Monday, November 12, 2012

A Grab Bag of Thoughts & A Few Trinkets of Progress

Yesterday made one
 year together!

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” -HDT

This may be one of those entries that leaves you all feeling like I'm a bit....sporadic. Okay maybe a lot a bit. I digress.
Although the surface doesn't seem to show much commotion, the tiny house project is very much alive. It's been continuously permeating our life. Like the roots of a great oak, it is ceaselessly stretching, grasping, and growing straight into the soil that is us, since the moment the seed split. I find myself analyzing every single act I perform in a day, and imagining how it will be different, or perhaps even disappear in our new life. I have grown a heightened awareness for all that is a convenience in the life I currently lead, and I'll admit, sometimes it's scary to think of all I will be giving up- but most of the time, it feels incredibly liberating.

A gift from my best friend, Rach.
It's been especially helpful lately. :)
Over the past week, we've covered a whole smattering of subjects....and emotions. This tiny house isn't just a project. It's a choice to make a dramatic life-style change, to live intentionally and sustainably. Although there have been countless positive reactions and support from various sources, (and we thank you all so much for that) there will be those that simply don't relate or understand. But when it's someone so very important to you, it can be very difficult to brush off and move along. Choosing to leave the beaten path means you will walk a lonely road. I sat through a conversation this week that zapped the energy right out of me. I immediately felt all the negative thoughts start to creep in from the perimeters of my mind, as if they'd just been waiting for the right moment of weakness to pounce. I felt how desolate that road can be at times. I felt fear, anxiety, and worst of all...doubt. What if it doesn't work? What if we set something up wrong? What if it takes way longer than we thought? What if we hate it?

It was a difficult few days, but despite the heaviness and waves of defeat, I was always subtly aware of one thing. This project, this monumental life choice, has somehow manifest itself into this engine that sits in a far corner or my mind...and it never stops. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I lay my head back down again, I am aware. It churns out a steady stream of thought with one single focus. How can I simplify? Even toward the end of the day, when all other mental functions have slowed or otherwise checked out, the engine hammers on, churning out one contemplation after another. Drawing on some secret fuel source meant specifically for this adventure.
During the aforementioned deflating conversation, the question came up, “Why don't you just put a down payment on a house?” He said it so blindly. It was as if he completely missed how all encompassing this decision is to me. I want to live intentionally. I guess many people have never given much thought to what exactly that means. What living intentionally means to me is this: moving through your days with the chosen company of content and happiness, being present in the moment, being fully aware of every act that I carry out in a day. Each of those chores being necessary, useful, and beneficial to my day to day life. I want to cut out all the crap, basically.
                               So the theme of this entry is SIMPLIFY.
Like I said, that little engine is constantly pumping out a steady stream of ideas, propositions, and questions. How can I simplify? How can I make this easier? How can I make that more efficient? How can we use less? Do I really need this in my life? How can we be more aware? What can I live without? What can I learn?
                          What can I do now?
That last question comes around the most often. It was a mixture of the doubt from that tough conversation and the knowledge that I am continuously amassing that lead us to decide not to begin the build this fall. I came upon this great blog- 2cycle 2gether. (Psst! Liz, I think you would really like this blog!) It's about a couple, Kai and Sheila, who have decided to live intentionally and sustainably as well. Only they are way more intense than us! They have also decided to go on a bicycle tour around the world over the next three to six years. They are currently in Mexico, but before they left, they built a tiny home to come back to.

This blog is, by far, the most meticulous and knowledgeable source I have come across to date. If I choose to build more tiny homes in the future, I hope to reach the level they are on. They not only dug into the nitty-gritty science of building, which is very involved and made me want to hold off consruction till spring, but they also made very specific material choices. They have been environmentally conscious with every selection: acquiring as many reclaimed materials as possible, choosing plant fiber insulation vs Styrofoam, and staining their wood with a natural stain mix then sealing with linseed oil- just to name a few instances. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and guilty that I am not making more of an effort to track down materials like they have. Then I remember the bigger picture: choosing to live this way is already a gargantuan step in the right direction. Even though we won't approach their extreme, we will pick and choose certain methods that work within our limits- like the linseed oil stain. I am definitely going to do that.

The building science, however, certainly paralyzed me with intimidation for a short time. They began talking about how so many tiny house resources out there don't really spend any time addressing the special circumstances of these structures. There a unique characteristics to consider- like the limited space, and how tightly sealed the building is. Air flow is crucial, not only from a safety standpoint for the dwellers, but also for moisture. If the structure gets wet and cannot breathe and dry out, the integrity of the structure will be compromised.

I'll use Kai's succinct description of building science: “ It’s interdisciplinary focus delves into the many factors that affect buildings, with an eye to understanding the many forces at work and coming up with solutions and techniques to minimize the negative effects of these forces on all aspects of a building’s performance.” It was a dizzying entry to read, with phrases like “building envelope”, “vapor barrier”, and “thermal bridging” knocking me down a peg- closer to reality. That, plus the incredibly detailed diagrams with explanations, ultimately lead me to the conclusion that we have maaaannnny more things to consider before we put hammer to nail. It does feel like a small kind of defeat from time to time, thinking about how we won't actually be doing any building for a few more months, but I never dwell on any one thought for too long. Another awesome discovery from this blog was Google Sketch Up. It's a free program that allows you to create high quality 3D diagrams of buildings! I'll save all that excitement for another entry.
So, what can I do now? Many suggestions jump out at me: Educate yourself! Read up on key subjects! Experiment now, so you have an idea of what something will be like later! Start the mental and material transition! I have made advances in all those directions.
I have explored more blogs and have compiled a list of books to check out from the library-- if they have them. First on my list? The Humanure Handbook. Yep, that's referring to people pooh. I'm going to learn all about it, since we will have a composting toilet. Aren't you excited to read about that shit? ;)
This week, we had a great break-though in regards to the plumbing. It was already very simplistic, making use of gravity fed concepts and a small tankless water heater with a 12 volt pump. Originally, the system went a little something like this: A 30 gallon tank would sit in the loft directly above the shower and sink area; one main pipe would run down through the walls, the first split would divide cold and hot water. The cold line going all the way along the wall to meet the kitchen sink. The hot line first going through the water heater then splitting again, one to the shower and one all the way to the sink. Even this simple set up is still a bit intimidating, and I was fixated on two things. How can I make this easier? How fast will we go through that water storage?
That never-ending train of thought kept throwing out possibilities, and as I came across stories of people living even more extreme than I have envisioned (found a couple that doesn't have a shower or a fridge! They shower at the gym or work and then use passive refrigeration methods) I began to think more extreme. It hit me like lightening the other day as we were leaving the apartment for some errands. I was casually walking out the door when the idea struck. “THAT'S IT!” I exclaimed as I jerked my head around and whipped my arm out like a sword, pointing square in Dan's face. He reacted much like it was a real blade as he replied with bewilderment, “Um, what's it?” “I KNOW WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE THE PLUMBING EASIER!” I squealed. “THE SHOWER! We can use a camp shower set up!”
What I meant by that is those shower set ups where it's basically a bag of warm water that you hang above your head and use a simple nozzle to control the gravity charged flow of water. This opened up all kinds of benefits and we carried on our excited conversation all throughout our errands. We realized that this would not only cut down on costs of materials and the level of difficulty, but it would also inherently force us to be aware of how much water we use. Now all the pipes can run through one interior wall in the house- no need to worry about pipes freezing in exterior walls. Now, we fill a water bag with certain amount of water, controlling waste while showering- which was a big concern of ours. Also, this is something we can experiment with now. We plan to get the simple camp shower set up and go through a few test runs, just to 'get our feet wet' with a new, much more efficient hygiene practice. Hehe- see what I did there?
As I mentioned in the beginning, my thoughts and perspectives have already started to change. I find myself analyzing what exactly constitutes a convenience versus a necessity. The line has been blurred over so many generations; we take so much for granted. Like running water. Before I used to aimlessly leave the faucet running while I gave my teeth one or two more scrubs. I'd let the shower get nice and steamy, dumping gallons and gallons down the drain before I even stepped in. I'd crank the hot nozzle on in the kitchen, meaning to rinse something, but then stepping off to do another task and letting it flow...all I seem to think about now is that 30 gallon tank. I ask myself all throughout the day, “How much is left in the tank now? How often will we need to refill at this rate? Can I be more efficient?” Running water is not a necessity of life. Water itself, of course, is a necessity, but having a limitless, highly pressured supply of on demand hot or cold water is a downright luxury! To think I've spent so many years completely oblivious to such a wonderful thing in my day to day life.

Making a huge batch of 'Power Pancakes'
for Dan to snarf down throughout the week.
Power Pancake aftermath...
I find myself appreciating my little apartment so much more. I absolutely look forward to the tiny house, but I'm beginning to see this place as a palace. I will miss my full size stove. I will miss being able to carry out massive culinary operations requiring many burners and many dishes. I will miss my island and all that workspace. I'm also wondering how the dishes will go. We dirty COUNTERFULS of dishes on a regular basis- we both have many dietary restrictions, so we make just about everything we eat from scratch. That will be interesting...
(Hey Judy- it's my g-free recipe if you're interested!)

As for the material side of this transition, I have set up a schedule for myself. Every two weeks, I will make a pass through all my clothes and accessories, and choose items to donate. I will also focus on specific areas of the apartment, and specific groups of things. Today I tackled books. I've actually been reading a lot more lately. I'm reading this book called, “The Happiness Project”. It's been very interesting and I've really been able to relate, even in my unique circumstance. One thing she said that really struck me, is that everyone, no matter who, when asked about the one thing they wanted in life, or for their children, the reply was unanimous: Happiness. Every last person, from the blue collars to the CEO's, just wants to be happy. It is what each person believes will help them achieve happiness that differs. To some it is faith, to others it is money, to me, it is this way of life. She also talked about downsizing material possessions and the cathartic feelings that come with doing so. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Getting rid of shit feels GOOD.

I'll admit, it was hard at first. Making that initial pass through my clothes was shaky, I had those old thoughts trying to elbow their way in, “I might want to wear this....” or “It's good to have a couple of these..” Then I applied my simple set of questions: “When was the last time you wore this?” “How often do you wear this?” “Do you really even like this style anymore?” and “Is there still a tag on it?”

This list of questions kept me on track every time I wavered. I stood back and surveyed my work. The first round yielded two big bags of clothes. I felt weightless as I dropped off my donations. I haven't missed a single item I gave away. It has been downhill ever since.

There are some things that will be hard to pare down though. My books were a test. It's funny the things we quietly lead ourselves to believe are a part of us. As if those things being gone would somehow detract from the person you are. The reality is, there are no objects that will truly contribute to your character and who you are.
Nevertheless, I have always had a soft spot for my book collection, as if it were an abstract reflection of me. Sure the notion is romantic, but the truth was, I had read about a fifth of them, with only two or three that I had any intention of revisiting. A third of them came to join my collection simply because the subjects resonated with me at the time. Well-those times have passed...and there's this thing called a Public Library. I'll let them keep the books. I'm not sure what I was attempting to accomplish. Did I think that someone would be wandering around my apartment while I wasn't there, and peruse the titles of my library to surmise my personality and character? No. Dork. They just sit on a shelf and collect dust, and on occasion get to be the heaviest box full of shit you heave around on moving day.
Once I got warmed up...

All you need is already within you. Remove as many distractions from your life as possible, and focus on exploring, developing, and understanding yourself. The rest will fall into place as you go.

In the spirit of “The Happiness Project” book, I'm reaching out to readers for the first time. In the book, she writes about keeping a blog, and often would pose questions to her readers, gaining a sense of community, support, and refreshing perspectives. I'd like to do the same. So if you have a moment, please do comment on my question.
If you had to downsize the amount of stuff in your life, what thing or group of things would be hardest for you to let go? Why?

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HHH! My identity! What will I do without them!?
I'm kidding.


  1. Thanks so much for the link and kind words!! I think it's funny you think we're intense though, as I sit here eating a sticky bun and reading your blog. We've been sitting on our butts for six months instead of cycling, finishing our Tiny House eBook.

    You're totally on the right track. Frustrations and setbacks will be a part of the game, believe me! I admire how you're determining what your real needs are and then staying true to your intention. :-)

    ~Sheila (one half of

  2. Thanks so much Sheila! I feel a little star-struck right now...hahaha :)