January 14, 2009
Thank you for the comment you left on About Living Small. So thoughtful, and such great questions, that I thought I should share it. My answer is below; please, everyone, offer your answers, too. I may live in a li’l house, but I’ll be the first to admit that these questions are like itsy heads of cabbage. So many layers.
I’ve read about tiny houses, and living small, from time to time. I have a question/problem that’s hard for me to resolve… it’s a little bit of a chicken/egg thing. What kind of shift in thinking do you have to make in order to be able to live in a tiny house? What I mean is, I’d love to “simplify” to the point where we could do that, but I have:
– books books books
– kitchen wares
… that all take up space.
I realize some stuff is just “stuff”, but some stuff is stuff you do use and could say “need”. Who has talked about really scaling back? I want to read about how people manage without the things that traditional large livers have and tiny livers don’t. And how they can transform their outlook to arrive at a comfortable system that doesn’t involve accumulation, but still answers the “needs” one feels are there? I know people out there must have answered this question; I just need someone to point me there. Final question — who has resources on tiny living with children?
I hear you. Have you read about my closet? About my bookshelves? About the masses of paperwork, the craft circus that is my life? Likewise, we have a bike, electrical gizmos, books, cookware. Hard to live small when you’ve got transportation and communication devices, reading materials and eating necessities to contend with.
To cope, Mr. Living Small and I have had to adopt some new habits, certainly. Perhaps you could call it a shift in thinking, which stems from our growing concern over a cultural need to have, to get, to grab, to buy. We’re aware of dwindling resources and burgeoning populations. We’re nervous about how the planet can sustain this take-centric lifestyle. (It doesn’t hurt, too, that we’re suckers for secondhands. Garage sales, Goodwills, Grandpa’s house — all these beat the pants off a mall in our minds.) To scale back on our living space and take up less square footage — or, if you will, to reduce our “carbon footprint” by existing in a living space that doesn’t require much in the way of heat, electricity, etc., and which is located within walking distance of almost everything we need (the grocery store, the pharmacy, our jobs, arts palaces — you get the gist) — means we’re scaling back on our impact on the planet. For what that’s worth, I suppose.
In terms of filling the tiny house, well. My. We’ve had to shift our thinking on that front, too. From using the “one thing in, one thing out” model, to ever-evaluating the usefulness of our things, to leaving space in the closet for the perpetual donation bag, we’re always trying reach a balance between the space we have and the stuff we own (kind of like David Bruno, the 100 Things Challenge guy). Trust: I’m no Spartan. I like cush. I like tchotchkes. Figuring out how to maintain my junky collection of figural animals and vintage bottles and funky trays and, yes, books, has been a challenge. I’ve had to put the kibosh on regular jaunts to the thrift store. Inevitably, I will find something (and for just 49¢!). So, restriction. I’ve also had to part ways with the literary classics, from a 1950 illustrated edition of the Rubiyat to a 1980s-era paperback copy of The Great Gatsby. Breaking up is hard to do, but there’s always the public library, right? By the same token, we’re music people, too, but we don’t keep discs around; everything is stored on our computer and played through an iPod dock. (Though I’m toying with resurrecting the record album, space permitting.)
Smart storage is key. I disconnected a handmedown hi-fi from its moldering, smelled-like-burning parts to make room for my sewing paraphernalia, for example. Some other Small solutions:
- Trad bike? Get a folding version. Easier to store, naturally.
- Bananas for gadgets? Assess what you really need to communicate. Does everyone in the household need a cell phone and a Blackberry? Are multiple computers a given? Ditto what you require entertainment-wise. Is the Wii enough game? Do you super-duper need that Commodore 64, too? Do you watch enough TV to justify owning a set? Would a DVD projector be sufficient to watch the movies and television series you pick up at the library? How much music do you listen to? How many iPods does that equal?
- Bookwormsville? LIBRARY! And a classy shelving system for the ones you can’t bear to give up, like Gail Brewer-Giorgio’s searing exposé, Is Elvis Alive? The way I see it, if you’re going to keep yer books, you should treat ’em like art. Display, display, display.
- Too many pots, too little kitchen? Cutting back on kitchenware has come back with a vengeance for us. We’re cookin’-folk, and selling off half of our cookin’ supplies in the name of downsizing has cost us and the planet, too. I think it is important to evaluate how much you cook, and how and what you cook, and base your kitchen decisions on that. If you’re a strict weekend warrior, maybe you don’t need three crepe pans and a Dutch oven. If you cook big meals daily and host elaborate dinner parties, maybe it’s worth taking up some extra space somewhere else in the house. (Who says your tagine can’t hang out in the hall closet until it’s go time?)
As for resources, I’d like to point you to a few good ‘uns:
Small House Society. A collective of small-house dwellers.
Little House on a Small Planet. The book (and the website) about rethinking what is “necessary.”
Simple Living Manifesto. Maybe a little woo-woo, but the articles on simple living are worth a read.
No Impact Man. He’s fiesty, he’s driven, and he has a little kid.
NYT on Maxwell and Sara Kate. The Apartment Therapy power couple dish about life with a little one in just 265 square feet.
To close, I like what Dee Williams, who lives in one of Jay Shafer’s famous-famous Tumbleweed Tiny Houses has to say on the subject: “Living in this [84-square-foot] house, I get a chance to feel like I’m saving energy, I’m definitely limiting my consumerism, and all of that gives me a sense of giving something back. And, you know, that’s pretty darn cool.”
Thanks again, Jon. Bravo, and best of luck.