Building Community

Part One

Living the tiny life has a lot of benefits but it is certainly not without some difficulties. Living in roughly 200 sq. feet makes it unrealistic to have certain conveniences. Cedric and I realized from the beginning that in order to live our lives the way we did in larger spaces, we were going to have to reach out to our community.

We have been living in La Casita in a city setting, in the middle of downtown Charleston. It’s centrally located, we have a great landlord and our neighborhood is not only welcoming, but genuinely interested in LaCa.  Folks yell out to us on the daily, “I love your house!” As I am sure you can imagine, it didn’t take long to get to know the neighbors when everyone was curious to find out what we were doing living in their hood.

Because that is where we live. In a hood. At least that’s what all the neighborhood children tell me. We live here because to live in a tiny house in the heart of this city, as in many cities, we have to live where there are bigger fish to fry than zoning issues, mostly in terms of drug crime. We knew getting to know neighbors and building community was going to be key to lying low from city officials and their substantial list of zoning laws but we also needed avoid tension within our neighborhood. It helped to have a longtime family friend living a block away but we certainly didn’t realize how much positive attention La Casita was going to receive and how it would help us find a home in the neighborhood.

We live in a pocket neighborhood in which most of the home owners are older black folk and their families. Reaching across the racial divide in Charleston is still a sticky situation that, at best, is breached through religion or work.  I’m still trying to figure out if tiny houses can help bridge some of the social and cultural differences among the citizens of a city whose economic roots stem from slavery. From what we’ve experienced LaCa certainly starts many a conversation that steers toward deeper issues. I’ve had conversations about cypress siding that lead to a discussion on material reclamation and the economy of freeganism. I was chatting to a neighbor about road regulations and tiny house mobility ultimately leading to a debate on zoning and low-income housing possibilities. It’s rather amazing the doors opened through such a tiny space!

Whether old, young, black, white, rich or poor, we’ve had every kind of person come up to our home and ask us what we are doing and how we did it. It sparks interest and has helped us break the ice on many occasions with neighbors. We would tell them our story and in turn they told us theirs. It just seems to make sense to a lot of people we meet that having a space that is payed off, can be moved around and doesn’t cost much in resources is a great way to live.

Once we settled in,  we had an outdoor party and invited friends and neighbors for a bbq. We had a great time and since then I’ve enjoyed endless porch conversations with my neighbor on the corner, helped fix the bikes of the kids on our street and shared countless good will in the form of cookies, dinners and beers with the people who live near us. Without their support we certainly would not have found such a comfortable, fulfilling space in the city. To live in a tiny house for us is to often rely on others for help in situations such as hosting a friend or a family member who comes in to town or throwing a dinner party or just doing a banal chore like laundry.  We experience larger living through community and it meets basic as well as social and spatial needs that can not always be met by a tiny house. For us, it’s the best of both worlds.

 Your Turn!

  • Do you think community is essential to the Tiny Life?
  1. I really like this story, it sounds like a model of a healthy community.

    So much of our tension in city neighbourhoods is fear-based. I love that you can sit on your porch and people come to you to discussions that break down those barriers. It makes me hopeful.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you Madeleine for your feedback! We try to build healthy community by being open to the people within it. Our neighborhood is not without danger and conflict but when you look a person in the eye and say “hey, how you doin’?” instead of ignoring their presence you’re more likely to get positive feedback in return. I work at this everyday so that I don’t live in a fear-based environment. It’s difficult at times but ultimately rewarding when you have those conversations with your neighbor that further the relationship.

  2. Excellent! Thanks. Just excellent.

  3. Living in a tiny house has allowed me the time to seek out centenarians and super-centenarians over the last 18 years for visiting them, and listening to their stories for inspiration. I also have my own top ten books on living to be 100 and beyond. These are my top ten books to read when searching for centenarian inspiration! This is the literature that influenced me to aspire to live a long, healthy life, which continues to inspire me to attempt to live a more sustainable life.
    (I have my own centenarian and super-centenarian personal stories, I conducted over the last 10 years using a hand-held tape recorder, face-to-face in their homes and/or a nursing home, retirement facility. Interview format, the interviews were conducted either face-to-face or by telephone, after receiving validation of their age. Very important, I always asked at the end of the interview – “Is there anything I didn’t ask about? Memories? Favorite stories, Little incidents that I didn’t seem to be important at the time but have remained in your memory.?” Some interviews were taken in 2006 in Harlingen, Texas. I also have a number of interviews from my adopted home state Arkansas.) I am thankful for my tiny life, which allows me much freedom to pursue other worthy goals. My books are:
    After Ninety by Imogen Cunningham and Margaretta Mitchell (Oct 1979)
    If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians by Neenah Ellis (Mar 23, 2004) (autographed with a handwritten letter included with hardcopy)
    Earth’s Elders by Jerry Friedman, Robert Coles, Lama Surya Das and Joycelyn Elders (Sep 28, 2005) (autographed hard copy)
    On My Own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie by Sarah L. Delany and Amy Hill Hearth (Jan 20, 1998))

    Centenarians: The Bonus Years Lynn Peters Adler (Author)
    Jeanne Calment: From Van Gogh’s Time to Ours, 122 Extraordinary Years by Allard, Michel; Robine, Jean-Marie; Calment, Jeanne published by Thorndike Press Hardcover by –N/A– (May 1, 1999) (Hardcopy)
    ONE HUNDRED OVER 100: Moments with One Hundred North American Centenarians by Jim Heynen and Paul Boyer (Jun 1, 1990) (hardcopy)

    The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood by Frederica Sagor Maas (Jun 10, 1999) (Hardcopy)

    Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging by Maya Angelou and Chester Higgins (Feb 4, 2004)

    On Being 100: 31 Centenarians Share Their Extraordinary Lives and Wisdom by Liane Enkelis (Sep 28, 2000) (Hardcopy)

    Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio (Sep 1, 2007) (hardcopy) (*Many elders are featured in this book from around the world!)

    Old and on Their Own by Robert Coles, Alex Harris and Thomas Roma (Jul 1, 1999)

    On Our Own: Independent Living for Older Persons (Golden Age Books) by Ursula A. Falk (Jan 1989) (Hardcopy)
    What books are on your personal list for centenarian inspiration?

    PS: There is a short essay, titled “The New Rich,” about living carfree. It’s a decent depiction of life without a car, focusing on the money saved. People living without cars are described as “economic miracles” and “rich in terms of lifestyle.” (2012)

  4. PS: I have placed my order already– Celebrate 100: Centenarian Secrets to Success in Business and Life [Steven Franklin (Author), Lynn Peters Adler (Author) July 9, 2013
    Celebrate 100 distills the wisdom and wit of over 430 centenarians into six sections (the passage of time, career, insights on money, managing time, secrets of longevity, and capturing and sharing wisdom). The book is based on over 430 interviews and extensive questionnaire surveys developed and conducted by authors Steve Franklin and Lynn Adler. Franklin, a sought after keynote speaker for the financial services industry, frequently cites Centenarian wit and wisdom about money, work, and life in his speeches. The book is full of timeless advice, like “Money cannot make you, but it can break you” with anecdotes about savings, debt, and investing for the long-run.

  5. It’s amazing how somebody doing something a bit different can lead to such genuine and positive curiosity. Our neighbours decided to turn an abandoned block in our street into an urban vegetable garden. We became curious and now are good friends with our neighbours–having never spoken to them before the garden–and also use the garden. Every day, as we tend to the compost or water the plants, people walk by and sticky-beak at what is going on, offering their support and asking questions. And we’re having a BBQ next week.

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