Tiny Living, 18 Months Later: Unveiling the Next Step

We live in 250 sq ft

Our space has a wood stove, two bookshelves, a loft bed, kitchenette, table, and a full bathroom with a shower. We have put a lot into making this space as great as it can be, which included re-doing the floors, adding a new window, and building a loft for our bed. We also covered the walls in clay paint, and plaster, of course.

We are happy living small. The size forces us to be organized, take stock of all our material possessions, and to be mindful of what we purchase and bring into our lives. It also demands a high degree of mindfulness as the two of us share this space as an office/kitchen/living room/bedroom. If you’re interested in how we came to be in this space, check out our blog An Experiment in Living Tiny.

dirt craft tiny house

Recently, I came across an article by Lauren Modery titled Dear People Who Live in Fancy Tiny Houses. For a satirical article, it contains way too many salient points. One of many hilarious paragraphs:

What if you’re having a shitty day and you just want to be alone? You can’t be alone, right? Because your partner or children are sitting two to ten feet away from you at all times. Don’t you feel like a rat trapped in a cage? Don’t you ever want to turn toward your lover or spawn and shout, “Get out! Get out of my tiny house!”

What about guests? Where do you put your guests? Can friends and family even visit you? Do you have friends and family? ANSWER ME, DAMMIT! Are people now afraid of you?

“Honey, want to go visit Petal & Ralph out in their 250-square-foot house this weekend?”  “Are you shitting me? That place smells like a hot box of Mexican food farts.”

And she goes on. Have a read if you’re looking for a chuckle and some insight. What is most revealing about this article, for me, is that it unpacks the image of a life, rather than taking it at face value. There is so much online, which is great, it really is, providing inspiration and the sharing of ideas.

But so often it is just about the look, what is on the surface, and lacking actual substance.

It is so easy to get lost in the image, to start comparing yourself to others, and to start feeling inadequate. We see glossy images of life, and wonder why we’re not like that, why we’re not feeling so happy all the time, why our lives aren’t one big Insta-perfect adventure. I know I’m not the only one wondering about life behind the scenes, as more and more people are starting to share more honest versions of living tiny, and expressing trouble with everything from where to park their little homes on trailers (which is illegal almost everywhere) to the isolation felt giving up everything and moving to a remote piece of paradise.

Tiny house design photo, and tiny house real life photo.
Tiny house design photo, and tiny house real life photo.

What is Enough?

While living tiny has really been an education in living mindfully, taking care to manage everything from our stuff to our diet, living the tiny life is not without its challenges. We’ve purged and pared down our personal lives, getting rid of things we don’t use. We have little space for things like clothes, so instead of having a lot of cheap things, we have few, good quality items. This is a value that we’ve lived by for a long time, even before we started living in a tiny space.

We are also builders, makers and doers. If you work a job that is mostly digital, the only accessory you need is your computer. We on the other hand, have a utility trailer full of tools, a small workshop full to the ceiling with samples, ingredients and more tools. We have a small library for our office of hard to find books, and references we use all the time. We have work clothes that are always dirty.

Did I mention that we also love riding bikes too (of which we have 4)? Between bike touring, backpacking, camping, and climbing you end up with quite the load of stuff. Where does all that equipment go? How about canning and food preservation? We are lucky to have access to a full size fridge, with a typical small freezer, but part of the reason we love living in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is great access to excellent food. We have no space to store those extra jars of peaches, salsa, or apple sauce. We don’t even have space to store the equipment to put the food in the jars.

Abundance of food.

But is That the Best We Can Do?

We definitely don’t need a big house. That much we’ve learned. In fact, we don’t want a big house, but we do want a house that fits. It is a good experiment to see what you can live without. It is good to deeply question your motivations and desires, and examine what your true needs are, to separate what we thrive on versus what our culture tells us we should be.

We spent four months this past fall and winter living on what our humble touring bikes could carry. We can live small. And we do.

But in trying to look critically at what we’re doing, we have to ask, is cramming yourself into a shoebox really the solution? It may be, for some. Partly, it seems like the tiny house movement is a reaction to the McMansion style homes that are going up in suburbs all across North America. It is interesting that in order to get to balance we have to swing the pendulum to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. We take offense to excess, not mindful simplicity, so if you’ve found peace and happiness in your 100 or 200 sq ft. then all the power to you. We need it all – micro, tiny, small, not-so-big, sensible…

What motivates us is the idea that there has got to be a better solution that addresses the need for shelter head on, in an affordable, happy, healthy way.

It is so interesting, the paths that our lives take. It is surprising how events in our lives take on a certain order, and lead us on a journey. This spring, we attended a conference in Whitbey Island all about Thriving Communities: Lens on Shelter. Inspired, we’ve been working to set a long term goal around building a small natural building development within a walkable, vibrant community. We have been working to try to figure out our next steps, and how to get from where we are to where we want to go.

We also, no matter which way we looked at it, have started to feel cramped in our little space. It is one thing to be able to embrace the freedom of working from home, but things move to a whole other level when the lines between work, life, and play, blur beyond recognition.

Dirt Craft office

Dirt Craft desk/kitchen/living room.

On our road trip to Alberta this past June to teach a series of natural building workshops, we read a report (don’t worry – Heather read while Ashley drove) recently put out by Small Housing BC. It is full of examples, ten actually, of small-space living that is happening in different cities all across North America. It was full of good ideas, problems that each project was trying to address, as well as challenges that each project faced.

Reading this, the light went on, an idea was hatched, and we started scheming. This is the part where the driving got dangerous, as we both tried to write down and draw to keep up with how fast our brains were going. We need more space, we like to build, we really like to build with straw bales and clay, so why not demonstrate the viability of using natural materials in the renovation of a conventional building? Ah-ha!

The Expansion Begins

In the last few weeks we’ve embarked on the preliminary process to expand our residence with a straw bale addition! Currently, we are in the planning phases, which includes developing a building plan, working with a designer, outlining a budget and a timeline. We also don’t own the place that we live in, so there is a level of complexity to the project, but that’s where community comes in. We are really excited to merge natural building materials with our conventionally built space, and to demonstrate the benefits that can be achieved. Look for updates on the process to come!

Straw bale extension concept drawing

Straw bale extension, concept drawing

3 thoughts on “Tiny Living, 18 Months Later: Unveiling the Next Step

  1. Connie Jones

    Interesting insights Ashley and Heather. We, too, have just lived 18 months in a small dwelling and when I read Lauren Modery’s hilarious piece, too much rang true.

    We do love the space we created, it is bright, simple and comfortable.

    However;

    I really do miss canning and preserving, having my tools and materials close at hand, entertaining more than two people at a time, doing laundry in my own home and choosing to bathe in a bathtub now and again. We also have our small house on some one else’s property which has its own set of limitations.

    So we are preparing to sell our little home.

    We are currently looking at renovating a 900 sq foot conventional house, which we believe will be the right size for us. As we move closer to the project, we will be looking to your experience with using natural materials on a conventional house, because, right now, that sounds like the solution for us.

    Thank you for your insightful and informative musings!

    Reply
    1. Dirt Craft Natural Building Post author

      Hi Connie! Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to share your experience. It is interesting that the smaller the space we have, the more dependent we are on outside inputs, like going to the grocery store more frequently, and as you say not being able to preserve what is in season. I think there is probably a balance to be found here, between houses getting too big and we become isolated as there is no need to go out into the community, but too small, and the comforts of ‘home’ aren’t really there at all! It is good to experiment to find what is right for you, and to determine what comforts you really need. We’ll be sharing our next steps as well, so I hope you find them equally informative. Let us know how your transition goes, and if you need any help around best practices or alternatives for your ‘deep green’ renovation. Good luck! We’ll share your posting about your little house as well.

      Reply
  2. Diana Zinter

    When we get our thoughts stuck in materialism, it does not matter if we live in a big house or small- creative, moving thinking stops and the rut is established. I can feel the creativity in the thoughts that you write about, and it is very exciting. There are two realities, the outer and the inner. The outer gives us the visual image, and the inner is the creative work that results out of the image. You have touched and know this reality. Go, Heather and Ashley!
    (I am also very much in favor of square footage that provides for the putting of food by. Who would have thought that smallness creates the necessity of more frequent grocery trips?). x o dirtcraft mom

    Reply

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