We all face many common obstacles while making the transition to a simpler lifestyle. In this issue of Small Living Journal we share some of our experiences and how we’ve worked through them. Some of us have also included what we expect to encounter along the way and how we plan to move through those future obstacles. We hope you find it useful to hear our stories and look forward to your comments and questions.
Photo credit Wikimedia Commons
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?
Alright, I’m just gonna lay it on ya. All of this is kinda ties together so please bear with me.
Currently my house in is a state of repair. OK! So it’s been that way since I moved in. It wasn’t really a handyman’s special or anything and I loved it when I first moved in but the longer I live here, the more I believe that whoever designed my house needs to be shot. Or at least be forced to take a design class before he or she wreaks any more havoc on anyone else’s home. Let the remodeling begin! (Please ignore the mess and the dust)
Because of the recent downturn in the construction industry half of my household income has disappeared, which means that all of my money has been tied up in my mortgage payment. It also means that the remodel project that never ends is at a complete standstill. I never had a whole lot of money to begin with and almost none for myself but at least the remodel was moving forward.
Those are the biggest hurdles that I am facing at this very moment in time. But I have a plan!
My plan is to refinance my mortgage to lower my payment. It’s going to be great! In my mind it’s already happened and I’ve talked to my mortgage company and they’ll be able to do it. Now it’s up to me to get my buns in gear and get the paperwork finished.
My next move will be to get the remodel show back on the road. I’ve only got to finish my bathroom, (which is no small feat but it’ll be fun), painting, trim, and flooring. Then on to the the next phase.
In order to lower my income obligations a little more, I plan to add a carport and rent out my “big” house for whatever my new mortgage payment is and then I’m going to turn my garage into a 400 sq ft house. It’ll be adorable when it’s finished! Plus, so I don’t get pinched by the man, I’m going to leave the front looking like a garage and add parking in the back. I know it’s even more cash stuffed into an already overly expensive house, but I figure living in a converted garage apartment will ready me to move into a 140 sq ft tiny house! Plus, when I do move into my tiny house, I can also rent out the garage apartment to make a little extra income!
The only other hurdle I can see in my future after that is which model tiny house to build, and how I’ll support myself on the road. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!
Since I am about 85% downsized and already living a pretty simple lifestyle, I have chosen to talk more about a couple of my biggest past obstacles and my solutions to them in hopes they will also help others to simplify their lives in those areas:
First, a little from my background…
Although in the beginning I was never quite sure why I was so attracted to the idea of uncluttering my life, I am quite sure now that it had everything to do with building a mortgage-free Tiny House to live my retirement years in! Up until the last year when I first heard about the Tiny House Movement, I just wanted to live very simply. When I was in the Air Force I only had a single duffel bag and a large footlocker that carried everything I owned or needed for 8 years! I loved that kind of simplicity and after doing it for that long I knew it was do-able! However, it was not without costs!! Military life was not always an easy way of living. For me, it meant a single tiny room with a set of bunk beds, a desk and 2 lockers in the noisy barracks with a roommate who was often not of my choosing, the less-than-private community bathroom, the nearby chow hall for most of my not-always-so-tasty meals (when i wasn’t engaging in my then staple diet of drinking beer or California wine and eating pizza, chicken wings & subs) and the nomad life of rarely knowing when I would be moving on to the next place – all the stuff I have no interest in dealing with at this stage of my life!! While it became a lifestyle I no longer wanted to endure, that transition into civilian life was very difficult for me. I was leaving behind my close knit family that I could trust my life with… I loved living within walking distance of work… I loved that everything I really needed was right on the base in a community where prices were affordable – like the base exchange (a smaller, cheaper version of Walmart)… mostly free work/hobby shops (like woodworking, the auto shop and ceramics, etc) with access to all their work areas, tools and machines…I was used to the military ways… and I loved the simplicity. It took me a few years to adjust, but in the meantime I started accumulating ‘stuff’ I thought I had missed. Now if I wanted to work on my hobbies, I had to invest in my own tools and have a place big enough to work on them. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was surrounded by lots of debt & clutter. Although back then there wasn’t really a term for it, I knew I felt boxed in with too much stuff!! Luckily, a few years later I was introduced to clutter, what it meant and how to deal with it… a then fairly new concept in the early 1990′s.
For the most part, this whole simple living procedure has been very cleansing for me. It took many moves, but once I got started, the process of every move meant a fresh new start with a lot less. I began to realize what was important and what wasn’t. Of course, the beginning was tough, especially when at least 2 of the moves were real estate turnovers and not my idea. I couldn’t seem to get settled in anywhere and I still struggled with what was important enough to keep lugging around with me and what wasn’t. Moving now is much harder than military life because they used to do all the work for me.
As you can see, the steps towards my Simple Life Endeavor have been a long and trying process. If you are just starting your Journey of Simple Living, you need to also understand that by stretching this process over a period of years, it was much easier for me to start letting go of the ‘things’ in my life that no longer served me any purpose. Each little step made the next step easier. The key was to keep on keepin’ on!!
Before I start though, I must tell you that everything I have let go of in my life so far, I have never missed for a second!! That fear alone was the single biggest mental obstacle that kept me locked into not moving forward in the earlier years of implementing my Simple Living Plan.
I have only chosen the 2 biggest obstacles I have faced in order to cut down on the size of this article. Here they are:
This has been, by far, the biggest obstacle I have encountered in my quest to ‘lighten up’! While I was in that ‘stuff’ culture, I accumulated a lot of debt. I can’t even remember some of the stuff on those credit cards, but at the time I was sure I just had to have them! As for the stuff I do remember, I don’t have most of it anymore. Impulse buying was one of the most unfulfilling habits I had and now that I finally had the room for all the clutter, I became overwhelmed with it. I began to call it Financing Unnecessary Clutter Karma!! And the acronym for that is what I said every time I opened my monthly credit card bills!! With each purchase, of whatever it was, the void I was trying to fill inside just got bigger. And with that, it made things more stressful with payments, maintenance and clutter. I longed for that simple military lifestyle without the government control. It took me awhile to discover that my ‘void’ needed to be filled from within. Thankfully, that was about the time I got into Shirley MacLaine’s works and the mantra…”Go Within or Go Without!”. I have now come to love just “BEING” (one of my alternate versions of doing nothing!)…a state of mind which only requires quietly finding the forgotten peace and tranquilty within myself and my simple surroundings. And it’s FREE
- I moved very close to my job to save gas, insurance costs, maintenance and wear & tear on my car…have access to public transportation if I wanted to take advantage of it…have easy and close by access to almost anything…end the wear & tear on my body, mind and spirit from the stress of driving 2 hours a day!
- I moved to a smaller apartment in which heat & hot water were included in my rent, a huge savings here in Upstate NY with our cold, harsh winters and the costs of fuel!! Little did I know that the new place was going to be one of the best places I have ever lived and the rent alone was cheaper than the apartment before it!
- I got rid of my land line phone in favor of a simple pay-as-you-go cell phone plan. I don’t talk on the phone much so that part was pretty easy…and inexpensive.
- I stopped watching those shopping channels!!
- I changed to a cheaper internet provider.
- I got rid of costly cable bills in favor of renting DVD’s from Netflix and online access to local news & weather.
- I stopped all my magazines, book clubs and newspapers.
- I simplified my eating habits.
- I started drinking mostly water.
- I take day trips with a picnic lunch rather than vacations that cost alot of money in lodging, food & travel expense.
- I CUT UP ALL THE CREDIT CARDS!!!
I think the hardest things for me to downsize have been my books! I had lots of them!! I was sure I would never be able to part with any of them. I am a real lover of books, but let’s face it, moving books around often requires alot of muscle power and sweating! It seems no matter what size the box is, it is still pretty heavy. Most of my books were information & technical books which are usually larger. I found that alot of the information in those was outdated by new and improved technology. All books spend most of their time on shelves…untouched and taking up space…sometimes for years! Slowly and painstakingly I have been able to let go of 95% of them. Here’s how…
- I rarely read a novel more than once so the novels were the first to go…I mostly gave those away. I then started going to the local library or searching & reserving novels online that can be delivered from anywhere within the US Library System to my library for me to pick up and check out. I can even renew my books online if I haven’t finished them or can’t get to the library by the time they are due back. My library card is free!
- It didn’t take long to realize that as much as I didn’t cook, the cookbooks would not do me any good!! I wrote down my favorite recipes (a pretty short list by the way!!). Then I used my computer to type them up and store them on a standard word processing recipe card template in my Recipe file. Mostly now if I want a recipe I search online for it, print it out and then throw it away or store it on my computer when I am done using it.
- Nearly 80% of my books were arts, crafts & hobby instruction books. I slowly started to eliminate those by deciding which activities I would actually commit to. Happily I found alot of them would be more expensive in supplies and take up alot more room than I was willing to accept, so those books were the next to go! I found that selling them on Amazon was fairly profitable because alot of them were brand new. I made up my mind that I could always check out (from my library), rent, borrow, buy or download instruction books & videos if I changed my mind and wanted to take up something I no longer had those particular books for. By doing it this way, I was able to easily and effortlessly let those go. And guess what? So far, I have never missed any of them
- Investing in the Kindle 2 from Amazon is a very smart idea. It will hold over 1500 books, is small and easily portable. This is, by far, the easiest & lightest box of books I will ever be carrying again! I have been lucky enough to find most of my favorite info & reference books that I use on a regular basis in Kindle format for roughly $10 each and delivered in seconds to my Kindle 2 via cyberspace…without an internet connection! Some of those books cost over $60 in the hardback, space-raping, heavyweight version!!
- I started reading the local newspaper online instead of buying one…some of the more popular newspapers can also be subscribed to on the Kindle and delivered before the news stand copy comes out!
- I download free audio books available at my local library website to listen to on my mp3 player or with my laptop software (available at the library’s website). Although the list isn’t all that big, it continues to grow.
THE HARDEST OBSTACLES COMING UP
The hardest obstacle I have yet to face is giving up all the space I have acquired by downsizing. I love all the open & unused space. Even though my apartment is small, it still allows for healthy air circulation and positive flowing energy. It allows me room to move around freely and it leaves plenty of room to do Yoga or my (mostly small & portable) Artwork in either the living room or bedroom. Since the heat is included in my rent, I am no longer (directly) paying to heat all that unused space. My little cat, Bandit, can still run and play inside and we have a place to store his litter box.
The solution to this might be to design my Tiny House to be one large rectangular room with no interior walls, 8′ – 10′ high outside walls, a loft, lots of windows, a larger wood stove for heating & air conditioner for cooling and maybe a couple of support beams if necessary. Then build a small, simple, one-room Tiny House for my Yoga and Art Studio right next door…something similar to the Shed Cluster Concept that Michael Janzen mentioned on his Tiny House Design site back in May 2009.
I will find it really hard to give up the central location I am in. Although it is not very compatible with the way I want to live (the peace and quiet nature stuff), I am loving the conveniences. Everything is just around the corner…the grocery stores, small education centers, my medical, dental and optical facilities, Bandit’s pet hospital…stuff that is not always easy to get to or as inexpensive in a country atmosphere.
Then there is the question of whether or not (at retirement age) I will forgo power from the grid in favor of using solar or wind power. Do I want the maintenance it may require? Will the initial cost be worth it for me? Is it going to be easier for me to just pay the price rather than endure the hassle? These are questions I must answer after I have honestly studied these power alternatives.
ABSOLUTE NO NO’S!!
In closing I would like to mention a couple of things that (right now) I refuse to forgo:
- A Real Flushing Toilet
I find the alternatives unacceptable to me at this point in my life! Of course this means a septic tank and a lot less freedom to move my Tiny House around the property. By then though, maybe something will come up that I am willing to accept…like some kind of RV or other portable plumbing system.
- Running Water
- A Bathtub
These 2 things really go hand-in-hand because surely I am not willing to haul water and heat it for one of my favorite luxuries…A NICE HOT RELAXING BATH
There are, I’m sure, many for whom the biggest obstacle is actually believing they can build/buy a tiny house, who sit and say ‘oh if only I could do what your doing’, or ‘I’d love to be able to do that but I’m not clever/rich/strong/free enough’, or even ‘I just have far too much stuff to downsize that far’. I spent years planning an off-grid home, always hoping that one day I’d have enough money to buy a piece of land and build the house of my dreams. It was never going to be some mansion in the mountains but even so it was a huge undertaking and I thought that if I worked solidly for enough years I’d eventually get to the place where I’d be able to take a year or two off work and build it.
Life, however, had other plans. I found myself unemployed, getting divorced and having a nervous breakdown. I’d moved from a 3 bedroom house to a room in a shared house. I was steadily going through my savings living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and starting to wonder how long it would be before I was out on the streets. It was during this time that I gradually became aware of the tiny house movement and, in particular, Jay’s Tumbleweed houses. I sat looking around my room and realised that a tiny house would, in fact, be bigger than the room I spent most of my time in. Add a small kitchen/bathrom to it and you’d pretty much be there. I once spent 3 months living in a VW camper I used to own doing fieldwork in the Hebrides, the space became more reasonable as I started figuring out how I might arrange storage.
So, once I decided I could live in the space, it came down to money. With savings dwindling, could I afford to build a tiny house? I’ve always been a bit of a womble and I figured I could recycle a fair amount of stuff picked from skips (dumpsters), freecycle, eBay etc. Reading about Dee William’s tiny house cemented the idea.
Even so, actually doing something about it was harder. I finally decided that I had about enough money left from my savings to pay the rent on my room for a year, just in case I couldn’t get more work in the current slack job market. I could easily see myself getting to the end of that year and then having nothing left. I made a bit decision, one that was very tough, with the agreement of my mum I would move in to their spare room in Ireland and build a tiny house in the back yard. It would mean leaving everything behind but I would have space to live and mum would feed me. I was 42 and moving home. Strangely it didn’t feel like defeat, I was going to follow my dream for the first time in ages.
Then a friend who was starting a new business offered me some part-time work and my girlfriend, who I’d only been with for a few months, offered to let me move in with her so I could stay in London and build it here. I had no idea whether I could, but making the decision was undoubtedly the hardest thing in the entire process. After that, it became much, much easier. Once you’re actually embarked on the journey sheer inertia tends to keep you going.
There have, of course, been many ups and downs. The trailer I bought turned out not to be a good buy, I should have spent more which would have meant I’d have been much further along with the building than I am now, as I’m still fixing the problems with it, although I should be moving upwards soon. Weeks of rain can become demoralizing as you just can’t really build in a downpour. However, you take that time to research, monitor eBay, scour the small ads and freecycle lists. Even though I was again made redundant when my friend’s business couldn’t attract additional funding, this just gave me more time over the summer to concentrate on building and I had a little bit of extra money from the work.
I have always been reasonable at basic diy, but I’d never framed anything, never wired or plumbed a house from scratch, never built a roof or welded anything. I love to learn new things though, and I love a challenge. It costs nothing to spend time on the internet, you can even go to the library or a coffee shop and use their bandwidth if you don’t have your own. I’ve spent many days lost online, learning about all the new skills I’ll need. No-one’s born with the innate understanding of electrical code, or the metallurgy of copper pipe, it can all be learned if you’re prepared to put in the work. I was time rich, and I’ve been using it to learn so many new skills. I’ve also gained many new friends online through the tiny house communities/forums and blogs. I’ve built a network of contacts through whom I can learn, exchange ideas and gain support.
At each stage there’s always been a reason not to do something, but equally there’s a reason to start. The old Confucian saying ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. For me that single step was the hardest point in the entire process. I was having lunch with a very good friend of mine a while ago, just after I’d made the decision to build, not knowing how I’d find the materials to do all this on the budget I had. He looked at me, smiled and said the oft-repeated line from the film Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come’. So far he’s been right, things have turned up unexpectedly just when I’ve needed them. Maybe it’s all about belief.