At the beginning of 2008, Logan and I sat down and made some big commitments and we followed through with our goals of living a smaller, debt free life. For us the key to staying on track was writing down our goals and checking back in every few months to measure our progress.
A number of blog readers and friends have asked me how the heck to live a smaller, debt-free life. So here are a few tips that might help you:
- Follow the program in Your Money or Your Life. If you want to understand more about finance and money management, pick up a copy of Your Money or Your Life. Why am I advocating that you read this book? Economic uncertainty, layoff’s and other world events have many people stressed out about money, how to spend it, save it and invest it. This book lays out simple steps that will help you gain a better understanding of money.
- Budgets? Budgets are like diets. They don’t work. To get around budgets we’ve developed a monthly tabulation sheet, that allows us to evaluate our spending and examine our true consumption patterns. Our general expenses like rent and food stay constant, but we’ve found that our monthly spending pattern is never the same. Usually there is some kind of weird expense that pops up. Even though we watch our spending, we know that it will fluctuate. Thus, it is better to be mindful of each purchase.
- Live within your means. Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford. This probably sounds like cliche advice, but how many people do you know that charge stuff on their credit cards all the time? Know the true expense of items by converting the price of stuff into your labor cost to earn it.
- Wear out your stuff. Before you buy something new (like shoes), wear them out first and get repair estimates before buying something new.
- Plan in advance. Planning drastically reduces the dreaded impulse buyer regret. For instance, make lists before you go grocery shopping and research the best deals for things like clothing and food.
- Evaluate your living situation. If you’re paying an excessive amount to “own” or rent, take some time to evaluate the value of your location and the space you use. Examples of living small in this journal demonstrate how very little we need to live.
- Buy local food. Healthy, organic, and fair trade foods can be very expensive in stores. To obtain this great food inexpensively look for a local farmer’s market to save money. Farmer’s markets allow you to purchase directly from the producer without the overhead cost of brick and mortar store fronts.
- Cut out the unnecessary shopping trips and stay out of the mall. If you don’t go shopping, you won’t purchase items on impulse and your wallet will stay fatter.
- Before you buy anything, ask yourself these 3 questions:
A. Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?
B. Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
C. How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living. What expenses would increase, decrease or disappear if I didn’t go to work everyday?
Living a smaller lifestyle has changed my perception of consumerism and how so many of our spending choices negatively effect the economy, the work we do, and the planet. I wish I’d stumbled across the concept of small living earlier in my life.
Would you add anymore tips to this list?
In a recent issue of the SLJ, we talked about food and cooking in small homes. Cooking in a tiny space hasn’t been a problem for us, but I’m worried about how we are going to store bulk food in our future tiny home. Currently, we are using a few strategies to store our bulk food, like turning our storage buckets into furniture, hiding it in cool dark places and storing it in our pantry.
After reading Michael Pollan’s book, we decided to eat more whole food and cook meals at home. Some of our bulk food storage items include whole wheat berries, rice, beans, honey and plenty of fresh produce.
I love having so much extra food in the house. But Logan and I continually talk about where we are going to keep our extra food when we move into our tiny house. I don’t know where it’s going to be stored in such a small space.
But, Logan doesn’t think food storage will be an issue. Some of his suggestions have included:
1. Storing food in small, visible containers to use up the bulk food quickly and to keep an eye on what food we’re storing.
2. Building a tiny food storage shed.
3. Storing food under the house in plastic buckets on pallets.
4. And digging a tiny root cellar.
I think these options will be dependent on where we decide to settle down. If we move to the ranch in the future, I’m not concerned about where to put our extra food because it can be stored in the pantry of the larger homestead house.
What do you think of these solutions? What are your creative food storage strategies?
Friends and family always inquire about our tiny house obsession. Usually they ask: “Why a tiny house?” Living a tiny lifestyle appeals to us on a number of levels. Below are the top 10 reasons for choosing a tiny solution:
1. Exiting the Consumer Lifestyle
Living in a tiny house is one way for us to exit the consumer lifestyle and decrease our consumption of stuff. (Watching the The Story of Stuff drastically changed how I view my own consumption patterns).
For instance, there is no reason to go shopping for more stuff when you don’t have a place to put it. I don’t need 20 pairs of shoes or 50 different outfits to wear to the office. Earlier this year, I downsized my wardrobe and personal items. For me that meant donating an incredible amount of books and clothing to the thrift store.
My policy is 1 in, 1 out. Every time I buy something new, one of my personal things must go.
2. Saving Money
The cost estimate for our tiny house is about $25,000 (about 2 years worth of rent). The low cost of the tiny house will enable us to save money for future expenses and help friends and family members in need. Our tiny house will be about 200 square feet. Our heating and cooling bills will be so tiny! Right now we live in a 400 square foot apartment and our PG & E bill ranges from $4.00 to $25.00 a month. I can’t wait to see what our power bill will look like in a tiny house.
Downscaling from a suburban, 2 bedroom apartment, and 2 car life to an urban, 1 bedroom apartment, and no car has given me a sense of freedom and lightness. Our stuff doesn’t own us anymore. As long as we have each other and our cats, we will be good to go.
4. More Free Time
Last summer one of our family members became suddenly ill and almost died. Since then, I’ve changed my life dramatically and have chosen a simpler lifestyle that allows me to spend more time with family.
Downscaling to a smaller apartment (and eventually a tiny home) enabled us to devote more time to outdoor activities, writing and the important things in life like friends and family.
5. Debt Free
Within the last year we sold our car, paid off our student loans and moved into a smaller apartment. These changes have allowed us more flexibility in our finances. If all goes according to plan we will either build or purchase our own tiny house in 2010.
6. Working Less
Eventually, I want to work part time. The United States is notorious for a workaholic culture. So owning a small home will enable us to work less and pursue career goals that didn’t seem possible a few years ago. Eventually, I want to get out of my cubicle and telecommute. Telecommuting is a feasible alternative to the cubicle forest because it allows people to do their job from any location.
I’d love to look at this view everyday…
7. Less Cleaning
A tiny house requires significantly less cleaning and maintenance and that make me very happy. I didn’t realize how much time we spent cleaning our large apartment until we moved to our new home in Sacramento. Instead of cleaning we spent more time riding our bikes outdoors. Yay for less scrubbing, vacuuming and sweeping!
8. Ease of Movement
Ease of movement to a new location is a great feature. Being tied down to a traditional home doesn’t appeal to me because they can’t be moved. But with a tiny home, if we decide to move we are free to bring our tiny house with us.
9. Going Off-Grid
We plan to take the tiny house off-grid. Hopefully, this will allow us to learn how to live more self sufficiently and insulate ourselves from a system we believe to be unsustainable. The looming peak oil energy crisis is scary.
10. Economic, Environmental and Social Merits of Compact Housing
Last year, I read a few books on tiny tiny homes. Two of my favorites were: The Small House Book and Little House on a Small Planet. After reading these books I realized there are enormous economic, environmental, and social merits of compact housing.
Here are some interesting facts from the books:
- The average American house, which is about 2,200 square feet, emits more green house gases than the average American car;
- The average American house, produces 7 tons of construction waste and;
- The size of New Jersey is lost each decade as a result of urban sprawl.
I see over-sized homes as a debtors prison rather than a source of enjoyment. The average American has a 20 to 30 year mortgage. By going small, we will have our tiny tiny house paid off in less than 1 year.
For the sake of the environment and economic sanity (ex. sub-prime mortgage fiasco), it is clear that we must change our attitudes about house size, building codes and the basic home financing structure.
Food and cooking in little homes has been on my mind recently. After staying in Dee’s tiny house, Logan and I realized that our kitchen was filled with excess stuff and if we wanted to live and cook in a small space, we’d have to downsize even further.
The Small Living Journal authors thought it would be fun to devote this issue to food and cooking in small spaces. You’ll read a number of different stories and strategies to deal with cooking in small spaces.
Tell us about your minimalist cooking strategies in the comments section.
Ideas for Future SLJ Issues
We are currently in the process on scheduling the next series of issues for SLJ. If you have any topic suggestions for future issues, please use our contact form to let us know.
I recently finished reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto; an educational and entertaining book.
Pollan’s main message is: Eat whole foods, chow down on lots plants and make eating a social experience. If you want to learn more about the intersections between your health, the food industry, public policy, and “nutritionism,” read Pollan’s book.
So how does this relate to tiny spaces?
Pollan helped me downsize the kitchen by changing my eating habits. By incorporating 15 of Pollan’s eating guidelines into my diet, I’ve been able to decrease waste, save space in the kitchen and focus on cooking simple and easy recipes.
For example, I’ve decreased waste by eating fresh foods that can be composted and visit the local farmer’s market once a week. By eating local and fresh foods, I don’t have to refrigerate much food. Cooking is simple, easy and fast because my meals consist of fresh fruits, vegetables and bread. I’ve found the following food guidelines really helpful for cooking in my small kitchen…
My Food Guidelines for Tiny Spaces
1. Eat mostly plants.
2. Avoid food products that are predominantly processed, unpronounceable, have more than 5 ingredients or include high fructose corn syrup.
3. Avoid products that make health claims.
4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
5. Get out of the supermarket and shop at the farmer’s market.
6. You are what you eat (This includes what other animals eat and what is in the soil too).
7. If you have space buy a freezer.
8. Eat like an omnivore. Diversity in diet is a good thing.
9. Eat well grown food from healthy soil.
10. Get off the Western diet. But don’t look for the “magic bullet in the traditional diet.”
11. Have a glass of wine with dinner.
12. Buy higher quality foods and eat less of them.
13. Choose quality over quantity and good experience over calories.
14. Eat meals and less snacks.
15. Cook and if you can plant a garden.
(Note: rules adopted from Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto)
The rules above have helped me create a minimalist kitchen and healthy diet. What cooking strategies have you used in tiny spaces?