Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Post 26 (Jan. 2) - One Year Tiny

Kacey and I have been living in our tiny house for over one year. As I reflect on our year together in this space, I think about all of the ways that we are different because of it and all the ways that we are the same in spite of it.  

In some sense, making the move to 242 sq ft. moved something inside of us. A small adjustment in the tectonic plates of our makeup that, though just barely noticeable, affects all other facets in our lives. For example, we walked into REI and rather than buy the 5 things that we very nearly loved, we delighted in trying them on, realized how much we loved the clothes we already had and left the store empty handed. Rather than feel guilty about throwing away birthday and Christmas cards, we make a point to enjoy them actively, knowing that we can’t hold on to them forever. We anticipate where the other is in the house and where (s)he needs to be next and adjust ourselves accordingly. We monitor the voltage in our batteries 3-7 times each day and use our energy availability to determine when (and if) we’ll dry our hair and do laundry, and whether we use the heater or the dehumidifier. 

In other ways, we are exactly who we were a year ago, and exactly who we would have been had we been living in a more traditional house or apartment. We do laundry, cook dinner, squabble over who does the dishes, walk the dog, watch episodes of our favorite TV show, shop at Costco and obsess over the news and our increasingly disjointed country.

On Permanence
When first learning that we live in a tiny house, people often follow a similar pattern of questions. 

  1. 242 sq ft?? Wow, that’s really small (Yes, it is, thought it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as you’re imagining) 
  2. I think I could do that, but I don’t know about my husband/wife. He/she has too many tools/shoes. (Yes, it does require letting go of some possessions. Fortunately, Kacey can keep most of his tools at work and I never really caught the shoe bug, so I lucked out there.) 
  3. So this is probably inappropriate, but what about going to the bathroom? (No, it’s not inappropriate at all.  In fact, it’s the third thing most people say! We have a composting toilet that I was worried would be disgusting. And, believe me, I’d be the first to admit it. It’s been totally easy. No smell, low yuck factor, and zero water waste.) 
  4. Do you think you’ll live in it forever? (…) 

At first, I answered without putting too much thought into it, “We are loving our life, and feel that living tiny opens up big possibility and opportunity in so many other areas of our life that we have no plans to make a change. Of course, when we have a family, we will have to reconfigure the space or make the space slightly larger, but we anticipate enjoying living tiny for a long time.”

That answer is still true, but I think about that question more now. It seems that people quickly fixate on the relative permanence of our decision to live tiny without realizing that nothing, really, in life is permanent.

  • Elementary, middle and high school all ended.
  • College ended.
  • My twenties (quite thankfully indeed) ended.
  • Kacey has changed jobs in the last year.
  • Five of my friends have moved in the last two years.
  • Another friend bought and sold a house within 13 months.
  • Three friends untangled themselves from long-term relationships.
  • Kacey and I got married after six years of dating and living together.
  • Our dog, formerly a fan of any human who would pet him or feed him anything with a vague resemblance to food, has now exposed a vendetta against long, dark beards, as if he were Don Quixote and bearded men were his windmills.

I’m not sure permanence exists. In fact, it may be our unfounded insistence on the permanence of the choices we made in the past that locks us into a present and future that falls short of the aspirations we hold for our lives. 

So, will we live tiny forever? Impossible to say. Well, actually, my hope is that we will live tiny regardless of the space we inhabit. For me, living tiny has become less about the limited square footage and more about noticing and appreciating our life, realizing that the things we already have are plenty, sitting with and moving through struggles rather than figuratively moving them into a different room and hoping they’d be gone the next time I opened that door, living within our means and outside of our comfort zone, and doing one thing at a time. If you’re asking, though, about the relative probability that the square footage of our house will remain quite small, then the answer, at least for now, is a resounding yes. 

On Doing One Thing at a Time
I’ve had days at work where I start responding to an email, walk away from my desk to go to a meeting, leave the meeting with 4 immediate action items, answer a ringing phone just as I’m tackling the first of the 4 action items, make a commitment on the phone to resolve an issue immediately, and on the way to resolve the issue, learn about a co-worker’s new project for which they need my input, as which point I spend ten minutes or so providing input. I return to my desk with a sinking feeling that I’ve accomplished nothing, though I’ve been quite busy all morning. 

A bigger house facilitates that kind of task switching. In a bigger house, I could have the TV on in one room while the dishwasher cleans last night’s dishes, the washing machine buzzes in the garage, I’ve a book halfway finished sitting on a coffee table in the living room, and a few recipes mostly prepared for an upcoming dinner. In a house like that, I wouldn’t even have to unpack my lunch box until I needed to pack a lunch for the next day. But even in a house like that, one that can hold that much activity, I couldn’t possibly be folding laundry while preparing food, or even enjoying a book and a TV show at the same time. Indeed the house is more capable of containing the trappings of modern life than its human inhabitant who is, at every turn, pressured to do more, have more, start more, and be more.

No such pressure in a tiny house. It’s an opposite kind of pressure, though. There is a structural necessity to finish one thing to allow space for another to begin. We must wash the lunch dishes before having the space to prepare dinner. We must have unpacked our day’s bags to create space for eating. It’s a discipline and structure that practically forces us to live in the present because the space simply can’t contain cast-aside hobbies, discarded intentions, or multiple work streams.

This discipline can be incredibly satisfying, grounding, and calming. It can also be frustrating, bordering on infuriating. I sometimes want to leave the dishes undone, the bags unpacked, the laundry unfolded.  If that desire won out, though, I’d have neither clean dishes nor space to prepare dinner, no space to sit down to watch TV, play games or eat, and no easy way to shower. Our house requires that we finish what we start. Most days, I love that.

There’s more, I’m sure, but rather than bore you with a novel, I’ll save it for another day. 

On Writing
Writing these posts is a wonderful outlet, a way for us to reflect on the transformations we’re undergoing and make sense of the tensions and discoveries we encounter along the way. From that perspective, I’m not sure if I’m writing for you or for myself. But, as Florence Foster Jenkins is alleged to have said, “They might say I couldn’t sing, but they’ll never say I didn’t.” Thank you for giving me space and reason to write.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Post 25 (Feb. 16)-A New Lease on Life

Just before Christmas, Kacey and I moved into the tiny house.  As you might expect, we did not exchange Christmas presents because, well...you know...  Even so, Kacey’s first day back at work, one of his co-workers asked him, “What did you get for Christmas?” Kacey paused and responded, “A new lease on life.”

Somewhat surprisingly, this tiny house has been liberating.  I imagine that we tend to be drawn to large houses, large cars, and large spaces because we believe that they will have just enough room to contain our energy, hopes, fears, aspirations, disappointments, in short, our whole selves.  I’m no different.  I was so worried that, though our house is a showpiece in its detail and beauty, I would feel suffocated by it.  Quite the opposite.  Go with me on this one—since the space is small, it feels as if our energy fills up every cubic inch.  The house seems to breathe our energy and hold it. Like tea bags in small mugs, the brew is strong, not so much an infusion, but an immersion. Then, as we move about the space, we re-absorb that energy so that our own brew is more potent.  No longer are we expending energy to fill the large spaces we inhabit, our energy remains within us, ours to direct as we choose.

If I were you, reading that, I’d be like, “Yeah, Catherine, blah blah blah, you paint a pretty picture, but how do you really feel?” As someone I admire recently said, “This is not just a matter of No-Drama Obama.” I really do feel like our tiny house life is net-positive. Triple-net positive.

Lesson 1: Get a dehumidifier
Our first few nights in the tiny house were cold. Like the kind of cold that sits in your bones, keeps you up, gives you sweats, makes you shiver. Every morning, we’d wake up and there would be moisture on the windows. Not, “Oh, it’s just a bit of condensation.” Not, “Wow, someone just took a shower.” No, we’re talking water dripping off of the windows, onto the floor. “Hmmmmm,” we thought, “maybe we should try a dehumidifier?” We bought a 30-qt dehumidifier thinking it would be WAY bigger than we’d ever need. As another one of our national figures would interject, “Wrong.” We extracted 30-qts 30-QT from the air in less than 24 hours. We continue to pull between 5 and 10 quarts from the air every 24 hours or so. And, go figure, our house is much more comfortable. Even without the heater on, we are walking around in t-shirts.

Lesson 2: Deal with it
In a big house, we’d get a bill in the mail, put it somewhere else and deal with it later. We’d let the occasional sink-full of dishes remain unwashed because we’d go to the living room and watch TV instead.  In a tiny house, there’s no “somewhere else” where we can “deal with it later.” Bills are to be paid as they come in.  Dishes are washed just after use because the distance between the kitchen sink and the living room is negligible. We also must be more disciplined in emotional management.  In a bigger house, after a frustrating day we could mosey off to different rooms, sit in stewing silence and emerge in an hour or so when the stress of the day had dissipated.  Not so much in a tiny house.  My emotional state becomes his and his mine.  To some this may feel like a totally suffocating, impractical way to live.  To us, it’s an invitation to find more joy (and less stress) in our lives outside of the house, to be disciplined and purposeful in our response to the world around us, and to engage in a level of emotional intimacy that we couldn’t possibly replicate in 3, 2, or even 1 thousand square feet.

It’s wild to be reflecting on being in a tiny house instead of building a tiny house.  

Shout out to Adam at Gneiss Wood for making us this sign of home on a piece of mahogany we had treasured for years.

Smiling at you from our front porch. Solar panels off to the side.

Everything you could ever need.

Believe it or not, it's almost always this orderly :)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Post 24 (Dec. 4)-Looks good from my house


I'm sitting on the sofa in our tiny house, listening to Pandora from Kacey's phone.  It's plugged into our surround speakers.  The LED strip lights are casting a warm yellow glow up the ceiling.  I look out the double front doors, and I see Kacey making a precision cut on the table saw.  He painstakingly sets up the table saw, brings the wood to the very edge of the blade, makes a tiny kissing cut, and turns the saw off.  He pulls the piece of wood back, measures it.  Confident that it's perfect, he turns the saw back on and finishes the cut.  I look to my right and I see the coffee pot sitting on top of black granite countertops, nested underneath the two shelves on the wall.  Just across from the fridge, our staircase has transformed into five pull out drawers.  Kacey walks into the house whistling to the music, makes sure the piece he just cut fits.  I hear him mutter, "Damn, it's a 64th shy."  He chuckles and says, "Looks good from my house."

These past few months have been fast and furious.  So much progress.  In fact, within one week after I finished the last blog post, the electrical work was finished and our house became truly off-grid. Granite countertops were installed, as was the kitchen sink faucet.  One night, about a week after my "are we there yet?" meltdown, Kacey and I were working in the tiny house and I asked, "Kacey, are you ready to be done working on the tiny house?" He responded gently, "I'm savoring every moment.  Because in a few months, we won't be building a tiny house."  I took a sharp breath in, letting the realization sink in.  Even as we push so hard to finish line, tired and proud, we'll be closing the chapter on a really, really special time in our lives.

I can already hear my friends and family expressing a rally cry against my early-onset nostalgia: "Don't worry, one door closes, another opens!" "It will be such an adventure learning to be tiny housers!" "You've wanted this for so long!"  All true, indeed it's the preparing for the next step that makes these final long Sundays outside all the more rewarding and meaningful. Before building the tiny house, I wasn't so comfortable holding competing thoughts in my mind.  Things were good or bad, happy or sad.  These days, I'm much better able to live in the gray area, in the space between exhausted and exhilarated, longing and looking-forward, listening and recommending.

It's somewhat regrettable that personal growth and transformation is invisible.  If, for example, our moments of personal growth were visible in our nervous system and neural networks, I'm sure they'd be far, far bigger and far more intricate than a tiny house.  And worthy of the same feelings of pride and awe as sitting in our tiny living room tonight.  As amazing as this house is all on its own, I'm even more deeply proud of it as a symbol of our growth, our struggle, our success, our learning, our teamwork and our dynamic.

If you're anything like me, you're mostly here for the pictures, so check 'em out :)
































Sunday, September 18, 2016

Post 23 (Sept.18)-Are We There Yet?


Did you ever go on road trips as a kid? On a 5-hour trip, it was always the last 30 minutes that were pure agony as the magic of the final destination seemed, at once, close enough to touch and asymptotically, perpetually, just out of reach.  That's about the time the backseat starts ringing with rounds of "are we there yet?" The first 4 hours of that same trip, funnily enough, weren't at all challenging because the adventure, the first 50 plays of "On the Road Again," and the changing scenery were enough to fill the tank.

If our tiny house build were a long road trip, we'd be in the final stage.  The part where any objective outsider would say, "You've made a ton of progress, you're nearly there!" The part where the people in the car are not so sure... This morning, after we worked for a few hours in the 95-degree California summer, Kacey walked into the spare bedroom of our actual house to find me curled up in a semi-fetal position.  I whimpered, "Are we ever going to be able to move in?" He laughed.  A moment later he replied sarcastically, "No, Cat, never.  It's all one big dream."

Nevermind my Sunday-morning moment of weakness, we are making tremendous progress.  All of the interior paneling is up.* All of the interior paneling has two coats of paint.  The air conditioning unit is installed.** The skeleton of the cabinets are installed.  Measurements for the counter top have been made.  Staircase/pantry is finished.  Solar panel trailer is complete.  Electrical work is one 8-hour day away from 100% complete.


  • *All of the interior paneling is up, except for the paneling around the inverter.  Once the electrical work is done, we will finish that wall.  The other day, I worked on the house by myself for the first time ever!  I put up the paneling on the triangle wall just above the front door.  What a feeling of accomplishment.
  • **The HVAC pipes are run and the unit is installed, but we still have to build a chase so tat you can't see the pipes and have Boris from GB Heating and Air Conditioning charge the unit.  Some air conditioning would have been nice on this brutally hot day!
  • This morning, we screwed the cabinets to the floor.  It's strange, but I felt so nervous just before we began anchoring the cabinets to the floor.  It was a 'well, now we're committed' kind of nervousness.  I wonder why the butterflies in my stomach chose that moment to take flight, for the gears in my mind have known for almost two years now that 'we're committed'!
  • Ismael from the Tile and Marble Master came to take measurements for a black leathered granite counter top.  I can't wait to see how the place will transform with a counter top.
  • Our staircase, which will double as pantry and kitchen storage is complete!  It's such a luxury to climb a wooden staircase to go to bed instead of a ladder.
  • The solar panel trailer is complete--functional when the panels are open, and secure when we drive it down the road.  
  • Zoran and his team will come back out for one (maybe two) days to complete the electrical work.  It will be totally surreal to walk in to our tiny house and turn on the lights.
This is where the toilet will be.  Bathroom storage is on the left.    
Shot of paneling around the shower stall.  We will put trim around the shower stall so that you will no longer see the space between the shower and the paneling.
Finished paneling where our closet will be.
A view of the paneling around the electrical box.
The inside of the inverter (and Kacey sporting a Colorado t-shirt) to the right of the picture.  
Our washer/dryer combo machine in place.
The window above the not-yet-installed kitchen sink.  Notice the light on the ceiling, as well!
Our kitchen before the counter top is installed.  You can also see the sofa in the upper right corner of the picture.  We found that sofa on deep discount, and it fit perfectly in the space available.  We have a large, deep sink that will be installed in the counter top in the lower left corner.
A view of the house from the foot of our bed.
A view of our bed while standing on the cabinets in the kitchen. 
Our solar panel trailer open and just outside the house.  Don't let the optics fool you--the panel array, while very very large, is not, in fact, larger than the whole house.  Perspective is a tricky thing.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Post 22 (July 18)-Never Ready/Just Begin


A view from the inside--the interior paneling, the front door, the dog. The white boards you see just have primer and will get two coats of white paint.  We're debating whether to stain the vertical boards a darkish color or give them just a coat of clear.  We think we like the more natural look.
In life, are we ever really ready? I mean for the big stuff, all the firsts--first kiss, first prom, first year away from home, first job, first kid, first home... Perhaps it's only in the attempting of a thing for the first time that we learn what we need to feel ready.  And maybe, even more importantly, we develop enough confidence in ourselves that even in future moments of I'm-not-ready-yet, we manage to pull through.

When I left home for college in 2005, I don't really think I was ready to live away from home just yet.  I remember being terrified that I might accidentally fall in to some kind of drug ring and be absolutely powerless to control my own fate.  If you don't know me, at 18 there was zero indication that a drug ring would be part of my future, but at the time I had so little faith in my own ability to self-determine or get myself out of sticky situations that it seemed a legitimate worry to me.  It was only in successfully living through the first and second years of college that I proved to myself that I could, in fact, exert a fair amount of control over what my life would become.  That little bit of confidence took me to China and back home, Argentina and back home, Peru and back home, and now home in California.  I simply had to begin before I was ready, because there's no preparing for life's firsts.

When we began our build in February 2015, we were nowhere near ready.  We had no idea what was in store for us.  Sitting here tonight, though, I believe that if we'd waited until we were ready to tackle every aspect of this build before we began, we'd never have embarked on a project like this at all.

I was working in Mexico in early June when Kacey called and said, "I've figured out how we store, move, and operate the solar panels." (Backstory: Up until that point, we'd had one row of 5 panels and one row of 4 panels and they were big and heavy.  They wouldn't easily fit in the tiny house so anytime we moved, we'd have to rent a U-Haul.  A definite flaw in our "smooth" off-grid strategy.) Kacey went on to explain that he'd put 3 panels on the ATV trailer and was designing hinges that would allow the second and third set of 3 panels to rest atop the ATV trailer in transit and unfold when in use.  What an exciting development!  That night I slept poorly--far too excited about the solar panel development to slip into peaceful rest.  Kacey remarked that he was excited to have an opportunity to do so much welding--his opportunities in the past were limited and so his skill level wasn't as high as he'd like.  Not ready.  Did it anyway. Phenomenal results.







We opted to have spray insulation professionally installed.  We were sure that we'd make a mess of it and would expose ourselves to chemicals for which we didn't have adequate personal protective equipment.  Not all tiny house builders opt for spray foam insulation.  We did because of the additional structural stability it provides, the higher R-value (insulating effectiveness), and the lighter weight.  It's much quieter in there, now.  Really feels like a sanctuary.






The next step is interior paneling.  For months we'd thought about having white horizontal tongue and groove boards throughout the interior of the house.  Our thinking changed when, on a rainy evening in our current house, we looked at the bottom two feet of our light-colored walls.  With a mostly black dog, foot traffic, car grease and rain splatters, the bottom two feet of our walls were... not clean. In the tiny house, where life (and therefore dirt) is in a much smaller space, we'd have to scrub the walls down once a week.  Again, if you don't know me, weekly wall scrubbing is not my idea of a good time.

With visible dirt-management in mind, we've installed vertical tongue and groove boards up to the height of the windows (think wainscoting or chair rail).  Bottom of the windows up, we'll use the horizontal white tongue and groove boards.  We weren't ready to do interior paneling either.  The night we had set aside to begin installation, we stood in the tiny house for about 20 minutes, our anxiety growing exponentially as we pondered the gravity of the first vertical tongue and groove board.  If the first one were even a bit slanted to one side, the whole house would feel like a fun house with warped mirrors.  We very nearly abandoned the paneling that evening.  Somehow, though, we managed to set our anxieties aside and begin even as we confronted our non-readiness.  That night we installed 10 or so boards.

We are getting smarter in our beginnings, though.  Months ago, on our first day installing exterior siding, we thought the job would be tremendously easy and that we'd have a whole wall done before lunchtime.  We were hopelessly disappointed when 6:30 rolled around and we'd done three rows.  A case of expectations that were wildly out of alignment with reality.  We fell into the same trap the night we assembled the solar racks.  We thought it would be a piece of cake so we began too late and too hungry.  Another night of disappointment caused by unrealistic expectations.

When we started the interior paneling, we committed to getting five boards up.  Quite realistic and we were twice as productive as we'd prepared to be!

The quote of the month? Kacey said, "If it weren't for learning things the hard way, I wouldn't know a damn thing."  We've learned a lot the hard way.  Fruit doesn't ripen when you microwave it; it blows up.  Soap doesn't melt and re-mold in a saucepan on the stove; it burns.  House trim isn't complete when it goes up; it's complete when everything else is done.  When we first started our build, any time we learned the hard way, we were defeated for hours.  Now, we laugh it off in about two minutes.  A welcome development indeed.