Posts Tagged ‘efficiency’

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.

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Square Foot Gardening

At the moment, if I was asked to recommend a book for a beginning gardener, it would be Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. (I read the original not the all new ones he’s got for sale.) Like any book, I have some disagreements, but the way he outlines the whole process makes it very accessible and worth the effort. It is a thicker book, but he covers everything from plotting and preparing the soil to some basics of harvesting and storing what you grow.

The premise is that rather than working in rows, you work in beds. His twist on the bed concept is that you function on a square-foot grid. This means that you only have to think about a single square foot at a time. By thinking on such a small scale, any chores are kept at a reasonable level. He came up with this from watching people in community gardens just get overwhelmed as the summer went on by weeds or watering or even harvesting. However, once you have weeded, watered, planted, or harvested one square, you have a solid accomplishment in a short timeĀ which makes it easier to move on to another square.

He is all about continuous and reasonably sized harvests. He does discuss the logistics of planning a large, one-time harvest if you are planning on preserving food for other seasons. However, most of it is about how to plan your garden so that you can harvest what you need and plant the next round with as little fuss as possible. One square holds 16 carrots. Since you probably don’t want to harvest more than that at once, you plant one square of carrots, wait two weeks, then plant another square. This gives you a clear progression for harvesting, once you get to that point. Once the first square has had all of the carrots harvested, it is ready to be turned over with some compost and replanted with the next crop. This keeps you from being overwhelmed by needing to spend a full day planting or harvesting. It also helps even out the “boom or bust” that most garden crops have if they are planted all at once.

One of the most interesting points is how very space-efficient this is. I grew up with a row garden that most people are familiar with. It turns out that long, thin rows aren’t just since the advent of tractors. I ran across an old instruction to make your garden long and thin rather than lots of short rows because you would spend significantly less time turning your plow horse or team. On our property, we had the space and rototiller that made a sprawling row garden logical. However, if your space is limited or you just don’t want to turn over that much land, by eliminating the walking path between each crop row, you save on a lot of things. You have less bare soil to keep weeded and watered. You also have less compaction from walking so close to each plant. The plants themselves even help with weed reduction and water retention as they can grow close enough to shade most of the soil in their square. His estimate is that you can grow the same number of plants in only 20% of the space of a more conventional garden.

His covering of pest control is interesting as well. Not only is not using chemicals healthier, but it’s easier. His solution for caterpillars is to pluck them off and crush them. For cutworms, you dig in the ground around the freshly felled seedling to uncover and crush the guilty party. The reason this works is because you have such a tiny space to monitor that you will see most changes caused by pests before more extreme intervention is necessary. In later chapters he goes over other information like season-extending and setting up boxes for patios and rooftops. He even offers some recipes to help you manage your bounty. It is a very complete look at having a garden.

I do have a few points to pick at. After all, does one ever agree with everything? For one thing, raw veggies are not more digestible than cooked ones, no matter how young and fresh they are. Also, you might also only turn over the full garden once per year, but renting a shovel because you only use it once per year? I agree that you can do away with most of the fancy tools, but a shovel is just a practical thing to keep around.

Overall, it is a very practical book, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others.