Shedding Light on Solar Generators: Are Portable Solar Generators Worth the Investment?

Shedding Light on Solar Generators: Are Portable Solar Generators Worth the Investment?

Shedding Light On Solar Generators

I get asked a lot about solar generators when people find out I’ve been off the grid full time since 2013. People want to know if a portable solar generator will work for their needs, how to find the best solar powered generator, and how to determine the wattage and size needed. There is a lot of confusing information out there and the fast pace of solar innovation makes it hard to keep up with.

Jakery solar generatorUsually, the people drawn to portable solar generators are beginners in the solar world. It’s often the guy who lives in a typical house, but who would like to start dabbling in solar power. He might have a goal to live in a tiny house someday, or even to purchase a full solar panel system to power his regular-sized home.

It’s important to note the term “solar generator” is a bit of a misnomer. Usually, what people are referring to is a power pack with solar panels. It’s either a setup you can piece together yourself or purchase off the shelf. These are low-power units. They can also get expensive since they’re a turnkey solution, but they’re an excellent way to dip a toe in the world of solar.

solar panel arraySwitching to solar panels completely, without experience, is quite a daunting task (especially if you’re trying to power a typical-sized home). It’s also a significant investment, which I’m all too aware of after writing a $19,000 check for my solar panel system for my tiny house. But after getting over the initial pain of paying so much money for my system, it’s definitely worth it. In fact, it’s hard to describe how awesome it is–I literally haven’t paid a power bill for years! Not to mention that 55% of my system was eligible for a tax credit.

That’s why solar powered generators are a nice way to explore the world of solar without a huge commitment or undertaking. Most of the people asking about solar generators possess a DIY outlook. They’re often wondering if solar is something they can set up on their own. If they purchase a Harbor Freight kit, can they build a small solar power system themselves?

So, are solar generators really worth the investment? Here’s what you need to know before you spend the money on a portable solar generator.

Managing Expectations About Solar Generators

managing expectations on solar generators

My biggest piece of advice to anyone exploring solar generators or solar power, in general, is to keep your expectations realistic. Now, I’ve been on solar power for years, and I really like my system. That said, it was a lot of work and a big investment to set up. There are also limitations.

With a solar panel system, there will be adjustments to your lifestyle that is required when you go off the grid:

  • Bad Weather – if it’s cloudy for a week straight, you might be reaching for a blanket as your battery wanes.
  • Snow – Are you ready to get out and clean snow off your panels in a blizzard?
  • Something breaks – there is no power company to call, if your power goes out, it’s up to you.
  • Maintenance – Batteries to fill, terminals to clean, fuses to change, and panels to clean.

Before you go fully solar, a portable solar generator is an excellent gateway option. It allows you to explore the fundamentals of solar power generation and to understand how the larger systems work. It also lets you get an idea of the capacity (on a small scale) so you can scale up later. This is really useful because you begin to really grasp what you need to do different things.

How to run a tiny house on solar

Now, I’ll be honest, the smallest solar powered generators aren’t super useful. The smallest ones can’t charge more than a cell phone or a small laptop. Don’t expect that a small investment or even a small DIY solar generator kit is going to get you enough power to live off the grid or run your household appliances.

Most small solar generators are under 500 Watts (typically around 2-300 Watts). You’ll invest $500+ or so for the battery and power pack, and you’ll need one or two panels at $3-400 each. These solar generators won’t work for running your stove or your air conditioner (for those larger items, you’ll need a full solar panel system).

Figure where a traditional larger scale system with lead acid batteries you can get it for $1 per watt, in a solar generator you should expect to spent $2-$3 per watt because it’s turn key and often uses lithium ion batteries which are higher performing.

What Are Portable Solar Generators Good For?

What are solar generators good for?

Where portable solar generators really perform is when you’re camping, or if there’s an emergency. If you’re stuck in a hurricane or there’s a big power outage in your city, then a small solar powered generator is great to own. People often purchase them for emergency preparedness kits and shelters. You may not power your whole house on it, but at least you’ll get light and the ability to power your small electronics, which is lifesaving in certain scenarios.

These little solar generators are also handy for tailgating and camping. If you own an RV or a teardrop-trailer, you can use the portable solar generator to power your needs for a weekend trip. They’re excellent for keeping your phone charged or running a small amount of power to an item (like a light). If you tailgate often, a solar generator will easily keep your radio going without draining your car battery during the game.

What can you power with a solar generator?

Possible

  • Small Fans
  • LED Lights
  • Laptop charger

Maybe Possible

  • Television
  • Mini Fridge
  • Microwave

Not Possible

  • Refrigerator
  • AC Unit
  • Furnace

Solar generators work great for small fans, LED lights, charging your small portable electronics, and other small, low-power tasks. Some high-efficiency televisions work well with solar powered generators. You can charge a laptop or tablet with a solar generator, too.

I’ve also known many construction workers and builders who love these portable solar generators for keeping their tools charged on the job. It’s great to use a solar generator at a building site as a continuous source of power for battery driven drills, saws, power tools, and small pieces of equipment. Solar powered generators are perfect if your build-site is away from a power source and you’re working for a few days. If you’re building a cabin or a tiny house in a rural spot, then a solar generator will help keep your tools going.

There are also many jobs where a solar generator won’t cut it. These items require too much power to run efficiently (or even at all) on a portable solar generator.

Things that won’t run well on a portable solar generator include:

  • Anything with a heating element: Coffee pots, hairdryers/straighteners, hot plates, toaster ovens.
  • Small appliances: Microwaves, slow cookers, blenders.
  • Large electronics: Desktop computers, game consoles, and some projectors.
  • Heating and air conditioning: Any size AC unit (window or otherwise), heaters of any size.
  • Refrigeration: A small modern fridge will only run a few hours on a large solar generator.

Like most jobs, it’s all about having the right tool. This is advice I preach in any scenario: if you want to do a good job, you need to invest in the right tools. If you pick the wrong tool for the job, it won’t perform up to your expectations.

How a Solar Generator Works

How do solar generators work?

solar generator parts list

The battery is a power bank. Depending on the voltage of your battery, it holds power until you’re ready to plug-in and run your device. These batteries are also used to charge phone, computer, and power tool battery packs as well. Solar batteries are often finicky and delicate. While many of these solar generators use higher quality lithium ion batteries, it’s still best to use caution so you don’t damage them.

When people think of solar, they forget about the battery component, but it’s essential. If your power source is the sun, then what do you do on a cloudy day? What happens at night? Solar isn’t consistent. The battery stores the power, so it’s available whenever you need it. If the sun is making enough power, then it’s shunting the energy into the item you’re powering. If you overuse your solar source, then your generator goes into the battery.

The other component of a solar generator is the inverter. The inverter converts DC (direct current) power into AC power, which is used by most tools and appliances. AC typically runs at 110-240 volts in the USA, so the inverter ramps up the voltage from the battery to 100-240 volts.

running air conditioning with solar panels

Some people prefer the DIY approach to solar generators. They buy the base pieces of a DIY system and put it together themselves. This is certainly possible, but it’s often a challenging project for a beginner. What I’ve seen happen time and time again is people start down the DIY path but get frustrated and go out and buy an off-the-shelf solar generator instead.

How to Decide Which Solar Generator You Want and Need

what is the best solar generator to get?

If you’ve weighed out the pros and cons of solar generators and feel like you have a realistic idea of what you need (and what the solar generator can do), it’s time to decide which solar powered generator is best for you.

My biggest recommendation for anyone looking to switch to solar power is to figure out precisely what you want to charge first. Determine your power requirements (what’s sometimes called your power profile). What is the breakdown of exactly what you need to charge and plan to use when you use your solar generator?

To figure this out, I’ve created a workbook to help you determine your exact power consumption. Exploring your needs first is such a critical step, even if you’re starting with a portable solar generator because these are big purchases. Even a small solar generator with panels and a power bank will cost you a significant amount. You’ll want to get exactly what you need upfront before you invest a few thousand dollars on something that can’t do more than recharge your phone or run an LED light.

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Once you’ve decided what you want to charge and exactly what size solar generator you need, it’s time to determine your approach Are you more of a DIY type? Do you feel comfortable buying the pieces and building a solar generator yourself, or would you feel more comfortable with an off-the-shelf generator system?

If you buy off the shelf, it’s important to ask the following questions:

  • Can you plug it into the wall with a power manager for back up?
  • Does it do what you need it to do?
  • Is it compatible with other connectors and components or does it only use proprietary components?
  • Is it portable enough for your needs?
  • Can it be charged by a wall socket, car outlets, and solar panels?
  • Does it come with a wide range of power hookups?
  • Can you daisy-chain panels to get more power?

Buying off-the-shelf is a great option, but it’s important to note that different brands use different proprietary connectors (so you must buy their brand’s solar panels and components). Always check before you start investing in a product that won’t work with components you already own.

Solar Generators To Compare

Comparing solar generators

When it comes to solar generators, there are three leading brands out there: Jackery, Goal Zero, and Inergy. Here’s what I’ve learned about each brand to help you compare.

Jackery Explorer

Jackery has three sizes of portable power stations (100 Watt, 240 Watt, and 500 Watt). I had the opportunity to check out the Jackery Explorer 500 Watt Portable Power Station as well as the Jackery Solarsaga 100 Watt Solar Panel. The Power Station looks a bit like a fancy lunchbox with a battery and a bunch of power hookups. This worked well.

The one feature that made this solar generator my preferred choice was that all the connectors were standardized. Other companies used proprietary connectors which was an instant deal breaker for me, making Jackery an easy choice.

Jackery Solar generator
Some aspects I really liked about the Jackery Solar Generator:

  • Doesn’t use proprietary connectors.
  • Well-built, with a robust solar panel (this one impressed me with it’s sturdiness).
  • Compact and easy to use.
  • Lightweight (the Power Station is 13.32 pounds).
  • LCD screen with charge/discharge data and battery life status.
  • Quiet operation.
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Goal Zero Yeti

Goal Zero offers an array of Yeti power stations. These power stations mainly feature lithium batteries and are available in a range of prices and capacity. They’re built to pair with the Goal Zero solar panels, but with some configuring, they can also pair with other panels.

Goal Zero solar generator kits
Some pros and cons of the Goal Zero Yeti systems:

  • Portable and most include Wi-Fi capabilities, as well.
  • Overall positive reviews on the Goal Zero products.
  • Not recommended for radio communications.
  • Concerns about the AC inverter not holding up and shorter battery life.
  • Configuration is necessary to pair with other brand solar panels.
  • Widely available on Amazon, REI, and other retailers.
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Inergy Apex

The Inergy Apex Portable Power Station (previously Kodiak) also has positive reviews. The Apex offers a peak 1,500 Watt pure sine wave inverter and 1,100 Watt-hours of peak battery capacity. It’s also lightweight and compact.

Inergy solar generators
Some pros and cons of the Inergy APEX Portable Power Station:

  • Portable and lightweight.
  • Optional battery expansion option, which is helpful for upgrades and kits.
  • Doesn’t support the Neutrik adapter for third party panels.
  • 500 Watt max output.
  • Reliable and durable according to reviews.
  • The LCD screen is easy to read.
  • Quiet operation.
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When it comes to solar generators, my biggest word of advice is to manage your expectations. You aren’t going to be able to run your refrigerator, blender, microwave, and television on a solar generator. It’s not going to happen. You can, however, use a solar generator to learn how solar works. It can help you get used to the quirks of relying on solar power before you scale up to a full system.

Solar generators are great for camping, charging tools, and for hobbyists. If solar energy is something that interests you and you don’t know where to start, solar powered generators are a cool option to explore.

Your Turn!

  • Have you ever used a portable solar generator?
  • What would you like to power with a solar generator?

10 Tiny House Kitchen Essentials: Small Kitchen Solutions for Your Tiny House

10 Tiny House Kitchen Essentials: Small Kitchen Solutions for Your Tiny House

the complete tiny house kitchen guideNo matter the size of your house, chances are high you spend a lot of time in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house like me, you demand even more from your kitchen, because storage and surface space is at a top premium. Fortunately, I’ve figured out with a few tiny house kitchen essentials, you’ll ensure your kitchen is perfectly organized and functional.

As a tiny house owner, I’ll tell you, fitting everything you needed to cook in a tiny kitchen seems daunting at first (I know it did for me), but don’t give up your cooking dreams! Since I’ve outfitted my tiny house kitchen with many of these essential kitchen tools, I’ve found I enjoy cooking even more.

Cooking in a cluttered space takes time. It’s stressful. You never feel organized or focused. Now that I’ve figured out what worked to keep my kitchen clean, tidy, and in order, cooking becomes something that I look forward to at the end of the day as a way to unwind. Using these tiny house kitchen essentials, I’m able to quickly prepare meals, keep my house in order, relax, and truly enjoy the process.

Whether you’re planning a tiny house kitchen or you’d like to organize the kitchen you’ve already got, there are a few tools to level up your culinary game. I gathered my ten favorite kitchen solutions in this post to share with you today. Here are my favorite tiny kitchen essentials, in no particular order.

1. Slide-out Trash & Recycling Bins

A slide-out trash, and recycling bin is handy when you need it and hidden when you don't. These pull-out bins are great space savers for tiny house kitchens.

True confession time—when I was planning my tiny house kitchen, I forgot to include a spot for my trash and recycling. Now, I don’t generate a ton of garbage, mainly because I’ve adopted a minimalist lifestyle. Still, space for trash and recycling is one thing I wish I’d included when I was drawing up my tiny house plans. It was so easy to forget!

If you have full-depth counters, take advantage of the space in your tiny house kitchen with a slide-out cabinet for your trash bins. You could also include slide-out storage for items in the pantry (cans, boxes, and non-perishable items). These simple solutions maximize narrow spaces and help you fit all the things you need in your tiny kitchen.

2. A Hanging Rail for UtensilsUse a rail system like the IKEA Grundtal to keep your utensils and kitchen tools off the counter and within reach.

It seems like a lot of people keep a telltale overflowing crock on their kitchen counter, stuffed to the brim with cooking utensils and other kitchen essentials. While these crocks are (somewhat) functional, they take up counter space, which is already limited in a tiny house kitchen. Instead of the crock option, save valuable kitchen real estate by hanging your utensils and tools with S-hooks.

Before you lock yourself into a utensil storage solution, start by first eliminating as much as you can. Truth be told, you only need a few essentials. I know for me I might make mashed potatoes a few times a year, so I just use a fork instead of cluttering up things with a masher. Adopting this mentality will let you reduce the amount you need to organize in the first place.

The Grundtal, while being an excellent name for a disgruntled bridge troll, is actually a rail system from IKEA that is affordable and very popular in tiny house kitchens. One word of caution before you start hanging all your kitchen tools—pare down and assess which items you truly need and use regularly. I’ve found a knife set, cutting board, and a few measuring cups are almost all I need in my minimalist kitchen. Just because you can store it, doesn’t mean you should.

3. A Hanging Dish Rack and Paper Towel Holder

A hanging dish rack is a great space-saving essential in a tiny house kitchen.

Continuing the vertical storage theme of kitchen organization, you may want to consider a hanging dish rack. A hanging rack keeps your drying dishes from taking up valuable counter space. They are also used to store and display dishes, freeing up cupboard space.

Over-the-sink dish racks are very popular in minimalist and tiny house kitchens. Use the racks to dry your dishes as well as to hold frequently used items like dish soap, olive oil, salt, and pepper, keeping your kitchen essentials within arm’s reach. Think about things you use every time you cook, position those in a place that’s easy to grab. Mount the rack above your sink or your stove (depending on how you plan to use it) for quick and easy access.

A few space-saving kitchen racks to explore are:

4. Over-the-Sink Cutting Board with Strainer

This over-the-sink cutting board creates extra counter space with built-in drainage thanks to the handy strainer. This tiny house kitchen essential, maximizes your space.

When you’re cooking up a storm and in need of some extra working room, this space-saving idea is so pretty handy. I have an undermount sink, which makes this over-the-sink cutting board perfect for those moments when I need extra room to work. Not only does the cutting board extend the counter space over your sink, but you can conveniently slide your chopped vegetables right into the strainer for rinsing. Genius!

You could also use a regular chopping block (like a Boos block) to extend your counter space. The extra space is helpful if you’re entertaining guests in your tiny house. Turn the kitchen counter into a buffet, and then simply remove the block when you’re ready to do the dishes.

5. Vertical Dividers for Flat Items

Vertical dividers, like these dividers made from tension rods, are a kitchen organizing essential for keeping trays, baking sheets, and cutting boards in order.

Even if you rarely cook or bake, you know the pure misery of stacking and re-stacking cookie sheets, muffin tins, or cutting boards to find the one you want. Small cupboards in a tiny house kitchen become hazardous disaster zones, with piles of pans rattling around.

Solve this common kitchen problem with this simple kitchen space-saving solution: use a bakeware organizer or vertical divider. Storing pans on their sides with vertical dividers solves the space problem handily and keeps the pans from clattering around. The photo above shows how to use simple tension curtain rods as dividers for a DIY solution or buy a divider made especially for this purpose. Either way, vertical stacking will keep your cupboards organized and accessible.

Here are a few organizers to help you get a handle on those clunky pots, pans, lids, and trays:

6. Square-Shaped Storage Containers

Square-shaped storage containers are easy to stack and organize in a tiny house pantry or small kitchen.

Among the tiny house kitchen essentials you MUST own, are quality, uniform and modular stackable containers. I can’t tell you the difference proper containers make when it comes to organizing and maximizing your tiny house kitchen (or any small space).

Avoid the knee-jerk instinct to get a bunch of mason jars. Aesthetically, jars are appealing, but circular objects are a space-saver’s nightmare. Square-shaped storage containers, however, come in all sizes and stack up neatly in your pantry or fridge. This stackable feature is critical if your refrigerator is particularly tiny because every nook and cranny counts!

There are many great square containers sets out there for an affordable price. A few sets to consider:

7. Collapsible Silicone Measuring Cups and Spoons

Collapsible measuring spoons and cups, really help you sort your dry ingredients before they go into the mixing bowl. Store these measuring cups and spoons away easily, when you finish cooking.

I own a set of collapsible silicone measuring cups and spoons in my kitchen, and I love them. I can store four measuring cups on their sides in my drawer in about 2 inches of space. They’re easy to clean, too, making them a tiny house kitchen essential.

There are all sorts of other gadgets that collapse as well – colanders, washing buckets, top hats, and more. (Okay, so no one really needs a collapsible top hat in their kitchen, but the rest of these items are convenient space-saving solutions.)

8. Adjustable Measuring Spoons

Adjustable measuring spoons and cups are a tiny house kitchen essential. Sets like this stainless steel and black set, take the place of multiple kitchen tools.

I like having numerous measuring cups and spoons if I measure several ingredients at once. That said, I don’t do a lot of baking (where proper measurement is essential). In fact, the more I cook, the better I am at simply eyeballing most ingredients. Measuring cups are still handy, but storing several sets, takes up way too much space.

If you think having too many gadgets and tools in your kitchen is a hassle, then a set of adjustable measuring cups and spoons could be perfect for you! Three adjustable spoons take the place of eight or nine measuring cups and spoons, which means more space saved in your kitchen drawers. I’ll stand behind any tools that streamline a job and take up less storage space in a tiny house kitchen.

9. Wire Under-Shelf Baskets

Make the most of extra cupboard space above your dishes, with organizing wire under-shelf baskets.

In most kitchen cabinets, there’s often a lot of unused space hovering above the stacked plates and mugs. I usually recommend when people are planning a tiny house kitchen, they should gather all the items they want to store in their cupboards. Lay the elements out and measure exactly how much space they take. This step saves you from installing shelving that’s way too deep or high.

But, if you didn’t plan your space or build it yourself, you can still make the most of the extra room in your cupboards. Put the area to good use and avoid precariously-stacked cups, plates, and bowls with under-shelf baskets. Find these at the Container Store, Walmart, Target or other organization specialty stores.

A few under shelf baskets to look at:

10. Magnetic Spice Containers

Magnetic spice containers help you easily see and store your spices on a fridge or any metal surface.

In my tiny house kitchen, I have a specially designed spice drawer. I keep the uniform jars lined up in the drawer, where I can quickly see each ingredient. If you don’t own a dedicated spice drawer, use this space-saving kitchen hack for organizing your spices.

The biggest challenge with spices is they all come in different sizes, so it’s hard to organize them with so many form factors. Decant your spices into magnetic tins or other uniform jars and eliminate the mismatched jumble of spice jars cluttering up your pantry. The transparent lids also show you when it’s time to buy more turmeric or tarragon (you may also want to label the spices on the back so you can easily tell what’s what.) Line the magnetic spice jars up on the front of your tiny fridge to put otherwise unused space to work!

Cooking in a small space or a tiny house kitchen doesn’t need to be a hassle. With these easy organizing tiny kitchen essentials, you’ll have a clean, orderly kitchen where cooking is easy and enjoyable. I highly recommend using these space-saving tips and tricks to maximize your storage and workspace in your tiny house kitchen. Happy cooking!

Your Turn!

  • What are some of your favorite space-saving kitchen gadgets?
  • What’s the one kitchen essential that you can’t live without?

How To Set Up a Tiny House Loft Sleeping Area: 5 Challenges + Solutions

How To Set Up a Tiny House Loft Sleeping Area: 5 Challenges + Solutions

how to setup a tiny house sleeping loftBack when I built my tiny house, sleeping lofts were (and still are) very popular, but they all had a similar look. Like most tiny house layouts available at that time, my tiny house loft features an angled ceiling and a ladder. Yes, my tiny house loft is a small space, but it works fine as my sleeping area.

Looking back, there are several challenges of setting up a tiny house loft that I wish I’d addressed before I built my house. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the space, but there are a few tweaks that would have made my sleeping loft more comfortable and cross-functional for other uses and activities.

Lately, I’ve been looking for a new mattress for my tiny house loft, so it’s been on my mind quite a bit. So, I’ve been looking for solutions to some of these tiny house loft challenges and figuring out ways to create a more comfortable, functional sleep space that’s easier to maintain.

Here are the five main challenges of tiny house loft spaces and what I suggest for addressing these issues for a better (more comfortable) night’s sleep.

1. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Finding a Perfectly Sized Mattress for a Tiny House

how to find the perfect matress for a tiny house sleeping loft

While your house may be tiny, you are still adult-sized. A small, low-quality mattress will leave you uncomfortable and wreak havoc on your sleep.

small house loft with skylightsWhen people move into a tiny house, they often have visions of a truly minimal life. You may think all you really need is a small sleeping mat and you’re good to go. This approach may work for a few years in your early twenties, but by the time you hit thirty or older, chances are you no longer love sleeping in uncomfortable places. It’s tough on your back, your joints, and your overall energy level.

There are so many mattress options out there, all geared toward people who DON’T live in small spaces. One of the best rules is to build your sleeping loft to accommodate a standard-sized mattress.

In my house, I started with a fluffy queen-sized mattress, which works fine for one person. The loft area essentially becomes one big bed, but since the edges run right up to the ceiling, you’re only able to sleep in the vaulted center. You could fit two people, but I found it was a tad too cozy (even when you really like the other person). This issue led me to decide to downsize to a smaller and less lofty mattress.

tochta matress foam in boxThe trouble was finding a mattress that was the right size, but also long enough. I’m a big guy, and on a regular queen mattress, my toes hung off the bottom by an inch. The other bigger issue was that mattresses today are very, very thick—think pillow and foam tops and built-in springs. Many older sheet sets don’t even fit over the top of a newer mattress. This fluffiness works great in a regular-size house, but in a tiny house loft, it’s a whole other story.

A tiny house’s sleeping loft doesn’t have a ton of vertical room. If you want a mattress that’s thick enough to be comfortable, but still fits in your tiny house loft, you’re going to need to shop around. In my loft, I can sit up in my bed, but just BARELY. There are about three inches between the top of my head and the ceiling.

tochta logoThat’s why I was so happy when I found Tochta. Their mattresses are custom-made, almost any size (length, width, and thickness). When I stumbled upon Tochta, I finally found the perfect solution to my tiny house sleeping loft problem.

SOLUTION:

The Tochta Mattress


Tocha matress uptopia

Visit Tochta at: Tochta.com

2. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Changing the Sheets on a Loft Bed is a Major Issue

How do you change the sheets in your tiny house loft bed? Prepare for a workout! Remember the break-dancing move, “the worm”? Well, you soon will, because it’s about the only way to change a regular sheet set.

Unless you’re a tiny house person, it’s hard to understand the pain that is changing a fitted sheet in a tiny house sleeping loft. The challenge is that you actually have to be on the bed itself to put on the sheet. By the time you’re done flailing around trying to keep all four corners of the fitted sheet tucked in, you’ll be ready to tuck yourself in for a nap!

Changing the sheets is something I’ve struggled with for so long. Since I’m not a huge fan of doing laundry already, I absolutely dreaded changing the sheets…but I’m quite particular when it comes to cleaning, so I’d wrestle the sheets regularly.

quick zip logoWhen I discovered QuickZip sheets, it was a gamechanger! These easy-to-use sheets make swapping out your fitted sheets a breeze. Regularly having fresh sheets helps me feel like I actually have my life together like a real adult!

making bed with quick zip sheets

The way these sheets work is so simple, but smart. There’s a fitted component that goes around the edge of your mattress. Then there’s a fresh topper layer you zip onto the side. You can keep extra top layers on hand so they’re always ready to swap out when one is in the laundry. It takes about two minutes to change the sheet and put on a nice fresh one.

This company is excellent, and I can’t recommend this product enough for solving one of the biggest challenges of having a tiny house loft bed. They also sell nice duvet covers with clips in the corners, which is yet another lifesaver. The clips are great because the duvet doesn’t slip down and get bunched at the bottom of the cover.  You unzip the extra-long zipper across the bottom and up the side and lay the comforter inside, clip the corners – so simple and so smart. Everything stays right where it’s supposed to go.


SOLUTION:

The QuickZip Sheet Company


Visit the QuickZip Sheet Company at: quickzipsheet.com

3. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Fitting Two People (Comfortably) in a Tiny House Loft

can you fit two people in a tiny house loft to sleep

Oh, if I had it all to do again, I would have absolutely put dormers in my tiny house loft. Dormers are the small areas that jut out on the roof. The roof is still pitched, but straighter than a typical triangular gable of a vaulted ceiling. These dormers really maximize your tiny house loft space and let a lot of light into the space.

Tiny house with dormers for more room in sleeping loftHere’s the deal: it’s not hard to include the dormers in your design (again, they were less popular years back when I built my house, but I see them more often now). It’s much more of a challenge to remove your roof and add dormers later, although it’s not impossible.

The other easier solution is to measure the height of your mattress very carefully and select a smaller, shorter mattress (less loft). Totcha is an excellent option for this problem, as well. While it doesn’t solve everything, especially if two adults are sleeping in a very snug space, some options will give you at least a little breathing room.

I also recommend you keep your space as neat and tidy as possible. Living a minimalist lifestyle with less clutter will really help you keep your loft space from feeling claustrophobic. If you pile in pillows, dirty clothes, dishes, and hobbies in your tiny house loft, it will undoubtedly feel cramped and frustrating. Keep the space as clear as possible.

If you’re still planning your tiny house layout, then I strongly recommend you consider the dormer option. It will make a massive difference in the long run. My next house will definitely include dormers to expand the sleeping loft!

SOLUTION:

Maximize space wherever possible and plan ahead with dormers.


cozy loft in a tiny house with dormers

4. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Climbing Up a Ladder to Your Loft Every Night

tiny house loft ladder, stairs or ground floor bedroom

A loft bed isn’t for every tiny house owner. Building your tiny house taller helps you maximize space, which is why it’s often the preference. But not everyone loves the idea of climbing into a loft every night. Many people opt for tiny houses with ground floor beds or completely single-story tiny houses. Others use their tiny house loft for storage, while still keeping the bedroom on the ground floor.

Even though I could have done stairs, I opted not to. Stairs take up a lot of space. Yes, they offer storage space, and many people have turned their stairs into bookshelves, storage trunks, and more. However, at the end of the day, I wasn’t hurting for storage space and I really didn’t want to give up the room to a set of stairs. In my mind the aim should be less stuff, not more storage.
how to design the perfect tiny house
A ladder isn’t without peril. If you’re older, have mobility issues, or you’re not feeling well, climbing up and down a ladder each night isn’t quite as fun as it was when you were a kid. If you’re trying to carry anything up to bed with you, it’s more challenging.

If you’re still planning your tiny house, look for floor plans with bedrooms on the ground level, or single-story tiny house floor plans. These will help you figure out a climbing-free solution for your bedroom. There are lots of great options I’ve seen, where they either turn the loft area into extra storage space or omit the loft space all together and put the entire house on a single floor.

ground floor bedroom in a tiny houseLook for ranch-style tiny house plans or single-floor tiny houses to get ideas. There are plenty of ways you can maximize your horizontal space, while still keeping everything on the first floor. Consider storage solutions under the bed, tucked inside furniture, or built into the wall. Many trailer homes and RVs already feature single-floor layouts, so that may be an option to consider as well (or at least a source of layout ideas).

One of the interesting solutions I’ve found online is building an elevator bed for your tiny house loft. Surprisingly, you can create an elevator bed for around $500. In the blog post linked here, the owner explains they originally planned to build a loft bed with the ability to sleep “low.” The owner wanted to accommodate guests on the sofa bed (be sure to check out the day, night, and guest photos at the end to see examples). The elevator bed is a neat solution and a great option if getting up and down a ladder each evening isn’t for you.

SOLUTION:

Ground floor bedroom layouts for your tiny house.


get into bed easily without a ladder

5. Tiny House Loft Challenge: Maximizing the Space Under Your Loft

maximizing space beneath your sleeping loft in a tiny house

The need for space under your loft completely depends on your lifestyle and preferences. Most tiny house floor plans with a loft only feature a partial loft with a higher ceiling in most of the living space. The portion of your home underneath the loft tends to have lower ceilings and less headroom.

storage under a sleeping loftIf you’re in the design process, there are several options. The first option is to play with your layout so you’ve planned sitting activities underneath your loft space. The space under the loft is a great spot for couch, a lounge space, or a home office. You can tuck a full workstation underneath a lower ceiling and you’ll barely notice. If you’ve positioned your windows and lighting well, it will still feel roomy.

There are modular storage spaces and designs (similar to what you see at stores like IKEA). One Swiss designer, Till Könneker, created The Living Cube, which features a sleeping area up top with a dozen storage spaces on the sides, including openings for a TV or clothing (you could even have a walk-in closet). As I said before, I’m not in any need of more storage space, but for a family, this may be a possible solution.

You could also opt for one of the ground floor bedroom layouts as discussed above, and turn your bed into a platform bed with some storage underneath. This storage is a practical option if you choose a daybed or plan to convert your couch to a bed at night.

SOLUTION:

Plan carefully & include plenty of storage to fit your lifestyle.


loft in a tiny house

The truth is, tiny house loft beds are a fun way to sleep. There’s something that reminds me of being in a treehouse or a fort as a kid. A small, lofted sleeping nook is cozy (sometimes a little too snug in hot weather) and mostly comfortable. There are certain challenges though, and loft beds aren’t for everyone.

Small spaces are very livable. With some strategic planning and wise purchases, there are plenty of ways to outfit a comfortable sleeping spot for your tiny house that you’ll be very happy with.

Your Turn!

  • What is your biggest sleeping space challenge?
  • Do you like sleeping in a loft bed?

Great Gifts for Minimalists: Meaningful Ideas They’ll Appreciate

Great Gifts for Minimalists: Meaningful Ideas They’ll Appreciate

Great Gifts for MinimalistsNavigating gift-giving around the holidays is often tricky for those with minimalists on their list. After all, how do you find gifts for minimalists when they don’t buy, need, or even want much?

After years of being a minimalist living in a 150 square foot tiny house living, I get asked this question every year. People often tell me they have no idea what to give me (the truth is they don’t need to give gifts at all, but I definitely appreciate the thoughtfulness).

So, I decided to compile a list of the top gifts for minimalists. Hopefully, you’ll find something for every minimalist on your list. Remember, it’s the thought that counts. No matter what you give, chances are they’ll appreciate the sentiment.

And if YOU are the minimalist and don’t know how to help confused family and friends figure out gift-giving this season, send them this post to give them a few great ideas!

Self-Improvement Gifts for Minimalists

Self-Improvement Gifts for Minimalists

Minimalists are often goal-getters. They’re all about self-improvement, and if you love and care about a minimalist, you want to see them succeed. You may need to do a little homework—find out goals the person is working towards. Learning about what is on a person’s bucket list is a great way to get ideas to help them achieve.

Reading and learning materials are always an excellent gift on the path to self-improvement—and it doesn’t need to be limited to ONLY tutorials and self-improvement books, either. After all, what’s a better mental health break than reading or listening to a great book?

If people ask you what you want, you can think of gifts to help achieve your own goals. Here are a few ideas for great self-improvement gifts.

Kindle Paperwhite

kindle as a gift for a minimalistThin, lightweight, and now waterproof, a Kindle is an excellent gift for someone who’s cutting back on clutter. Books on a Kindle are a great way to give someone a great read without taking up more space on the bookshelf. Yes, an electronic reader is often a divisive topic for bibliophiles, so feel out their preference first. If they already own an e-reader, then a book recommendation is a terrific gift.


Audible Subscription

audbile as a giftRight now, an Audible subscription comes with 30 days free, then $14.95/month. I love Audible because it lets me get more “reading” in when I’m driving, commuting, or on a road trip. Making the most of my travel time allows me to work on my goals with a business or self-improvement book, get in fun reading with a fiction book, or learn all about something new.

ryans picks for audible and kindle ebooks

Tiny Houses

tiny house living book

Tiny House Living

by Ryan Mitchell (I might be biased)

a pattern language

A Pattern Language

by Chris Alexander

the minimalist mindset

The Minimalist Mindset

by Danny Dover

Sci-Fi

children of time

Children of Time

by Adrian Tchaikovsky

infinite

Infinite

by Jeremey Robinson

the passage

The Passage

by Justin Cronin

Business Books

the coaching habit

The Coaching Habit

by Michael Stanier

strengths finder

Strengths Finder 2.0

from Gallup

the 100 dollar startup

The $100 Startup

by Chris Guillebeau

Young Adult

the maze runner

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

city of ember

City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

matched

Matched

by Ally Condie

Adventure

ringworld

Ringworld

by Larry Niven

hell divers

Hell Divers

by Nicholas Smith

the martian

The Martian

Andy Weir

Thriller

pines

Pine

by Blake Crouch

orphan x

Orphan X

by Greg Hurwitz

bird box

Bird Box

Josh Malerman

lessons as gifts
Lessons
If you know your gift recipient is interested in taking lessons, they are a terrific gift. There are many options available through local community organizations and businesses. A few ideas to explore:

  • Dance
  • Musical Instrument
  • Art Classes
  • Cooking
membership gifts
Fitness Classes and Memberships
Fitness classes and memberships are also excellent gifts for minimalists (assuming the person on your list is interested in the fitness area). It always helps to ask or offer up a few ideas they may enjoy and allow them to choose the class or plan that fits their preferences and lifestyle. Fitness ideas include:

  • Finding a unique fitness experience local to their town—yoga, hiking, kayaking, etc.
  • Membership to a local gym
  • Yoga classes
  • Sessions with a personal trainer
  • Standup paddle board
  • Register for a marathon (if they’re into it)

Entertainment Gifts for Minimalists

Entertainment Gifts for Minimalists

With so many subscription services available these days, there are tons of ideas for entertaining gifts for minimalists that are inexpensive and enjoyable. There’s also the option to give the gift of an experience. Tickets or another event experience is my absolute favorite gift to give and receive because it means I get to do something fun with the person I care about. The gift of entertainment could mean dinner out, tickets to an event, or another adventure. I think of what the person likes and often get two tickets. Not only is it an excellent experience, but we experience it together.

subscription gifts for minimalists
Movie, Music & TV Subscription Services

  • Hulu: The first 30 days are free then plans start at $5.99/month
  • Spotify Premium: First three months are free, and then plans start at $9.99/month
  • Disney+: Launching December 2019, plans start at $7/month or $70/year
magazine subscriptions for minimalists
Magazine Subscriptions

Check out digital subscriptions, which are an excellent option for most magazines. Look for a publication fitting their area of interest.

  • For the coffee lover: Drift magazine $52/year – published 2x/year
  • For the avid reader: Ruminate magazine $50/year (subscription directly supports literary writers and visual artists)
  • For women with a minimalist mindset: Real Simple magazine $10/year
tickets to events as gifts
Tickets to Events

  • Local sports events
  • Theater
  • Concert
  • Brewery tours or vineyard tours/wine tastings

hobbies for small spaces

Gifts of Time Ideas

Gifts of Time Ideas

Giving and receiving the gift of someone’s time is so meaningful. What could you do to help someone around the house or do something for them they would appreciate? The bonus of giving the gift of time is you often get to spend more time with your friend or loved one.

babysitting as a gift
Gifts of Time

  • Babysitting
  • Pet sitting
  • Dinner & a movie
  • Game night: bring over a meal and games
  • Helping hands: use your special skill or talent to help weed flower beds, plant vegetables, reupholster chairs, or paint a living room.

Consumables

consumables as gifts

Next up are items people eat or use up. A perfect example of this is food items. We are all busy, and most of us like food, so making a treat or buying a favorite food is a great gift. Think of difficult-to-make items or gifts that are an indulgence. Here are a few exceptional items I’ve found.

candles as gifts
Health & Beauty Products

foods as gifts
Food Products

  • Wine/beer
  • Baked goods: cakes, cookies, quick breads, candy
  • Jellies, jams, and pickles
  • Homemade Jerky
  • A care package of favorite treats
  • SnackNation Box: $24 for the first box, then $40 month
  • Candy Club Subscription: $30/month (first box is 50% off)
  • Gift cards to local retailers, restaurants, and food trucks
  • Coffee and tea gift cards
  • Membership to the local co-op
  • CSA subscription (community supported agriculture/farm share box with fresh produce each week)
pet products as gifts
Pet Products

  • Rescue Box: $23/month (think Bark Box, but proceeds go to supply food and vaccines to shelter animals)

Practical, Buy Once-in-a-Lifetime Gift Items

Buy Once-in-a-Lifetime Gift Items

I do this a lot, since I don’t need much and I don’t buy much either. So, when there’s something I need to replace or buy new, I hold off and suggest it as a gift when others ask. For example, I’ve needed new shoes for a month or so, but I’m holding off. This way, those who want to give me a gift can do so, and it’s something that I really need to replace a worn-out item.

buy once in a lifetime products

When I do need to purchase something, I get the highest-quality, longest-lasting product possible. For more ideas, check out my post on how to find items you only need to buy once in a lifetime.

rugged mountains bullet journal printables
pendleton blankets

Charity Gifts for Minimalists

Charity Gifts for Minimalists

If you absolutely can’t think of anything to give (or anything you want to receive), consider a charitable donation. Asking friends or family to donate to a cause you’re passionate about is a meaningful option, especially around the holidays. Giving back is something everyone (minimalists and non-minimalists alike) can appreciate!

charitable giving ideas
Charitable Giving Ideas

  • Donation to a favorite charity
  • Sponsor their team for a charity walk
  • Volunteer time with them at a local non-profit (walk dogs, serve meals, sort food at a pantry, etc.)
  • Museum memberships (Check out the North American Reciprocal Museum Association for a membership that allows privileges at a favorite vacation spot, too.)
  • Botanical garden memberships
  • Ecology center memberships (They often offer tours, birdwatching, even canoe rentals.)

As you see, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean giving someone more “stuff” to clutter up their homes and lives. There are plenty of gifts for minimalists that are useful, meaningful, and even give to the greater good.

Your Turn!

  • What’s your favorite gift to give to others?
  • What’s the most practical gift you’ve ever received?

Bullet Journal Symbols: Taking Your Bullet Journal Key To The Next Level

Bullet Journal Symbols: Taking Your Bullet Journal Key To The Next Level

bullet journal symbolsIf you’ve started your bullet journal, you’ve probably wondered what bullet journal symbols you should use in your key. The symbols you use in your bullet journal key let you codify different items in your tasks to quickly identify where you’re at with tasks.

The Genius behind bullet journal symbols

When I first came across the concept of bullet journaling, I was like “great another journaling how to, whoop-de-doo”. Then something caught my eye…

It was how they took the symbols and then modified them to keep track of how things progress. Why does that matter? One downside to paper journals over digital is that you can’t “edit” things. This comes into play when you want to monitor a to-do list.

Before I started with my Bujo, the best you could hope for was a checkbox . If left blank it was incomplete. If checked it was done. But what about other states of completeness? It was only an either-or option.

The way the bullet journaling approaches it, you can neatly “edit” the symbol to have multiple states (which we get into down below) by adding to the base symbol. It was simple, elegant, functional and looked good at the same time.

Here’s an example of how your base symbol is modified as you need it:

basic bullet journal migration symbols

Using Bullet Journal Symbols To Make The Most Of Your Key

Bullet journals are a great way to bring some intentionality to your life. By using a tool like a bullet journal, we can begin to master how we spend our time, stay focused on the important things, and keep important items at the forefront. Like any system, the bullet journal is just one way to manage your time. Continue reading our post on how to manage a busy schedule using a bullet journal.

What is unique about a bullet journal is it’s more than just a way to organize yourself, it gives some structure to common ways we like to organize that, in my mind, really helps you master your productivity. The system helps address a lot of the shortcomings of a paper planner over a digital solution while giving you the tactile feel of a journal or planner.

Basic Bullet Journal Symbols

basic bullet journal symbol

The most common symbols are To-Do, Started, Completed, Canceled, and Migrated. It’s important to note that your To-Do symbol is your “base symbol” meaning you start every item with that and then it’s modified to your needs.

  • To Do: The starting symbol often a dot, circle, or square.
  • Started: this is something that you have begun work on, but it’s still in progress.
  • Completed: A task that you have finished. Who doesn’t like checking things off your list!
  • Canceled: Sometimes you decide something doesn’t make the cut for your limited time.
  • Migrated: When you have an item that you didn’t complete, but moved to a new to-do list.

How To Figure Out What Bullet Journal Signifier Is Right For You?

bullet journal signifier

The power of bullet journaling is that it’s very flexible and customized to your needs. With that said, it is just a matter of figuring out what is right for you. Below I have a lot of bullet journal symbol examples for you to get inspiration from, but before that, a few words on figuring out what’s right for you.

1 There is no one right way

A bullet journal is just as unique as you are. Its flexibility means you can build a Bujo that’s right for you. It can be tempting to see what others do and copy them – I’m certainly guilty of spending hours looking at stunning spreads on Pinterest too – but in the end, find what works for you and don’t feel like there is one right way.

2 Experiment with different symbols

There are many different ways to do symbols. Most often people start with a base symbol of a dot, a circle or a box, but you find what works for you. I have my own unique way of doing things that won’t work for most folks. The great part about bullet journaling is if you try something, you can switch it up each time you migrate your tasks forward. That means you can try new things weekly/monthly until you come up with the perfect mix.

3 Start simple, then layer in more

When people start, they often go overboard with symbols thinking more is better. This is definitely a place where we want to use only enough to cover 90% of cases. Too often people start making complex symbols in their journal for edge cases, things that only happen a few times vs every day. Start with things that you use every day, then expand as certain needs start coming up over and over again.

Bullet Journal Symbol Ideas

bullet journal symbols ideas

Appointment Symbols

Events should use a unique signifier that stands apart from your normal symbols so that it’s clear they have a specific time and place that they need to occur in. I tend to use the little clock symbol because I use a base symbol of a dot. Then I add the two little clock hands from that dot, then circle the whole thing. That makes it clear when it’s an appointment, not just a task because I purposefully don’t keep a lot of meetings, so it’s important to make it really obvious when I need to be somewhere.

Migrated tasks symbols

A core part of bullet journaling is how to migrate tasks. Below is a little gif I made to show how migration works. The genius part of this is when you get most of the things on your to-do list completed, you can migrate them forward to a new weekly spread to start with a cleaner list. This lets you focus on the remaining tasks that you need to complete.

Important Tasks symbols

A list of tasks is great, but a list that is prioritized is even better. Symbols that let you highlight important items on your to-do list are a great way to manage this. While I think digital organization options have an edge here (you can reorder lists easily) you can use these signifiers in your Bujo to keep an eye on what is important and then reorder when you migrate tasks later on.

Canceled Symbols

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s often the case that it’s just as important to know what you aren’t going to do vs what you will do. Saying “no” is a powerful time management technique that you should take seriously. You can use these for to-do list items or events. Just remember these are for things that are no longer going to do, as opposed to things that will be migrated. The latter are things you still want to do, just not now.

Ideas Symbols

Sometimes you just need to get something out of your head and onto paper so you don’t forget it. That’s what these are for. I find that if an idea is floating around in my brain and I can’t focus on what I’m doing because I’m so enamored with the idea, writing it down somewhere safe lets me move on. So if you want to keep track of things, use these bullet journal symbols to keep track of your next brilliant idea.

bullet journal ideas symbols

Communications Symbols

How often have you though this “oh shoot, I meant to email ____” or “I really need to call ____ and ask them about”. That’s what these symbols are for. Keep in mind these are symbols for later in the game once you’ve honed in on your basic bullet journal symbols, but if you’re someone who does a lot of correspondence these might be perfect for you.

bullet journal communications symbols

Work Specific Symbols

When it comes to the work we do, there are some specific things we do very often. For me it’s writing blog posts, creating an email blast, or posting on social media. All these things come up a lot for me and so they derive their own specific symbol. Here a few examples of other symbols you might use in your work.

bullet journal work symbols

Bullet journal symbols for life

Work-life balance is important so don’t just think about how your bullet journal can be used for work, but also for your life outside of work too. Think about the big things you spend your time on and also what your main goals are. For me it’s time with family, working out, and reading a good book.

miscellaneous bullet journal symbols

Using Colors to further organize your bullet journal key

We can add another layer of organization. If you’re like me I wear a few hats. For some people, they like to break out work between different clients, for family life vs work life, or different major projects.

However you decide to codify your key, using a standardized set of symbols for your lists adds another layer of organization to any page in your bullet journal!

Download the Complete Bullet Journal Symbol Guide as a PDF.

Your Turn!

  • What symbols work for your bullet journal?