I’m back in Charleston for the month visiting friends and family and recently went to visit my friend Zach at The Golden Elephant! No, it’s not an Indian restaurant it’s his tiny house! He’s about half-way through his build and I was really curious to see the progress in person and talk about his approach to building a tiny house. Here are some of his insights!
What inspired you to build a tiny house?
I was originally inspired by the shed that Cedric re-modeled in to a living space in the backyard at our apartment. It was the perfect set-up. I was attracted to the minimalism of the lifestyle as well. Plus, all the resources and time to do it were there.
What freedoms do you hope to attain living the tiny life?
Time, I want my time back. Time and flexibility in life. I feel like you have to pay that ahead though. Truthfully, I don’t want to work as much. I also really appreciate the mobility the lifestyle offers.
Why is it called The Golden Elephant?
Cedric and I were hanging out at the house and we were discussing names at one point. We got to work and then he turned to me and said it was going to be called the golden elephant. I think the name fits. The cantilever of the house looks like a big trunk. It’s one of the largest tiny houses I’ve seen so far and the outside of the house is a golden color from the cypress.
How has community impacted your build?
I’ve met so many awesome people through this thing and it’s made me form stronger bonds to my community. It would not be possible without my friends. You can’t really do it without help from your community unless you have that skill set already. Building I had help with the sheathing, siding and installation of the roof. I have had help figuring out where systems are going to go, talking about ideas and how I’m going to approach these things. A lot of help has come through talking to people who have done things like this before and going over what I plan to do.
What are your methods for getting rid of stuff?
The formula that I’ve adopted is if it’s not serving a purpose or I haven’t used it in 30 days, I try to get rid of it. The exception to this is tools and camping gear because you’re not going to use them all the time but it’s difficult and expensive to replace those things. At minimum, I do four major purges a year. I will take full inventory and clean everything that I own. I will touch everything that I own in my house and if it doesn’t serve a purpose or I don’t need to own it, it’s gone. That’s what keeps me sane because I don’t need to own any more of this stuff. I’ve never been let down by not hanging on and you just have to really decide what you can and can’t live with.
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When it comes to tiny houses when is small too small? 50 square feet? 100 square feet? 200 square feet? A lot of it has to do with individual circumstances, needs and number of people living in the space. After over a year in La Casita Cedric and I have come to the conclusion that as cozy as our home is, 98 square feet for two people and a stocky corgi is pushing some limits. We need more room in order to work on hobbies, store our bulk items and fulfill our need for independence. In the South it seemed a lot easier to fulfill these needs. We didn’t worry about freezing hoses, there was no need to store bulky winter clothes or gear and going outside was bliss in the winter months. Now that we live somewhere with a serious winter, we have more gear, more clothes and less and less space to put it in and as a tiny house fills, the more claustrophobic it feels. So how do you figure out how small is too small before you’re already living the tiny life? Here are few suggestion from our experience.
First, carefully consider needs. For example, we did not thoroughly consider the impact a tiny house would have on our social lives. We would host 30+ people a year in our apartment and threw lots of social events and fundraisers for different project we were a part of. While I’ve found lots of solutions to the issue of hosting events and entertaining, it’s difficult not having a place for family and friends to stay if they want to visit us up North. This has been one of the hardest parts for me and it wasn’t even something I considered as seriously as I should have. Also, my crafting time has diminished due to lack of space for supplies and the room to actually do projects. My advice is make a list of what is most important to your happiness in your space. Is it being able to cook delicious meals, soak in a tub, host potlucks or a space to do hobbies and crafts in? Number your list with 5 being most important and 1 being least. Make compromises from this list, tweak it as you build and use it throughout construction to remind yourself of your needs and how you plan to meet them.
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It seems every day there are more and more articles on tiny houses focused on the physical aspects of construction which are incredibly useful and necessary. There are a plethora of videos and blogs providing excellent instruction on how to get your tiny house built but what about the act of living the tiny life? Living the tiny life has brought a certain mindfulness to my living. Now that I live it, I truly believe that acquiring mindfulness is assisted by downsizing and learning to live with less.
When I speak of mindfulness I’m referring to the act of attentive awareness of reality. Being in the present moment, for me, is more easily achieved in a small space without the distractions that a larger space often brings me. I am very good at finding ways to distract myself but in a tiny house, often, whatever you are trying to ignore continually stares you in the face. I mentioned this very thing in a post back in March dealing with conflict but it goes for anything you might be trying to avoid-an article to write, a work assignment to finish or a hyper pup to walk! There is no where to run in a tiny house. You can only go so long before you may, quite literally, bump up against, or be jumped on, by the very responsibility you are trying to avoid!
For me, procrastination is often an attempt to avoid the present. I’ll make excuses but the simple fact is that in 98 sq. feet I just can’t find that much to distract me for long. Mindfulness is a very difficult thing for many of us. I certainly have a bad case of “monkey mind,” the Buddhist term for restlessness (among other definitions). Living the tiny life has increased my awareness of the present moment thanks to lots of banged elbows and head bumps in the loft! Physically you are constantly being made aware of where you are in space because there isn’t much of it!
The Buddha taught that mindfulness was one of the seven factors of bodhi, or enlightenment, and that it was of great importance to reach this state of non-suffering. While I don’t expect a tiny house to give me complete freedom from suffering, there are aspects of living the tiny life that provide me a path to mindfulness. Having less material items gives me a great sense of freedom. Downsizing the stuff I’d been shuffling around for years really lightened my load, both physically and spiritually. Living the tiny life pushed me to really look at what I needed, rather than what I thought I needed. That was an important step in my path to increased daily mindfulness.
Cedric regularly feels physically restless in our tiny house. It leads him out the door into the woods and he’s able to bring himself back to the present. Nature is where he finds mindfulness and our living space releases him into the forest where he rediscovers serenity. I think it’s important to think about lifestyle and reflect deeply, not only on the physical make-up of a small space, but the spiritual and emotional side of tiny living. You may well end up discovering that it allows mindfulness to infuse more of your daily life or it could have the affect of inhibiting it. I’ve come to learn that such considerations are essential to building a tiny house that brings the most peace and comfort.
- Does living the tiny life bring you a greater sense of peace?
We have had several readers write in about house trucks, which isn’t a new concept by any means, but perhaps a precursor to tiny houses? They have a certain charm to them that RV’s lack and makes me think of gypsies for some reason. Anyway, there is some romantic appeal to them that I can’t put my finger on but regardless they represent a subculture in the Tiny House Community.
The Morisons exhibited their self-sufficient wooden house-truck, customized from a decommissioned fire engine and containing, next to a stove and pot plants, a library of apocalypse-themed fiction. Tales of Space and Time, as it was called, embodied a jauntily over-optimistic attitude to surviving the end of the world, simultaneously mocking the ‘art will save us all’ attitude of some contemporary civic reformists. Art won’t save Folkestone. I hope something does though – something real, something solid.
Jonathan Griffin, Folkestone Triennial, Frieze, Issue 117 September 2008
Ivan Morison: What made you build your first truck?
Roger Beck: The first one I call my escape vehicle! I grew up in LA, a metropolitan, screwy city. And so it just got to the point where I just had to get out. So I left a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t want to get rid of at my parent’s house and got into my first house car and headed north. I couldn’t head south ’cause I had long hair and didn’t want to cross the Mexican border; I couldn’t go any further west; the east coast was nothing more than big cities to me and so I decided to go to Canada!
So, it was my escape route. I got to Oregon and then I did a stupid thing. Me and a friend ripped a tape deck out of a logging truck and I was arrested the same day and I was put on five-years probation. And in those five years I built my second house-truck that had a lot of problems. I drove it to California again to see my parents and my father and I built my third truck. He really helped me build a house on the back of a truck. I travelled most of my travels in that one.
I had the idiosyncrasy of trying to distinguish myself as a New Age American Gypsy and not a hippy living in a school bus with a bunch of mattresses in the back. That’s not a house-truck, that’s because you’re homeless and you can’t afford to live in an apartment, which you’d prefer to do. I had no desire to live in a house. I had my house; it was just on wheels.
Ivan: Was there anyone doing this before you in America?
Roger: For me, when you think about house trucks you’ve got to go back to the depression. People were living in rigs because they couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.
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