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* cross-posted at Una Muses *

It's been a long time since I've felt visions of a life ahead emerging. I've felt very stuck. Mired in the weight of illness and financial distress and personal life which was in suspension. I live in a sweet house, but it is mortgaged beyond comfort, for me. While I wouldn't want mind having my life centered around my home, that is not what this feels like. My life is centered around paying a mortgage and the utility bills. There isn't enough equity in the house for to sell it and buy something less expensive. I don't have a regular income, so I won't qualify for a new mortgage. I'd have a pretty tough time finding someone to rent to me. Thus, I have felt stuck. Stuck trying to figure out how to make life sustainable in this house.

I don't feel stuck, any longer. After years of only seeing a grey haze when I tried to look forward, a tiny vision has emerged. I don't mean a speck on the horizon, either. I mean a burgeoning vision. A vision of a "tiny" life.


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Simply put it is a social movement where people are downsizing the space that they live in. The typical American home is around 2600 square feet, while the typical small or tiny house is around 400 square feet. Tiny Houses come in all shapes, sizes and forms but they focus on smaller spaces, simplified living.
I became aware of living in tiny spaces during my time at Occupy Boston. One of my comrades, Sage Radachowsky, had built a tiny trailer for the occupation. It was sturdier than a tent, well insulated, and mobile, small enough to be pulled by a bicycle. The perfect accommodation for a protest movement based on occupying public space to make a social statement. I would have been thrilled if we had focused on building 100s of those and caravaning from place to place with signs attached to them. A travelling troupe to reach out to people and engage public discourse. Alas.... Anyway, it was via my exposure to this tiny trailer that I learned about tiny houses.

A couple of months ago, Zuna was making a cozy cubby, yet again, to hang out in and read and write. It tickled me that she's been making these little spaces since she was, well, tiny. She has her own room. She has a loft bed which she fills with pillows and gets very cozy in. Still, she likes to create small, enclosed spaces - like the tents and forts many of us make as children - and crawl in there with snacks and books and the ipad. When she set up one on the floor next to her bed, I was chuckling. It reminded me of the tiny trailer. The smallest amount of space necessary for the task at hand. I mentioned the trailer and tiny house to her.

A bungalow-style tiny house which is about 250 sq ft. See more specs here.
The next thing you know, we're on the computer for hours looking at tiny houses. She's fascinated by them. "That's so cute!!!!"

They are cute. They're more than cute, though. They're livable. They're affordable. They're sustainable. They're build-able.

While clicking on more and more images and videos, we learned quite a bit. We learned that these houses are of a scale that you can build one yourself, even if you don't have a construction background. If you don't have land, you can build one on a trailer. It becomes a mobile home. Not your old vision of a tin box in a trailer park mobile home. A lovely, tiny house, built with the same or better quality of a large-scale house. It just happens to be on wheels.

"ProtoHaus" is only 125 sq ft. The loft in the dormer makes it very livable
All houses we were seeing were attractive. A lot of thought had been put into them to make them truly livable. This reminded me of my favorite living space to date. A studio apartment which was about 20 ft x 20 ft with 15-ft ceilings. Two things made the space comfortable and easily manageable: a loft bed and walls of storage space. What was key to living there was that there was a space for everything. And the space was so small, I didn't buy anything I couldn't make space for.

I've never been so content in my day-to-day living. Everything is at hand. It never took much effort to clean. I didn't accumulate too many things to care for. My energy was not sucked away in the self-centric care and financial feeding of a house. As much as I love the house I'm in now, I can't keep up with it's maintenance needs. Even the basics are consuming. Three bedrooms, an open loft space upstairs, two bathrooms, a large kitchen, a full basement, a living/dining room.... Almost no storage designed into the house. It feels like there is space. We all think nothing of buying another "little thing." However, there is nowhere to put things away. So, everything is out. That's both difficult to clean around and energetically overwhelming. Clutter is visual chaos.

What I learned, living in that studio a lifetime ago, is that when you have less space, you are more careful with it. It's the handbag reality: if you have a large handbag, you'll fill it up and carry around a lot of heavy junk. You'll struggle what to find what you need in the bag. It will get full of dust and little bit of trashy papers and crumbs at the bottom. If you carry a small handbag, you make sure it has the essentials. There isn't a lot of space left over for more. There is far less junk accumulated. It's easier to find things. It's easier to temporarily empty it and shake out the dirt and crumbs which come along. It's the same with your living space.

We were clicking along, in awe of these spaces people had created for themselves; admiring their ingenuity and their commitment to living simply. I was waxing nostalgic about my old apartment. It all seemed wistful until we came across this video:


If a teenager could build one of these, then why couldn't Zuna and I build one? We're homeschooling. This is a great practical life project. There is designing and project management, materials acquisition, construction skill, etc. Plus, we have a yard to build a mobile one in. The total cost of building one, even with the highest quality materials is about $20,000. You could spent a little bit more. You could spend a lot less. Key for us, though, is that you don't have to spend it all at once. You can put a makeshift shelter of poles and tarps over it and take your time. After an initial outlay for a trailer, you can build as you're able. Each step along the way is a relatively small amount of money. We could figure out how to raise a few hundred here, a few hundred there. We could do this.

We can do this. Not only can we, we both want to. We both feel comfortable, perhaps even prefer, the compact living style. It suits us. We're not big consumers or accumulators. We like things cozy. We have about zero tensions living together. As long as we each have some private space, it could work. It only has to work for a few years, anyway, because she is growing up. She'll be ready to set out on her own.

Once we realized that we wanted to build one, my visionary self kicked into high gear. After years of dormancy, I had wondered if I had lost this part of myself. All it took was an alchemic catalyst. This one idea offered hope and generated creative thinking. For over 20 years, I have dreamed of living in an Earthship house. Being stuck with no resources to replace the house I'm in, I had pretty much given up on this dream. However, the Tiny House project opened up thoughts. Could we reduce the cost of living so much that if we sell this house there could be enough equity to get a small piece of land somewhere, park our Tiny House and have the time and resource to build an Earthship? If so, I could have a permanent home and Zuna could have the Tiny House as her first home. She'd be mobile and could go off on whatever path her life calls her to.

Or, we could live in the Earthship and the Tiny House could become a mobile knitting/yarn/design studio.

Or, we could pull the Tiny House with a box truck and the box truck could be a mobile knitting/yarn/design studio.

Or, we could build a second Tiny House.....

You see, all kinds of ideas are now emerging. Suddenly, life seems full of possibility. One of Zuna's first ideas was to build a tiny house with what resources we can muster, then sell it and build a better one. Not a bad idea.

The big question was, "we're barely affording to live. How are we going to raise any funds to build anything?"

One part of that answer: dolls. My mother left Zuna a collection of dolls. A large collection. Sitting in our basement are about 50 bins of dolls and doll clothing. My mother was very crafty. She had taken a course in restoring dolls. When she was alive, she made some extra money by getting dolls at yard sales and flea markets and the repairing and reselling them. Thing is, she knew about dolls. She knew what they were worth. I've never really like dolls. I don't understand the fascination with dolls. In fact, many of them just creep me out. However, there is a large doll culture and doll market out there. When my mother dies, my aunt and cousin suggested I take these dolls to Zuna. I was a bit resistant. I thought that maybe I'd go through and collect a few for her, as a sentimental connection to her grandmother. My aunt said, "take the dolls. There could be a $100,000 worth of dolls in there."

I don't think there is nearly that value in those bins. I could be wrong. However, we have begun cataloguing them. We know there are a few hundred dolls. We've found a few, that if repaired, we know could sell for $700. Predominantly, we see them as being worth something between $20 and $30. So, perhaps there are a few thousand dollars to be raised. It will be up to Zuna to decide how she wants to go about this. Does she want to manage investing in restoring them or just sell them, as is? Does she just want to sell them on ebay or does she want to figure out ways to sell them at fairs or other venues? We'll see. But, a few thousand dollars goes a long way on a tiny house budget! Dolls for a tiny house. Not dolls to put into a tiny house. Dolls to afford us a tiny house. What a concept.

The chance at a sustainable life, self-created and with fewer heavy weights bearing down has opened up my creative channels. I had thought that I was done with any visions of a knitting and yarn-based livelihood, for instance. I can't work full time. I don't have executive functioning well enough to manage a full-fledged business. I don't want to have to sell things to survive. I do love teaching, designing and introducing knitters to artisan yarns and products which keep them connected to the earthly sources of things. I feel fulfilled when I show a knitter a yarn and can tell her about the spinner who spun it, the dyer who dyed it, or the farmer who raised the animals. If that inspires someone to buy yarn which they need for a project, I couldn't be more thrilled. But, I don't want to be in the position of needing to push sales. My calling is to bear witness to the lives and work of others, to share what I witness, to teach what I can, to create what I can and to see where it all leads. With Tiny Life, I am more free to pursue such a life. I can have a Tiny Business. Just the amount of effort and management that I can handle. All cash, so I don't have to remember payables and receivable. I have no idea what it will all look like, yet. I simply have ideas that there could be something sustainable and fulfilling and lovely for my future. I'm treasuring that, right now.

While I'm having my visions, Zuna is holding things more simply. She was in the room when I was talking about tiny houses with someone. When I spoke of building a house on a trailer, the question of dimensions came up. The most practical approach to a mobile house is to keep it narrow enough that you can drive down a lane of traffic without needing a special permit. That means the exterior can only be 8 feet wide. The reaction to this number was, "oh. I don't know if I could live in something only 8 feet wide." Zuna interjected with her only input into the conversation, "you can live in it if you know it's yours and no one can ever take it away from you." One sentence, uttered with an extremely grounded clarity and resolve. It's an aspect of Zuna that most people don't get to see.

Stability and self-determination. These are core to Zuna's personality. She doesn't need grandeur. She doesn't ask for things. It's almost impossible to get her to name things she'd like for her birthday, for instance. She simply doesn't think in terms of getting things. What she wants is a quiet, stable life where she can read and write and intellectually explore. She goes to kung fu and parkour class for exercise. She has a yard and parks and The Arnold Arboretum, all within 5 minutes walking distance. She likes the cozy cuteness of the tiny homes. More fundamentally, however, she likes the autonomy. I think this quote from The Tiny House Blog, captures what I sense of Zuna:

The movement acknowledges that people are happier when they are surrounded with quality materials that are incorporated into a design that uses space so efficiently that you don’t even notice it’s small. The cozy design makes us feel secure and relaxed, but small and poorly thought out makes us feel cramped (even in bigger spaces).
Giving her a house of her own, where her decisions about how to pursue her independent life are not centered around making an enormous rent or mortgage payment, may be the biggest gift I can give to her. Having built it ourselves, I will feel I've done a great thing as a parent.

We're scheduled to go to a Tumbleweed Tiny House Building workshop this weekend. It's the launching pad of our tiny life. We think we've already found our foundation:

It's hard to have a sense of scale here, but the trailer is 28 feet long. It's custom built with features specific to holding a house, such as 6 leveling jacks. The length allows us to build two good-sized lofts so that we can each have a private space and leave plenty of open common space downstairs. We can even put in a bed or two for guests down there!

As you can imagine, this project has eclipsed our treehouse project. We were going to post about that this summer. Instead, we'll start posting about all that we learn, our design decisions and our building process for our tiny house.

We'll also post about how we're raising the money. (At nearly $4,000The trailer shown would be the biggest single outlay required for building. So, it's our biggest hurdle. Wish us luck!)

I'll leave you with some images of the tiny house interiors, as inspiration. Who knows, maybe you're starting to think the Tiny Life could be for you!


interior of a 19 ft mobile tiny house. (we would have 9 more feet length, so all that you see from the white "closet" to the back could be duplicated at the front end. with different use, of course, as we don't need 2 kitchens and bathrooms! but, we could have an office/entertainment space.)
interior of a container house
interior design by Leaf House
Interior of the ProtoHaus shown above.
like a fairy house...

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Originally posted to UnaSpenser on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 03:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Headwaters and Community Spotlight.

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