Environmentalism — Why I Care…

A couple of weeks ago a friend on Facebook posted an apparently little-read article about why bans on plastic straws are wrong. Unfortunately the article didn’t consider paper straws as an option in restaurants. The article revolved around one person’s experience with one waitress in one restaurant. Yet the article labeled all environmentalists as misanthropists — as people who dislike humankind and avoid human society.

And the “friend,” an intelligent person, a writer, and a speaker, rather than accepting a comment asking about paper straws and objecting to a ridiculous stereotype, deleted my comment. It wasn’t meant to incite anyone, as the article she shared was. She simply wasn’t open to discussion.

Now, for starters, I don’t know any environmentalists who dislike humankind. I know plenty who dislike the way humankind is destroying itself, but none that dislike humankind. Actually, bans on plastics — disposable grocery bags, straws, and so forth — are often done because we care about people. We care that people are drowning in their own waste. We care that there’s an island of plastic larger than Alaska in one ocean… and a similar one in another. We care that food resources are dying at alarming rates. It’s because we care about people that we care about the environment.

If I had a friend living in squalor, a hording situation with garbage all around them, making themselves and their kids ill, I’d be concerned. I’d try to find a way to help. And yet I live in a city with a large population that is being sickened by a local landfill and am expected to do and say nothing. I work for a school that serves these kids. I know about the cancer clusters. I’m aware of the research… and I fear from what I know that there is even more trouble than the media has reported. Caring about that landfill – an environmental issue – doesn’t make me a misanthropist. The misanthropists are those who ignore it because it’s not them or their kids getting sick.

Our planet is not an inexhaustible, expendable resource. The life on it is to be cared for and valued in any form. And again, that’s not because I put plants or animals above people. In early mining days, miners would take a caged canary into the mines with them. If the bird were to die in the tunnels, they knew they had to get out quickly. The bird was more sensitive to gasses than they as humans were, but when the bird died, they knew the same gasses would kill them if they didn’t act quickly. And we are living in a world of canaries right now. A world with diminishing populations of plants, insects, and wildlife, of species close to extinction. Their struggles are harbingers. They are our warnings. Caring about them doesn’t mean I don’t care about people. It means I do. Because if we don’t take action, and take it quickly, we will be impacted. And people — those people my friend’s shared article said environmentalists don’t care about — will die. And they may die at alarming rates.

And so if I can stop one single use plastic from being used, if I can buy one less styrofoam meat tray, if I can use one less plastic shopping bag… if I can find one more simple way to waste less, like:
using a paper straw (that costs about the same as the plastic one),
buying meat in the deli or buying a whole chicken rather than pieces (both of which are probably better for my own health anyway),
skipping meat one day a week,
using reusable grocery bags,
buying sustainable products,
composting,
or planting a tree…
if I can do just one thing more to help the environment, and can encourage others to as well, I will. None may make much difference by themselves, but if we do one, and then another, and another, we can make a difference. For the environment… and for all of us who live in it.

Changes

I started this blog about living in a tiny house. I loved the idea… and then I lost my job, got a job in a large city, searched for a house and finally settled on one that’s four times what I had when I dreamed of living tiny.

And so times change and people change… including me… and now including this blog. I haven’t posted for awhile. I’m still ‘living large in small ways’, but in very different ways than I’d originally intended in my tiny house.

The house I bought has nearly a half acre of ground. That’s one of the primary reasons it attracted me. I’ve fallen in love with gardening, and have a particular interest in native plants. And as my gardens have grown my health has benefited. I have nearly 70 species of plants in my yard, including raspberries, blackberries, mulberries, cherries, and elderberries. I’ve seen finches, bluebirds, indigoes, and a red headed woodpecker, plus many birds I can’t name. Two rain gardens, and friendly neighbors in spite of all this. Except one, but there’s always one. And I have new friends (gardeners are some of the best friends a person could ask for), too.

My house isn’t always tidy, and it’s not all used all the time, but it’s comfortable. I love having a big, well-designed kitchen, even though I’m not the best cook. I eat well and live well and have just been thoroughly enjoying life. So while the tiny house is gone, my “living large” lifestyle has actually expanded. Sometimes it’s not in the size of the space, but the amount of living done in or around it. ❤

No longer living small…

Within the next few weeks, I will be moving to a 1100 sf house. I’ve thought a lot about the last three years, what I’ve learned here, what I’ve enjoyed, and what I wished for. I’ve gained a different perspective on possessions, but I still had about the same amount of cleaning and at least as much organizing to do small as large. Yes, there was less space to clean, but the things that take the longest still take the same effort–bathrooms and kitchens take about the same time to sanitize whether they are 5×5 or 8×12 or 12×14, and the lack of space meant constant rearranging in order to maintain a clean environment. There is no moving things to the side to clean under them in a 12×26 space.

I’ve enjoyed some things about living in the country, and enjoyed the peacefulness of living very simply at first. Over time, simplicity became more frustrating because I couldn’t maintain the type of organization I needed in order to keep an appearance of ‘simple’, and societal expectations interfered with what my concept of  a simple life–having the same clothes to wear every week seems fine until people begin noticing that you are always wearing the same clothes, and comments about my house became somewhat rude and unkind. Still, there were things to learn in those lessons, too, that I’ll remember going forward.

My new house is on the small side for it’s area. I’m very much looking forward to a few things–having a real couch, a closet, and a full, wired internet connection again.  Counter space is going to be a luxury, and a full size refrigerator will be very nice to have. And a bathtub. I’ve really missed having a bathtub at times, and more as time went on. I will have a room with exercise equipment in it and room for a yoga mat. I can jump rope in the garage for cardio. And I will be able to bike to the store. So living somewhat bigger should be healthier for me.

What I’ve decided in all of it is that living smaller is nice, but the concept of living in  a small house is somewhat a fallacy. I’ve slept in a tiny house for three years. But my real living was done around the house or near the house but not in it. My personality requires some amount of living in a house, some privacy, some personal time. I am not able to simply live around  a house or to sleep in a house and then leave it to live. And at least for me, at least in the country, that has not been as possible as I’d hoped it would be. And so I leave the small cabin behind. I’ve learned from the experience, just as I’ll learn from new ones. I won’t regret my time here, but I doubt I’ll miss it, either.

Many tiny/small house discussions have come up over the last few years in different places regarding how awful zoning and codes are. I would agree to some extent. However, there are two sides, so here’s a bit of the other side of my story:

I moved to an unincorporated area without a planning and zoning commission so that I could live how I wanted and build what I wanted. Ideally, this would be wonderful. But sadly, there are several less than ideal situations that have arisen from this. So, a few observations from someone who’s been zone-free for two years:

  1. People here burn ANYTHING. Tires, electrical wiring, plastic, roofing shingles, furniture, you name it, they burn it. Well, in most cases they don’t burn the shingles. They use those, along with pieces of old carpets, linoleum, and other petroleum based products, to line eroding areas of land in an uneducated attempt to save the land.
  2. Which leads me to the second issue. People here DUMP anything, anywhere. They toss bottles and cans out windows as they drive. Mattresses and couches end up in ditches, dropped off under cover of night. I’m still shoveling used diapers, food cans, and other trash out of my ravine two and a half years after moving in, because the last person who lived here used the ravine, which runs straight into a living creek, as his personal dump. (If you live in this county outside city limits you can opt not to have trash or recycling service. Many do opt out, even though they produce a prodigious amount of trash.)
  3. Hunting season is exhausting. It would be great except many of the hunters here can’t distinguish a deer from, say, a cow or horse.
  4. There is no policing. Unless the police want to issue tickets, they refuse to involve themselves in county matters. They’ll file a report if something is stolen, but they don’t enforce laws.
  5. Department of Natural Resources would never pass a good number of the septics and lagoons in the area. They sit too close to neighboring properties or neighbors’ wells. The lines have been ‘maintained’ by digging out the ends of them and letting the water flow freely onto the property. Some lines have been cut or don’t exist at all. (Even a local city is still run on a lagoon system, and is over capacity and facing large fines. The residents won’t vote for repairs and expansion, though.)
  6. Animal control doesn’t exist. Dangerous animals, abused and neglected animals, all are acceptable in this area. The police won’t respond. The shelters are full (always). Vaccinations aren’t required. And so the neighbor’s biting dog who is catching and killing coons, possums, squirrels, cats, smaller dogs, chickens, etc, is allowed to continue to run free. If I have a problem with the dog, I can move or I can catch the dog and put him to sleep (risking the neighbor’s complaint that I destroyed his dog).

There have been other issues too, but tonight I am tired. And desperate to move away from this ideal setting, where there is no zoning, no planning, no codes to tell me what to do… and none to make a safe environment for others, either.

Nearing the end of the small house time

I lost my job a few months ago. I’m very glad for that reason that I have a small house, but when I find a new job I’ll be moving. I miss living in a larger town or small city. I need the activity and social engagement that I find there. But with cities come building codes. I don’t plan to have a BIG house, but I do hope to have one that’s 700-850 sf. I’ve seen one now and then for sale in the area I’m looking for work in. It’s hard to wait until I have a job to get one.

Interestingly, the price of land may be set to rise quite a bit here, so I plan to keep my little house for weekends for now. Who knows, maybe if the area sees the growth that’s predicted, someday may find me back in my little house full time.

Water Issues

It’s been raining like crazy the last few days. Two nights ago I discovered every homeowner’s dread: water damage and mold. I began working on it immediately, thinking it was a bathroom caulking issue, but this morning I discovered it wasn’t. Instead, water had gotten between my skirting insulation and my floor and wicked up through the wall. Investigating further, water also somehow got inside another wall and was wicking through there as well.

My house is a portable cabin. The structure was pre built and insulated before I bought it. As it turns out, the builder didn’t apparently use Tyvek or other house wrap, so there isn’t a good water barrier, definitely not enough to resist the recent torrents. It’s survived spring rains fine, but maybe this rain came at a different angle. It survive last fall’s rains, but maybe water got in then, too, and it just wasn’t enough to soak clear through the walls. And maybe the skirting made all the difference, keeping it from drying completely. I skirted it after last fall’s rains.

Whatever happened, I’m now looking at $2000 of new siding and house wrap, as well as other damage repairs. This is much cheaper than it could have been or than it would have been in a big house, but still a huge set back in my long range goals.

And so another few lessons learned: make sure you have proper moisture management, don’t take someone else’s abilities on good faith alone, and move your furniture out from the walls after big rains to ensure none of that water got in.

Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

I’ve been in my small cabinet a year now. Here are some things I wish I’d known a year ago:
There isn’t much to do at times in the country. There’s less to do when you don’t yet have farm animals, can’t work the ground, and due to extreme weather can’t drive into town.
There is a point at which sleeping during all these times is no longer feasible.
Birds nest in any space off the ground they can squeeze into. Mice do the same with ground level small spaces. Cats, bats, roaches, wasps and ants seem to fill anything that’s left.
Storage space is essential.
All those nifty nooks I’ve seen are nice, but they don’t replace cabinets or closets.
No matter how much I prefer showers, there are times when nothing takes the place of a nice hot bath.
Having an entryway, foyer, or even a storm door saves hours spent chasing flies.
Rain and snow invade spaces around window ACs and heaters. This is very bad for houses.
There are some very good reasons for flashing and gutters. In a house that won’t be moved, install both immediately.
However long you think something will take, for planning purposes double that estimate.
Trim is very difficult to mitre cut.
Always enlist the help of at least one friend.
Expect changes to plans. Since I’d never lived in such a small space, this last year has required me to learn more about myself, to make some drastic lifestyle changes, to rethink what is most important about living small to me.
Be happy for the experience no matter where it leads you.
Realize many of these could be true of any first time home owner… or even of an experienced homeowner. Just on a much larger scale.

Oops!

My apologies that it’s been so long since I posted. Yes, I survived the winter. I have a thriving garden and love the land I live on. Except for the bugs and the distance to cities, people, and activities. I hope to post soon with better updates. I don’t have internet at my little house, but hopefully I’ll be able to post more tomorrow night… perhaps including a few pictures.

 

In the meantime… if you’re considering a small/tiny house, make sure that if it has a metal roof, that the roof extends a foot or two past the walls or is regularly moved. Having a permanent location and no roof overhang has been probably my biggest regret, because when the roof sweats the walls and foundation are constantly damp, inviting many six-legged unwelcome ‘guests’. Roaches have been a huge battle this spring. I haven’t seen but a few in the house, but see several on the front porch every night. Time for Roach Prufe in vast quantities. (Yes, sorry that’s not very eco-friendly, but I can’t stand roaches, and since I’m not refrigerating most produce, I’m even more disgusted that they are so near.)

 

Other regrets? Not being closer to my job (I didn’t have a job when I bought the land) and lack of closet space. Drawers just don’t suffice for some things. I also wish the cabin were wider than 12 feet. If it were just a few feet wider, I could do much more with the space. And I finally retired the homemade couch in favor of three small chairs. They can be arranged more easily, still have storage space underneat, and are MUCH more comfortable.

The Real Problem of Tiny Living

I’ve been living in my 320 sf since the beginning of July, and now cooler weather has come. I’m sealing the leaks and stopping the drafts that come with rushing through a remodeling process that I wasn’t completely comfortable with. And coming to see the real difficulty with living small… there isn’t enough to do! Yes, in those long months when it’s too cold outside and too dark too early, what does a person do in 320 sf in the country? Within the next weeks my lifestyle is going to have to be readjusted to finding activities in the town I work in and finding new hobbies, not because it’s chilly in the house (I still turn off the heater during the day) or because I don’t like the house (though I still hope to build on my land or buy something small closer to town), but because once the organization and the decorating are done… well, they’re done. There’s just nothing to keep up on, no projects pending, nothing more to clean or decorate or do. I’m already considering decorating for Christmas. That’s never happened before, especially not in a big house!

Finishing up

The last of the walls was redone Sunday, thanks to the help of my parents, and the cabin has been fairly securely skirted for winter. I’m hoping that I won’t even need the heat tape so carefully wrapped around pipes below it since it has 30R skirting around most of it and even more than that on the west wall. The 11-12 cats who’ve made their home under it seem to think the insulation is sufficient, at least. (I haven’t skirted completely under the deck yet because a cat probably had her kittens there, but there is little room for wind to get through at this point.)

It’s warm in the little cabin at night, even on the coldest nights we’ve had. I do turn on the heat when I get home from work, but on it’s lowest setting the house stays around 70 degrees. Most nights I wake up during the night and turn it off. It’s too warm for me to sleep well. My electric bill including AC/heat has averaged $45 through the last three months. For October it was $38. On average I’m using 250 kW a month. I wish that meant I could easily switch to solar, but sadly the sun doesn’t shine during the times I need power the most, and I’m not knowledgeable enough yet to switch over to an off grid system. Tuesday it’s supposed to freeze. We’ll see then what the little cabin can do.

I’m interested in building a couple candle heaters (http://www.instructables.com/id/Candle-Powered-Pottery-Heater/). So far I have two of the pots for $.35 total. Tomorrow I may hunt for the middle sized pot and “turn one on” to experiment. It’s not a good idea while asleep or away, but a couple of them might diffuse heat well most of the evening for a fraction of the cost (and pollution) of electric service.

Now to begin unpacking and decorating in earnest.

The most difficult thing at this point about the cabin is knowing that others don’t like the idea. It’s not elegant on the outside, and I’ve experienced quite a bit of peer pressure by bucking the 1500 sf norm.