Posts Tagged the tiny life

My No Spend Challenge: How I Bought Nothing for Six Months

My No Spend Challenge: How I Bought Nothing for Six Months

This year I decided to take on a personal no spend challenge. I wanted to see if I could buy nothing for an entire year. Six months in, I’ve been successful (and learned a few lessons too).

As I’ve shared my story with friends and blog readers, many of you have asked how to take on a no spend challenge. In our world of buy, buy, buy, where almost anything is available instantly at the click of a button, a year without spending sounds daunting at first.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure I could handle the challenge either. Even though I live in a tiny house and follow a mostly minimalist lifestyle, the thought of buying absolutely nothing for a year seemed tough. Now that I’ve been going on the challenge for six months, I must admit, it becomes easier when you start. It was a simple matter of setting up rules and then shifting my mindset. Here’s what I’ve learned about buying nothing in my first 6 months.

Why Try to Buy Nothing?

One of the first questions I get about the no spend challenge is “why?” To be honest, answering the question of “why” was a big part of the process to taking on a year without spending.

What it comes down to is, the no spend challenge isn’t meant to stop people from spending money because it’s somehow bad or wrong to buy what you want. There’s nothing wrong with shopping in itself.

When buying becomes a problem is when we spend money we don’t have on items we don’t need. It’s an issue when we buy items and tell ourselves little stories that aren’t true to justify our purchases. We expect our purchases to bring us happiness, friends, freedom, or other rewards they can’t possibly deliver. Ultimately, we end up less happy because those stories we told ourselves don’t come true and spending now detracts from our long-term goals in the future.

Personally, I have a lot of goals I’m working toward. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving those goals was money.

Spending money on extraneous items was causing me to delay accomplishing my biggest goals. It was creating a barrier to the big dreams I wanted to achieve. Once I realized my “why,” keeping myself focused on my no spend challenge has been much easier. No way am I going to pass up my big dreams for a temporary fix. Spending money now in lieu of a bigger, better future, isn’t worth it.

My No Spend Challenge Rules

I’m not a huge fan of rules, to be honest. In fact, one of the only rules I follow is that it’s a good idea to question everything (including the rules). I apply this “guideline” to my minimalist approach to work, as well as organizing my house.

Still, when it came to the challenge, I wanted to set up guidelines and parameters. Plus, I’m a stickler for semantics so I wanted to clearly define the rules, so I couldn’t exploit any loopholes. So, these are the no spend challenge rules I decided to follow:

1. Food Is Fair Game

Everyone needs to eat and I’m nowhere close to growing my own food at the moment, so realistically food was a necessary expense. As part of the no spend challenge I cut out all fast food and only allow myself to eat out at “sit down restaurants,” on special occasions. This means I’ve cooked a lot more.

2. Everyday Consumables Are Allowed

Consumable products were another necessity–like toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, soap and other similar items that get used up over time. To make sure I didn’t find a way to exploit this no spend rule, I created an “inventory” before I started. I only allowed myself to keep those items and not add to the inventory list. These household items are super basic and have been reduced to only products I use every day.

3. Medical Items Are Allowed

If I need a prescription or an item recommended by my doctor, I can get it. I limited this to only the directions of my doctor. As a rule, this situation hasn’t yet come up, because I’ve stayed healthy. Still, health is too important to not add this caveat.

4. Only Buy What You Need, When You Need It

When an above-mentioned consumable or food is gone, I buy a replacement. This no spend rule stopped me buying items I don’t use. For consumables I use frequently or go through quickly, I set a number I’m allowed to store in my “inventory.” The rule is I can maintain my inventory numbers, but never go beyond them.

5. Fix First, Replace Second

All I really have in my house are the basics, which means if something breaks, I really need it. So, I said I had to first try to fix it, then if I couldn’t I could replace it. So far, I’ve only had to replace one thing that couldn’t be fixed.

6. Only Digital Version Of Books

I love reading and do a lot of it. One of my main goals is reading two books a month, minimum. So to do this I chose Audible audiobooks downloaded to my phone. In cases where I want a physical book, I’ve started using the library

7. Gifts For Other People

In some situations, it’s necessary to get gifts for other people. In many cases, I prioritize giving experiences over things. When a birthday or special occasion comes around, I may choose to take someone out to dinner, go to an event, take a trip, or another gift that doesn’t involve buying more “things.”

Six months into my no spend challenge, the only item I’ve purchased (besides food and shampoo) was a new bathmat. Unfortunately, the one I had mildewed and became grungy. After washing the grimy mat (following rule the fifth rule), I decided it needed replacing. When I did replace it, I bought a quality mat and threw out the old one. In six months, only spending $20 on a bathmat is a purchase I can definitely live with, so I still consider the no spend challenge a success so far.

6 Lessons You Need to Succeed at the No Spend Challenge

There are six practical lessons I’ve learned from taking on the no spend challenge. As I work toward a year without spending, these lessons have helped me more successful.

Better yet, these lessons will still apply even after the challenge is up. I would say, even if you don’t plan on taking the no spend challenge for a full year or if you set different parameters for yourself or your family, you will still benefit from applying these minimalist lessons every time you purchase.

If you want to buy less, take on a year without spending, or save money and make wiser purchases, use these 6 lessons to guide you.

1. Start with “Why” Before You Buy

As I mentioned before, when I discovered my “why,” taking on the no spend challenge became much easier. It’s the whole “keep your eye on the prize” mentality. If there are bigger goals you want to achieve, focus on the deeper purpose.

Purpose will keep you on track and give you direction. Again, the no spend challenge isn’t about getting people to stop buying for a year because buying is bad. It’s about implementing plans and purchases to ultimately make your life better. If an item doesn’t make your life better or move you toward your larger purpose, then it’s probably not worth the money.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to take on a no spend challenge?
  • What are my larger goals?
  • Why will this challenge move me toward the goals I want to achieve?

Once you’ve discovered those answers, the rest is easier!

2. Do You Have the Money?

Perhaps the most obvious and easiest question to ask is one we often overlook. Especially with credit and “buy now, pay later,” promotions, it’s easy to live beyond our means. When it comes down to making a purchase—any purchase from a steak dinner vs. ramen noodles—as yourself if you can really afford it.

If you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. Plain and simple. If you’re facing a need you can’t afford, look at the other areas where you spend beyond your means. Are you renting a space that costs more than you can afford? It may be time to move. Does your car payment eat up your budget each month? It may be time to trade in for a cheaper vehicle.

A world of credit has skewed our view on what we can and can’t afford. At the end of the day, if you don’t have the money, don’t buy. It’s that simple.

3. Delay Your Gratification

When you’ve convinced yourself there’s a need to purchase something, add it to your list and wait until the next trip to the store. If you’re shopping and you see an item you want to buy (not on the list), wait until your next trip. The majority of the time the urge to buy will pass before you go back to the store.

This approach works really well with online shopping too. Whenever you want an item, add it to your cart and leave it there. Then the next time you shop, if you still want the item it’s there and ready. Chances are, you’ll find a solution to your problem without spending or you’ll discover you didn’t need the item as much as you thought you did. Waiting helps those who struggle with impulse purchases.  After doing this constantly for 6 months it’s amazing to me how often I find I don’t want something, it’s very eye-opening for a person who didn’t buy a lot to begin with.

4. Ask Yourself What You’re Actually Buying

We buy food because we need to eat. We have a biological imperative to get food. For the majority of our other purchases—clothes, decorations, exercise equipment, appliances—we buy because we’re purchasing an ideal or concept.

When you buy a piece of exercise equipment, it’s not simply because you LOVE to exercise, it’s because you want to get the end result: a healthy, fit body, more energy, lower blood pressure, and so on. You’re buying the equipment because you believe the purchase will give you the outcome you desire.

When you decide to purchase, ask yourself: What am I really buying? What do I hope to gain from this purchase? Will my actions result in the desired outcome or am I just telling myself it will?

We should always look at the stories we’re telling ourselves and the narrative we’re inserting into the purchase. I’ve seen this with people who buy RVs, only to find they wish they’d tested it out first. It turns out they aren’t really “RV people” and now they’ve made a huge purchase that’s hard to undo.

On a smaller scale, I ran into this myself last year when I bought a blender (before I took on the no spend challenge). I looked at the $500+ Vitamix blenders because I like to purchase the highest quality when possible. Looking at the price tag, I decided to opt for a $16 blender at Wal-Mart, telling myself if I used it consistently for three months, I’d splurge on the Vitamix.

Well, after a few weeks of smoothies, I discovered I don’t actually like smoothies all that much. They’re okay, but not $500-blender-level okay. By delaying my gratification and not buying the narrative that the new blender was going to convert me into a “smoothie person,” I saved myself $484.

5. Ask How Else Can You Achieve the Purpose

If there’s an item you want or need, such as clothing, books or tools, ask yourself if there’s another way to achieve the same outcome. Figure out how not to spend money, but still get what you need. Could you borrow the item from a friend? Could you somehow find a workaround to achieve the same results?

Oftentimes we purchase before we really explore alternatives. If there’s a book you want, chances are, you could find it at the library. The same goes for movies you want to see and music you want to listen to. For most tools, you can find rental options through home improvement stores.

Other items, such as clothing, appliances, and dishes are found for less at second-hand stores. You may even check Craigslist or neighborhood exchange pages to find the item for free. Barter and trade with others to get what you need without spending. Learn to create: cook, grow a garden, teach yourself to sew and do small repairs.

When we focus on the desired outcome, we may find many means to an end. A treadmill may seem to solve our desire to get in shape, but could you start going for regular walks instead? Is there an indoor track somewhere you could use for free? In the longer term, would a gym membership cost less and end up taking up less space than a treadmill? Simply buying an item won’t give you the end result you want, so you have to put in the effort. Could you get in shape without spending?

6. Ask: What Will This Purchase Replace?

In minimalism, many of us embrace the “one-in, one-out” rule. This, of course, is vital if you live in a small space. But, even if you have extra room, applying this rule will help you minimize clutter and keep excess stuff from taking over your space. Whenever you buy an item, ask yourself what you’re going to toss out to create room.

If you buy a new shirt, let go of your oldest one. New sneakers? Toss out your old smelly ones. New bathmat? Replace the mildewed one (which was the whole need for buying a new bathmat in the first place).

Don’t let yourself hold onto items that end up cluttering up your life and taking up your valuable space. Taking on a year of buying nothing will help you reprioritize and realize what really matters. What items do you buy “just to buy” and what items do you really need?

As you pare down and prioritize, you’ll discover there’s simplicity and beauty in maintaining the number of items you own. If you decide to purchase something new, toss out something old. Be sure the items you hold onto are what you actually need and enjoy—the items that make your life better and move you toward your bigger goals.

A year of buying nothing is a tough challenge, but not as tough as it may seem at first. Once you go through the process of trying a no spend challenge, you’ll be amazed at how your priorities shift. You may suddenly gain several hours a week you used to go shopping, you can now spend cooking a good meal, taking the time with your family, or going for a walk. You’ll move closer to your financial goals and build momentum to keep going.

I look forward to sharing more about how my year of buying nothing is going. I’d like to hear how you’re doing with your no spend challenge, too.

Your turn!

  • Have you taken on the no spend challenge?
  • What’s the longest you’ve gone without making a purchase?
  • What stories have you told yourself when you bought something you didn’t need?

 

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

Your Complete Guide to Dehydrating Food

I wanted to do a post about dehydrating food—a topic several readers have asked about regarding food preservation and storage—but one problem, I’ve never dehydrated food before!

Undaunted, I decided the best way to teach was to learn about it myself. So I interviewed my pal Jennifer who’s an expert at the process of food dehydration and made this great video to share. Unfortunately, when I got home, I discovered the video was garbled, so instead, I went through my notes and created a step-by-step guide and getting started video for you guys. (Check out my video on food dehydrating below…)

 

Dehydrating food is a great way to preserve food and enjoy it for weeks and even months. To dehydrate foods, they’re simply heated at a low temperature with plenty of air circulation. Using a professional dehydrator is an easier method but you can also dry food in the oven, as I’ll explain.

When it comes to food preservation, I think a lot of people immediately bring up canning. I’ll break down and compare the two methods below, but when you weigh the equipment and cost, dehydrating is a cheaper, easier way, especially for those starting out.

Are you ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know about dehydrating food!

Dehydrating vs. Canning

The aspect of dehydrating that appeals to most homesteaders is the simplicity. Both canning and dehydrating have their strengths, but when it comes to dehydrating, less equipment is required (and it’s a simpler process.) Canning, as you will learn from our video is often a more involved process. While canning gives you a longer shelf-life (1-2 years), there’s a greater risk of serious issues like botulism.

For beginners, here’s the breakdown.

Cost

A food dehydrator is hardly pricier than the initial investment of canning. Most food basic dehydrators start at $40 and some are priced much higher. For fruits and veggies, a simple model should work. You can also dehydrate in your oven but it’s a less exacting process. (Some people even dehydrate food in their car—but let’s leave that to the pros!) In an oven it also takes a long time, during which you’re stuck at home. A food dehydrator requires less supervision.

bannana chips low cost

For newbies using a dehydrator is often the way to go. It does require electricity, so if you’re off the grid, that’s also a consideration. Fortunately most dehydrators don’t require a lot of energy. For a breakdown on dehydrator electricity usage check out this chart. Aside from your food dehydrator, you need knife and a cutting board.

Canning on the other hand requires more gear (depending on your method). If you use the water bath method, you’re looking at an investment in the pot, the jars, lids and tongs. A pressure canner on the other hand costs between $60-$300. So canning ends up being almost the same, if not higher cost than dehydration.

Food Safety

Again, canning and food dehydration are both safe methods of preservation if done correctly. With dehydration you’re removing 90-95% of the water content of food, making it an unwelcoming environment for bacteria and mold. With canning, food is heated to a bacteria-killing temperature and the sterile food is sealed in jars using heat and pressure.

With both processes, you need to follow proper procedures and use common sense. The benefit of canning is you know a jar is sealed by listening for the telltale “pop.” That said, when canning goes bad, it goes really bad (like food poisoning bad). Yes, everyone has a story of their grandparents eating canned food over a decade old, but don’t risk it. Canned food is good for 1-2 years, but you must use an exact, proper method.

food saver bags holding dehydrated fruit

With food dehydration, you check for doneness simply by testing the food. With most fruits and vegetables, they will feel completely dry to the touch. When your food feels dry it’s ready to store for a few weeks or for months in a FoodSaver bag or container. If you’re making jerky on the other hand, you don’t want to play around. That’s when it’s important to test for correct temperatures and follow dehydration procedures.

Taste & Ease of Cooking

Again, people love the taste of dehydrated food and the variety of possibilities. You can make cookies, fruit leather and even bread and crackers with a dehydrator! Many foods like vegetables and fruits are regularly enjoyed in their dehydrated form. Other foods are rehydrated by soaking in water or boiling.

With canning, the contents of the jar are completely cooked. Anyone who’s eaten cold beans out of can knows while they aren’t delicious, they’re certainly edible even without heating. Because of the chemical requirements of safe canning, you need to balance the salt and acid content in the food. This means certain foods are a little saltier or sweeter than your preference. Canned food also has a distinctive texture and taste some people don’t like.

Nutrition

Proponents of dehydrating foods often cite the nutritional benefits of raw food. When food is dehydrated it isn’t cooked. The dehydrating happens at a very low temperature, which means it’s an appealing solution for those who follow a raw food diet.

sun dried tomatoes taste amazing

With canning the food is cooked. However, it is often preserved right from the garden—much fresher than if it had to travel miles from harvest to processing plant. Food preserved in it’s peak state, whether dehydrated or canned often has the same or better nutrition than food stored in the fridge for a while. In both methods of preservation, plenty of good nutrition remains.

Canning or Dehydration: Which Method Wins?

So, which is best? Canning or dehydration? It really depends on the food. Both methods are excellent and serve a purpose.

For storage in a small space, however, dehydration certainly has benefits. After all, when food has been dehydrated, it’s often smaller and “shrunken down” from the original state (think of a raisin versus a grape). Dehydrated food can also be stored in vacuum seal bags or airtight containers—boxes or even reused jars. Canned food is stored in well, cans (or Mason jars) which take up a fair amount of space.

Your dehydrator also requires storage, which is a consideration before you invest. But many dehydrators are fairly compact. Again, the dehydration process also works in your oven (and yes, even in the sun).

What Can be Dehydrated?

You can dehydrate all kinds of different foods. The most common of course are fruits and vegetables and people often think of jerky as well.

Did you know you can also dehydrate breads and baked goods? Make crackers, naan and flatbreads right in your food dehydrator. It’s not difficult, but most require you “flip” them part way through the process to dry both sides. Many people love making cookies and bars in their food dehydrator. You can create fruit leather and even yogurt in some dehydrators.

Most foods need to be cut into small chunks to dehydrate properly. Here are the typical drying times and process to get you started.

Fruits

To start dehydrating fruits, it’s best to begin with the simple basics. Sliced apples, pineapple, apricots and mangos are all great dried fruit for first-time dehydrators.  Banana chips are another common dehydrator-friendly food. Slice the fruit into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

fruit leather

Fruit puree results in easy, delicious and portable fruit leather. Puree three cups of cooked fruit (frozen or fresh) and add water as needed so it’s spreadable. Pour it 1/8-inch-thick into parchment lined trays of your dehydrator or a lined baking sheet. Dehydrate fruit or fruit leather at 140 for 6-12 hours. Test for tackiness as you go. Use honey or syrup to sweeten.

Vegetables

With vegetables, you’ll want to blanch or steam the vegetable first (particularly if it’s a veggie you’d eat cooked normally like green beans). Mushrooms, onions and other “raw-friendly” vegetables don’t need pre-cooking. As with fruit, slice the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.

The method for drying vegetables is very similar to fruit. The drying often concentrates the natural sweetness in the vegetables and with a little salt and seasoning they turn into great chips. Try tomatoes and peppers for a chewier snack too. Depending on the moisture content in the food, it will take anywhere from 6-12 hours.

dried corn for cooking

Once dried, store your dehydrated food in airtight containers, jars or FoodSaver-type vacuum seal bags. Once opened or exposed to air, the food should be enjoyed within two-weeks. The shelf-stability will depend on the amount of moisture left in the food, so use common sense. Obviously, if you see signs of mold or spoiling, discard the food.

Meats

To make jerky in a dehydrator, you’ll need to heat it higher. Meat needs to be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees, so preheat your oven or dehydrator first for at least thirty minutes, before you start. Marinate meat ahead of time, using your favorite flavoring.

The internal temperature of the meat must reach 160 during the cooking process to remain food safe. You can do this by either drying your jerky for 4-6 hours in the dehydrator and then cooking for 10 minutes in a 275-degree oven OR steam or roast the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before dehydrating for 4-6 hours.

When it comes to meat, remember you aren’t limited to just beef jerky either. Try pre-sliced ham, beef or turkey for a great, different flavor (following the same method). You can also dry fish, such as salmon!

Methods for Dehydrating

There are several methods for dehydrating foods. The oven is probably the most convenient (since most people own an oven), but if you enjoy dehydrating often and like the convenience of “setting and forgetting it,” a dehydrator is a worthwhile investment.

Oven

Using the oven to dehydrate your food is easy. Simply preheat your oven to 145 degrees for fruits and vegetables and 160 degrees for meat (following the jerky process outlined above). Using a wire rack on a cookie sheet will help air circulate, but food dries well on a silicone baking sheet also. You may want to use parchment too. Parchment works especially for fruit leather– easily peel, cut and roll the leather before you enjoy.

Smoking/Salting

preserve food with salt

If you want to cure and preserve meat the old-fashioned way, smoking and salting are tried and true methods. Because the objective is to remove all moisture from the food before preserving these methods work well and add great flavor. There are a number of food safety guidelines to follow if you decide to cure, smoke or salt your own food. For the best guidelines I recommend visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s site on Smoking and Curing.  The internal temperature and sanitation guidelines are critical especially when working with raw meat.

Dehydrator

You can purchase a basic food dehydrator for $60 on up to deluxe models costing in the thousands. If you frequently preserve food, investing in a dehydrator may be worth it. This is especially helpful for hunters, gardeners or those who rely on food storage during the winter months (or if you simply enjoy dehydrated and dried foods). Dehydrating is a great way to extend your food storage capacity and safely prepare food to enjoy later.

food dehydrator excalibur

The Nesco and the Excalibur brand food dehydrators are the most popular and well-reviewed. There are also models from Presto, NutriChef and Cuisinart. For simple, small space dehydrators Nesco offers both a small square dehydrator and small round version for well under $100. Watch second-hand stores or Craigslist to score a dehydrator on the cheap.

If you’re interested in preserving food for storage or simply for delicious snacks, food dehydration is a great way to go. It’s easy and fun. You’ll end up with plenty of delicious foods to enjoy for months. After talking to Jennifer about dehydrating, I’ve definitely decided to give it a shot. Even if you’re a beginner, dehydrating is a great way to preserve food!

The Ultimate Guide To Finding Land for Your Tiny House or Homestead

It could be to build your tiny house on or to start a homestead, many of us want a little place to call our own.  Finding and buying land is a tricky thing, but there are some things we can do to help making finding land a little easier.

finding land

Before we start looking it’s really important to understand what we actually are looking for and to that we need to understand what we actually need our land to do. Many of us dream of a 100 beautiful acres with a nice river, great views and easy access, but the reality of managing that much land would be too much for most people.

Determining Your Needs

writing in notebook

In my own search for land I thought I wanted 20-30 acres, but after some careful examination all I really needs was 3 really good acres, anything beyond that was bonus in my mind.  It can be hard to figure out what we really figure out exactly how much you need, so start with understanding that an acre is a square that is 209 feet long and 209 feet wide.  That really helped me grasp the true size of an acre.

From there I sat down and listed all the things I wanted to do on that land.  For me it was the following:

  • 1 small home
  • 1 big workshop/outbuilding
  • 10 chickens
  • 2 pigs
  • 2 bee hives
  • 10 fruit trees
  • 1000 square feet of garden

It took me a while to really nail down what I wanted to do now and in the future, but those things were critical to do on the land I want to buy.  From there I was able to estimate how many square feet I need for each and any spacing requirements (like I wanted the shop and pigs to be hidden from the house).  From that I concluded I needed  three main areas: the house (1 acre), the animals/garden section (half acre) and the shop area (1 acre).  Adding in some buffer space I came up with my 3 acre target if all the land was totally usable.

gardening on land

The important part here is to figure out what you are actually going to do. Being realistic, too often people dream of a place with lots of cows, horses, and other animals or a little house miles away from their neighbors.  Be honest with yourself and realize that you most likely don’t need massive swaths of land unless you have a very specific need which you already have experience with (ie: you’ve raised cattle before and want your own ranch).

Determine the area

When it comes to land we all know the saying: “location, location, location”.  For me it all comes down to two main factors: proximity to employment and my willingness to drive a certain length of time on a daily basis.  For other people there will be other factors, but all I really care about is if I need a job, can I find one and how long do I want to be in car.

location location location

Don’t get caught up in the trendy areas or close to the city center because those places often have more rules, higher prices and more buyer competition.  Being open to more areas and being flexible will improve your likelihood of finding a great spot.

Figure Out Your Budget

Before you get into the search figure out how much you can afford and agree on a upper limit.   This may be the time you get pre-approved for a mortgage or land loan if you’re going that route.  If you don’t have much money, check out our post on how to buy land with no money.

Use Online Tools

At the time of writing this post, Zillow.com is my favorite tool to find land.  I’ve setup several saved searches that automatically find and highlight properties that meet my criteria.  The one major downside to this tool is there is no option to filter properties without restrictions or HOAs, that was a big one for me and will be for many of you.  Since I did my homework on what I wanted I knew that what I wanted to do on the land wasn’t going to be allowed in a community with restrictions.

Some people have had luck with Land Watch or Craigslist, I personally haven’t found much luck there and the usability of their sites is a deal breaker for me.

Check this video out below about how I search for land and evaluate listings.  I’ll dig into the tools, plus some awesome tricks.

Drive Around

rent to own signThere comes a point where you just need to get out there and driving around the area you want to be in can give you some good leads.  You’ll find “for sale by owner” signs which most likely aren’t listed online anywhere. You’ll see a property that you like that you could approach the owners about if they own a large parcel and you want to buy a part of it.  There is a lot to be gained by driving around even if you don’t find any leads, you learn more about the area you’re thinking of buying in.

Work Your Networks

People always discount the opportunities that might be sitting right in front of them the whole time.  Get clear on what you’re looking for, what you can afford and the areas you’re looking in and create a digital flyer.  Take that flyer and post it on all your social networks, email your friends asking them if they have any leads and if you know any old timers or farmers, reach out to them too.  All these people know other people and by getting the word out there, you might find some great options.

Use A Realtor

searching for landA Realtor is some that you can use to find land if you’re ready to buy.  Since you’re the buyer, there is no fee to use one since the seller will pay all the commissions.

It took me about a month to find someone that I liked working with, that was helpful, communicated well and we clicked pretty well.  I found that there are a lot of realtors that will just try to get a quick sale or only kind of listen, I weeded those out quickly if they kept bringing me poor listings.

Once you do find a good realtor, understand they are investing their time to help you find your land and they don’t get paid unless they close.  If you go this route, make sure you’re ready to buy and respect their time.  It is fine to end a working relationship if they aren’t delivering what you need, but if they’re doing a good job make sure you close with them as your agent so they can get their commission.

I found mine through doing inquiries through Zillow; there was one agent that stood out from the rest for me and I stuck with him.

Go Old School

If you’re in smaller towns, looking for farm land, or if you’re really scrapping for leads check out the newspaper or local print listings.  These are often a lot of older listings, duplicates of online, but you may be able to find some new leads.

Check out local shops and community centers for bulletin boards. While your at it, leave your flyer you made earlier to see if you stir up any new leads.  Again, we may not find a lot of options, but if you do get a call the person might be willing to strike a deal or know someone who is selling land.

Talk With Farmers

Land is a tool of the trade for farmers and they usually have more of it than most people.  I find that they are also very practical people, so if you’re a younger person with dreams of building a homestead or small farm, they might be willing to do owner financing.  In some cases you can also rent land for a while until you do find the right property.

talking with farmers

Farming folks are also really great to have as friends. They’re handy, they have a lot of local connections and they have equipment that they might be willing to lend you.  You might even hit it off with some of them and offer to help out on their farms for free at times to learn some particular skill.  I remember weeding strawberry beds with one farmer and while we were working I’d ask a bunch of questions.

Take A Break

Sometimes things just aren’t working for you or the market is over-valued.  It’s better to buy during low periods because you can find more options and better deals.  If we buy at the height of a market, we might end up paying too much for that property and will have to wait a long time, if ever, to get out from under a property we paid too much for.

So those are some of my suggestions on how to find land to purchase for your tiny house or homestead.  Let me know in the comments what you’ve learned in your own search!

Your Turn!

  • What tricks and tips have you learned to find land?

How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

The term “minimalist kitchen” is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, many of us love cooking and the kitchen is one of the most complex areas of our home. Even with a tiny house, my kitchen is my “command center.” I like cooking. I keep my kitchen organized and clean it every day–it’s small and orderly…but does mean it’s a “minimalist kitchen?”

kitchen staples

At the heart of it, minimalism is all about embracing simplicity. When we have a bunch of expired ingredients on hand and storage for a small army we’ll never need to feed, it gets stressful. Rather than working through a cluttered kitchen and sorting through expired jars of who-knows-what, a minimalist kitchen list consists of items you use regularly for meals you enjoy. Stock your minimalist kitchen with the equipment you’ll use and the items needed to prepare your favorite foods. That’s it.

When it comes down to it, all you really need to store in your pantry or kitchen are the ingredients to tide you over until your next trip to the store. Now, that said, there are a few staples that are helpful to keep on hand. This is especially true if the weather gets bad or life gets busy and you need the components of a meal, fast.

So what items should go on your minimalist kitchen list? What are the basic guidelines for stocking a minimalist pantry and what ingredients will maximize your meals in a minimal amount of space, clutter, and stress? This is what I’ve discovered when it comes to keeping a small, but useful kitchen and pantry.

Guidelines for Stocking a Minimalist Pantry

If you’re ready to start cutting out pantry clutter, especially if you have a small storage space, there are a few guidelines you should follow:

1. Buy only what you like

buy food you like

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they stock a small pantry is storing extra food for special meals or occasions—from cake mix to cranberry sauce. Some people get a “food storage list” and assume they should buy every item on it. Only buy foods you like to eat and eat regularly. If you don’t bake, then don’t keep baking supplies on hand. If you aren’t a fan of beans, don’t feel like you should buy beans for your storage. This is especially applicable if your space is at a minimum.

2. Watch for items that go with many different meals

Ingredients like broth or canned tomatoes go with all sorts of dishes. It’s a good idea to keep a few cans on hand. The same goes for items like pasta, oil, spices, and rice. Look for simple ingredients that work into many of your favorite meals.

3. Stick to a meal routine

taco tuesday food planningJust like wearing similar outfits every day, sticking with a regular meal routine cuts out a lot of stress. If you know you’re always going to enjoy Taco Tuesday or fish on Friday, then you don’t need to spend time planning and ensuring you’ve purchased a bunch of different ingredients. Treat yourself by going out when you want to enjoy a meal out of the routine or plan a dinner at home for a special occasion. The rest of the time, stick with foods you enjoy and put them in a regular rotation.

4. Purchase shelf-stable items

Stocking a pantry, whether big or small, calls for shelf-stable items. When you purchase foods requiring cold storage like freezing or refrigeration, it takes up a lot of room. This is a problem if you don’t have a much fridge or freezer space. I have a very small fridge (a 4.4 cu ft bar fridge), which I use to house the basics: milk, meat, cheese and fresh vegetables. Many items (like eggs, butter and produce) are easily and safely stored right on the counter or on shelves rather than in your fridge.

5. Watch expiration dates

If you’re decluttering and organizing your pantry, watch your expiration dates! Anything past the “best by” date, get rid of! If you don’t plan to eat it (but it’s still good) consider donating it to a food bank. Don’t keep items you don’t like or won’t eat before their expiration date. Chalk it up to a good life lesson and toss it out.

when do food expire chart

6. Store only what you’ll need until your next trip to the market

You don’t need to store weeks or months of food in your pantry, especially if you’re applying a minimalist approach. Store only what you’ll use before your next trip to the market. Keep a few basic ingredients on hand to pull together meals you enjoy.

Minimalist Kitchen List: 16 Pantry Basics You Need on Hand

Obeying the guidelines above, these are pantry basics most people like to store. Again—follow your own preferences and habits. If you don’t bake, skip baking supplies. If you’re a vegetarian, then you won’t have much use for canned meat or jerky. Keep one or two weeks’ worth of each item on hand.

1. Beans

beans for pantry

Beans are inexpensive, easy store and a great source of protein. If your storage space is limited, beans give you a great shelf-stable option to dress up or dress down. Dried beans and chickpeas are typically softened by soaking overnight. Lentils and split peas will soften as they cook (no need to soak). Beans provide a nice, simple base for many dishes.

2. Rice

rice as pantry staple

Rice is another great, simple item to keep on-hand, especially if you don’t have much space. Store it easily—any dry spot will do. There are tons of meal options using rice as the base. Mexican food, Middle Eastern dishes and Asian meals all work well with rice. There are many different types of rice: Jasmine, Basmati, sushi…but buy basic white or brown rice (white takes less time to cook) if you only have room to store one type.

3. Baking Supplies

baking items - flour, sugar, salt

If you’re a regular baker, you may want to purchase baking supplies (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.). Buy only the basics you need in between your trips to the store and watch for items like Bisquick or cake mix which are used to bake several different dishes. When space is limited, baking supplies take up a lot of room, but for those who use them often it’s well worth the sacrifice of space. I personally prefer to buy a few pre-made baked goods, so I don’t need to store ingredients like big bags of flour.

4. Spices

piles of spices in spoons

Spices are an area where many people tend to go overboard. After all, they don’t require much space, they’re inexpensive and add flavor, so why not stock up on every spice, right? Well, spices actually have a very short shelf-life. Many ground spices only stay potent and flavorful for a year or two after opening. Dried herbs tend to last even less time. It’s better to buy small quantities you’ll use up quickly and regularly. Salt and pepper are exceptions of course. I keep my grinders along with Texas Pete (the best hot sauce ever–sorry Tabasco) right on hand at all times.

5. Pasta

keep dry pasta in pantry

Pasta is a fast, easy meal to enjoy all kinds of ways. Add peanut butter and soy sauce for Asian peanut noodles. Use pasta as a base for spaghetti or enjoy plain noodles with a little olive oil, cheese and egg. Dried pasta is easy to store, so it’s smart to keep a box or two ready for meals.

6. Canned Tomatoes

cans of tomatoes

Canned tomatoes can be pureed to make tomato sauce. Use them as a base for soup, stir them into pasta, or use them in chili. Canned tomatoes are another versatile and easy to store ingredient, even in the smallest pantry. They add a lot of flavor and stretch many different meals.

7. Oil

olive oil for cooking

There are many oil options. I tent to prefer olive oil because it’s shelf-stable and easy to use in almost any dish. Coconut oil is another good option because it’s used in both cooking and baking. Whichever type you choose, oil is a must-have for your minimalist kitchen list, especially if you’re looking for ingredients you’ll use all the time. Use oil to brown meat, keep vegetables from sticking or in pasta dishes. You can use olive oil as a swap for butter to dip bread. Add lemon juice or vinegar to oil and make instant salad dressing.

8. Dried Fruit

dried fruits

Dried fruit is one of those like it or hate it foods. Some people think raisins are the worst ever while others love them. As far as pantry foods go, dried fruit is pretty versatile. Use it in trail mix, add it to baked goods for sweetness, keep dried fruits on hand for snacking or adding into salads and sandwiches. If you like oatmeal or hot cereal, dried fruit is a nice addition. Again—choose only the type you like.

9. Cereal & Oats

dried oats and oatmeal

Basic cereals like Chex, corn flakes or Rice Krispies are great to keep on hand because you can use them as a coating for chicken or fish. Use them in rice crispy treats or snack mix. Then, of course, you can also enjoy them as a breakfast or snack with milk. You may also want to keep oats in your pantry too. Oatmeal is a great hot cereal and oats are often used in cookies and other baked treats.

10. Canned Vegetables & Soups

canned soups in pantry

As far as canned vegetables go, some people love them, while others can’t stand them. They’re certainly easy to store, especially if you’re living in a small space. Keeping a few cans of corn or another basic vegetable is smart, in case you need a quick meal or side dish. Similarly, soups are used for all sorts of meals, so storing a few cans of broth or soup makes a lot of sense for most people. To take up even less space, buy concentrated bullion cubes or paste, then just add water.

11. Peanut Butter & Nuts

peanut butter and nuts

Peanut butter is a great high protein snack and it’s also an ingredient in all kinds of meals. Peanut butter is used in Asian or African cooking. Peanut butter’s easy to store and almost everyone loves a PB&J when you need a fast, easy meal. Keeping nuts like cashews or almonds in your pantry is a good idea too. Add them in cereal, use them to top salads, add them to stir-fry and in other dishes.

12. Canned Meat/Fish

chicken for meals

Having a few packets or cans of tuna fish on hand is a basic for most pantries. If you need an easy way to add protein to your meals: just open a can of tuna and stir it into pasta or make a tuna fish sandwich. Canned chicken is also a good option to put together a chicken salad, use in soups, casseroles or pasta dishes.

13. Shelf-Stable Dairy & Sauces

shelf stable sauces

Parmesan cheese is shelf-stable and can be stored unopened in your pantry for a very long time. Soy or powdered milk is also a good idea if you only venture to the store occasionally and run out of regular milk between trips. It’s also used as an ingredient in many dishes. Most salad dressings, mayonnaise and sauces are shelf-stable until they’re opened. If you go through these items fast, it makes sense to add one extra bottle to your minimalist kitchen list.

14. Jerky

beef jerky lasts long in storage

Jerky is easy to store. It doesn’t take up much room and it’s great to keep on hand for a quick snack. Look for individually packaged sticks as well as different flavors and types. There’s turkey jerky, salmon jerky and even jerky with caffeine in it (a.k.a. Perky Jerky). If you need a high protein snack that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, jerky is a good option.

15. Bread & Crackers

crackers

Keeping bread and crackers on hand is a smart plan. Bread doesn’t last a long time though, so only store what you will eat within a week or two. Crackers are more shelf-stable and will last for months unopened. Tortillas are another option to keep on hand. If your space is small or if you’re looking for less clutter in your pantry, pick one type of bread you will use in several different ways.

16. Snacks

cookies

When it comes to snacks we all have our own preferences. Keep a few snacks on hand, but don’t go overboard. Cookies or chips are easy to store and don’t usually take up much room. Again, the best rule of thumb is to only store what you’ll eat within a week or two (between trips to the store). Most snacks aren’t used as ingredients for another meal, so there’s no reason to keep more than you need (unless you anticipate a snack emergency).

Your food storage is a lifesaver (literally!) if the weather is bad, if you live in a remote area or if you can’t get to the store for whatever reason. Keeping a minimalist kitchen should help make your life and meal planning less stressful. If you store only the basic ingredients you need for your favorite meals, you’ll always be prepared, even if you’re stuck at home or don’t have time to fix something big. Cut out the clutter and unnecessary items in your pantry today!

 Your turn!

  • What are your must-have minimalist pantry items?
  • Do you stick to a meal routine or mix it up?

The Tiny Life’s Goals – 2016

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.

Ryan:

ryan1I 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:

love-quotes-a-man-asked-lord-buddha-i-want-happiness-lord-buddha-said-first-remove-i-thats-ego-then-remove-want-thats-desire-see-now-you-are-left-with-only-happiness

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:

  1. Learn something totally new, try a new hobby or dig into something complex
  2. Take a class, go to a conference, workshop or other learning event
  3. Seek out situations outside my comfort zone
  4. Talk more to you, my readers
  5. Teach/mentor/coach
  6. Test things to foster gratitude
  7. Do more trips with friends and family
  8. Read a book on stoicism
  9. Book time with no phone or internet, preferably in the woods

My Long-Term Goals:

  1. Sail from Florida to Mexico, arriving to see the Giant Sea Ray migration
  2. Do a river boat tour down the Danube or Rhine
  3. Go see the fall colors in New England
  4. Go on the Trans Siberian Railroad in luxury class
  5. Learn to play the harmonica
  6. Continue being self-employed
  7. Pay for my next car with cash

Amy:

amy1I 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.

Here are some of my resolutions for 2016.

My Goals for 2016:

  1. Quit eating sugar for one month
  2. Read twelve books
  3. Purchase my tiny house trailer
  4. Bench press my own body weight
  5. Create five finished art pieces
  6. Do one input deprivation day per month
  7. Write five handwritten letters

My Long-Term Goals:

  1. Build a tiny house (but you guys already knew that)
  2. Live in Japan for at least 3 months
  3. Learn to play the violin
  4. Road trip across the US in a hand-built camper
  5. Play Hamlet
  6. Deadlift 400 pounds
  7. Write, illustrate, and publish a graphic novel

Your Turn!

  • Did you accomplish your goals for 2015?
  • How do you like to set (and keep!) your New Year’s Resolutions?