Introduction to Issue 6: Community

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 6: Community
Cottages that face a common green (Photo credit: Ross Chapin Architects)

Sensibly sized cottages facing a common green (Ross Chapin Architects)

Would you pay $600,000 for 1,000 square feet?

Many people are willing to pay more for less, as evidenced by the popularity of Ross Chapin‘s small homes in custom designed “boutique” communities. They are selling well in the Northwestern US and getting good press nationwide (articles in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and HGTV).

In this issue of the Small Living Journal we interweave the two concepts of living smaller and living in communities because they are fundamentally linked: the smaller your home, the more you take advantage of the community around you.

We can’t help but be reminded of our collective past, one that is wonderfully devoid of clutter, high energy bills, spending lots of time alone in our cars and staring at glowing boxes for 8 hours a day. Is there a way to piece together a new, community-minded existence while living small?

A Time to Talk

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Kevin Rose and filed in Issue 6: Community
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When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

~Robert Frost

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Before I awake in the morning I am aware of the wind’s direction. Though I have slept well, the telltale clues have filtered through my subconscious before my eyes open. The creaking of the mooring lines through the hawse pipes on Raven’s bow indicates the wind’s presence. A south wind brings long, even groans as the lines pull against the bronze fittings through the bulwarks. Open water lies to the north and breezes from that direction push choppy water down the bay. With the northerly wind my bow rises and falls. My bed rocks and the mooring lines take on a rhythmic sawing sound.

Today, the waters are glassy flat and Raven sits steady on the surface. Sunshine has been scarce of late, but the skies are clear now and the eastern horizon is aglow with early morning light.

slj-issue6-3Once up, a warm mug of coffee in hand, I climb the companionway ladder to the cockpit to take in the rising sun and the morning news on NPR. Bank swallows dart between the moored boats and the shore. Cormorants, mergansers and Canada geese swim alongside. Next comes the sound of oars dipping, pulling, rising.

“Good morning Doug!” I call.

“Hey, how’s it goin’?”

“Nice to see the sun shining after that soggy spell,” I reply.

Doug alters course in his 8-foot dingy to come alongside. We never lack for things to talk about. The conversation is animated and may quickly advance from morning pleasantries to exchanges of passionately held opinions on community and world affairs. Several minutes later, Doug pushes off with a smile and I watch him row the remaining distance to the dock where he unloads his bicycle and panniers for the six mile ride into the city where we both work.

slj-issue6-4I look around at the other moorings to see who is home. The presence of a dinghy tied to the transom lets me know that Ken and Fran are aboard and I may receive another visit when it’s time for their dog, Skipper, to go ashore for relief. Same goes for Cal and Nancy with their dogs Sadie and Lilly. Cal is always good for a story or two of his voyages to and from the Caribbean. He’s been actively trying to persuade Marion and I to go south this winter.

“You gotta just do it while ya got the chance,” he tells us. “You never know what next year will bring, so pull up and do it now.”

He and Nancy will be sailing south this fall aboard I Nida Wind. Ken and Fran will be traveling with them on their Islander 36, Release. We’d love to join them, but we’ve got a timber frame storage shed to finish before the snows fly. Maybe next time.

slj-issue6-6In the coming weeks our Canadian neighbors return for the summer. Serge and Annie and their son, Victor, aboard Clementine. Ivan and Natalie sail a teak decked Beneteau, Scaramouche.

On my way down the harbor after work I spot the gathering of friends in Scaramouche’s large cockpit. I tie up my dinghy among the ones already secured to the boat’s aft cleats and climb aboard while Ivan fetches a cold beer from below. The conversation switches from French to English and I make my usual excuses for my inability to speak the primary language of my Quebecois neighbors. Natalie tells me that she needs all the English practice she can get. Ivan’s son plays his guitar while we laugh often and catch up on the events of the winter months through which we’d been apart.

slj-issue6-5When I made the decision to move aboard a small boat years ago, I was unaware of the richness of the floating communities and the bonds that form among sailors. Those connections don’t come as a surprise, however. Whether it be life afloat aboard my sloop, Raven, working the land surrounding my tiny Gypsy Rose, or riding my bicycle on an extended tour, the commonality is what Thoreau once described as, “Contact!” The trend toward larger and more insular homes or the living of life largely contained within a virtual world – be it TV or the Internet – is not one that I choose to embrace. I’d rather feel the wind on my face. I want to hear the white-throated sparrow’s call in the morning – not an air-conditioner’s incessant hum in an isolated, climate controlled interior. Living small and simple means living much closer to communities of all types. Human, animal, plant – I want to touch it all. Moon, stars, sun – I want to marvel with the wonder of it all. I want to step outside the door and take the time to talk.

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To read more of Kevin’s small home adventures, visit his blog, “Building Gypsy Rose .”

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.

We are Craving Community

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 6: Community
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Ecovillage at Ithaca, NY (Jim Bosjolie)

From expats to college students, breast cancer survivors to renters tired of renting, we are people who crave affordable communities. We have joined the Tiny House Village Network, a private online space I set up to discuss the formation of real tiny house villages.

Americans from all over the country are joining and clammering for the same thing:

  1. the ability to live in a small, affordable home without breaking any laws in the process;
  2. the opportunity to “park” that home on a small piece of land;
  3. to live with other like-minded people and maybe grow some food together.

To paraphrase, we just want to live a little more simply.

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Third Street Cottages (Ross Chapin Architects)

These requests should not be complicated, but because of the bloated housing industry, distorted municipal codes and unnecessary zoning laws, they are incredibly difficult for the average person to navigate.

It’s hard for me to express how important I think this project is. The numbers should speak for themselves: home vacancy rates soar, tent cities are on the rise, more and more people are living in and around the edge of poverty.

In the Tiny House Village I learned that Jeff is building a retreat center in the Adirondack foothills, Willy wants to develop some lakefront land in Michigan, Jeff & Arlene are building a Tumbleweed house on wheels and looking for someplace to park it, Ann is keeping a scrapbook for her dream home which she plans to build herself in 3 years, and Pete has been living in a cabin in the Yukon for 3 years with no running water.

There are over a hundred of us now. We all want to create a community. An intentional community. We are seeking movers and shakers — builders, developers, parks people, land owners and tiny house enthusiasts alike. Please join us and help make things happen.

Hillary lives in a 677 sq. ft. historic home with her partner while renovating a 50 sq. ft. tiny trailer. Her blog is located at thistinyhouse.com. She is a freelance writer and consultant.

5 Ways to Connect with Your Community

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Tammy "RowdyKittens" and filed in Issue 6: Community

A number of studies have shown the declining number of people involved in their communities. Some speculate that this is correlated to a growing sense of isolation and unhappiness in the United States. Living a small lifestyle promotes community involvement and offers a variety of solutions to the land of dissatisfied American consumers. How can a small lifestyle be a solution to this problem? Consider the suggestions below to reconnect with your community. :)

1) Reshape your worklife.

Rethinking Time

Rethinking Time, Photo by Tammy

A great way to find community is by reducing your working hours and volunteering with community groups representing issues you care about.

Its easy to see why many American’s feel isolated from their communities when they typically spend 8 hours a day alone in a cubicle, then drive home (alone) to a big house and partake in our favorite analgesic: watching TV. I don’t think any of these activities are inherently bad, but they don’t promote community involvement or a flexible lifestyle.

Your day job doesn’t have to be your only identity. You are more than your job, you are part of a community. So how can you become more active if you are still working 40 plus hours a week?

If you work in a cubicle forest, talk to your supervisor about working from home or reducing your work hours. A majority of office dwellers can complete their work remotely. People don’t need to be tied to their cubicle to produce stellar work and many corporations recognize the importance of community service. The internet has changed how organizations do business and view local and global communities.

Best Buy’s programs are an excellent example of reshaping work culture.

Bikes in Davis CA

Carfree in Davis, Photo by Tammy

2) Rethink transportation.

Selling one or all of your cars is good for your wallet and community. One less car on the road means less smog and more friends. Selling a car will open up endless possibilities.

How can this be? Going carfree forces you to expand your network of friends and allies. For instance, instead of driving alone to the office you can carpool, take the shuttle or the bus. A few of my work colleagues live in a suburb outside of Sacramento and either carpool or take the bus. Both of these amazing women are extremely happy with the money and time they have saved in addition to the strong friendship they have developed by commuting together.

3) Start exercising.

Exercising is a great way to create community and spend time with your spouse or friends. Instead of working out at your home gym, sell the equipment and join a fitness group or look into joining a gym, local running club, or some kind of interactive class.

Tammy on the Bike

If you can’t afford the time or money a gym membership or class require, incorporate exercise into your errands. Start running, walking, or biking with your spouse or friends to the grocery store, post office, etc. This is an inexpensive activity that improves relationships and builds community.

4) Rethink time.

Downscaling and disconnecting from consumerism is one way to free up your time and reduce debt. Rather than working lots of hours to pay for a big house and recreational shopping, you can use that extra time to volunteer or connect with friends and family members.

5) Live small and think big.

Downscaling and living a small lifestyle is about more than cute homes. It’s a movement connected to broader social problems, like consumerism, cycles of debt, global warming and poor community services. It’s about re-examining our lives and how our daily choices effect local and global communities.

For more information about simple living, check out my blog: RowdyKittens or follow me on Twitter.