

 

Your Turn!

  • How do you make sure the things in your life are meant to be there?
  • What tricks do you use to keep down clutter?

How Was Your Worst Day Your Best Day?

Today I was listening to a podcast when I heard a question that was radically profound in the way it looked at things.  The truth is that our happiness is often not what happens to us, but how we choose to perceive it and react to it.  The question was this…

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It’s fascinating how re-framing something can change our world view.  I could go on, but I think for today, just spend some time thinking about how your worst day was actually your best day.

Things That Shouldn’t Impress Us Anymore

Recently I came across a great article from Joshua Becker (read it here) which captured a set of ideas that had been swirling around my head for a while.  The article was called 7 things that shouldn’t impress us anymore.  It talked about status symbols and how they shouldn’t be held up to such a high importance for us.

organizational-debtI think what struck me about most of the list is that ironic thing about the brand name of your clothing, big diamond rings, fancy cars and a big house is that most folks who these things are important to, can’t afford them.  Most – read 90% of Americans – folks achieve these status symbols through accruing debt.  I have a distinct memory of my neighbors who were very concerned with the things on Joshua’s list, one day fell on hard times.

The house of card fell very fast for them, their cars were taken because they were on lease, the home ended up in short sale and my neighbors lamented to me about all the credit card debt calls they got.  While this is just one story about a neighbor, it is really the story for many people today.   The truth is the average American household carries $15,762 (source) and 76% of Americans live pay check to pay check (source).

What is more, conspicuous consumption shouldn’t not impress us any more, but it should evoke a very different reaction – sadness or empathy – because it is almost always done on the back of debt.  People are extending themselves in ways that has been shown to break up marriages, bring massive amounts of stress and leave people in a hole they often can’t get out of.

Think about it, not only should they not impress us, but depress us.  What does it say about the status of our culture when people are willing to take on crippling debt just to impress a stranger?

Obviously I’m preaching to the choir here, tiny house folks focus on small spaces to get out of debt, we re-evaluate our spending choices and have taken steps to shed our consumer culture.  Inherently having nice things isn’t bad, even having brand names, nice cars etc isn’t a bad thing; we just need to know the why behind all of it.  The trap is when people say “that’s what I thought I was ‘supposed’ to do.”

Live your life with intention, with purpose behind each decision, each choice.  That choice could be living in a tiny house or it could be a 1,200 square foot house with a fancy car.

Your Turn!

  • What things do you think we shouldn’t be impressed about anymore?

 

Purpose In Life – Mad Libs Edition

Time and time again I’ve shared how important it is to self-reflect and take time for introspection.  Taking my own advice, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on myself, trying to uncover understanding around my personal purpose and meaning in life.

Purpose In Life(1)

Large questions bubble to the surface when you live The Tiny Life; it’s inevitable.  Part of this journey for me is expressed in the form of posts to you all, because many of you are on a similar journey as I am.  I decided to try writing down questions that would get me thinking about these questions from a different viewpoint.

Fill out the Mad Libs and share in the comments!

  1. When its my last day on earth, I’ll look back and be thankful that I did ______.
  2. The biggest source of stress in my life is _____.
  3. When it comes to things I have to do, I hate doing ____, _______, and ______.
  4. I can’t stop smiling when I do ______.
  5. Before I die I want to _______.
  6. When I do _____ I look up from doing it and realize hours have past.
  7. I feel powerful when I _______
  8. If I could put one message on a billboard in Times Square it would be ____.
  9. Your 10 year old self be most disappointed to learn that you were doing ______.
  10. Success means ______ to me.

Your Turn!

  • Share your answers in the comments!
  • What question would you add?

Three Reasons You Won’t Be Happy In A Tiny House

When people dream about living in a tiny house, they idealize the life a fair bit.  It’s something we all do, heck, I even do it even today.  There are of course many reasons tiny houses aren’t the best, but I thought I’d share some thoughts on things that leave people unhappy in a tiny house so you can avoid them.

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You started with the design, not with the function

There is a adage: form follows function.  Many people fall in love with a specific house or set of plans, then try to make it work for them; this is backwards.  The most successful houses start with what a person needs, then a design is spawn from that list of needs and functions.  You need to play anthropologist, taking an objective eye when you look at your life and what your house needs to support.

You didn’t take the time to get in your own head

I see this all the time, people move into a tiny house very quickly without going through the deep self reflection and understanding required to make it work.  The biggest thing that will make you settle into your tiny house for the long term isn’t the design, the size, the amenities, it’s your coming to terms with what makes you happy, with a departure from gratuitous consumption, and a break from status symbols.

It’s easy to say you don’t buy a lot of stuff or that you don’t need things; it’s an entirely different thing to be deprogrammed of consumer culture and when someone shuns you in a social situation that you can be okay with the fact your house isn’t large or that you only a few things.

You think its about the house

Time and time again I say this, living in a tiny house and The Tiny Life has nothing to do with the house, it is a lifestyle that you adopt that will change your life.  While tiny houses have a great aesthetic, they are appealing and cozy, when someone successfully lives in a tiny house long term it is not because of these facts.

A tiny houser is committed to making a change in their life to a magnitude that most people are willing to.  If you live the tiny life, you could live in any size house because it’s not about the house, it’s the commitment to your priorities and to doing what needs to be done to live your best life.

Your Turn!

  • What things are you thinking about when it comes to making the leap?
  • What are you worried about moving to such a small space?

 

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