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Five Things To Do Before You Build Your Tiny House

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It’s the final countdown, folks.

I’ve made the executive decision to begin building my tiny house in the spring of 2017.

While that decision is exciting, I realize that I need to get my butt in gear and accomplish a whole slew of tasks before I’m ready to buy a trailer. Today I’m sharing my to do list with you, and I hope it can help you prepare for your build too – whether you’re starting next week or next year. This is part one of a two-part post – so stay tuned!

Step Zero: Be Sure It’s What You Want

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Me, on the porch of Jay Shafer’s original tiny house, wearing unflattering pants.

This seems like a given, but there’s more at work here. If you want a tiny house because you think they’re cute, you might need to do a little more soul searching. If you want a tiny house because it’s the logical next step in creating a more intentional way of living, well…now we’re getting somewhere.

How do I know a tiny house is right for me? Well…

  • I’ve wanted to build my own house since I was eight years old.
  • I love small, cozy, confined spaces.
  • I’ve always been passionate about good design and creating homes full of personality.
  • I want to learn new things, because it improves my life and makes me a better person.
  • I want to feel the pride that comes with tackling a big project.
  • I care about my impact on the environment.
  • It does not make sense for me to buy a traditional home because I don’t know where I’ll end up settling down someday.
  • I’m a tiny person (5’2″) with very little stuff and few worldly needs.

Your reasons might be different. Be honest with yourself and trust your gut! You know yourself and your own motivations.

Tips:

  • If you are going into a tiny house build with your partner or family, agree going in that if anyone decides they’re done with the tiny house life, that you’ll both/all find another living solution. Not feeling trapped will work wonders when it comes to living peacefully together in a tiny house.
  • If you’re on the fence, there are other ways to live smaller without building a tiny house. Even just downsizing to a small house or apartment can dramatically change your outlook.
  • At the end of the day, a tiny house is just an object, and objects don’t change your life for the better. Only you have the power to do that.

Step One: Connect with Tiny House People

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Tiny house people love nothing more than sharing pizza and beer.

Even with the wealth of information available online, you’ll still have questions that can only be answered by people who have gone through the building process. Also, tiny house people are just plain cool and interesting and definitely worth knowing!

I’ve been lucky to meet so many wonderful members of the tiny house movement through my work, but to get here, I had to seek them out myself. As an introvert, this is much easier said than done. In the beginning, I had to do a lot of hunting to find other people who were just as excited about tiny houses as I was.

Tips:

  • Meetup.com is a goldmine. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, chances are high that there is a tiny house enthusiasts meetup nearby. If there isn’t one already, why not start a group yourself?
  • If there isn’t a tiny house meetup group, search for related groups about minimalism, gardening and permaculture, or prepping, and you’re bound to meet other people who are interested in tiny houses!
  • Tiny house events are popping up all over the country, and they’re a great way to meet cool folks. If you’re pretty convinced you’d like to live tiny, the Tiny House Conference is a great place to make friends and ask people your questions.
  • Don’t just hound people on the Internet, begging them for a tour of their tiny house. Form strong give-and-take friendships with tiny house folks just like you would with anyone else.

Step Two: Pare Down Belongings

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I once owned over 300 books. I now own 30.

Paring down your stuff is a huge part of living the tiny life. Last summer, I moved to Charlotte from Boston, and I took the move as an opportunity to bring only the things that could fit in the back of my Honda CRV. I got rid of two thirds of my clothing and 90% of my books – something I thought I could never do – along with decades’ worth of accumulated crap from my school years. It was surprisingly easy to distinguish trash from treasure once I got in to a rhythm. Driving down the highway to my new home, with a trunk full of my most precious possessions, was a liberating feeling.

Tips:

  • “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
  • For analytical minds: try the box method. Empty the contents of a drawer, closet, etc. into a big cardboard box. Each time you use an item from the box, it can return to the drawer. Whatever remains in the box after three months is something you don’t need in your daily life and you can safely donate it.
  • For intuitive minds: If you have more of an emotional attachment to objects like I do, I highly recommend the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It has gone viral for a reason, and I couldn’t have decluttered without it. That book is worth its own blog post, which I will write soon.
  • Budget enough time for this crucial step. One tiny house family I know took a whole year to declutter.

Step Three: Assess Needs

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Dee Williams’s petite vardo at the 2015 Tiny House Conference.

This is what Dee Williams from Portland Alternative Dwellings calls “playing anthropologist.” A lot of what we think we need in a home is marketed to us through building trends and realtors. A tiny house is a chance to shed the excess and create a home that fits you like a glove. For this step, I wrote a big list to brainstorm all my weird quirks and how they affect my interaction with my living space.

For instance, I noticed that I never use more than two stove burners at a time, but I do use my oven very frequently (roasting vegetables is the most reliable way to trick myself into eating them). For me, an oven would be a necessity.

I find that I spend most of my leisure time lounging around in bed rather than on the couch. Aside from sleeping, I do all my reading, drawing, writing, and music-listening in bed. I’ll probably forgo a lounge space in favor of a dining area, and design a luxurious sleeping loft that will double as my creative haven.

I also dye my hair monthly, so an open shower stall won’t work for me unless I want to flood my whole house as I rinse out the dye. I think a stock tank bathtub would work well for me.

Tips:

  • Try the Post-It Note Method: Stick a Post-It Note next to each doorway in your home. Every time you leave a room, write down what it is that you’re doing in each room. After a month or so, get a glimpse into how you actually use your space.
  • Design for the life you have, not the one you want. This is the equivalent of keeping “skinny pants” in your wardrobe. You want to feel comfortable in your home, not guilty.
  • If you have hobbies or accoutrements that require a lot of space, consider outbuildings or off-site storage, or outsourcing that hobby to a different location (e.g. an artist’s studio).
  • Remember: our needs are surprisingly few and easily met.

Step Four: Figure Out a Floor Plan

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My latest tiny house layout, which I have already overhauled completely.

Right now, I have a folder on my desktop with 39 scanned, hand-drawn floor plans. To be fair, I’m a big nerd and I’ve been drawing these for four straight years. But whether it’s digital or on paper, it’s important to translate your design ideas into a visual medium.

There are lots of great ready-made tiny house floor plans on the market. We’ve reviewed our favorite plans to help you pick the one that’s right for you – click here to check it out. But because everyone’s needs are different, don’t be afraid to modify an existing plan to better suit your lifestyle.

Tips:

  • Carry a measuring tape with you wherever you go. Measure chair heights, counter widths, the rises and runs of stair steps – it’s important to know common dimensions of different elements so you can accurately plan for them.
  • Measure yourself! Know how much space you need to feel comfortable. My needs as a 5’2″, 130 lb. woman will differ from the needs of a 6’3″ 275 lb. man.
  • Don’t forget to design space for your clothes hamper, kitchen trash can, recycling and compost bins, suitcases, bulk paper goods storage, brooms, and other cleaning implements.
  • Include empty storage space in your design. Because you’re alive, you’ll probably still acquire new things after you move into your tiny house. Give yourself some wiggle room.
  • Strive for an excellent design, not a perfect one. If you stress too much about getting things absolutely perfect, you’ll never get off the ground.

Step Four-and-a-Half: Work with an Expert

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Great ideas always begin on a napkin.

Optional, but highly worth it. Even if you have a pretty strong grasp on what you’re doing in terms of your design, it never hurts to have an expert offer their advice. At the Tiny House Conference after party, I hungrily listened to Lina Menard and Ethan Waldman as they gave me feedback on my tiny house design, which I drew on a napkin in pink pen. I’m currently collaborating with a professional plan designer and draftsman to hash out a solid layout and set of building plans, which is terribly exciting!

Tips:

  • Try to find experts who have experience building tiny houses. It’s important for folks to have the skill of translating theoretical designs into tangible structures.
  • If you can’t afford a consultation, buy or borrow a copy of A Pattern Language. It’s a great manual for learning the psychology of vernacular architecture (a.k.a. how to build a house you feel good in).

Step Five: Create a Budget

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition made their dollars stretch during their tiny house build.

Ideally, if you’re ready to build within a year, you should have enough funds saved up to at least get started. If you’re not careful, a tiny house can become a money pit if you don’t budget and track your expenditures.

My plan is to build in stages. I’ll first finish the exterior, so that the unfinished inside is safe from the elements. I can then take my time finishing the interior and saving up for some nicer appliances. Since I live in Charlotte and it’s pretty warm here, I might even move in early and live in the house while I’m still working on it to pour even more money into the build. I’m planning for the build to take a long time, but I know I’ll have a more rewarding learning experience that way.

In terms of saving money, it’s important to have a savings account just for your tiny house so that your funds don’t get mixed up and accidentally spent. I know that I’m the kind of person that will spend all my savings if they’re accessible and unallocated. I use SmartyPig.com to keep my tiny house savings separate, which is free and easy to use and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tips:

  • Keep your house as small and simple as possible.
  • Always budget 10% – 15% more for materials.
  • Anything custom will cost you a bundle – especially windows and doors.
  • The exception to this rule is trailers. Instead of buying a tiny house trailer, order a custom trailer direct from a manufacturer, and hire a welder to add any extra details. You will save thousands of dollars.
  • Compact appliances often cost as much or more than conventional appliances, so budget accordingly!

 

So what are the next steps as I move toward building my tiny house? Tune in next time for part two of this topic!

Your Turn!

  • Which step will be the easiest for you?
  • Which step will be more challenging?

Keepin’ It Tiny

I just can’t hide from tiny houses. They seem to just fall in to my life in random ways. For example, I came home from work the other night and found this lovely house sitting by the entrance to the drive-way. It belongs to a local artist who lived with my friends up the road from my current location.

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A few weeks ago this awesome house rolled in to the parking lot of a contra dance I attended in Southern Vermont. Just another amazing tiny house from North Carolina!

The best tiny house coincidence occurred when I was looking for a placeto live this past spring. I was led to my current tiny life experience through friends and while my ideal was to once again find a tiny space to habitat I wasn’t banking on it. Lo and behold this adorable space was offered to me by lovely people who I am now privileged to call friends as well as neighbors.

photo 5Thus, I now live in a revamped chicken coop! The Coop, as it is adorably referred to, is a 6′ x 8′ space on one of the most beautiful properties I have ever lived on. My friend and neighbor who runs Carpenter Brook Artisans replaced the siding, ripped out the old carpet and re-painted the plaster walls. It is a beautiful space. I have the joy of a shared garden space, I get to enjoy the clucking of their adorable chickens and just a short walk away is an amazing private beach on a gorgeous river. Could it get any better? Believe it or not the answer is yes.

When I lived the tiny life previously in La Casita it was hard to find photo 2community to live in. Just when I thought it was within reach, one thing or another would keep that dream from coming true. Now, without having planned for it, I live by people who enjoy a similar lifestyle and wish to create community in the ways that matter most, such as growing food together, sharing meals, splitting chores and hosting communal gatherings. I am so grateful to have found this tiny home in Vermont and feel so lucky to be living with people who are caring and supportive. It’s an incredible opportunity and for it to have fallen in to my lap the way it did is pretty remarkable. I suppose it just goes to show that I am destined to live a tiny life.

 

Your Turn!

  • How has the tiny life style found you?

North Carolina Tiny House Community

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On Easter morning I had the pleasure of speaking with Kerry Lindsey, an innovator and developer in Flat Rock, North Carolina who has begun a project to bring tiny houses to his existing retreat centered community. I was excited to hear about his plans and what he has going on in this gem of a town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was so inspiring to speak with Lindsey about his experiences living the tiny life, what he’s accomplished and his continued plans involving tiny houses, community and the importance of mindfulness in our current world. Check it out!

How did you discover the tiny house movement and what drew your interest?

My interest in tiny houses began when we were kids. My folks built their first home from the rock and logs off the land of their mini farm, and as kids we copied them; building 2 fairly sophisticated tree houses (for kids) and a tiny log cabin. That interest continued and a couple of years out of high school I bought a junked school bus for $150 and converted it into a camper/house , traveling for several months (Kesey style) around the southeast in it with a handful of hippie friends . I continued building small outbuildings at my own first mini farm and after buying this property, restored all the old summer camp cabins here as we started the first conference center. By the time Jay Schafer came to town the first time, 4-5 years ago, I had the bug bad and was dredging and creating waterfront sites in the early stages of this project.

What is your ideal vision in building and sustaining tiny houses IMG-20140228-00049construction and what life experiences brought your developing such community?

This place is the intersection of three strong paths in my life: creating artistic buildings, a 5 business entrepreneurial streak and the understanding gleaned from my own spiritual community about the essence of community. So many of the outcomes we’ve looked for in the so called “American Dream” can’t be found in a media driven consumerist approach to life. It takes slowing down. Living a simpler lifestyle (like Tiny House living) as well as creating a more intentional approach to community can be a great support for the peace and happiness we all aspire towards. While I think many folks want to build these to garner more independence, I think its the fact that one can both have that, and create truly supportive communities (by “rounding up the wagons” so to speak) that is so interesting. We all need privacy but there is also a certain magic in coming together more collaboratively to create things together.

What influences stylistically are you basing your designs off of?

I lean towards the Appalachian cabin vernacular but with a whimsical twist. Tree houses….hobbit houses…. Creativity is energizing and the more that people are connected to the shelters they build or personalize, the more life it brings into the community. It creates a felt-sense of place. This is not to say we don’t have guidelines….we are in the middle of a retreat center business after all, and the place needs to feel congruent with our reason for being here.

IMG-20140228-00048What demographic are you attempting to reach?

Like we did in our first neighborhood across the street, we strive to appeal to an inter-generational market because diversity adds to the value of communities. I can see our larger models clustered together around a common house to create a pocket neighborhood akin to a senior co-housing community: because we also put an emphasis on creating business opportunities within the projects we’ve done, and have kid friendly areas, I’d also expect to see a younger crowd here, learning both how to build a home and start a business. The third market is “second home” folks like here in the Garden Hamlet People that are simply wanting a quiet place to get away to on weekends or to take a vacation. Like the Hamlet cottages that surround the goat meadow, these cabins can also be placed back in the retreat rental pool so that folks can earn a little off their investment when they’re not using them.

What is your timeline for development? Have you started construction and when do you project to complete this community?

We are 28 years into the overall community and the retreat section is the 4th of the 7 planned phases. We’ve got our primary infrastructure in as well as the new cafe/community building. Four tiny’s are under way (mostly students from Dan Louche’s workshop here last fall) as well as our first double-sized one, a 400 sq ft unit. This is a two module design that can be moved with a normal pick up truck. Because there are many great Tiny House providers on the market today, our focus is primarily on the next size up. While its not something one would haul around day to day like an RV, it would be moveable so that people could have more flexibility about where they live. Here we’ll have lots that can be leased which will make it a very affordable community for young folks starting out or retirees looking for an unencumbered, active, learning, community based life style.

In what ways do permaculture and tiny house ideals coincide for you? How do you feel they compliment each other?

Well the obvious first part is their small footprint and how well they can be integrated into a mini-farm like layout. Here at the Garden Hamlet, even though the cottages are larger, over 60% of the land is held in permanent open space for gardens, greenhouses, fruit trees, farm animals and gardens.

Can you elaborate on your community incubator series and how highlandlakecove1that has played a role in your development of community?

The fundamental learning tracks in it grew out of my experience working with key employees over the course of my 43 years in business….helping them take a more “intra”preneurial approach to running their departments. My approach is more along the lines of the Integral Incubator Series at Integral Institute in Boulder. Beyond the basics, I’m more interested in helping folks with a Four Bottom Line approach. . . People Planet Profit & Personal Transformation. Part of the purpose of the incubator is to help people create meaningful work in their own communities. I deem myself lucky because I always found myself in a business that arose out of personal passions and creativity and always kept me learning and evolving. So many folks work so they can retire. I prefer to help people create work that’s inspiring.

Are you going to have workshops this summer geared towards building tiny houses?

Yes our next on is May 24th-25th. It will be taught by Teal Brown of Wishbone Tiny Homes here in Asheville along with some of our students and staff for certain elements. It will also include an introduction to building with cob for folks thinking about creating more fixed structures.

To find out more about workshops, retreats and the community visit www.highlandlakecove.com!

Thanks again Kerry for talking to me and for growing tiny house love and community in the Carolinas!

 

Your Turn!

  • Are you inspired by tiny houses to build community? If so, how?

Via

Vermont Tiny House

Vermont has quite the tiny house scene. Only two weeks after moving up here we came across our friend KJ’s tiny house and heard about several more! Back in SC, we were pretty much the only tiny house folks that we knew about but it seems Vermonters have had tiny house fever for some time! Today I want to share this wonderful tiny house that our friend built and currently occupies with her bull mastiff!

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The house currently lives on a farm and sits on a 8 1/2 x 16 foot trailer with two bumpouts that serve as storage and sleeping space. She has a hard wired, 20 amp circuit that allows her to hook to a breaker box in the barn next door and although she has a clawfoot tub she recently bought, she does not having running water in the house.

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While taking a permaculture course, KJ was exploring a less toxic, less material based lifestyle. She was living in yurt in Vermont and realized that it was not the best living situation through the long winters. It took a lot of wood to heat it and keep it warm for one person so she nixed the idea of buying a yurt. She became especially interested in gypsy wagons and began researching other small living alternatives, such as school bus renovation, back in 2008. Then she moved in to a tree house on a goat farm owned by a couple of architects. She revealed her dream to build a tiny house and she says their eyes lit up! They agreed to help her in exchange for goat sitting on the weekends. Two months of building and she had herself a house.

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The house is built with pine that was cut and milled from the forest on the goat farm and it was built specifically to her measurements. She’s thinking up new ideas for the house and planning to remodel the downstairs to have a narrower staircase and a space for a table and two chairs. The best things about living the tiny life? The strong sense of ownership and accomplishment is certainly a strong sentiment for her. “It’s mine, I made it!” is the first thing she tells me when I asked her the above question but also living in a non-toxic space and escaping the materialistic bent of our consumerist culture are among the positives to living this life.

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Small Space Design: A Societal Bridge

I found this project out of Italy working on  small space design and was intrigued by it. The difference between this project, dubbed the Freedom Room, and the slew of others out there: it was designed by prisoners.freedom room A training program was created through a collaboration with the research center Cibicworkshop and the research and design cooperative Comodo to provide the necessary tools to the prisoners of Spoleto, Italy’s correctional facility to create functional, beautiful and innovative small space design.

freedom room1 While their motivation is driven by forced small space accommodation the project is a reflection of far-reaching opportunities. The collaborators envision the rise of new social dynamics and innovative solutions to re-shaping communities and neighborhoods. That’s definitely in line with what I heard Jay Shafer speak about at a workshop last summer. It’s what many small space designers and tiny house builders are searching for. A shift in consciousness and the wider societal embrace of less is more.

freedom room2That such a project is coming out of a correctional facility really struck a cord with me. Prisons are places that are often tucked away and hidden from the daily life of citizens yet it’s impact and reflection on our society is poignant. That these inmates became the designers and project consultants of this prototype reflects innovation in design as well as social involvement and prison reform. 

Some of the issues that small space design is addressing includes inflated housing markets, high unemployment, increased underemployment, capitalist consumerism and the overt display of materialism of McMansions among other ills. Many folks interested in tiny houses can attest to this, including myself. The Freedom Room is a project design based on living under restraint but has shown what ingenuity born of necessity can initiate. It can be directed for use in the everyday life of people around the world and the collaborators hope that the project will serve as inspiration not only for other prisons but all manners of needs within society. It is another model expressing the simplicity and beauty that small space design is capable of achieving across the societal board-from inmates, to student dormitories, to hotel rooms to tiny living spaces.freedom room3

I find this project to be an inspiration in many ways.  As a prototype it addresses the major issues of decent living within penitentiaries and educational rehabilitation of inmates within the prison system. It reflects the viability of small space design in ways I’d never even considered. That somehow gives me hope that, eventually, more and more people will come around, give tiny living a try themselves, whether that means 100, 300, 500 or 1000 sq. feet, and perhaps consider reducing their footprint and finding the joy in simpler living. freedom room4

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Your Turn!

  •  

 

Via

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