Sunday, October 28, 2012

Let The Planning Begin

"When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices......What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can." -HDT, Walden

Scoping out my Dad's backyard
 for the best place to build.
We left my Dad's house that night, our heads swimming with ideas, questions, and so many different emotions. Some people would look at what we are doing as a major sacrifice, but we do not see it that way. I immediately want to ask, “what exactly are we sacrificing?” This lifestyle will cost us less in so many more ways than dollars and cents. During my combing of youtube videos that surround the tiny house movement, I came across an interview with a man that cited an interesting statistic. Since the 50s, the average square footage of the American home has doubled, yet our happiness rating has not changed. It's actually starting to fall. The most obvious fact this identifies is that space does not correlate with happiness. I could have told you that, but I am a bit “crunchy” and I find that facts can often get through to people who immediately write me off as a crazy hippie. Sure call me crazy if you want, but I look around and see insanity every day.
Everyone thinks they need a home with two or more bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, a den, a foyer, etc. Then they move into that space and realize it looks bare and empty. Our living space reflects heavily upon our feelings and outlook. People don't like to feel bare and empty. So they go out and buy crap to put in those spaces because it “looks nice”. So your dumping money into stuff that you just...look at? And only when you happen to walk past that room or space? Then there's the opposite scenario. Some people buy bigger houses simply because they don't have enough room for their stuff. Are you kidding me?! So you're willing to take on a bigger loan, pay more to heat that space, pay more to cool that space, pay more to insure that space, pay more to repair any damage that may occur to that space- all for your ….stuff?
How about you just get rid of some of that shit and keep your money?
Are Dan and I really the only people who get stressed out by having just a bunch of crap? Always trying to organize it, store it, manage it...but not actually make any kind of use of it?
Well, at least George Carlin agrees...

...well spoken, sir, well spoken.
Let's do a quick exercise. Think about all the things you own. Now how much of all that stuff have you not touched in five years? Okay, now let's broaden the scope. How much of it have you not touched in the last year? How much in the last six months? How much of it actually has a functional purpose? How much of it is pretty much only good for looking at? How much of it would be of serious detriment to your day to day life if it was gone? I would hope by now that you have a pretty short list.
There's a quote that hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it, and I have never forgotten it:
             “Be careful that the things you own,
                           don't one day own you.” 
I look around and see it happening everywhere.
There are too many people out there giving their lives to their jobs, just barely making enough to cover all the payments that they have incurred for various pieces of stuff that they think they need for it to be “the good life”. Payments on the big tv, payments on the nice couch set, the dishwasher, the laundry appliances, the nice car, the clothes, accessories and gadgets that are “in” right now, and the big house to hold all that crap. At the end of the day, they go home and sit in their house with all their stuff. They can't afford to have any other kind of experience. I remember what it was like when I realized this for myself. I was struggling to make enough money just to sit in my home, keep the lights on, the temperature comfortable, and food in the fridge. I had barely enough money for gas to get to and from work. I couldn't even afford to take a weekend road trip. Maybe there are people who are okay with living life in a nice comfortable cage, but not me. I want to travel, explore, create, and learn throughout my whole life. That's simply not possible these days in the so-called American Dream.
                                   The saying is,
    “Now get out there and live life!”
                                        It is not,
       “Now stay put and live life!”
Now that we've looked at stuff, let's look at space in general. Most people spend the bulk of their time in only one or two main areas of their home. How many rooms do you barely ever go into? I live in a three room apartment, right now, and I still have a room I barely ever use. It just holds my crap. Most people spend the bulk of their time within their kitchen and living room. Even in a larger home, that's about 300-500 square feet. Yet they pay all the bills that come with maintaining about 1500 to 2000 square feet. Then there's bedrooms. I don't know about you, but the only time I'm in there, I'm usually unconscious. Do you really need to devote 150 to 250 square feet for that?

The way we see it is this: a small space is easy to heat, to cool, to clean, and maintain. A small space can be designed with utmost efficiency, and one area or piece of furniture can have multiple purposes and functions. A small space is cozy and welcoming. A small space forces you to decide what is really important and worth keeping. This in turn is cleansing, liberating, and comforting. And for all of you that are starting to drift off because you think I'm getting a little too crunchy:
        A $MALL $PACE CO$T$ 
         $IGNIFICANTLY LE$$.

I'd rather keep my money and travel the world, take my family on incredible adventures, and make remarkable memories, not dump it all into a glorified cage.
Go ahead, call me crazy, tell me I'm sacrificing a lot. Now try to back it up.
There, I've said my piece. Now back to our story. It's a no brainer that for any kind of project you should have a game plan. Now that we knew we have the tools and the building space, we needed to lay out the rest. Given my past house experience and some of the concepts we learned from others in the tiny house movement, not to mention the ever looming budget concerns, we decided this is not something we were going to rush. The lease on the apartment has just under a year left. A project of this scale could easily be completed within a single summer if you are aggressive, so a year is plenty of time. Not only does this allow us to pay as we go, versus jump right into debt, it also allows us to enjoy what we are doing and examine every phase thoroughly ensuring we are approaching it in the smartest and most efficient manner. We also decided that we would look at this as a “Phase One” home. This would not be our forever home, so that too takes a lot of pressure out of decision making. With any project you can make it as complicated as you want, or as simple as you want. We decided that simplicity would always rule over sentiment. Sure, I like the look of a barn style roof, but that's a hell of a lot more complicated than a slant roof. So, slant roof it is.

The day after speaking with my Dad and securing his permission and support, we began combing youtube for videos that included actual building advice. We came across a man named Kevin who has a series of videos showing you every last step to building a tiny house. He is actually still posting episodes. At this point, he has completed the roof and siding. Next he will be addressing how to finish the inside. I already had a solid knowledge base on building, but watching his videos reinforced our confidence. I strongly urge any of you who think this is a cool idea, but are too intimidated by the building process, to watch his videos. He walks you through every step as if you just showed up on this planet yesterday, and he is very friendly and helpful. I wrote a comment on one of his videos asking a question, and he responded within a day. I promise you that you will walk away feeling like you can totally do this. (Search Kevin's youtube channel to easily find all episodes in order)

Next we needed to find or draw out building plans. Since we are all about simplicity, we decided to see what we could find for free. I was able to get multiple, free tiny house plans (specifically for a trailer) from this website, via a free e-book.
We looked through and decided on a very simple 8' x 16' design. Once we had the plans, we decided on a general idea of how many windows we wanted, and that we wanted both an entrance door and set of glass sliding doors. Now that we had those details ironed out, we could start looking for materials. We knew that the first things we would need were: the 16' utility trailer, windows, and doors. The trailer is obvious, but the reason you will want to find your windows and doors is because after the basic sub-floor is built on the trailer, the next step would be to frame the walls. You can't frame your walls until you know what size windows and doors you will be using.

My car full of windows.
In an effort to be as frugal as possible, we have decided to find as many materials as we can second hand. We started perusing craigslist every day. It's exciting and fun to see what kind of deals you can score. We spoke to my Dad on Sunday. By the following Sunday, we had all of our windows and our trailer. Thank you, craigslist! I got four windows, three of which are brand new, for $146 dollars from a young carpenter named Ethan. I remember one of the people in the myriad of tiny house videos I watched saying, “Just tell the person what you are trying to do. You'd be surprised how many people will be interested and mirror your enthusiasm. And even help you more.” I decided I would give it a shot.

All our windows in one swoop!!
When Ethan asked me what I planned on doing with the windows, I didn't really know where to start, so I responded with a question. “Have you ever heard of the tiny house movement?” He replied that he had not, so I gave him another question that seems to sum it up best, “Well, I'm building a really tiny house,” A quizzical look came across his face, but I continued quickly, “and if you really stop and think about it, how much space to you honestly need?” I saw him think for a moment, then he nodded his head and bobbed his eyebrows and he responded, “Not much at all.”
It was smooth sailing from there. I just opened up and began explaining all the concepts, benefits, and beliefs that fuel the tiny house movement. He agreed that it was a great idea, a smart idea. He added, “Nobody is building big houses these days, only the people with a lot of money.” Exactly. I was pleasantly surprised to get such a supportive reaction from a complete stranger. It was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to get the windows into my car, but he gladly helped and we were able to just barely fit them all. He even texted me about an hour after I left asking if I got home safe with the windows and wished me luck on my endeavor. It warmed my heart to know that there are still a lot of genuinely good, kind people out there. Thank you so much, Ethan.

Finding the trailer was a similarly rewarding experience. I got to meet some more great people: Dave, Jackie, and Dave Jr. I told them what I had planned and they were very interested and enthusiastic. If you're reading this Dave and Jackie, you're excitement and positivity was the final bit of encouragement I needed to make this blog. I can't thank you enough just for being open minded and truly excited about our project. I hope you enjoy following our progress, and like you said, maybe you'll do the same when you move out to your land in the mid-west. :)
Our 16' trailer!
I had to dip into my savings (which I was slowly scraping together for a piece of land and then a house-I see now that it makes much more sense to approach it in the opposite direction), but I was able to get just the kind of trailer we needed in great condition, and Dave was gracious enough to deliver it as well, all for just $1500. Title, tax, and registration came to $167 dollars. We've hit our comfortable spending limit for this month (maybe a little more), but we have made substantial progress overall, considering the decision to jump in happened just a week before. I also need to keep reminding myself that this is going to be our home, and as soon as we move in, we will be saving a substantial amount of money which will allow us to pay off the small amount of debt we incur that much quicker.

Dan backing the trailer into the construction
zone like a pro. Tight squeeze right there!
We plan to get the sub-floor on the trailer before winter weather sets in, and begin building the rest in the spring. Meanwhile we will continue searching for our doors first and foremost. We are also keeping a constant eye out for other materials we will inevitably need such as: insulation, flooring, metal roofing, wood siding, a stainless steel sink, a small wood stove, large drums for storing water, and so on. Not only will we be constantly on craigslist, but we are hoping to locate a few local dumps, and scope out construction sites (probably find more of those in the spring), but I encourage you to contact me if you have any of these materials or know of someone who does. Any help we can get is genuinely and tremendously appreciated.
Dreaming a real dream.

Stay tuned for more entries on how we plan to tackle off-grid power, water, plumbing, heating, efficient use of space, and of course colorful accounts of all our misadventures and crunchy outlook on life in general.

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