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How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 5

Today we are going to talk about how to start reduce your stuff.  I feel that it is important to start reducing things down before you even build your Tiny House because after you weed out things, you will begin to see how little your really need.  Inevitably you will still need to get rid of some things even after you do this when you move into your house, but I feel 2 passes are needed for most.

I should note that discussing consumerism and materialism prior to this step was an important choice in order.  We have now established a backdrop which should frame your mind when approaching these things.  So I am going to first offer up some tips then some techniques to start organizing.

Tips:

  1. Start small: Don’t try to tackle your house, or even an entire room, try just one are ie: your desk
  2. Everything has a place and everything in its place:  have a designated spot for everything
  3. Put it away now: Once you get things clean, if you use something, put it back right away
  4. Use an inbox and keep it empty:  This applies to mail, email, etc.  your goal is to have it empty at all times.  It comes in, you respond or calendar then file it.
  5. Setup a file system: Papers and emails seem to pile up on people, so take the time to have a file system, I digitize everything and I’m done
  6. Setup a system for pending items:  Where many people get into trouble is what to do with pending items, so setup a system to organize things that in holding

Techniques:

Box Method:

This is simply my favorite approach, it is effective and simple.

Find a box, any box, size appropriate for your stuff of a certain area.  The important thing to remember is to tackle one defined area at a time, usually you can define an area by its function.  Your desk is a great place to start (then later move on to your clothes, then the kitchen, etc.).  Take everything and I mean everything!  Out of and off of your desk (with the exception of your computer and desk lamp) and put it into the box.  No cheating now, just do it, I want every drawer empty, the desktop clear and the floor clear too if you have stuff piled up.

Now once you have done this, write today’s date on it and take this box and put it under your desk or within arm’s reach.  That’s it!  No just kidding, as you begin to work and find that you need things go to the box and pull out that one single item.  If you need a pen, get one pen, not all of them.  If you need ruler, take it out of the box.  Continue doing this for a month, hence the date you wrote on the box.  At the end of the month schedule 20 minutes in your calendar to sort through the remains.

When you do this take your box and set your trash can right next to it and begin considering each item.  For 95% of all the things in that box, you will end up throwing away.  A few items will be something that you use every now and then, but with no consistency, but you feel that your really really really need.  Then ask yourself:

  • Is this something that I could borrow easily when the need arises?
  • Could you achieve this function of the item, in another way?
  • Is there something in my desk that can do this function?

For many things you will find that you can borrow them or you don’t really need it.  There are those things that you just have to have.  You emergency inhaler is a good example, however the snow globe that Deborah in accounting gave you 4 years ago and that has been sitting the back of a drawer is not.

Throw away or donate the remains and you will have an area that is cleaner and has the things that you need, now just want.

100 or 300 0r ____ item challenge:

For some people a solid goal is what they need; Arbitrary goals mean they can’t take the first step, so I use this technique with those folks.  The concept is you set a goal for yourself in terms of number of items then eliminate down to that number.  What I suggest for determining the number is nothing above 500, but what ever number you choose, shave off 50 items to push yourself.  Now the rules for this is that each item counts as a single item.  For example, a fork, knife and spoon are three things, not a set of one.  There are some things I will give you a pass on to not count on your list, I don’t count fridge, stove, toaster, microwave type of things.  I do however count clothing, 1 shirt = 1 shirt.  Depending on the situation I will say items specifically for your work/income are not counted, but I would push many people to include them if possible or do a 100 item challenge on your work place, we spend a good amount of time at work, less stuff means we can think clearer, work better and more effectively.  Check out this guys website on this: http://guynameddave.com/100-thing-challenge/

Going Paperless

As if being greener isn’t motivation enough, going digital, as I call it, means that you are able to reduce the tangible items you need. Digital files take up no space if you have them stored online, with the added advantage of being able to access them from anywhere.

How to get started on this?  First you need a scanner, depending on how much paper volume you have, you might want to invest in an auto-feeding model.  I have yet to try out, but am anxious to try the Neat Receipts system which includes software to organize it all.  However you do this, please please please! backup and be really paranoid about it.  Combined with backing the files up, they become safer than real world things. I currently have my computer setup to automatically mirror my hard drive to another within the computer (google RAID), then I have 3 external hard drives that are backup to, then finally I have another that sits in a fireproof box at my house and another in a safety deposit box at the bank.  The IRS officially accepts all scanned copies of receipts and bank statements.

But this extends beyond receipts. books which can take a ton of space can now fit on your Kindle, instead of renting and DVD’s get a Roku Box, for music I have it on my ipod and also online on a platform called OpenTape, I also put all my recipes in a wiki and finally I organize my documents on a free online file manager called Xoda.  The point is, I look at everything I have and look for a digital equivalent, then back it up religiously!

It All Goes Back In The Box

Our good friend Michael over at TinyHouseDesign.com posted this great video on his Facebook page and it just really hit home on some really key truths.  I have talked about how when you downsize to a Tiny House, you actually gain.  You gain freedom from debt, you gain time, you gain deeper relationships, you gain insights to what is important.

How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 4

Now many of you who are looking to actually live in a Tiny House have some level of awareness of this cultural phenomenon we know as consumerism.  It essentially functions by creating social pressures to buy more stuff, our culture has an instilled mentality that we need more stuff to be happy.

The more stuff, the more happiness right?  Wrong.  Studies have actually shown that the purchase of stuff gives us a quick high, but ultimately leaves us even more unhappy.  Buying more stuff means we need to work more to pay for it, we incur more debt.  All of these things bring stress, give us less time to relax, time away from family and friends and when we do have free time, we are hounded by collection agencies.   When we move into a Tiny House, we need to reduce the amount of things we need to fit in, this actually reduces stress, focuses us on what is important and create greater value for what little we do have.

I encourage you to have some time set aside to do some introspection.  During that time consider what you have purchased over the last month using receipts and a spreadsheet.   I have seen it a million times, people who don’t track it, don’t realize how bad the problem is.  This is a pretty well document phenomenon.  Studies have shown that when people track things, they typically spend 1/3 less, just by tracking it!

It has taken me a long time to really weed through my subconscious to get to a point where I can realize when these deep rooted influences are pushing me to buy something.  I have been on this journey now for 2 years and still am struggling with it.  I do intentionally strike a balance between separation of consumer culture and still staying generally socially acceptable.  Clothing for example is a big societal function, fashions and trends drive us to buy more and I think many have a hard time breaking this cycle.

Now it is true, men’s clothing is easier to do this with, but I still believe anyone can do it.  My clothes literally can fit in a big suitcase, all of them.  I own 1 suit, 3 pairs of pants, 2 shorts, 10 shirts, 15 undershirts, 30 pairs of socks, 30 pairs of underwear, 3 work shirts, 3 shirt that get dirty, 2 pajama pants, a hat, rain jacket, winter jacket, one pair of dress shoes, one pair of running shoes, and one pair of garden shoes.   I have also worked to be able to work from home or a job that I can dress casually, this drastically reduces the amount of clothes and limits social pressures.

So today start looking at what you have spent, take some time to think about how these cultural norms influence you behavior and check out the story of stuff to help understand these mechanisms.

How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 3

So we have got you in the right state of mind, got you excited to build your house within minutes.  Yesterday we talked about what basic tools to get and how to learn to use them, it may take a few weeks to complete this step, but we are moving on.  Today we talk about getting your finances in order.

The sad truth is that it will be difficult to get a loan from the banks, your best bet for this is to have a good relationship with your banker/lender and get creative with how you approach it.  There are some easier ways to get loans for the purchase of land (depending on your state), but they often come with 8-9% interest and 20% down.  Of course there a loads of exceptions and variations depending on what bank and where you are.

For many of us we will have to rely on the money we have in hand to finance our construction.   Depending on your choice of house to build you will need as little as $3,000 up to $23,000 if you do the work yourself.  Now you can make your money go a lot further if you scavenge stuff off of craig’s list, ReStore, dump, etc.  When it comes to building your house remember that it is almost always going to be more expensive than you expected, so budget for it; I suggest 15% additional for things that come up.

The other key thing to do is make sure if you are going to start without all the money, think about key steps in the building process that you need to finish.  For example, some people lay their flooring down, then put up the framing, you would be wise to have enough cash on hand to finish sheeting the sides and the roof so that nice brand new floor doesn’t get rained on.

So when I speak of finances I go beyond just affording your house, I want to shift your entire financial life, why?  A few reasons: first to be fiscally sound will mean you can more easily get into your house, next it means that you will be able to overcome any financial hiccups during the process and finally, having all your affairs set means that when you start to live in your home you will also be happier because you no longer have debt, collectors calling you, you have a security blanket for rainy days and reduced stress.  With all of these reasons you will be much happier because there will be no more financial stress and you will enjoy your new house more.

When it comes to finances I subscribe to Dave Ramsey’s approach.  His process  First establish a $1000 emergency fund, start viciously paying down debt you have, establish 3 months living expenses in savings, then and only then, you become stable and able to take on a loan and/or start saving for your Tiny House.

When it comes to your house I can’t stress enough, you need to have your finances in order.  Part of this process is also educating yourself about needs and wants.  To do this we really need to understand how our society places pressure on us to consume things.  Consumption is obviously tied to money, because we need to purchase things in order to consume.  If we are able to reasonably take ourselves out of this culture (to a point), we can reduce our spending instantly.

More on consumer culture tomorrow!

How To Get Started: A Practical Guide Part 2

So now that we have already established a system of ongoing motivation and made your psyche a bit more resilient to setbacks, we are ready to learn some things.  Like I have said in the past, we are starting small and simple.

When you start to build your home, it is probably going to require some new skills that you might not have yet.  Many people who endeavor to build a tiny house haven’t ever swung a hammer before, let alone installed a gas line.  So where to start?

First off I suggest going and grabbing the basics from your local hardware store (craigslist), even if you don’t build a Tiny House, these are really useful and pretty cheap.  Go out and pickup a

  • 16 oz claw hammer
  • tape measure
  • screw driver (Phillips and Flathead)
  • utility knife
  • small level
  • wire cutter
  • vise grip pliers
  • needle nose pliers
  • combination pliers.

If you have no idea what this stuff is, print this list and just hand it to a sales person at the store.

Tools are one of those things that can go from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars, while there are different levels of quality, you can do well by most any brand.  If you go to a Harbor Freight, Walmart, Northern Tool you could easily do this for under $50.  I typically go to a chain hardware store, spend a few extra bucks, but they are better quality and will last a long time;  Going the route of the chain store will run you about $75. Whatever you decide, make sure you have eye protection and ear protection, it is worth it, trust me.

From there I suggest you look up your local Habitat for Humanity and sign up on a work crew.  They specialize in taking people who don’t know anything and getting them up to speed, to eventually build a house!  The advantage to this route and why I promote it is first off its good to volunteer, second you gain real world house building experience for FREE.  The other things it affords you is that you can also get some insights to local building codes, meet people (who might be willing to come help you frame your house) and it is fun!  Now sometimes with Habitat’s program they only take groups, if this is the case see if you can start a group or push them to let you on a team or get the names of team leaders for you to call.

If this isn’t available in your area, there are other options.  First off many of the chain stores like Home Depot or Lowes have free DIY classes, call your local store.  You could also spend some time watching some of the DIY TV shows, but that is only so helpful, learning by doing is easier.  Finally you can look up a local community college / trade school, most all of them have classes on wood working or DIY home repair theme classes.  Here in Charlotte this would cost $115 for 8 weeks of classes.

The other option is to help out a friend who is doing some home repairs, remodel etc.   If none of this is available, you can learn some basics off of youtube and you’ll need to bring a friend or family member to help you out on your first few days building.

Once you have the basics down of how to hammer, screw a screw in, measure and level you can look to expand your skills.  I suggest you do this by going to the library and taking out a good do it yourself book, a book on framing (how to build the walls), plumbing, and electrical.  At this point don’t worry about remember too much of this stuff, you are just getting a general overview on this, later when it comes time to wire or plumb your home, you will take this book out again and do it step by step.  When it comes to wiring I’d suggest focusing on breakers, junction boxes, determining what system load you have.  For Plumbing focus on venting, draining, material types, also remember your house will be a different setup because it might be on wheels.   Now depending on your comfort level you might feel the need to hire a person to do this for you, which is up to you, but have a basic jist of these skills will still be valuable in repairs and – hate to say it – check the work of the professional.  Depending on the professional he/she might be willing to come in and just give a safety assessment where they review your work and tell you how to fix it, this can be cheaper, but not all professionals will be comfortable doing this.

Tomorrow we will talk about nailing down your finances.

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