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Back in the World of the Big Houses

Tiny houses are hard, but so is everything that is worthwhile.” -Ryan Mitchell

Hello tiny life readers! It has been some time since I last wrote an article and I am so excited to be back writing articles for one of my favorite blogs! Last year I left The Tiny Life while trying to reconfigure my everyday life in what I refer to as the world of the big houses. It has been quite the journey!

reinvent businessI had to start this article with the title of a post Ryan made at the beginning of the year. It’s pretty much my motto at present. At an organized retreat I recently attended in Vermont we started the weekend by stepping in to a ring of river stones and visualizing ourselves leaving behind our daily realities. We called it the rabbit hole, a term borrowed from Alice in Wonderland. It is a psychological exercise, or ritual if you prefer, aimed at letting go. It allows an individual to fully immerse oneself in the present and provides temporary release from ones daily grind. I found this experience to be a symbolic reoccurrence in my existence, the most recent being my experience living the tiny life.

I can certainly compare my time living in a tiny house to jumping down a rabbit hole. Besides being of relatively small dimensions, the rabbit hole and a tiny house share traits that I find incredibly appealing including whimsy, excitement and a general disregard for the limiting options provided by our present day world. Living the tiny life requires an ability to accept a different reality than that currently proposed by society at large and an embracing of the alternatives that come with the lifestyle. These aspects make living in a tiny house wonderful but also extremely difficult.

futureWhen I moved in to my first tiny house I escaped many realities that I did not care to face, primarily a mortgage but that wasn’t all. There is a certain flexibility and unpredictability in mobility that a tiny house provides which I enjoyed. Most of all, living outside the norm was thrilling to me. There was less distraction from the present moment in such a small space! For me, smaller spaces are conducive to my own creative processes in terms of mental focus although physically they are limiting. It’s these contradictions, however, that keeps such a life interesting and allows for expansion in ways you may never have imagined (think biscuits that make you as big as a house or as small as a mouse a la Alice’s experience). Sometimes though, it reveals to you challenges you are not sure you can handle.

I bring this up because for nearly 2 years I lived in a tiny house and then about six months ago I had to leave due tonext-step an unsafe situation in my life. It was devastating to leave behind my home and try to figure out how I fit in to the world of big houses again. It didn’t take long for me to find a house, but a home I have yet to find. I am currently homeless and wandering, wondering and trying to figure out where the tiny life exists for me now. It’s disconcerting but there is excitement in the new and unknown. The tiny life continues to be an alluring alternative to me and even after all the turmoil I hope to again have a tiny house of my own.

Ultimately, the change means recreating my reality all over again. For awhile it was okay living back in the world of big houses. Who am I kidding? It was awesome! Having a regular bathroom and renting a house that held the most amazing tub I have ever had the pleasure of using was fantastic but after a few months the retreat started to get old. I miss my compact life and the feeling of safety small spaces provide me. I miss the independence and pursuit of sustainability within my home space. I miss talking to people about the merits of living such a life and having a beautiful example to invite them in to. I miss my cheap rent! After leaving La Casita, I felt completely disconnected from the movement and it took me a long time to feel as  though I still belonged. Just because I no longer live in a tiny house does not mean I’ve lost dedication to the movement and its ideals. I just had to figure that out for myself and reinstate a commitment to the tiny life. It has been a very vulnerable time for me and it has helped me realize that living the tiny life is still in my plans and I am excited to discover new opportunities within the movement.

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Your Turn!

  • Can you relate to jumping down the rabbit hole of the tiny life?
  • What keeps the tiny life alive and exciting  for you?

 

The Things I Miss Most

There are all the good things about living the tiny life and then there are the things that I miss most. Of course, you don’t have to miss these things! It all comes down to design and what you deem necessary to your well-being and happiness in your living space. After nearly two years living the tiny life, here is what I’ve started to pine for.

aofuro1. Long, luxurious soaks in the tub. Yes, I’ll admit it. I love to fill up a huge tub with water and just lay there. At a Permaculture workshop I attended we played an icebreaker game of confession where everyone in the class went around and fessed up about their most non-sustainable guilty pleasure. Mine was a bath.  I know it’s wasteful and most certainly a luxury but I can’t help but crave those relaxing times spent in steaming water surrounded by bubbles! Any time I house sit, the first thing I look for is a tub. I actually looked in to the Japanese ofuro, a traditional soaking tub that you sit instead of lay down in, but I was told it wasn’t a practical addition to the size bathroom we were building. I think it’s a plausible addition to a small space if planned for early on in the design and I would love to see such a tub  incorporated in to a tiny house!

2. Stability in my living situation. We’ve moved our house 3 times in 2013 and while mobility was a plus when we built La Casita, I never saw us moving quite so much. While it is much less of a hassle than moving in or out of a regular home, it definitely has it’s challenges and feeling settled can take awhile.

Acraftroom3. Craft space/room. Not only for working but also for material storage. We don’t have the space in 98 square feet to meet this need. I really pared down my art materials when we moved in to La Casita and while one solution could be to rent a separate space, that’s not a financially viable option for me right now.

4. Comfortable sleeping room for guests. I miss having a space for friends and family to stay when they visit. We used to host people all the time in our other homes but in La Casita folks either have to sleep on an uncomfortable bench downstairs or camp. With winter not far off in Vermont, camping won’t be an option for much longer. Sure, there are nice B&B’s and cozy hotels for folks to stay but it’s just not the same. I love waking up in the morning and making coffee for guests and a plate of popovers! It’s the best!

5. Having huge potlucks in my living room. This was my favorite activityapotluckpicture and what I miss most about living in larger spaces. I love filling a kitchen with delicious food and cheerful, hungry people! While I have found other outlets and friends who enjoy doing the same in their homes, I miss being able to offer that hospitality.

While all of these needs have creative solutions, which I’ve explored in various posts, I still find myself daydreaming of bubble baths and bright, expansive indoor spaces for shared meals and guests. Perhaps it’s just the American in me trying to break free or maybe this is a normal process of living the tiny life. Once in a while you are going to wish for things you don’t have. It’s only human right?

Your Turn!

  • Is there anything you miss most living in less square footage?

How Tiny Is Too Tiny?

P1000589When 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 considerstorage ideas 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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Five Tiny House Misconceptions

Here are 5 misconceptions that have cropped up while living the tiny life. Some were my own before moving in to a tiny house and some are what I’ve been asked over and over again.

Numero 1: Oh you live in a tiny house on wheels? It’s like a camper, right?

C’mon! Does this look like a camper to you?casita Once you mention wheels peoples’ brains seem to zone in on this comparison. It has to be one of the top 3 questions people consistently ask me when I try to describe living the tiny life.  First biggest difference between the two in my experience is a tiny house is usually built by it’s owners and is meant as a year-round residence. Secondly, a tiny house is a less toxic living situation than a camper which is usually made with a lot of plastic and glues that are harmful to one’s health. Lastly, you can tow a camper behind a car-I don’t know of a car than can haul a tiny house. At the very least, even the houses on the smaller end need a truck.

Numero 2: The tiny life is the simple(r) life!

Okay, so by simple I mean the misconception I had before living in a tiny house that financial freedom would mean increased simplicity in my overall life. This has not necessarily been the case however. With less bills life has become more flexible for sure but simple not so much. Living the tiny life proves more complicated on the day to day for us due to the time it takes to perform chores and daily tasks, especially if you are without running water like we are. Staying organized is a constant demand, doing dishes takes more time and while cleaning is fairly simple, it has to be done a lot more often. Other complications include finding storage for possessions you don’t want to part with but won’t fit in your tiny house, renting or finding land to buy, setting up utilities and having space to do hobbies and projects. I’ve mentioned other difficulties in a previous post so I’ll leave it at that.

Numero 3: A tiny house means ultimate mobility!

Not quite…if you want to move a tiny house any significant distance plan on paying a tidy sum of money and movingexperiencing a fair amount of stress. At least that was our experience moving from South Carolina to Vermont. Having our own truck would afford us more flexibility and ease of movement but if ultimate mobility is what one seeks, I’d recommend an RV or one of these. Tiny houses are not meant to be moved all the time in my opinion and they don’t have the flexibility of movement that a RV or camper enjoys ( harking back to misconception numero 1).

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Our Wheels Stay Put…For Now

Last post I was pretty much freaking out about having to go and talk to town officials about parking our house on our friend’s farm but I’m sure glad I did! It ended up being a fairly straightforward process, however (there always seems to be a however with tiny houses) we only have a permit for a year. As long as it’s on wheels it’s considered a temporary structure and can only be lived in for 365 days. After that, I’m not sure what we do.

P1000545They didn’t say it was renewable so do we keep it on wheels or try and set it on a foundation? I feel like taking it off the trailer will be quite a hassle with zoning and code but trying to explain to people that you LIVE in this, that’s it’s NOT a camper and is your home is pretty much beyond people’s expectation. Some children I care for down the street actually passed by and asked if it was a new playhouse for the children of our friend! This is totally fine with us. We figure the less serious people take our living situation the better off we are.
It’s pretty amazing to me though the amount of attention such a small square footage receives. We have had strangers stop their cars, get out and ask to take pictures. Folks are asking if we build them and how much they cost. There is definitely an opportunity here to gain community support. Who knows? Perhaps even change the zoning laws! I’m definitely debating how I begin to advocate on the town administrative level so that tiny housing can be considered a legally viable living alternative to the statue quo.

We plan to live in this area for at least the next ten years, who knows-maybe the rest of our lives, so I feel like it’s well worth the effort to begin changing the laws. It’ll probably take me ten years to accomplish so I might as well get stared!
The fact that we landed on a farm whose owner is open and supportive of our lifestyle was huge. For changes to happen I feel we need support from property owners like her who have a solid place in their community and can say, “We had a tiny house on our land and it was a positive experience!” Not to mention that the situation often benefits the land owner who either receives work trade, rent or some other barter situation from tiny housers.

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In my mind it’s a way to create a more locally minded economy rather than paying a bank for a mortgage we can’t afford. Cedric and I were looking at properties a couple months ago but in Vermont either you find raw land, which isn’t cheap and needs a lot of money put in to make it livable, you find a camp, which is usually only livable in Spring, Summer and Fall or you get huge houses with a price tag far beyond what we can consider.

It’s not an easy situation for the tiny house dweller but right now I’m extremely grateful to have a place to rest our weary wheels for the next year. Winter in a tiny house is a whole new issue for us and we realize we need to start getting ready now for those cold, blustery months. With all the challenges we’ve faced, I still look forward everyday to climbing into our snug little home and enjoying the knowing that it is ours, and ours alone.

Your Turn!

  • Any advice on how to get started advocating change in zoning laws?
  • Have you received community support in your city/town living in a tiny house?
  • What are most folks reactions to your tiny house?

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