We sold our little pick up truck a week ago, so now I'm back to being car-free. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that now that I'm no longer a car owner I'm now remembering how to live a low-car lifestyle.
During my first year of graduate school I gained access to a locker in the urban planning building, which was a big help. I was living 7 miles from campus in the Cully neighborhood and commuting downtown by bike or bus, so it was fabulous to not have to schlep everything every day.
This week as I wrapped up my coursework, my FINAL final project was to clean out my locker. When I did, I discovered that over time I’d collected quite a bit of stuff. I also realized I wasn’t counting these items in My 200 Things Challenge. So I'm writing all about it to clear my conscience.
My locker became a repository for things that I used when I was on campus (textbooks, snacks, my chalk bag for trips to the climbing wall, etc.) But I had a bad habit of stashing stuff here that I intended to send to someone but never seemed to find the time to actually pop in the mail.
I was also startled to discover how much paperwork I'd collected over the past two years. My new year's resolution was to go paper free so I began Strategizing Digitizing. All my paperwork went into a file in my locker to be scanned (at some later date, of course, when I had time.) By the time I looked at that daunting stack of paperwork I decided I can't possibly need it all. I spent an hour Getting all My Docs in a Row and narrowed it down to just a small collection of documents that I really need. I’ll be scanning documents in the next couple days while I still have access to a high speed scanner.
In the end, there were just a few items to take home. A box of envelopes. My gym gear. Some uneaten snacks. And a gift (from last year!) that I need to mail (not pictured because that would ruin the surprise!) as soon as my sister Heidi sends me her mailing address (nudge, nudge!)
Last May Day it was pouring as the Bike to PSU Challenge kicked off. This was disappointing since I was committed to Biking Rain or Shine. Others weren't so brave and my bike was the only one in the racks for a good portion of the morning. This year the challenge started out with glorious weather and I had trouble finding a bike parking spot.
During the month of May I'll be logging my miles on Portland State University's snazzy Bike to PSU Challenge website. Last year I was on a team of 10 and we helped hold each other accountable to riding every day at least one way. Unfortunately, it was a drizzly spring so I didn't stick to my 14-mile round trip commute consistently. I took transit on 4 super soggy days. Nevertheless, as I described in my post 1 Tiny House & 4 Bicycles, I did manage to commute nearly 300 miles by bike in May 2012!
This year my commute is much shorter. I'm only 2.5 miles from campus instead of 7. But I'm also much more likely to ride consistently because the distance is shorter and because in the past year I've upgraded my tires and added fenders and better lights to my commuter bike. This past week I also replaced my old U-lock which drove me crazy with a new one which uses a combination lock instead of a key. One less thing to keep track of! (But it doesn't count as one less thing for My 200 Things Challenge since I actually consider my bike lock as well as it's key part of my bike. If that doesn't make sense to you, check out my logic in My Things Challenge: Who's Counting Anyway?)
This year there are 271 riders on 79 teams logging their mileage. So this month stay tuned for photos of Portland by bike. Cheers to bike rides and sunny days!
A couple weeks ago I started a new job, as the Planning & Communications Coordinator for the Ford District, and I’m thoroughly loving it! I found out about the opportunity at the end of last term when Mike Tevis of Intrinsic Ventures sent an email over the urban planning listserv saying that he was offering a dream job to an ambitious planner. Intrigued, I contacted him and we chatted on the phone for a few minutes. He introduced himself as a property-owner with a vision to create a transit-oriented, mixed-use hub in central Southeast Portland through adaptive reuse and some ground-up residential. He was speaking my language.
When Tevis told me that the Ford Building is one of his, I was instantly excited. I’d been to Ford Food & Drink for team meetings for my Site Planning class and I love the vibe there. The Ford Building was built in 1914 as a factory for Model Ts, and the building today retains much of the gritty charm of an old factory, but it has been updated and modernized. It now houses 90 small businesses including artists, entrepreneurs, and independent professionals. (Everyone from messenger bag manufacturers and branding experts to hair stylists and artisan pickle makers!)
When Tevis and I first met, he told me he wants to do new construction to add housing to his properties, too. I told him about micro apartments and he was instantly on board. “Your generation is so smart!” he told me. “You have already figured out that it’s not about all the stuff but about having a cool place to call home and everything you need nearby.” I grinned. I love the synergy of a city. I know inner-city living isn’t for everyone, but I think a place like the Ford District will be home, sweet home to folks like me who want to live the Little Life in an urban environment.
I met with Mike Tevis the day he closed on his latest acquisition, The Dairy Building, and he invited me to walk through it. That sealed the deal for me. I could see in an instant that this building with its incredible exposed beams and natural light from a plethora of skylights would be phenomenal when Tevis is done with it. “I love old buildings,” he told me. “They’re better this way!” Some people would have had trouble seeing through the pigeon poop, but Tevis envisions the potential and I can see it, too.
At Friday at the Ford, I had the opportunity to meet some Ford Building tenants, including Nutcase, Old School Stationers, and Fat Pencil Studio. Several of my classmates joined in the fun, too. Thanks for coming out to mix and mingle, fellas! The Ford Building has an amazing community of talented folks and I can’t wait to meet all of them. Want to hear about the next Friday at the Ford and other Ford District happenings? Like Ford District on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
My work in the Ford District will be the perfect counterbalance to Partnering with Portland Alternative Dwellings for tiny house, ADU, and pocket neighborhood consulting. While the latter are great infill options for existing neighborhoods, the Ford District is an opportunity to create a more urban mixed-use area right next to the light rail, streetcar, and Clinton bicycle boulevard going over Portland’s new transit bridge. Our cities need both type of space-smart, resource-efficient housing, so I’m excited to help make both happen here in Portland.
In high school I drove the family station wagon, which we’d dubbed The Grocery Getter. I’ve never owned a car of my own, but I have to admit cars really do make good grocery getters. Especially when you’re doing back to school shopping. For the weekly trip to the farmers’ market my bike is a great option, but when bulk buying it’s great to have a car. This time around I decided to do my back to school shopping with Car2Go. Typically I would have done this with Getaround and in the future I probably will since it’s cheaper, but I like giving a little notice with Getaround and this was a fairly spontaneous trip. As I noted in Smart Phone + Smart Car = Smart Errands, Car2Go is great for opportunistic autoing.
I just stocked up on cat food at the pet store and realized that if I had a car I could pick up plenty of tasty, healthy food to get me through Winter Term, too. I found the nearest Car2Go just a couple blocks away and drove it to Grocery Outlet. I parked on a quiet street and decided to take my chances with someone else snagging the car while I was in the store. I ended my trip on the Car2Go menu and headed into the store with my bag o’ cat food. Now, Portland is a strange enough place that people don’t really think you’re weird walking into a grocery store with a bag of cat food, so if you have qualms about this, sorry, but golly I am grateful for our practical quirkiness!
Have I ever told you how much I love Grocery Outlet? There’s a great natural and organic section. Some of my staple foods (almond milk, Franz bread, local tortillas, Tillamook cheese, butter, and yogurt) are available for a fraction of regular price. I often think of Grocery Outlet (which my friends and I affectionately refer to as the Groc Out pronounced “Gross Out”) as a thrift store for food. (Remember, thrift stores are cool here, so this is a good thing!) You never know quite what you’ll find (why hello, chocolate hazelnut spread, agave syrup, dolmas, smoked salmon, artichoke dip, etc.) but it’s always a good deal. Of course, you might never be able to find your new favorite flavor again. Yup, turns out I’m the only one who is obsessed with Ben & Jerry’s Mission to Marzipan Ice Cream. That’s why they’re discontinuing it and why I’m getting such a good deal. What’s wrong with you people?! This stuff is delicious! Maybe if I buy all of it they’ll reconsider. Wait, no, now I have a mini fridge. It was a nice thought… Oh, oh, they also have my favorite vitamins. Kids chewables, how I love thee. Hey, don’t judge! Years ago when I was complaining to a friend that I HATE swallowing giant multivitamins, she simply said, “So don’t. You’re little like me and I still take kids vitamins.” This was utter brilliance. I LOVED taking my vitamins as a kid. I would beg for them. “Minimum! Minimum!” I would shriek before I could say the word properly. I wanted to gobble them up. But I was limited to one a day. Now that I’m a grown up I figure I can eat two of them every day. Ta da! I win!
Mama always said not to shop on an empty stomach. And she was right, of course. I wanted to eat ALL the delicious food! But a hearty appetite is a good thing when stocking up. It’s hard to do a big shopping trip during crunch time so I love filling my pantry before school starts back up and doing weekly trips for fresh stuff like produce, yogurt, and bread. As my cart filled up I realized that if someone had snagged MY Car2Go I was going to have a hard time getting my groceries home by bus. I checked the handy app on my phone and was relieved that MY Car2Go was still there. So I reserved it for myself, picked a few more groceries and then checked out. The checker had no problem at all with me having a bag of already-paid-for-somewhere-else cat food there, too.
I had way more than I could comfortably carry at this point so I loaded up my Car2Go and headed over to Trader Joes. This time on the Car2Go menu I made a stopover rather than ending my trip. I picked up a bunch of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and some produce and loaded that into the car, too. While I was packing up I explained the Car2Go concept to people, one right after the other. I told them that most people who have cars don’t find Car2Go very useful but those of us who don’t have cars love it!
When I was five years old we lived in a triplex on Fremont Avenue in Seattle and went to the Laundromat on the corner every week. It was one of my very favorite places. It had a warm, clean smell and squeaky yellow linoleum floors. My sister and I loved taking turns pushing each other around in the wheeled laundry baskets, playing tag, and climbing inside the dryers and the extractor. In retrospect, I’m amazed we didn’t get kicked out of the place!
So even if I wasn’t a Whedonite and a fan of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, I’d still have a soft spot for Laundromats. Laundry facilities were available at each of the three other places I’ve lived since moving to Portland, but not at my new digs. So I was secretly delighted when I realized I’d have to find a Laundromat in my new neighborhood. And find one, I did. I think I might have found the coolest Laundromat in the world!
Now once a week I head to the Belmont Eco Laundry with a backpack full of laundry to wash. I alternate between biking and bussing depending on the weather. The Laundromat is an especially nice place to be on a rainy day. I've just gotten a Smart Klean laundry ball at the suggestion of my friend Karin, another tiny houser. So far I'm liking it quite a bit, even though it's one more thing (since it's not disposable it counts as a thing in my Thing Challenge). It's nice to not have to think about buying detergent anymore!
Unless I'm doing sheets and blankets I'm able to fit everything into one of the 18-gallon washing machines, which are the smallest they have. I pay $2.25 for the quick wash on my credit card (no need to bother with all those quarters!) and settle down to do use the free wifi while waiting the 16 minutes for the magical washing machine to finish up. The machine sends me a text message when it is time to switch my laundry to the dryer. I grab one of the wheeled baskets (so tempting to crawl inside and scoot around the Laundromat, pushing myself off the washing machines, but I resist!)
I've been impressed by how my clothes are already nearly dry because of the rapid spin cycle of the industrial washing machines. I've discovered it usually takes only 2 quarters (14 minutes) to dry my clothes. If I'm only doing one load clothes I can get things washed and dried in just half an hour! I don’t have to deal with quarters and I even got to check my email. The only thing that would make this place truly perfect would be if they happened to have a coffee shop next door, but I'm still pretty pleased! I’ll do my best to refrain from turning laundry day into a musical…
Last spring Hannah Doyle, a journalism student at the University of Oregon, interviewed Brittany Yunker and me for a story she was writing for OR Magazine. OR Magazine is an annual publication that captures the uniqueness of Oregonians. The format of OR Magazine is really unique, very tall and skinny, because it is published in an iPad format. Just zoom in to read the article. Hannah shared the Living with Less story with me and I wanted to share it with you.
You can read it right here: Living with Less. Enjoy!
I’ve never been good at packing lightly. This might come as a surprise to people who see the minuscule size of my luggage. I haven’t checked a bag on a plane, train, or bus since 2003. That fall I overpacked when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I brought a big backpack on my back, a small pack on my front, and I wheeled a big suitcase and a small one. Then I discovered that they sell shampoo in Italy, too. And clothes. Beautiful clothes.
I can’t remember now what I thought I needed badly enough that I should schlep it on a three-month international adventure. What I do remember is how liberating it felt the second-to-last week I was in Italy when I took myself to Venice for the weekend with just my guide bag. Its contents I do remember: guide book, wallet, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, extra pair of underwear, extra long sleeve shirt, cell phone, camera, and keys. These ten items became my ten essentials for travel. All my subsequent packing has started with this core set of necessities.
Three months of exploring Italy taught me that I needed very little to get around and that the less I brought the freer I would be to explore. The thing was, I didn’t pack lightly. I packed densely. The bag I brought was tiny, but it was full. When I pack a bag, I do pack it. When I load up a car it’s a game of Tetris. I think compression straps and bungee cords may have been invented with me in mind.
Since then I’ve fit my sleeping bag (and its liner), my work boots, my Carhartts, and everything else I needed for a week-long service trip into a carry-on bag. I packed mostly the same stuff for the three-week core curriculum for Yestermorrow’s Certificate in Sustainable Design and Building. (I discovered one doesn’t need more stuff for three weeks than for one.) I’ve done two-week vacations to Denmark, South Africa, and Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands) with a carry-on. My favorite was probably my two-week trip to Thailand with an “overnight” bag. (You know, the one you put over the handle of your wheeled suitcase.) Granted, I did bring a few extra things back and that required picking up a new bag at the night market in Chaing Mai. But everything I brought along with me to Thailand in the first place fit into a very dense cubic foot of luggage.
I’ve employed similar dense packing strategies at home. I discovered I can put my plates inside my pie pan so they’re all easily accessible. I’ve added temporary shelves to my permanent shelves to maximize the space. I’ve placed hooks strategically to take advantage of vertical surfaces. I’ve added drawer dividers so I can keep things organized and fill each drawer to the brim. I use my space uber efficiently, so as long as I can cram one more thing into the space I’ve allocated for it, I figure I’m doing okay.
I guess that’s why My Things Challenge has been such a challenge for me. Whereas I’ve been a minimalist when it comes to space, I haven’t necessarily been a minimalist when it comes to stuff. For instance, I’ve felt good about keeping my clothing contained to a single dresser, but I haven’t stopped to question whether I will actually manage to wear all eight tank tops during our measly short version of a northwest summer.
Space and count are both quantitative measures, of course, but they ask me to measure differently. (I do try to focus on quality, too, owning fewer but nicer things.) I think I like dense packing better. I like having my container and the freedom to fill it with whatever I can make fit inside. But I’ve found the 100 Things Challenge an interesting game. It has made me consider my possessions differently and it has helped me eliminate some of the clutter so I have a little more wiggle room inside my drawers and cupboards. It’s given me a little extra space to let something else into my life. I'm leaving room for more of life's souvenirs.
Since moving to Portland I’ve lived in three different places, each just three blocks from the last. Yet, I’ve found these small shifts have changed which bus route I’m closest to, so I’ve switched bus routes each time. I’ve really enjoyed my newest bus route because my transfer point is much more bustling. I can stop to pick up groceries on my way home without going out of my way. The start of my bike route is slightly different, taking me through new parts of the neighborhood at the beginning of my daily commute, but most of my bike route remains the same.
Last spring I was in a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class and my group’s project was to map public amenities and access to them via bike routes and transit. I was not surprised to discover that my neighborhood, Cully, is one of the least well-served neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue. There are great things happening in Cully including a new park, a farmer’s market, a new business overlay zone, a couple urban farms, and, of course, Cully Grove. There are many large lots in Cully, so there are folks with double lots, big gardens, and backyard chickens. If I were interested in the urban homestead lifestyle, this would be a great neighborhood for me. I think it’s pretty neat that a place like Cully exists within the inner city. But this low level density cannot sustain as many urban amenities as a more compact development.
I’m studying sustainable urban planning, I’m crazy about small spaces, and I travel by foot, bike, transit, and car share, so being in a more compact area is a better fit for me. Besides, I appreciate a lifestyle that involves interacting with my surrounding community. When I visited my little sister last spring I was amazed at how nice it was to walk to the grocery store and the coffee shop in just a few minutes. For my next abode I hope to find a place in a much more dense area. I’m curious to see where it will be!
It feels strange to be living in a whopping 600 square feet this summer after spending last summer downsizing to live in a tiny house on wheels. It's not as though I'm bouncing around in an empty box with my voice echoing off the walls because My Summer Garden Cottage was already fully furnished (down to the garlic press!) In fact, I thought about not unpacking at all, since I'm planning to move again at the end of the summer. But I decided that this summer is a good time to make my inventory and prep myself for the 100 Things Challenge. People have asked what it's been like transitioning to a "normal" house again. After all, my downsizing process required a lot of intention.
Upsizing hasn't required much thought. I didn't have any reverse culture shock. But it does feel luxurious to have all the creature comforts of a house that's rooted to the ground instead of hooked up in a parking spot. It's pretty nice having hot water instantly available instead of having to wait for a four gallon tank to heat up so I can do my dishes or take a shower. I've had the option to shower in the tiny house but usually showered at the gym at school since I'm a bike commuter (and the four gallon tank makes for a pretty short shower!) I've continued mostly using the showers at the school gym this summer, too. When I do shower at home now I don't need to do anything with my graywater, but I can't help thinking that sending it straight to Portland's combined storm and sewer system isn't the best! Speaking of which, transitioning from a composting toilet to a regular flush toilet didn't require any special consideration since I've been using flush toilets everywhere else. (It does feel a little wasteful though. Read Potty Talk to see why.) It's easier to live this way because I don't need to deal with my systems. But I adjusted to the simple living aspects of a tiny house just fine. In fact, I kinda liked the interaction with water, compost, and propane because it made me more conscientious about my consumption and waste.
Transitioning from a small space to a larger space has also gotten me thinking about space-efficient design again. On the one hand, I love the open, spacious feel of the cottage. I think the garden setting and the big windows play a big role in that, as does the open floor plan. But it seems bizarre to have so much open space inside when functionally the cottage is a studio just like the tiny house on wheels. I think it was actually easier to cook in my tiny house kitchen because it made such good use of vertical space. Everything was always within reach and most of it was visible, too. I miss that efficiency. (I'm also trying out living without a microwave this summer. That's been a bigger adjustment than I'd expected! Instead of thinking ahead about hot water, I'm having to think ahead for hot food! I like cooking and I don't eat many prepared foods, but it is much quicker to heat up leftovers in the microwave than on the stove.) It was nice to have a full size oven when I had a friend over for pizza the other day, but I'm pretty sure we would have been happy with personal pan pizzas cooked in my toaster oven, too.
I also feel like the layout of this space is a little strange because a guest encounters the bed before the living room. The front door opens onto the bathroom and the sleeping space which are more "private" spaces and then onto the "public" spaces of the kitchen and living room. There's no divider between the sleeping space and the great room (probably to preserve long diagonal views and create a more barrier-free design). I'll have to ask Bruce and Carolyn about the design decisions on the layout. I imagine they must have had a good reason for the layout they chose, but I think I'd probably do it differently if it were my place.
Another thing I've noticed is that I've switched my transportation habits - again! Since moving to Portland I’ve lived in three different places, each just three blocks from the last. I have stuck to the Alberta-Going bike route at each location. Yet, I’ve found these small shifts have changed which bus route I’m closest to. From my first tiny house parking place I would take the #72 through the Alberta Arts District and then switch to the #8 or #9 to go downtown for school. At the second place I parked the tiny house I would walk over to the #71 and then transfer to the MAX to go downtown. Now I'm closest to the #75 which goes through Hollywood so I've been using that as my transfer point to the train to downtown. Of the three I like this combination best because Hollywood is a great place to stop and pick up groceries on the way home!