Posts Tagged ‘very small houses’

Tiny Houses: 12 questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge

The Towhee, a tiny house on wheels, against a blue sky with clouds.

The Towhee, photo by Bungalow to Go, used with permission

In January, Kevin and I attended the open house of Bungalow To Go‘s tiny house in Bodega Bay, California. At 168 sf, including the loft, the Towhee (based on the Lusby of Tumbleweed Houses) fits on a standard trailer and epitomizes the charm and appeal of tiny homes. It was small, yes, but thoughtfully laid out with clean lines, beautiful materials, and a splendid attention to detail that just doesn’t happen in full-sized houses.

The more I think about it, the more I think Tumbleweed and other tiny house companies sell a lifestyle more than they do actual houses. It’s the promise of a simpler life with less stuff, a smaller footprint on the planet, having to spend less time working to pay a mortgage, and escaping the whole rat race the American dream has become. In love? I am.

But there are tradeoffs, of course. All of my decisions are made in the spirit of compromise; nothing is ever uncomplicatedly good or bad in my world. While this is definitely a problem when I go grocery shopping and can’t decide between the organic spinach in the plastic box or the loose leaf conventional spinach that can go in a reusable bag, I think it’s well worth considering the pros and cons before making the leap to tiny living. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself about when it comes to tiny houses, and just how tiny would be too tiny for my life.

(By the way, Kevin and I had the same reaction after touring the Towhee: it’s beautiful, but we’d be at the other’s throat after a week. And it would be my fault.)

  1. How much time do you spend at home? And how do you see home? If home is just your crash pad between work and life, you may not need a lot of space. If home is where you spend most of your time and do most of your living, you’ll probably need more. Left to my own devices, I’m a total shut-in. I need light, silence, and space in about that order.
  2. How well do you share space? If you’re single, do you anticipate living with a partner? I know from instinct and a totally disastrous dorm experience that I don’t want to share 150 sf with another human — even my favorite human.  I’m as territorial as your average cat, and need a room of my own with a door to close behind me.
  3. Are you prepared to spend more of your life outside? (And what’s the weather like where you intend to live?) One of the things about tiny homes is that more living takes place outside the house. My friend Emily dreams of an outdoor bathtub where she can relax and stare up at the stars on a regular basis. I know I don’t love being outdoors the way she does. I like it, but some days the great outdoors and Suburbanite Girl me just don’t get along well. Gusting winds, meet contact lenses. Living more of my life outdoors would be a big change for me.
  4. What are your hobbies? Some hobbies take up more space than others, and in a tiny house, that might be space you don’t have. How important is your hobby to your enjoyment of life? My two main hobbies are pottery and cooking. Cooking wouldn’t be much of a problem in a well-designed tiny house, but pottery would. I work outside at a studio right now, and am OK with that. But I wonder which dream I want more: my own little home studio, or a small house with no mortgage.
  5. What is your attitude about stuff? I’m an unapologetic sensory junkie, and as a potter, I make stuff that I hope can be both beautiful and useful. I don’t feel the need to possess everything I find beautiful, but I want texture, aesthetics, and sensory appeal to be a part of my life. I want to have room for at least a few items that are lovely without requiring them to also be truly useful: a turned burl bowl with a waving natural edge, a handful of whimsical cat figurines from my travels. I doubt I will ever be a minimalist.
  6. Is there anything you collect? Between the two of us, Kevin and I have thousands of books. The number has stabilized over the years and may even be diminishing slightly, but we know that more aggressive culling will be inevitable if we want to live in a smaller house.
  7. How long do you want to live in your tiny house? Tiny houses seem to be mostly for people who are fairly young, fairly agile, and fairly thin. Doors and entryways are narrow, lofts are accessible by ladders, bathrooms are tiny. It’s part of maximizing available space, but it makes it harder to think about retiring in one.
  8. What do you think your family will look like in the next five years? Again, many tiny house designs are not very child friendly and won’t accommodate extra family members. I’m not having kids, so it’s a moot point for me, but I realize that I’m probably a minority in this.
  9. Do you have pets? Do you plan to? I think my cat could be OK in a tiny house, if she managed not to be constantly underfoot. She doesn’t make much use of our current 1100sf space. Her daily routine is often limited to litter box, couch, and kitchen, which are all within maybe 20 feet of each other. But she’s a blind adult cat; an active kitten or dog could be harder to coexist with in a very small space.
  10. Have you lived in small spaces before (dorm room, studio apartment)?  What did you not like about it? I’ve lived in quite a few different small dorm rooms, and the one that made me most miserable was dark and shared with someone I hated. My favorite room was maybe 15′ by 10′ with huge sunny windows, a sink, and no roommate. I realized that what made me happy wasn’t more space so much as sunlight and privacy. And a cat, if possible.
  11. How often do you entertain or have guests? Can I be totally unsociable and say that I don’t mind the idea of not being able to have houseguests? Although there are a few people I would be genuinely happy to have over, for everyone else, it’s a matter of gritting my teeth and trying to play good hostess. I enjoy cooking for other people, but I almost never have more than four people over total. Nothing a tiny house couldn’t handle. One of the suggestions in the Tumbleweed book is that the money saved on a conventional house can go towards renting a venue for big occasions.
  12. What in your life would feel like a sacrifice to give up? This is really the crux of it, isn’t it? I’ve come to the conclusion that my life as it is right now — with a spouse, a cat, and a hobby that keeps getting bigger — is a little too big for a 150sf house.  It would be too much of a compromise, and too little has as many drawbacks as too big. But that’s not to say that a small house is out of the question. Kevin and I are currently in love with the Tumbleweed Whidbey, which at about 500sf, seems neither too small nor too big, but rather just right.

Would you make the tiny house leap? What holds you back?


On Getting Rid of Books

There is a deep restlessness gnawing at my bones. I want a change — to learn something new, dive into something that I feel truly passionate about, grow a garden, be crazy and impetuous for once in my life. Most of all, I want to move. Away from my neighbors who fry fish at 7am. Away from smog, highways, concrete, light pollution, and strip malls.

I want a small — or perhaps even a very small — house.  Kevin and I can’t afford one (plus things like, you know, land) just now, but it’s not entirely out of the question within the next few years. We’ve started talking about downsizing from our current 1100 sf condo, looking at Tumbleweed cottage floor plans (the lofted Whidbey at 557 sf is our favorite), thinking about what spaces we use and how often, and what things we use and how often.

Even librarian kitty thinks we have too many books

Kevin and I have reached an unavoidable conclusion: we currently have too many books to live in a very small house.

This is not surprising. We are both ex-English majors. We have both worked at bookstores. I review for Amazon Vine. We are shameless zealots of the written word, the smell of good quality ink, the warm heft of cotton-rich paper. Kevin’s collections include Japanese poetry, modern photography, modern literature, and surrealism. My collections include fairy tales and mythology, natural science, art reference, and British literature. Despite knowing that books = dead trees, we refuse to worship at the altar of the Kindle.

However. We want this small house to happen enough that we’re finally willing to part with some of our books. The first handfuls were a wrench. I felt terrible putting books I’d had for years on the cull pile, as if I were consigning old friends to the guillotine. But then I found a kind of momentum and realized that I was making better, more conscious decisions about my books for the first time.  The books I keep have to meet two basic criteria: 1) I anticipate wanting to reread and/or reference it in the relatively near future; and 2) I actually like the book. It’s astonishing how I don’t actually like maybe 25% of my books but have kept them anyway. Finally, I’m getting rid of books I’ve kept for bad reasons, including:

  • Books that belong within a certain collection, even if I didn’t especially care for them (e.g. fairy tale picture books illustrated by Michael Hague, whose people look like trolls)
  • Mediocre books by authors  whose other books I enjoy
  • Books that I acquired for a former interest that I am now unlikely to return to (e.g. costume history books)
  • Books that make me feel smarter when they’re on the shelf (see the Machiavelli? the Plato?)
  • Books that I paid full price for (regardless of whether they were enjoyable or not)
  • Books that people I love have given me
  • Books that just look pretty (I am a sucker for 19th and early 20th century gilt and leather bindings)
  • Books that I have been meaning to read for years and never got around to
Do any of these sound familiar to you? I’ve never been this ruthless about books — they were always exempt from any new shopping or spending limits I set for myself. For the past few years, I’ve been at net zero, with as many going out as coming in. That’s all beginning to change.

I’ve said before that I’m no minimalist, and it’s still true. I don’t feel the need to strip my belongings to just the bare essentials, or to part with books I truly enjoyed and will want to read again. At the same time, there is something exciting, even liberating, about not having more stuff than what I consider beautiful or useful.

What do you think about living in small spaces? How would you feel about getting rid of books?

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