sharkbite winter

So, returning home from holidays on the east coast wasn’t the most welcoming experience.

My house was 20° (twenty degrees!), my water was completely frozen, my car was covered in a sheet of ice and the door was frozen shut, and, ironically, my freezer was broken (my ice cube tray merely held exceptionally-cold-puddles). Day two my usual thawing-of-the-garden-hose (how my house gets water) proved the water situation was worse than the usual issue. Day three I learned it wasn’t due to the indoor pipes, either. Day four I finally got water flowing, but it came with a cascading leak.

I can’t shower.
I can’t wash my hands.
I can’t wash dishes.
I have to remember to bring home jars of water so I can make tea.

But, but I’m not bothered. There were a few hours of being frustrated and having the beginning flutters of feeling anxious. But it quickly dissipated. You figure it out, you make it work. I feel like….I want to be able to handle anything this world throws at me. I can. I have. This life is so much easier once you realize you have made it beyond every single tumultuous situation you have encountered. It happened, it’s in the past, you’re okay. So, while my life has been a whole lot less convenient (and decidedly less clean) lately, it’s fine. It’s…life experiences. It’s new skills. It’s stretching and adaptation, pushing past your comfort zone, expanding your capacity to exist. And, let’s be honest, running water is a luxury.IMG_4271

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four second house

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I am neither creative enough to make building sound poetic, nor knowledgeable enough to give any further insight than already exists in the seemingly endless blogs concerning tiny house construction. I don’t think I have the greatest tiny house in existence. There are plenty of micro homes that are more creative, more clever, more minimal or more expansive, more or less of anything and everything than mine. I don’t think mine is the best, and I can certainly appreciate all of the amazing things others have accomplished. I can say that mine is my favorite, and it is exactly what works for me.

So I’m not going to give a thirty-post tutorial on the ins and outs of how to build a tiny house, and I’m not going to gush out poems about the simplicity of living in a small space. But I do have a few thoughts to contribute to the world. Namely: what a truly unusual and splendid experience. After living hours and time zones, cities and states away from my parents, it was awesome to have the opportunity to spend four months with them. I am so grateful for that. Also the fact that they are literally built into my home. I can look at any part of it and think of them. There is something extra special about this structure I call my home due to my parents’ involvement in its construction.

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From all of the blogs I’ve read on tiny houses, I’d say my experience was a bit different than other people’s. It seems to me that a lot of tiny housers had this providing-for-themselves-empowerment experience. I, however, was on a tight schedule (my parents do, in fact, have their own life in Florida (also the weather in Washington, as you may have heard, isn’t all sunshine and construction positive)), and I had two building experts at my disposal. So I didn’t do every single thing with my own hands; I didn’t learn every intricate aspect of building a house. Sometimes I learned the processes, and sometimes I stood aside and let the experts do their thing. I didn’t feel like I needed that empowerment experience – I’ve had that with traveling, and I’m good with that. As such, rather than the year plus it has taken many of the tiny housers I’ve seen, we finished in four months. That’s two full time builders (my parents) and one almost-full-time-builder (me, the job holder who needed to pay for rent and food and this whole construction thing.) My wonderful parents were tireless – seven days a week from 8am until 6pm. I think they took maybe three days off during the entire project. So much for exploring the pacific northwest. I, on the other hand, would say less that I was tireless and more that I was tired. I worked mornings starting between 4am and 6am a few days a week, came home and worked on the house with my parents, after which Sunita and I would work on packing and cleaning our current house, after which I’d scour the internet for second hand supplies. Making food some days seemed just too much. It was really nice having four adults to share that particular burden. Also the taco truck people got to know us really well.

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Probably the most difficult thing about the whole process for me was making all of those damn decisions. I, by nature, have a very low tolerance for decision making. I never knew just how many decisions were necessary in building a house. Choosing a toilet, a sink, windows and doors were easy. Colors, on the other hand, were very difficult for me (my parents are shaking their heads right now.) Some decisions took weeks. Like the stain for the exterior siding. And the interior, come to think of it. Anyways, I grew skyscrapers in my decision making abilities.
The most time consuming aspect was definitely researching and acquiring materials. I bought the majority of my stuff from craigslist (some from as far as Seattle and Anacortes): windows, house wrap, siding, sink, refrigerator, toilet…A few things came from re-stores: skylights, tub (aka giant kitchen sink), door…I bought the basic skeleton new, the trailer, tankless water heater, bathroom fan, things like screws and stuff. Still more stuff we hand made: couch base, loft shelving, bottle windows, bookshelf…
I’ve still not done all of the calculations for cost, but my rough estimate is about $15,000. We definitely stretched our resources and used them smartly and efficiently. I had about $10,000 in the bank when we started. I was still making some money during construction, but my parents loaned me some as well, and ended up just donating some for the cause. My grandmother also bought my stove for me.

Some of my favorite features I would have expected, others not so much. My skylights (I love lying just beneath the rain, and I’ve seen 6 shooting stars to date through them) and bottle windows are no surprise. My infatuation with my composting toilet, however, was a surprise. My facebook page betrays this strange affinity. I also quite like my 3/4 size refrigerator and my gas range, my loft in general, my little shelf of bits and bobs….

There have been a few issues and challenges in the past six months of living here. The most notable being the excessive levels of moisture. Two people, a giant dog, and a cat create more condensation than this space can really handle. That, and we live in the notably moist state of Washington. I think next winter I’ll invest in a small dehumidifier. The best solution I’ve found so far is keeping the place at a consistently semi-warm temperature. Otherwise mold grows quite rapidly on the edges of my windows and skylights.
I got surprised by the first few days of freezing weather and completely forgot to winterize my hose. So we were without water for a day. I’m still perfecting the winterization, so we’ve lost water two other times, but it’s a little better each time. Not really sure what’s going to happen when we move to Colorado next year…
I’ve admittedly had a few days of feeling overwhelmed by stuff scattered around. It definitely feels different having a messy tiny house than a messy non-tiny house. Apart from clutter, sharing a smaller space with Sunita hasn’t bothered me at all. Like I’ve told a lot of people: I wouldn’t be able to live in a tiny house with just anyone. But my closest friends have been people who can be present and I still somehow feel like I have a certain amount of solitude. Also, neither Sunita nor I are too particular – we’re both pretty happy as long as the other person is happy. By the way, I’m pretty grateful to her, too, for agreeing to move into a two hundred square foot house with me. It’s one thing for a minimalist, and quite another for a non-minimalist/artist/nerd/hoodie addict/gear collector with a dog and cat. She’s been fully on board, and very patient with my exasperated “we have too much stuff!” rants. Despite the fact that I expect this space will feel the size of Westminster Abbey when she moves out, I’ll miss her presence. I have yet to live by myself, and I’m just fine with that. Housemates are so underrated.

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There’s not really much I would change. I might have gone with the twenty foot trailer (rather than the eighteen footer) and gained an extra two feet of kitchen space, but I’m really fine without it. My kitchen outlets are a tad wonky because I changed the floorplan halfway through, but again, it just doesn’t make too much difference. Everything else I’d pretty much choose to do over again.

I guess one of the most interesting things to me is the perception of what living in a tiny house is like, versus the reality. Reading all of those blogs and never having set foot in a tiny house gave me this (subconscious) idea of all these people being these really different individuals whose lives revolved around living in a tiny house. In reality I don’t even think about it most of the time. It’s always disconcerting the first time it comes up with someone when they act like it’s a big deal, and I remember ‘oh yeah, this isn’t normal.’ I mean, I have to be more conscious about my grocery purchasing, I have to dispose of my toilet contents myself, and I can’t jump on my bed, but otherwise it’s just not that…noticeable. I don’t miss having separate rooms for each of my activities. I don’t miss having a minimum square footage surrounding me. I definitely don’t miss any of the stuff I got rid of before moving in here (except those darn fuzzy green socks!) I do miss having two couches, but then I have a slight couch obsession. And sometimes I miss having an exorbitant amount of fridge space for leftovers (also a little obsessive about leftovers), and occasionally I miss having an already-set-up art desk for working on projects. But…that’s all. And I don’t really mind any of that too much. Those are sacrifices I’m willing to make. I’m happy in my tiny house. It is adequate to contain my existence. As I heard it put recently,

“There is a fine balance between too little and too much, it is called enough.”

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varekai: my little life plans

Yet again, a huge part of my life can be attributed to this seemingly unimportant, passing conversation I had with my brother some years ago. The last was my Wwoofing experience. Which turned out to be one of the most amazing, life changing three months of my life. This time around I’m jumping into the rabbit hole of the tiny house world. My brother got really excited about tiny houses and alternative structures a few years back and, as he is wont to do, sat me down and introduced me to his latest obsession. I didn’t think much of them again until this past year.

Since the commencement of my independent life (eighteen, moving away from home) my collection of things has been getting smaller and smaller, simpler and simpler. This, I think, can be attributed to multiple factors.
In part to moving almost yearly for the past six years. Anyone who has ever moved knows how much it sucks condensing all of your belongings into boxes and carrying them from a house to a truck, from a truck to a house, and then releasing them again from their boxes. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Each time I’ve gotten rid of a little more. Let go and freed myself from a few more possessions.
Another contributor to my minimizing has been traveling. When you live for six months carrying around the same forty pounds of things on your back, you start to realize just how much you really need. And how much you really don’t.
Here at the Indecisive Chocolate Factory I spend almost no time in my room. I sleep in there about three nights a week, and I store my clothes there. That’s about it. Otherwise I sleep on the couch, read on the couch, cook in the kitchen, dance on the porch, pack up and go on trips in the car. I began thinking it was really unnecessary to even have a room. I kept saying how I really don’t need much space, and all of a sudden tiny houses crept back into my mind. Then I saw Dee William’s TED talk. And then it was certain. And now it’s happening.

To be honest, a few months after deciding I was going to build my own tiny house, I had a small freakout session. Why was I building a house, when what I really wanted to do was go travel indefinitely? Buy a one way ticket to whoknowswhere in Asia and set out with no dates to keep and no return in sight. But I realized I do want a home. A small, nonintrusive, inexcessive home. A place that can be filled with my life when I am here, and be waiting for me when I return from elsewhere. When I arrived back from my first Wwoofing trip, I had no home. I spent a few weeks at each of my previous residences: my parents’ house, with ex-roommates in Orlando, with ex-roommates in Gainesville…and while that was fun, it felt strange to have no place that was mine. I always considered myself to be a woman of many homes; I have lots of loving friends who unhesitatingly let me crash with them when I want to see their faces. I have a lot of places where I can go and it feels like I’m with family. But there’s something that’s just not quite home about all of those places.
So I want a place where I don’t have to keep my clothes in my backpack, and where I can spend every second of the day reading if I want, where I can walk around in my now-elasticless tie-dye boxers (actually I do that pretty much anywhere), and only have a milkshake for dinner, where I can sing endlessly without being a nuisance.
And I want a place that can move. I am still not a settled person. Perhaps I never will be. So it’s important to me to also have a home with wheels, or a rudder, or wings, or whatever will take me to new places.
Not going into debt is also a lifetime goal of mine. I’ve never been in debt, but I know a lot of people who have an infinity of loans to pay off, and I don’t want any part of that. Not spending the next thirty years paying off a mortgage sounds great to me. But building a two hundredish square foot house, out of pocket, with my own hands? Now that I can go for.
A tiny house isn’t going to solve all of my problems and fulfill all of my dreams for the rest of my life. But it is a pretty darn good match for my style of living.

Which is why I’m going for it, full sails ahead. It just so happens that I’m staying in one place for a fairly decent amount of time (for me), and I have a consistent income, as well as a job that is flexible enough for me to take enough time off each week for construction purposes, and I have an awesome family who is willing to come out and help me, oh, and landlord/neighbor/friends who are supportive of the project.

Perhaps going with all of those Wwoof hosts who were building their dream houses in Ireland, rather than going with a goat farm would have given me more practical experience. But hey, I wouldn’t exchange my experience with those goats for anything. From what I’ve read, most tiny housers have no building experience. And additionally no connections to people who are willing/able to just pick up and go help them for however many months. Fortunately, I do. Perhaps the fact that my parents built their own house, a guest house, a playhouse, various skateboard ramps, mailboxes, a chicken coop, and who knows what other random things makes me a little (lot) more confident in actually being able to make this happen. I think if I didn’t have my parents on board with the project I would have given up and just moved on. But while it seems like an overwhelming endeavor to someone who doesn’t have much of the necessary experience, I do feel like it’ll all work out. Here’s to hoping.

All of that said, I’m taking a page out of Amanda Palmer’s book, (or TED talk, as it were.) The Art of Asking. I’ve done all sorts of research on tiny houses and construction and appliances, etc, I’m spending over an hour each day scouring craigslist for materials, and I’m saving my money up day by day. But this would be a sad, and less exciting adventure if I did it all by myself. Part of what I love about the tiny house community is the fact that while you have this small, independent structure, you also see all of this interaction with the community around them. So many people use big house showers, ovens, back yards, whatever. And I think that’s so cool. The world could use a better balance of independence versus dependence, an interdependence if you will. Tiny house communities are one way I see that concept thriving.

Anyways, I digress, my point is: I could definitely use a lot of help from the people around me. I have almost no experience with the majority of things I’ll be doing. Welders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, builders, architects, painters, whatever. I would happily use an army or a circus of help.

Materials, too. For all of the simplicity and minimalism I claim, there are an awful lot of bits and bobs to this structure. Everyone I know (myself currently included) have things sitting around that they don’t use, and will likely never use. I’m happy to adopt all of that abandoned, unappreciated stuff in the world. Wood, nails, compact fridge, kitchen sink, windows, and you know any double axle eighteen foot trailers you have hanging out in your closet. The list of things I need for the house is literally longer than the list of things I own (and I do have a list). If you have things you want to sell, if you have things you want to give: contact me. I’m in the market for all the things.

Likewise, if you want to learn about building or tiny houses feel free to come join the process. Learn from my mistakes, or learn from my innovations (or more like my copying/adapting of other people’s innovations), if anything, learn from the experience of watching and/or doing.

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