Ethan Waldman is one of our new speakers for the 2016 Tiny House Conference. We’re excited to have him on board! Check out the videos below to hear more about his speaker sessions: Lifestyle Design and Tiny House Utilities. Learn more about the conference by clicking here.
It’s officially 2016 and with that, many folks are looking forward to this new year and planning what they want to do. I’ve written a lot about this topic before. I’ve shared my goals in years past and even written how goals and New Year’s Resolutions aren’t effective. You can read some of the older posts here on goals. This year it isn’t just me here at The Tiny Life, so Amy and I each wrote a bit for this post and shared it below.
I have to be honest, this year I have been struggling a lot with what the future looks like for me. I have concrete things I want to do, but they don’t feel like lofty goals that I must strive for, but just something that I need to put in the work for; work that I find interesting, fun, and achievable, but nothing that is going to push me to my limits. I’m in a very good place with my tiny house, with my career, with the relationships that I have, and with other important parts of my life, but there is something I just can’t quite put my finger on.
Tiny houses force you to ask some tough questions and the answers are often complex, open-ended, or spur larger questions. Tiny living leads you down a road of introspection and spurs existential questions. When I think about two years from now or five years from now, I don’t really know what else I want to do and what I do now, I quite like.
Perhaps I’m circling the root problem with what many call “achievement culture,” which is the idea that we have to always be chasing the next shiny thing, to always do more, do better, and do bigger. Maybe what I need to consider is not what I want to do, but instead focus on how to be content with what is. Writing this makes me think of this story:
The truth is, the happiest I’ve ever been in my life was during the times when I was most grateful. I also learned a valuable lesson: happiness is a hard won thing that comes from within when you’re willing to do the work. Barring having a home, food, and health, you can’t buy happiness.
So with that in mind I have come up with a few things I want to foster in my life for 2016. They’re a little vague at this point because I feel like I’m only touching the soft edges of what is a deeper truth, one that is within me, but I haven’t fully brought to light.
My Goals for 2016:
Learn something totally new, try a new hobby or dig into something complex
Take a class, go to a conference, workshop or other learning event
Seek out situations outside my comfort zone
Talk more to you, my readers
Test things to foster gratitude
Do more trips with friends and family
Read a book on stoicism
Book time with no phone or internet, preferably in the woods
My Long-Term Goals:
Sail from Florida to Mexico, arriving to see the Giant Sea Ray migration
Do a river boat tour down the Danube or Rhine
Go see the fall colors in New England
Go on the Trans Siberian Railroad in luxury class
Learn to play the harmonica
Continue being self-employed
Pay for my next car with cash
I love this time of year, because I get to do two of my favorite things at once: set goals and make lists. My friends can attest to how much I love New Year’s resolutions – last January 1st, I holed up in my apartment and set goals the entire day, and no one saw me leave my room until dinner time.
Last year was also my first time taking a new approach to goal-setting. I followed Chris Guillebeau’s method of conducting your own annual review, which you can learn more about here. It helped me analyze what went well and what didn’t in 2014, and helped me chart the course toward a more productive 2015.
I didn’t accomplish everything on my list, but in my defense, I had one heck of a whirlwind year. From an insane winter in Boston, to the Tiny House Conference in Portland, to moving down to Charlotte and starting a new life, I’ve learned how to recognize opportunities when they arise – and more importantly, how to grab onto them when they do!
This year had a lot of ups and downs, and I had to grow and adapt very quickly. I like to tell people that it’s been a crash course in “adulting,” but it has certainly changed me for the better. After a year and a half of living in transition after graduating college, I feel lucky that I have a new city to call home and put down some roots. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.
We officially have 1,000 posts on The Tiny Life! It’s crazy to think that I’ve done a thousand posts on this blog that I started six and a half years ago. So today I wanted to look back to the start of The Tiny Life and share some thoughts about what’s next.
I started back in 2009 with a laptop and a book on how to code HTML. I had this thing called WordPress, but I didn’t really “get it”. I had no money at the time and spent $120 for a year of website hosting just so I could try it. This is what the site looked like back then during the first month I started:
We’ve grown a lot since then: a staff of two, a small army of contractors and a huge base of amazing readers. I wrote the top selling tiny house book in 2014 and 2015, launched our conference several years ago, started a podcast, wrote several ebooks, and traveled all around the world talking about tiny houses. We’ve had the good fortune of being featured by The New York Times, Bloomberg, TreeHugger, Mother Earth News, NPR, BBC, ABC, NBC, Popular Science, Apartment Therapy, Forbes, and countless others.
What’s more, we’ve met so many of you! At the Tiny House Conference, at other events, and by chance. I say this every time, but it’s true: tiny house people are just awesome!
Moving forward we have a lot going on. We’re currently hiring a video producer, so if you know someone who might be a good fit, let them know! We of course have the Tiny House Conference coming up in April 2-3 in Asheville for 2016. Our next print book is coming out this spring which we are very excited about. Finally we have a lot of projects coming out this year that we aren’t quite ready to talk about yet, but have been in the works for a few months now.
What has been your favorite post from The Tiny Life?
As we look forward to 2016, we are excited about a lot of amazing projects coming up. We’ve had record numbers of people sign up for the Tiny House Conference, April 2-3 2016 in Asheville NC, there is a new book on the way, and we have some other special things we’ll be rolling out soon.
I have been spending a lot of time on my goal planning for 2016 and one thing became really clear: We need to grow in order to do everything we want to do! So today I’d love to ask for your help in getting the word out: We’re Hiring!
So if you know someone who might be interested, please forward this to them. Sharing the below link on social media would be awesome too! Thanks everyone!
Winter is here and with it, the cold. So far we’ve had some nights down in the low 30’s, maybe even below freezing. Last year I did a post about my first winter, which you can read here. Since I do live off grid, there are quite a few steps I take to get ready. So today I thought I’d share some of those here today.
The biggest consideration I make is the fact that with the days getting shorter and in the winter, you tend to have more overcast skies. This means one thing: less solar gain for my panels. Now in the design of my system (I talk about my tiny house solar setup here), I calculated everything based on the winter months when solar exposure is the least. This means in the summer my system is making way more power than I can use. But in the winter, a low producing day will actually be enough to power everything I need.
With this in mind I make my preparations.
The first thing I did was get out both of my generators and check them out. I have two generators for two very specific functions: a small super efficient and quiet one to run for real time power and a larger one that just dumps a ton of power out at 240V to refill my batteries quickly. I make sure that things look good, I start them up, and I change the oil even if it doesn’t need it. While doing this I discovered that my larger generator for whatever reason was only putting out 120V out of my 240V outlet, which is a real problem because my inverter requires 240V to trigger its power shunt to charge the batteries.
Luckily it was still under warranty and I checked this now, not when I really needed it, and was able to get it to the shop to get fixed for free. With the two generators squared away and in good working order, it was time to move onto the consumables that go with them.
Consumables For Generators:
I first checked my stock of spark plugs, oil and fuel stabilizer. As a rule I try to keep these things on hand so I can ward off “Murphy,” AKA Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Sometimes a spark plug just gets too gummed up, and it can be easier to replace it with a new one rather than clean it off; at $1.58 each I usually just swap it out for a new one.
The oil I just keep on hand in case there is a leak or I would need to drain it for some reason. I prefer to use a higher grade of synthetic oil which my generators can use for longer run time. I also keep fuel, gloves, a catch basin and paper towels to change when I need to. Finally I have a large bottle of Sta-bil which is a fuel stabilizer that allows you to maintain the quality of gas for a longer time; I make sure it’s the type for ethanol because gas with ethanol mixed in goes bad faster. Ideally I’d seek out non-ethanol gas, but it’s increasingly hard to find and it’s not offered near my house reliably.
The last consumable I stock up on is this product I found called “Gas Off Cleaning Wipes.” Initially I thought this was a silly product, but I tried one and was completely sold. It always seems that I had to fill up my generators right before I would go to bed and no matter how careful I was, my hands would always get a little gas on them.
These little wipes remove that gas smell, which isn’t normally a big deal. I noticed that the odor was very strong because when I sleep, I curl my arm up so my hand is near my face. These wipes remove the gas smell and for a few bucks, I now keep a pack handy.
Gasoline and Propane:
Going into the winter I always start with all my tanks full. I currently have six 5-gallon tanks, four 2.5-gallon tanks, and six propane tanks. I never need this much at one time of course, but I find its easier to load it all up and do it all at once.
For gas, if I have any remaining gas in the tanks, I put it in my car. This allows me to only have gas that is at most a few months old. With empty tanks, I put Sta-bil in each tank, then fill them up. I am on the hunt for gas pour nozzles without the EPA spill free spouts because they are a royal pain and I usually end up spilling because of the nozzle being so awkward to use. I then store the gas out of sight, but still in a well ventilated space away from my house.
Propane is a reality of living off the grid. While I had really wanted to get away from fossil fuels altogether, heating water on electric is a huge power suck. Also, I love grilling out, but don’t always have time to get some charcoal going. Right now I run about 3 months on a single 20lb bottle of propane for my water heating. I also use a 20lb bottle for cooking (grilling and stove top) every 3-4 months. So I always keep 2 tanks hooked up and 4 in reserve. I’m thinking about buying two more because I find it easier to fill up a bunch at once than do a lot of little trips. One tip for refilling your propane: getting refills is much cheaper and you get more propane for your dollars at a refill station.
With living off the grid, you always need to have a backup plan, and a back up to that back up. Two is one and one is none. In this case my main concerns are my ability to heat, my ability to cook, and my ability to get water.
With this in mind I went out and stocked up on 1lb propane bottles for my back up heater. The heater is a Mr. Buddy heater that costs about $35 and is straightforward to use and pretty portable. I’ve used it in the past and it’s worked well, so it’s a great back up heat source if I need it. They do sell an adapter for a big propane tank, but I find the 1lb tanks convenient in the rare instances that I do need it.
For water I always keep a few gallons on hand for drinking, cleaning and cooking. In a pinch I can heat some of it on the stove and do a sponge bath if the hot water heater were to go down. The heating of the water can be done on my portable stove top which runs on butane cartridges. All of this is just handy to have ready to go if I ever were to need it, but it isn’t for the everyday; anything to help keep Murphy away.
Keeping Your Solar Panels Clean:
With the fall and the winter, it’s like Mother Nature is out to get you sometimes, and coming up with ways to cover your panels happens a good bit. Whenever your solar panels get covered, even partially, your power production can start dropping. In the fall it’s leaves, and in the winter it’s snow. It’s also a good time to clean the panels of dust and grime.
Food and Home Provisions:
Since I’ve been doing so much preparation for nesting I also took the chance to clean out my house and then stock up stuff for the house. I got extra tissues, paper towels, trash bags, soaps, shampoo, and other stuff like that. I also started building out my pantry a little bit more by picking up general cooking ingredients, soups, snacks, and warm drink options.
Heating A Tiny House:
Things have changed a good bit with the installation of of my solar and mini split system. I am happy to report that the mini split has been able to cool and heat my house very effectively, to the point that I was able to keep my house at 64 degrees on a 98 degree day easily and with the cold nights dipping down to freezing I was able to keep my place very toasty.
The beauty of the mini split is that I have a lot of control over the temperature, including the ability to set a range so it automatically heats when it gets too cold and cools when it gets too hot. I can set schedules, have it be motion activated, and all is done with just a simple press of the button. Compared to wood heat, this is a much more superior way because often wood heat get too hot and many times you find yourself waking up in the morning to a cold stove. Since it’s solar, I don’t have much guilt about setting it to my ideal preferences and there’s no chopping wood. I feel like the tiny house mini split evangelist here, but I love this thing.
So all in all I have just been trying to get a lot of last minute things done so I can head into winter with everything in place, the house cleaned and well stocked. Between it dropping temperatures and holiday parties, seeing friends and other things filling up this busy time of year, I’m glad to get ahead of things. Living off the grid certainly does come with its own set of considerations, but I’ve found it to be a very comfortable life and some simple preparation makes it pretty easy to do too.