Financial Benefits of Small Living

Posted August 24th, 2009 by Tyson and filed in Issue 12: Small Spaces and Finances, Uncategorized

I think the main financial benefits of small living are pretty apparent.

Built-in Savings

These are the obvious up-front savings you should expect to see with decreased rent or purchase/construction cost. Add to that (or subtract from it!) the limited utility and maintenance costs associated with small living, and we’ve got most of the financial benefits of small living accounted for.

So much money can be saved right here that I can say with some certainty that there are loads of people out there who don’t identify as small-housers, (or even know that such a thing as the small-living movement exists) who nevertheless choose to rent or purchase tiny apartments or houses simply because they cost less; the money they’re not spending is instead salted away or put to better use.

Minimized Consumer Spending

This is probably the second biggest financial benefit to small living. The small house, as we have all no doubt observed, offers scant quarter for superfluous items, (so little in fact that it may present a bit of a problem when Christmas or birthdays roll around, because one can begin to dread the presents purchases by clueless but well-intentioned loved ones.

giant bear

“Um. Thanks?”

So obviously, the small-houser is prohibited from excessive consumer spending simply by virtue of space issues. This should contribute to financial strength.

Simple Living, Organization, and Finance

I’d LIKE to think that the practical steps taken when moving towards the simplicity and organization that the small house demands would have salutary consequences in the realm of financial organization, budgeting, and spending etc. This is however, merely a speculation on my part. Financial discipline is it’s own realm, but I can see it going hand-in-hand with the discipline of small-living.

Tiny Testimonial

Why tiny?

I’m such a total proponent of small housing that it would be simpler for me to discuss the things that turn me off about tiny houses. Nevertheless, here is my “Benefits of Tiny Housing” blitz.

Modesty

modesty
In a society built so heavily on self-aggrandizement and the display of material status symbols, (a condition that leaves me in a state of  virtually perpetual disgust), the tiny house is a modest house. And it’s nice to imagine that modesty still has admirers in America.

Affordability – The tiny house is an affordable house. While the price of prefab tiny houses ranges considerably, the vast majority of tiny house options run a fraction of the price of a conventional house. In fact, the tiny house averages in the new car price range.

Accessibility – I am not a man of means. I live in one of the most expensive regions in the world on a rather pitiful income. The likelihood of home ownership, (something I’ve dreamt about from a very young age), has, for my whole life, seemed on the same order as space travel. But then, I was imagining a conventional house. The comparative affordability of the tiny house renders it far more psychologically accessible than the conventional house to a chronically destitute individual like myself.

Customization

customization
The tiny house, in every incarnation I have come across, is highly customized to the needs and desires of the people who call it home. Customization is essential to turning a dwelling into a home, and the tiny house lends itself uniquely to customization.

Mobility

mobility

Tiny houses, even the ones that don’t come with integrated wheels, are vastly more mobile than their conventional counterparts.

Empowerment

empowerment
The tiny house, because of the simplicity of its engineering and construction, invites owner design and building, (or at the very least, much greater participation in these activities). Participation in the design and construction of one’s own home is not only deeply fulfilling, but also an unsurpassed opportunity for practical education and confidence building.

Minimalism – The tiny house demands the discipline of minimalism, which can promote increased focus on the individual activities and material objects that make up our lives.

Ease of Maintenance – The tiny house requires less work in cleaning and maintenance. The less there is, the less there is to care for.

Conscience – The tiny house, whose construction and operation consume far fewer resources than a conventional house, should assuage the conscience of the individual who considers consumption a vice and conservation a virtue.

Less Energy to Heat and Cool – With obvious financial and conservation benefits.

Historically and Globally Appropriate

world housing
Housing for virtually all people throughout human history, and today for most people throughout the world, is and has always been tiny. The conventional house is a disruptive anomaly.

Character Compression

character compression
The tiny house enjoys character compression. Tiny houses have easily as much personality as conventional houses, but distilled into a much smaller frame. This distillation produces a more potent product.

Embraces the Outdoors – The tiny house encourages forays out of doors. This is good.

Higher Quality Product – Because construction of a tiny house requires a fraction of the materials of a conventional house, it encourages an investment in higher quality materials.

Coziness

cozy
The cozy factor of the tiny house is off the charts.

The Small House Community

small house community
Tiny housers are fun, interesting, and unique! (At least that’s my general evaluation). Becoming involved in the small house community is a great perk of tiny housing. And we haven’t even witnessed the arrival of the prophesied Intentional Tiny House Community yet! Think how cool that would hypothetically be if it ever, you know, happened!

The Salvage Factor

salvage
Tiny Texas Houses owner Brad Kittel has demonstrated that the tiny house can be built out of approximately 95% reclaimed materials. Once again, the financial and conservation benefits should be self-evident.

Lower Visual Profile

minimal visual impact
The tiny house takes up less space visually! That means it’s not messing up your neighbor’s view. And if your neighbor is a tiny houser, her house isn’t messing yours up either.

Decreased Impact on Immediate Surroundings

decreased impact on surroundings
The tiny house has a tiny footprint, and the negligible engineering requirements mean that the site preparation work is insignificant compared to that required for a conventional house. This means less impact on the immediate natural surroundings, which is good for all the other things that happen to be living there.

Site Specific Design

site specificity
The tiny house’s reduced impact on the immediate surroundings, coupled with the customization and owner participation to which it lends itself, encourages a degree of site specific design that the conventional house simply cannot offer.

Decreases Consumption by Necessity – Life in the tiny house enforces a consumption pattern radically diminished from the lifestyle encouraged by the conventional house; you are simply forced to consume less.

Relieves Wage Slavery – The lessened financial burden of life in a tiny house should presumably empower the owner with greater financial independence.

Strength – Consider the ant. Proportionate to it’s size the ant is mighty! This is a general physical phenomenon – relative strength is inversely proportionate to size – i.e., small stuff is inherently stronger, big stuff is inherently weaker. That’s why, given a fixed set of materials, engineering small stuff is easier and engineering big stuff is harder. (This explains why there are loads of tiny flying creatures and not many giant ones).

What does this mean for the tiny house? My house endured being dragged 600+ feet up a 30+ degree slope with a winch hooked to the framing, and suffered only minor cosmetic damage. Imagine trying this with a conventional house.

house moving

And last, but certainly not least, the tiny house is the house that has allowed me to build my home in my favorite place in the world.

Thank you, tiny house.

*Special photography credits to Amanda Abel

The Splendid Kitchenette

Posted July 13th, 2009 by Tyson and filed in Issue 9: Food and Cooking

pastaI like to eat.

A lot.

I have to digress here and note that as I have grown up, I have never ceased to be astonished by the amount of time, energy, and sheer activity required in the maintenance of a space and the life it contains. Spending hours preparing a meal and cleaning up after it remains a concept almost impossible for my mind to accommodate.

This makes eating difficult.

So, barring a magic kitchen that prepares my food and cleans the dishes, I’ve discovered that in order to eat food that I can enjoy, the preparation and cleanup must be extremely easy. In order for that to be the case my food storage, preparation, and cleanup station MUST be simple and efficient. Having my own tiny house has given me the unprecedented luxury of designing my own highly functional simple cooking setup.

I’m not going to write about recipes or my philosophical perspectives on food in this issue, except to say that I avoid purchasing meat that isn’t fish, that I’ve started my first garden this year, that I am averse to cooking anything that takes longer than thirty minutes and unlikely to prepare anything that requires more than an hour, and that I rather despise recipes. (Cooking, for me, is almost always an exercise in improvisation, and frequently draws on an idea I like to call MexItalian Fusion).

I would like to talk a bit about my kitchenette, which is something to which I’ve devoted a fair bit of time and experimentation.

Here is the layout.

Small Living Journal Cooking 006

(Not that It’s actually been entirely implemented yet. Far from it. But I’m pretty sure that this is what it’s going to ultimately be like. I’ll start with what I’ve got so far, which presumably is the most important elements.)

The bulk of the primary storage, preparation, and cleanup is laid out linearly. I have 11.5 sq/ft of counter/workspace which is directly adjacent to the stove. I think this may be the most important thing of all. In my cooking experience, nothing is more frustrating than inadequate prep space located more than arms length from the stove top. (Nothing has delighted me more than having my buddy Dylan, a chef, test out my kitchen and tell me he thinks it’s more functionally designed than most full-sized kitchens – another victory for the design-by-prototype approach.) Eventually, this location will also host a small cabinet for essential foodstuff, as well as recessed under-counter storage,  and a couple stools that can live underneath as well for simple eating at the counter.

Directly to the right of the counter space, located under a window, is the little Magic Chef four-burner apartment stove. (The window location is rather crucial because it provides great ventilation). This little champ is only 20 inches wide and less than 24 deep, and more than adequate for the sort of cooking I do. These things are cheap used ($60 dollar range) and as common as flies, and this one is converted over to run on liquid propane. (As is the on-demand water heater. This makes for a completely propane driven kitchen, which lends itself exquisitely to off-the-grid living powered by two 5 gallon propane tanks.)

To the right of the stove is a big, ugly, plastic utility sink. It had been sitting outside the shop at work doing nothing for about a year until I asked my boss if I could have it. It gets the job done for the time being, but if I can find a sink of the same dimensions but with two basins, that’s the sort of thing I really want.

So here’s my big idea for dish cleanup and storage – the little dish cabinet is going to be located directly above the sink (high enough up to avoid banging your head). But it’s going to have an open bottom, and instead of shelves it’s just going to be dish racks, thus integrating dish washing, drying, AND storage. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve heard a rumor that this is common in Spain.

As you can see, there appears to be something located directly under another window, obstructing the access to the sink. This is a little (probably Ikea) rolling island butcher block that I picked up used for $7. It more or less lives in that location, partially obstructing sink access, until it’s time to cook or clean, at which point it easily rolls over a few feet and blocks off access to the bathroom. Not the most elegant arrangement I suppose, but it gives me another 2.5 sq/ft of counter space, some shelving, and utilizes the principle of Sequential Access in a way that’s not terribly inconvenient.

In the corner by the island and the bathroom door is a hypothetical floor-to-ceiling pantry. This will be used for bulk dry food storage, etc.

Small Living Journal Cooking 002

On the other side of the bathroom door is my latest folly, the newly restored Randall icebox, presumably built in 1921 (if we are to believe the ancient sticker pasted inside the ice compartment).

It was my Christmas present from my parents, who had had it forever. My dad had been using it to store hydraulic fittings for a couple decades. I’ve spent the past six months restoring it, off and on. I stripped out all the old lead paint, tarpaper, and nasty paneling, put in a bunch of extruded polystyrene insulation, and put her back together. Friday I finally inaugurated her with thirty pounds of dry ice, a 12 pack of coca cola, and a gallon of milk.

I’m still working out the kinks, but i’ve got an ice-cold coke for anyone who wants to come visit. Unfortunately that’s about all I can offer. I just checked on it and all thirty lbs of dry ice has all sublimated away in 48 hours. I have to go back to the drawing board on this one – one of the obvious drawbacks of the design-by-prototype approach.

My cooking setup is rounded out by a salvaged charcoal grill I’ve got out on the deck. There’s really not much else I could ask for in a kitchen. Sure a microwave and a toaster oven would come in handy, but they consume a lot of electricity and take up more space than I can afford to sacrifice.

Somehow, I think I’ll get by.

Guerilla Housing

Posted July 1st, 2009 by Tyson and filed in Issue 8: Bureaucracy/Regs.
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As we have all no doubt seen, the state seems to frown on simple living. So the simplest way to bypass the hurdles is to have a house that qualifies as a mobile dwelling, i.e., has wheels.

Of course, that puts some pretty strict constraints on your dwelling. If you can’t, or are unwilling to accommodate those constraints, you’re probably going to have to think of something else.

In an ideal situation, you live somewhere that has lenient rules about the sort of structures you can build. According to Peter King, in the part of Vermont where he lives he can basically build whatever he wants, wherever, whenever. But most of us aren’t that fortunate.

In my own situation, the county I live in has the standard strict regulations. I’ve periodically looked into working with the county to subdivide the property, or get permits and go the legal route on everything pertaining to my house. Realistically, it all comes down to money – if you have money, you can just start throwing it at problems until the problems disappear, because with enough money someone will be happy to show you how the rules will bend to accommodate you. Unfortunately for me, money is something I never seem to have much of.

So, barring a benevolent municipality or the ready cash to make the problems go away, the final option is to just go guerilla.

The feasibility of this will of course depend on your situation. One fly by night small house story I’ve heard involved building a small house out of reclaimed barn materials which wound up looking like an old shack from the outside, and then moving it into it’s location overnight. The building looked so old and wasn’t placed in a prominent location, so the county just assumed it had been sitting there forever. Now it’s a bed-and-breakfast.

In my own case, I looked into what it would take to build a tiny house by going through the proper channels, and, like I mentioned, discovered that there really was no feasible way for me to do it, so I kinda tabled the whole idea. Then a tiny building came along at a great price, and seemed to cry out to be converted into a tiny house. I sprung on it with the help of my father, and hauled it out to Aromas. Then we got down to picking out a spot for it where it wouldn’t be too obvious, and just dragged the thing into position.

Because it was already built and all we had to do was relocate the structure, there wasn’t a great deal of construction commotion associated with the genesis of the building itself. Also, in my county, the officials doesn’t get involved with these things unless somebody complains, so unless I give my neighbors reason for complaint there shouldn’t be a problem. Like they say, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and my family has been here for thirty years, so hopefully we won’t have an issue.

Of course, when you take the guerilla path, you’ve gotta content yourself with hoping, and there are a lot of people who won’t be comfortable living like that.

The Wealth of Nations

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Tyson and filed in Issue 6: Community
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Community has been the way of life for all humans on this planet since the dawn of our species. Communities existed by necessity and survived by shared values. But the defining social problem of the past 150 years is that improvements in transportation have eliminated the necessity of strong communities while developments in communication have radically altered or disposed of shared values.

In a free-market system, these technological improvements have been driven by profit motive and exploited with little concern for social consequences. For an image, consider how in the U.S. everyone drives a car and freight is shipped by truck, as opposed to a reliance on highly efficient rail systems. And of course communication rests in the vice grip of advertising and can never be relinquished (which reminds me oddly of a scripture that named Satan the Prince of the Powers of the Air).

We’re more interested in the technology of the future than the sociology of the future, because the money’s in the technology. So as we busily slam together disparate societies in the interest of prosperity, the master society is downgrading those cultural elements that are incoherent to the whole and in the process marginalizing the devotees of those relics. The nice olde-tymie name for this is the Melting Pot, but we should probably call it Cultural Imperialism, or McWorld, because the synthesis is of such questionable value; the majority pay lip service to the traditions and beliefs of the past while embracing the popular lifestyle, (which is whatever is sold to them through the common avenues of communication), and are more or less satisfied with the status quo, while the think-for-themselvers think for themselves, subject to the infinite permutations of values, and find difficulty cooperating.

Thus, those of us who are dissatisfied with our current social arrangement and long for community find that the deck is stacked against authentic, functional, interdependent communities  (i.e. zoning, legality, and the sheer difficulty of getting people to live and work together outside of the conventional structure), while anyone who’s bought into the system won’t even see the point.

So, unfortunately, I don’t foresee any large-scale reemergence of strong communities around here until the grander forms of cooperation become too impractical, which won’t be until transportation and communication become too costly or dangerous. This is to say, nothing will change until necessity forces our hands.

At this point the byzantine absurdity of our financial system and our international economic interdependence should clue us in that the Wealth of Nations is kind of imaginary, in which case we might not have to wait too long until we are forced to organize ourselves into self-sufficient communities once more. And if, perhaps, that’s not so good, maybe it won’t be so bad either.