Sightline & Grist on Living Large in Small Spaces

During finals Alyse Nelson sent me a request to answer some questions about tiny houses for a piece for Sightline. Alyse did a lovely article that features me as well as my heros Dee Williams of PAD Tiny Houses and Eli Spevak of Orange Splot.

The Sightline article Living Large in Small Houses is available here. The story was also picked up by Grist for crossposting. Woohoo! Here's the Grist version of Living Large in Small Houses.

To think I thought I was getting my Fifteen Seconds of Fame a year ago when I got my first press request. At the time I was pretty camera shy when I was interviewed by a Canadian reporter. It's been lots of fun advocating for the tiny house movement the past year!


Getting All My Docs in a Row

As I explained in Strategizing Digitizing, my New Year's Resolution is to go paperless. After conducting my New Year's Re-Inventory yesterday and realizing that I'm over on My 200 Things Challenge I decided to get to work. I was a little horrified when I took inventory today and realized I had The Only Existing Copy of various electronic files stored in the following places:

  • my laptop computer,
  • my personal drive at school,
  • two different USB keys,
  • my back up hard drive,
  • Google docs,
  • Dropbox, and
  • a small collection of CD-Rs.

I used to have documents on floppy disks and a zip drive, too, but I tossed those years ago when I couldn’t find a computer which still accepted them. It was definitely time to consolidate! It doesn't make sense for a minimalist to have this many Little Pieces of Important Paper.

I haven’t yet added the documents from my personal drive at school, but I started with the documents that were handy. I dumped everything from my USB keys, back-up hard drive, and CDs onto my laptop. This involved borrowing an external CD drive since my MacBook Air doesn’t have a CD drive. (Note to self: when your computer has evolved beyond a storage technology, it’s time to catch up with it!)

I’d used various organizing schemes over the years so it took a little while to get everything sorted into a new filing system, but eventually I got there. I was surprised by how much I could archive. I do still feel compelled to keep much of it, but it’s not relevant to my daily life, so I don’t need it available there at a glance in the left-hand sidebar. It’s now nicely organized within my Archive folder and I can still get to it quickly if necessary. The folders I do seem to use on a regular basis are these:

  • Archives
  • Journal
  • Little Life
  • Recipes
  • Tiny Houses
  • a folder for each of my classes (which I add to the archive at the end of the term)

I’m still Strategizing Digitizing. Scanners are notoriously unreliable. Working with them has often given me more headaches than it’s worth. A friend of mine has a scanner he loves and he offered to loan it to me. So I took it home and messed around with scanner drivers for a while, but I never could get it to work for me. I looked into buying the brand and model he swears by, but I’m not in a place to spend upwards of $300 on a scanner right now. I considered buying a used scanner off Craigslist, but I couldn’t find one that would scan both sides of the page and I don’t have the patience to feed pages through. I think it would take me a week to scan all my documents and if it’s that cumbersome I’ll quickly abandon the habit. Anyone out there have a digitizing strategy they’d recommend?

New Year’s Re-Inventory

Although I've done a pretty good job Maintaining the Little Life, a new year is upon us and it seems like a good time to check in on My 200 Things Challenge. I’ve re-inventoried my possessions and I currently have 214 things. You can see My 214 Things List here. So I’ve slipped a little. Oops! Like so many other people, I’ve done a little acquiring over the winter months! 2 water jugs, a 1-burner cooktop, a mini-fridge

By the way, I was impressed with myself for having less than 200 things on My 198 Things List when I moved into my Home, Sweet Yurt in September. But I realized as I was re-inventorying this week that since I did my inventory before moving into the yurt, I wasn’t counting the things I’d be living with that were not yet in my possession. I’m renting the yurt partially furnished with a bedframe, a table and two chairs, and a nightstand. Two water jugs, a one-burner cooktop, and a mini-fridge also came as part of the deal. I also forgot to count my power tools since they were still at the jobsite of My Summer Dream Job. So I when I compared today’s inventory to My 198 Things List, it seems like I’ve acquired 16 new things in the past few months, but about half them I just hadn’t yet counted. I wasn’t deliberately cheating. I just wasn’t taking into account the things that weren’t right there in front of me.

my kitchen in a cupboard

Knowing I had a smidge of wiggle room, I gave myself the okay to purchase a few things. One of my first acquisitions was My Kitchen Cupboard. Shortly after that I got myself a 700-watt microwave, which is smaller and less likely to trip my electrical circuit than the big one that moved here with me. When it started getting cool in October I bought myself another Envi Heater since I really liked living with one in the tiny house last year. I also got myself a Smart Klean laundry ball as I described in I Love my Laundromat even though it was one more thing and according to the rules I made for My 200 Things Challenge I wouldn’t have had to count laundry soap. I also got a dehumidifier to help in Managing Mildew & Moisture. And since I’m now living with rugs again after years of hardwood floors, I got myself a vacuum cleaner. It’s the Bucket Head, which fits onto the top of a 5 gallon bucket. It seemed like a very practical way to go since the bucket can be used for all sorts of other things, too. Yay multi-functionalism!

my Bucket Head vacuum

Most of those were very practical household items, but thanks to Portland’s amazing free boxes I’ve also acquired a few new clothing items. Speaking of clothes, one of the things I noticed as I swapped out my summer wardrobe for my fall wardrobe and then my fall wardrobe for my winter wardrobe is that I have more warm-weather clothes these days. When I tucked away some things away for winter (such as my short-sleeve shirts, capris, sandals, and my hammock) and got out my winter wardrobe (hello, felted wool hat, fuzzy scarves, and cozy gloves!) I realized it might be time for The Minimalist’s New Clothes.

But at the same time, I do really want to get back down to 200 things. I plan to take time over an upcoming weekend for Taking Stock without Stocking Up. I'll also be Getting All My Docs in a Row. I’d like to have a smidge of wiggle room because I do actually have a couple things on my wish list. Top of the list right now are a pair of cozy slippers. These floors are chilly on cold days!

Maintaining the Little Life

my little dining nook & pantry In September I marked A Year of Little Living by Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House. When I moved into a 113 square foot yurt I embarked upon My 200 Things Challenge. I've continued to learn a lot about simple living through these adventures. So now as 2012 winds down, I figured it's time to reevaluate.

As I moved my belongings out of the tiny house into My Summer Garden Cottage and then into my Home, Sweet Yurt, I had an opportunity to critically evaluate my possessions. When I began the process of downsizing a year and a half ago so that I could move into a tiny house on wheels, I was very intentional about choosing which possessions I would bring with me and what activities I would do. I knew I'd be busy studying for my Masters of Urban and Regional Planning, so I figured I'd need my very small collection of design reference books, my office supplies, and my laptop computer. I knew I wouldn't have as much time to cook or as much space to host dinner parties, but a well-stocked kitchen was important to me, even in a tiny house. And, of course, my clothes and bedding would be essential. Special things I brought along included my craft supplies, decorations, and scrapbooks. I rented out my two-bedroom bungalow in Walla Walla partially furnished and stored four boxes in a friend's basement.

in storage: four boxes and my food dehydrator

I’ve never enjoyed shopping much so I didn’t have to give that up when I moved into a tiny house. But I do have a hard time turning down a good deal (especially free!) so this year I’ve had to be more intentional about not letting anything into my life that I don’t either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. As I’ve thought about my consumption patterns I realize that I usually pick household items that I enjoy using. Good tools – like an impact driver that fits well in my small hands and flatware that has nice balance – make the task more enjoyable (and eating and building are pretty great anyhow!) So I insist upon comfy shoes and cozy coats... and delicious healthy food for that matter. Focusing on high quality things, whether durable or consumable, seems to really increase my quality of life, and that's invaluable. Some household things I consider essentials (such as sharp knives, a warm blanket, a comfy mattress). Others household things – like a set of candleholders and a pretty wooden salad bowl – aren’t necessities, but I think they make my house my home.

my kitchen chicken rooting in my kitchen cupboard

I haven’t acquired much over the past year. It helped that there simply wasn’t much room to store new things. My acquisitions were mostly things to support my Little Life: a drinking water quality hose, a Kill-A-Watt electricity meter, an Envi Heater, a utility bike with a rack for grocery-getting, and a speedier road bike for longer distances. I've been gifted a few things this past year, too, and fortunately most people have been very conscientious in their gifting. The items have been very special things that are worth counting, including some air plants (these are so cool!) and a my kitchen chicken (a clay sculpture, courtesy of my talented 10 year old cousin Baeven). Thanks to grad school I also seem to have collected more paperwork, too, but I’ll be Getting All My Docs in a Row sometime soon. So all things considered I've done pretty well at maintaining a Little Life.

In the next couple days I'll do a New Year's Re-Inventory to see where I stand with My 200 Things Challenge. Stay tuned for the update!

Strategizing Digitizing

My New Year’s resolution is to go digital so I’m getting ready for it. I tend to be one of those uber organized people who keeps important paperwork all categorized and in one place. On (approximately) a monthly basis I sort new paperwork I’ve acquired, file the important documents, and recycle everything that’s not compostable and then shred and compost everything I can. I began acquiring important paperwork as a teenager, so for the past fifteen years, every time I’ve moved, I’ve hauled around a Tupperware tote of paperwork. Over time I replaced it with larger and larger totes. Eventually I added a second one. I’m now the not-so-proud owner of three large totes of paperwork. As this post from Life Edited explains, even for us minimalists, it’s hard to downsize those Little Pieces of Important Paper. They might actually be… important!

But they don’t need to take up so much physical and mental space. I can certainly imagine how nice it would be to be paper-free. Wouldn’t it be convenient to have any document I need available just by doing a quick keyword search on my computer? Wouldn’t it be a relief to not have Little Pieces of Important Paper taking up physical space, time, and attention?

I hate that these totes are 3 of my 200 things. So I’ve made the decision to go all-digital. This will involve three big steps:

1)   First I’ll organize all the documents that are already in a digital format.

2)   Next I’ll begin digitizing any new documents that I acquire. I’ll get in the habit of scanning anything that’s important and shredding anything that’s not, so that they don’t pile up.

3)   Then I’ll scan my totes of paper documents so that I can eliminate Little Pieces of Important Paper from my life entirely.

Eventually, I’ll also scan old journals, too, so that I’m no longer lugging around that giant tub of paper and ink. This, I realize is a larger project and one that will involve some emotional energy as well as time. Speaking of which, I’ve set aside some time this week to tackle the first step by organizing my electronic files. You might call it Getting All My Docs in a Row.