Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

Regaining My Power: Choice

What is choice, really? Do we have it? Are we sure?

The other day at work I asked, perhaps a little too loudly, if it was 5:00 yet, or Friday, yet, and someone piped up that we always have a choice. I have the choice to stay, or to act like it was Friday at 5 and make a bee-line for the door. It’s been kind of a long couple of weeks, so option B may or may not have gotten considered almost seriously. But I didn’t do it. I made the choice to finish out the day, to finish out the week. I chose to be there.

Right?

On the surface, yes, I made that choice. But if you really start to think about it, “Everything is a choice” is a rather disingenuous statement. There are about a million different directions to dive with this idea, but I thought I’d try and keep it on the surface. See just how many diverse places in our “Land of the Free” where the choices offered aren’t really choices.

I haven’t been sleeping well for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that heat, humidity, and I are not friends. If I had chosen to walk out of work that afternoon to go home and take a nap- something that would have been a good choice for my mental and physical health- I think it’s pretty safe to say that my employer would have chosen to tell me not to return. I’m sure that I’m not the only American worker who can’t take the chance of an impromptu vacation because we aren’t making enough each week to have built a rainy day fund. So it really wasn’t a choice.

Speaking of choices at work- what about choosing to have an unpopular opinion? If you’re in the rank and file, that choice- even if you’re right and it needs to be said- could have disastrous consequences for your career.

Back to the Land of the Free thing- how about our current choices for President? More of the same vs a young Hitler. What an awesome choice. Love him or loathe him, at least the Democratic Socialist would have offered a genuine choice! Something different than door A or door B that lead into the same building. And as far as I can tell, yes, the young Hitler is a fairly logical place for us to be given the political climate in the last 10 or 15 years.

You have the choice to live in your own home. Your corporate neighbors have the choice to make the air and water around said home poisonous, flammable, or carcinogenic. But you do have the choice to stay there or leave. If you can afford to.

You have the choice to take care of your reproductive health. Don’t let the harassers or the chance of getting shot stand in your way!

You have the choice to grow open-pollinated, wind-pollinated, organic food crops in an area that mostly grows conventional wind-pollinated crops. Just make sure you’re never down wind of your neighbors and you’ll be fine!

You can choose to go to college and get that degree that you’ve been told you need to get a good job. What’s a good job, again?

You chose to grow a beautiful garden full of vegetables instead of non-edible flowers and shrubs? Your home might be your castle, but don’t pretend it’s your pantry!

You can choose to own a tractor (or iPad, or GM vehicle). Well, maybe.

You can choose the perfect home for your land and family. As long as it conforms to everyone else’s views.

You can choose to be seen lending your support (or doing your job) at a peaceful rally or protest- just don’t get shot!

I can’t be facetious about the choices that led to needing those rallies and protests.

I know that I’m presenting more problems than solutions here. And I’ve only scratched the surface of the problems. But this is where I am in finding my power. The more I learn, the more I find out just how little power- just how little choice- I really have. Does a “yes” mean anything when “no” isn’t really an option, given the consequences that will probably or will definitely follow that “no”? No, it doesn’t.

We need to rethink this “choice” thing and whether or not we like the ones we’ve been given. Or perhaps start to figure out how to make our own options to choose between. If we’re given A and B, maybe we should all start choosing C.

(Apologies for the age of many of the linked articles. I have no Google-fu, and I haven’t been collecting all of the most recent examples of the above “choices.” I’m sure you’ve seen as many as I have, though- maybe more as I’m not all that well informed, yet.)

Regaining My Power: Piles of . . .Stuff

I suppose I shouldn’t swear in my title, so let’s just call it stuff. Lots and lots of things that at one point or another I needed, or wanted, or acquired. Most of which has been spending a whole lot more time in boxes in storage than actually being used in the past three years or so. I was living in shoebox apartments or renting single rooms, yet I had so much stuff I had two (small) storage units for several months. When I moved out to Colorado, I had 3/4 of a 4’X5’X8′ U-Haul trailer and nothing I couldn’t carry myself. I left my bed behind, and a very large bookcase because I knew I didn’t have anyone to help me carry these things from the trailer to my apartment. What I did have was as many boxes of books as I had boxes of clothing. And I included my costumes in the clothing count.

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What one finds overwhelming is relative.

When I left Colorado, the trailer was the same size and stuffed to the gills. This was after aggressively shedding stuff for months because even without knowing I was moving, I knew I was overwhelmed. The inanimate objects in my life were controlling my time (how many trips do I have to make for this move?), my space (I swear this apartment had a floor before I moved in!), and my money (why am I paying to store a table, chairs, and a sewing machine that I can’t use because they’re in storage?).

A lot of the stuff arrived and then stuck around because I was sure that any month now, I would be starting my own farm. I would have a house (or HUD home, I wasn’t picky) to furnish and gardens to start. I needed the table a friend had given me that was the perfect height for a standing work-table. It was just silly to get rid of a perfectly good hose that I hadn’t used in 18 months, but I would have to have on my farm. I’ve always wanted a treadle sewing machine and, well, so I didn’t do what I’d promised myself and wait until I was settled to find one. It found me. But I was going to have space for it soon!

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I need every single thing here! Whatever they are. Except for the sled. The sled isn’t mine.

Well I don’t have a farm. And if I’m honest with myself, I have absolutely no idea when, and at this point if, I will have one. I know I will be moving at least one more time (out of my parent’s house) and probably more than once. I need to address what is, not what I wish would be.

With so much of my stuff stuck in boxes for so many months, it turned out I could live with a lot less stuff than I thought. I don’t need a bed. I quite liked sleeping on a 4″ thick futon pad right on the floor. I don’t need three crock pots, even if they are different sizes. In fact, I can cut down on the number of pots and pans I have altogether, since I’m not that much of a cook. Really, most of that stuff in the box labelled “random crap” is just crap. I don’t need to keep it. As for tables and chairs? All they do is take up space. I don’t entertain, and I don’t care if I’m sitting on the floor, so who does it bother?

Just before I moved I started hearing about the KonMarie tidying book and method. At first it sounded sketchy, but I kept reading because I had to do something and it was very popular. When I got to Maine, the book was making the rounds of the family, so I got to read it. I had already been coming to the conclusion that the things, the objects I was holding on to were holding me back from the changes I needed to make to become who I need to be. The book simply confirmed that yes, the items you have can affect who you are. So only keep the items that ring true now.

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And here we go . . .

What better time to start organizing and shedding stuff than when you’re unpacking from a move? My clothes and books had ended up mixed together quite a bit, so I started with them. It was really freeing to let go of the clothes that no longer fit, and hadn’t for years. Will I ever be a size 16 again? I sure hope so, and I hope it’ll be on my way to a 14 or a 12. Will it be soon enough to make lugging all of these clothes around make sense? No. I’ve learned how to work with a small wardrobe. I don’t have to break the bank to clothe myself at a new size. I think I was holding on to half of them more because I used to look good and I didn’t want to forget that. Finding a cute blazer when you’re a size 20 is a whole lot harder than when you’re a 16.  But by the time I’m a 16 again, I might not need a blazer. Who knows?

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It wasn’t until I had all of my clothes together that I realized I had so many layers. I think I need to do this on a regular basis to reacquaint myself with whatever I have!

Of course, the KonMarie method has a little extra-special challenge for those of us that look at the pile of things to be sorted and realize that it would be a lot more efficient to toss ourselves in the bin bag for lack of joy-bringing and be done with it.

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These piles are each close to knee-high. 

In the end, I’ve sent four or five boxes of clothes and books to the thrift stores and tossed more in the bin (loving the British English of the translator). I haven’t done much sorting lately, but the start I made gives me a reason to believe that once I do find the time, I will be able to chip away further at my piles of . . . stuff.

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This pile is smaller than the other one. Honest!

Tiny House Jamboree: Conclusion

Just like this post, seeing the Tumbleweed was totally worth the wait.

Just like this post, seeing the Tumbleweed was totally worth the wait.

I apologize for the wait. Moving, among other stresses, has pushed blogging a bit too far down the “to do” list.

My favorite speaker from the Tiny House Expo was Jay Schafer, one of the founders of the movement. His tiny home was designed and built in 1999 and was hands-down my favorite at the show. Of course, I have a growing love for little, simple cabins, which is essentially what his was. He is also the one that said the definition of a tiny home is any house in which every square foot is used well. The idea is that there are a whole lot of options between 100 square feet and 3,000 square feet because, in the end, it has to be what’s right for you, personally.

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Jay’s talk was about his personal journey, but he shared more than just a narrative and a flair for storytelling. He shared lessons he’d learned and philosophies he’d developed. And his laid-back, open manner made it clear why this is such a welcoming movement. He couldn’t have inspired anything else.

Personally, I'd need a little more kitchen, but it does keep you to the essentials!

Personally, I’d need a little more kitchen, but it does keep you to the essentials!

The step he suggests that you start with is to create a list of what you actually need to live. This could take two or three years, so be patient. He did this, himself, when he spent two years living in an Airstream trailer. While he was scraping ice off the inside walls of the Airstream, he determined that insulation was pretty high on the list of things you actually need to live. However, he also believes that your house does not need to be your whole universe. If you’re living in a tiny house village, there’s no reason you can’t share amenities like washing machines or a library.

You're not going to fit a whole lot of amenities in this living space, so pick the right ones. (Gotta say, the people watching that weekend was pretty fun!)

You’re not going to fit a whole lot of amenities in this living space, so pick the right ones. (Gotta say, the people watching that weekend was pretty fun!)

He hadn’t intended to start a tiny house movement. After all, tiny homes used to be normal. Hippy shacks, settler’s cabins, even caves weren’t the massive homes that have become normal. The word tiny came about because a “small” house was 2,000 square feet in the 1990s. Once he found out that tiny homes were illegal, though, it suddenly became imperative to live in one, himself. So he built a house called The Tumbleweed.

There was no ladder into that loft, and, unlike some of the more limber visitors, I wasn't about to do a chin-up for a peek up there.

There was no ladder into that loft, and, unlike some of the more limber visitors, I wasn’t about to do a chin-up for a peek up there.

Every self-built tiny home is a self-portrait of the builder. As Jay pointed out, so much of life is about home and how we live in the universe. Are you a community type that lives in a village? Are you the unibomber type that lives alone in the woods? I’m more the latter type, myself, but I can see the charm of living surrounded by people that have similar goals in life. The house is also about boiling everything down to the essence. What does home mean? Because it means something slightly different to each person, each home will express it differently. As they should.

When you’re building your house (or even having it built), there’s no reason to build to the lowest common denominator. I think that’s the problem with RVs, really. They aren’t built for beauty unless you’re willing to pay so much you may as well have it custom-built. The design should be not just efficient and useful, but also such that the materials aren’t ugly. Any material, from tin to mahogany, can be attractive or not depending on how it’s used.

I am heartily in favor of "home" including a kettle on the stove!

I am heartily in favor of “home” including a kettle on the stove!

One of the challenges Jay faced was finding room for his art materials. As any artist or crafter can attest, one’s stash of necessary materials has the potential to get out of hand pretty easily. Then he realized that art is simply the practice for real life. Real life is living artfully. Your glasses, windows, chairs, and walls can substitute for art.

Isn't that window an artful detail? I love it!

Isn’t that window an artful detail? I love it!

As of 2015, the minimum room size for the building codes dropped from 120 square feet to 70 square feet, though they still require a separate bathroom. (Don’t forget that building to code can happen without meeting the zoning standards. Legally, you have to meet both.) Codes are supposed to be to protect the health and wellbeing of the people- so where is the proof that these size rooms are really necessary for health and wellbeing? As a people’s movement, it is up to the people to push for more logic in the rules that are restricting us from building the house we need as opposed to the house we’re told to have.

You can fit a lot into this storage area- if you've done the internal work to know what you really need.

You can fit a lot into this storage area- if you’ve done the internal work to know what you really need.

Jay concluded his presentation by warning us that the biggest danger is from within. “Tinier than thou” exclusivity could drive out both newcomers and new ideas from those who have been with the movement since it started. There is also the possibility of corruption from within, like the organic movement. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean that it’s an efficient use of space or a way for the owner to really do the soul-searching necessary to live the life this movement is about. However, if we keep the movement of and by the people, it will continue to flourish.

Jay was my favorite speaker, not just because he was fun to listen to and had some very quotable statements, but because he exuded the self-assurance of someone who has figured out what they need out of life, what they want out of life, and how to go about fulfilling both. That makes him not just someone to listen to, but someone to aspire to. Just as each of our homes end up looking different, the way we express how we fit into the world will be different. But the ability to figure out who we are and what that place in the world is, is something that many people have trouble getting to. In no small part because they’re so caught up in their big house, big mortgage, and big piles of stuff that they just don’t have the energy left over to examine their lives in depth.

I have been thinking for a while, now, that I needed to get a better handle on my “stuff” and probably thin the herd quite a bit. Going to the Jamboree and particularly listening to Jay is giving me a positive reason to make the change. Previously it had been negative- I hate moving all of it when I move, I never have room in my rented room or apartment for all of it, storage units get expensive. But now I have something to work toward instead of away from. I will be working toward a lighter, brighter, more complete life than the one I had while burdened with all that “stuff.” It’s a much better reason.

No room for anything but the essentials for a good life!

No room for anything but the essentials for a good life!

Tiny House Jamboree- Colorado Springs: Part 2

I think kits are half-way between buy and build.

I think kits are half-way between buy and build.

One of the speakers gave a talk that I gathered is a new consideration for the movement. Laura Higgins discussed the choice to buy or to build. The decision is ultimately answered by designing your life around what matters. Is it more important to learn the diverse skills necessary to build a house- and make no mistake, it is a house- or is it more important to get into the house quickly? Is this temporary housing or a permanent move? If you’re building, do you have access to skills (yours or in your community), time (months), space for building, and materials (new or reclaimed). If you are buying, do you have the cash in the bank or financing? Having it built or buying a ready-built one will cost more than building it yourself, but the cost is usually known up front, unlike any building project, ever. In either case, have you walked through enough plans to be sure this will work for you? She even suggested taping out the plan on the floor so you can “live” in it to give it a dry run before building or buying. In the end, though, be open about your journey. People want to help and hearing about your journey may help them in return. Also, be confident in your decision. It is, after all, yours to make.

I'm not sure why there are complaints about these houses. It's adorable!

I’m not sure why there are complaints about these houses. It’s adorable!

Whether you build or buy, you will need to think about how you plan to use it and the codes and zoning that are associated with those uses. Because zoning trumps everything, that’s where you want to start. This is city and/or county down to HOA rules. They may include things like whether or not RVs are legal, minimum square-footage, and shape/aesthetic requirements. Once you’ve figured out those rules, then you can get into the building codes. The original tiny homes were what Darin Zaruba and Andrew Morrison described as “piece of shed on a trailer.” In other words, not to any particular code. The first code they discussed is the RVIA code, or the code for RVs. Tumbleweed and Sprout builders, among others, build theirs so they are registered as RVs. This means they are built to a national standard. Unfortunately, if your zoning doesn’t allow RVs, it won’t allow these tiny homes. The next step up is HUD code, or mobile homes. Unfortunately, it’s the factory that is certified. If you’re building the house yourself, this certification is not an option. The next step up is the IRC, or International Residential Code. They won’t certify a building on wheels, but why is your tiny house on wheels, anyway? Because you genuinely want to be mobile, or because you didn’t know there were other options? It is possible to build a tiny home to their code as long as you meet the minimum size and room number requirements.

Several of the lofts even came with models to show how spacious they are.

Several of the lofts even came with models to show how spacious they are.

There were some additional interesting tidbits from that talk. After 15 years of work, there is now an IRC National Strawbale Code. Change does happen if enough people want it badly enough. Legal egresses are not, in fact, about allowing you to get out if your home is on fire. The minimums are designed so that when you are unconscious from smoke inhalation, an average-sized firefighter can come in the building and save you. Given the size of tiny homes, and the fact that the bedroom is just a loft (IRC does require a separate bedroom) a second egress isn’t technically a requirement, but it might be a good idea to consider how you can skedaddle if anything goes wrong, because the house won’t last long enough for firefighters to get there. Apparently there is such a thing as the fastest tiny house- raced on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Could someone find me that video? I was not able to.

This arrived as a trailer and a kit on Friday. By the middle of Sunday . . .

This arrived as a trailer and a kit on Friday. By the middle of Sunday . . .

If you are interested in building your tiny house on wheels, Damon Deschampes talked to us about what to look for in a trailer. The original tiny homes were frequently built on utility trailers for lack of a better option. They are finding that as the originals age, utility trailers were less than the best choice. They are built for short-term hauling, not permanent, heavy weights. The laws concerning trailers change from state to state and they are currently fluctuating even within states. However, their research indicates that if you keep the height under 13’6″ and the width, including eves, under 102″, it should be road legal without additional permits. It is possible to get permits to move it if you build it taller or wider, but each state requires their own for each trip, so it’s inconvenient to build it bigger if you’re planning on keeping it mobile. You also want to take into account how you attach the house to the foundation because every time you move it, you are subjecting it to earthquake-like movements of 5-6 on the Richter scale and hurricane force winds. One last thought is to check the credentials of the experts you rely on. Make sure they aren’t snake-oil salesmen.

If we're going for productive land use, this one even has a chicken coop!

If we’re going for productive land use, this one even has a chicken coop!

Given all the interest in tiny homes and alternative living options, if you have land, there are people who are looking for places to park. Jan Burton and Sam Austin talked to us about ADUs, accessory dwelling units. They are actually legal in much of Colorado Springs, but check your HOAs and, if you live elsewhere, google ADU and your town. What they’ve found is that it’s great for increasing the population density without increasing the use of cars the way apartment buildings do. It gives rental income, often long-term, and allows homeowners to create living units, not developers. It’s possible to create an ADU either as an internal divide of a current house or as a detached unit. I suspect the internal divide would be easier to get past picky neighbors and HOAs, since the requirements on detached units tend to be stringent.

Once again, I’ve run out of room. My conclusion and favorite speaker will have to wait for Part 3.

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Tiny House Jamboree- Colorado Springs: Part 1

The houses were tiny. The crowd was not.

The houses were tiny. The crowd was not.

I was lucky enough to hear about the Tiny House Jamboree just in time to sign up to go. I didn’t get to make it the first day, a Friday, but I did make it for the other two. Me and about 17,000 other people. Apparently the turnout was . . . unexpected. But even with the long lines for food and tiny house tours, the people were cheerful and chatty. Like any group who finally finds others that share their non-mainstream interests. It happened to be in my back yard, but there were people who came from around the country and around the world to join in the festivities.

The houses came in all shapes and sizes.

The houses came in all shapes and sizes.

I listened to most of the speakers, and the one thing that struck me about all of them is that this movement may be going mainstream, but its arms are still open wide for anyone who wants to learn and participate. And it also embraces many, many different ways of expressing “tiny living.” Once upon a time, you had to build, and probably even design, your own house. Now, you can buy one pre-made. You still count as part of the community. One speaker even defined a “tiny house” as any house in which every square foot is used well. If you are fully utilizing every space in a 5,000 square foot house he might question your definition of “utilize,” but he believes that you count, too. It is not about shoe-horning yourself into the tiniest space you can manage, but about defining and using only the space you actually need.

I kind of fell in love with the Gypsy Wagon Stages they brought in.

I kind of fell in love with the Gypsy Wagon Stages they brought in.

In fact, it felt very much as if the tiny houses themselves were really secondary to what the actual movement was about. The movement itself seems to be about redefining each person and their place in the world so that instead of living the way society says they “should” live, they have the option to live as they, themselves, believe they should. Tiny homes tend to have tinier bills attached, and if you’re only living in 200 or even 500 square feet of space, you really have to think about the “stuff” that you spend your money on. If you’re freed up from the heating and cooling bills from a McMansion and you simply don’t have room to put yet another enormous TV, what do you do with your money? All of a sudden, you have options.

They call it a yurt, but, given the space on the inside, it might have been a TARDIS.

They call it a yurt, but, given the space on the inside, it might have been a TARDIS.

One of the speakers was Vina Lustado, an architect who was discussing design with us. She believes that beyond aesthetics, and function, design can redefine your lifestyle, environment, and community. In short, design is a process in which to solve a problem. She was brought to the tiny movement because, as an architect, she found herself constantly working for big projects for big companies with big budgets. It was all about big mortgages and big cars. Big, big, and more big. But all that big comes with big bills that tie you down. That didn’t sit well with her. So she designed herself a home and a life that didn’t require the big mortgages and big bills, which then let her branch off to start helping others with their tiny dreams.

Some people need gardens . . .

Some people need gardens . . .

Going against the grain can be scary, though. Andrew Morrison discussed this fear- and the fear that keeps us from doing a lot of the things that would make us better people and the world a better place. His definition of a tiny house is “human-sized.” The right size is defined by what is appropriate to you, personally. The hard part of this is that you can’t ask someone else what the “right size” is. You have to ask yourself, and be honest, about who you are and what your needs are. What are the things that bring you joy that you don’t do? Why not? Now, one layer deeper, really why not? According to Jack Hanfield, everything you want is on the other side of fear. Andrew pointed out that fear is also a message. What is it really telling you? You’re afraid you won’t be able to pay the mortgage. Then invert it- what you really desire is financial stability. He likes to invert things to give them a positive slant. Eliminating debt is less satisfying than building wealth, because you’re running from, not running toward. What is standing between you and your passions? How do you resolve or remove that block? In the end, it’s not about succeeding, it’s about not giving up.

I have lived in apartments that are not only smaller, but way less inviting, than the SimBLISSity House.

I have lived in apartments that are not only smaller, but way less inviting, than the SimBLISSity House.

Byron Fears had a slightly different take on how to define your space. As a designer and builder, he spends half his time trying to talk clients into bigger spaces. It’s not because he’ll make more money, but because most people don’t take into account exactly how much room they need for the stuff they love. He lives, and builds, up in Boulder. We like our outdoor play in Colorado, and that requires gear. Multiple coats, multiple pairs of boots, skis, backpacks, bikes. In fact, on a lot of his houses, he builds on a bicycle garage for just that reason. But there are also other things that make the house a joy. Do you like to cook? Make sure you have a real kitchen, not a hotplate and a dime-sized sink. Also consider your food shopping habits. Will that tiny fridge really work if you don’t shop daily? Take into account not just who you are now, but also who you want to be. Do you see a spouse, kids, dogs, grandkids in the future? Should you build in stairs, not a ladder, because your knee isn’t going to handle a ladder for too many more years? While the couch makes for an excellent storage space, it, and the loft, should also take into account comfort and being inviting to others. On the other hand, are there silly redundancies like a bathroom sink AND a kitchen sink? Do you really need both- and the plumbing for both? In short- are you using your space for living, or for silly crap?

Having a shed is just useful when you've got hobbies.

Having a shed is just useful when you’ve got hobbies.

I have a lot more thoughts, and pictures, so I believe there will be another post with more speakers.