Monthly Archives: March 2012

Success or excess?

What is success? What determines that a person is successful? Is success measured by the size of a home, a model of car, or a certain style of clothes? Is success determined by the amount of things a person possesses? There are millionaires who drive old cars and live in small homes. Are they successful, or not? I know people who have very little who are successful. They are happy. They have achieved and are achieving their goals. But the goals are their own, not those society sets for them. They don’t need to prove their success to anyone, and they know that. Instead of focusing on becoming successful by anyone’s standards, they simply do what makes them happy. They purchase the things they need. They drive what they want and live where they want.

Their success is not determined nor defined by their excess.

I like that.


Small house building vs. renting

Today has been rather emotional. I found out my job might not be permanent, which means my house better not be permanent either. This area won’t be overly accepting of a Tumbleweed (on a trailer, less than 100 sq ft). And I don’t really have the capacity or the vehicle necessary to move it around even if I could legally build one in town.

And then… I discovered that the smallest house in town is for rent!!!! I’m not sure how small it is, but it is very small–one room and a bathroom small. I suspect it’s around 200 sq ft, but may be slightly more. It would be so fun to rent it for awhile. And it’s within walking distance of work… and very cheap rent compared to other places in town. So I meet with the landlord Monday to see if it would work for me, and if he would accept a kitty tenant.

I did meet with the builder today, and his estimates sounded positive. I’d rather do some of the work myself, but I don’t have the time right now. So if I decide to build, he will probably build my house. After the job news today, though, I think I’d just wait, build something in Missouri, and move into that when the job here ends (possibly as early as next March). If I could frame it on weekends between now and then, maybe it would be finished enough to live in by the time a layoff would hit. If not, it would still be a good getaway, and I would be building it myself as I’d hoped. We shall see!

So much to do…

I am trying to find a place to live in my new location. My heart is set on something much smaller than what I currently own. But things are moving too slowly for me at the moment. I meet with a builder tomorrow to see if building a small house would be feasible. If not I’ll have a foundation expert look at another housing possibility and see about an extensive remodel. Surely something will work between three options (one of the first two or rent).

Minimalistically thinking…

Minimalistically… it isn’t a word, but perhaps it should be. We can think and act materialistically, but why not minimalistically?

Today brought a nice surprise. A coworker offered me the boxes saved from her move. All 32 of them. What will I do with 32 boxes? I hope the answer is to give some of them away. I started considering what I could pack, since I’ll be back and forth between houses for awhile, and thought, well, I need to keep one spoon, knife, fork, bowl, plate, and cup…. and immediately thought now why would I keep any more than that? That’s all I need! What a radical change from the person who used to buy things simply because she had a place to put them and “they might come in handy someday!” 

I know it’s not a word, but it should be. Minimalistically speaking, what do I need and what do I want? I read an article a few weeks ago, and one statement stuck in my mind: “if it doesn’t make you smile, get rid of it.” What an interesting and beautiful thought! What if we could all discard the things in life that don’t make us smile? And why can’t we? Why would I drag things that make me sad or angry or stressed through my life?

Thinking of my short list of things I need reminded me of the reason I wanted to downsize to start with. A few years ago, I stayed in a ‘rustic cabin’-a 10×10 shed with bunk beds and a cement floor-for about a week. And loved it. I had some clothes and toiletries, a towel or two, two pairs of shoes, a broom, an electric skillet and some food, a bowl, spoon, and spatula, a cell phone, whatever fit in my small purse, bedding, and something to sleep in. And I was happy. Happier than I’d been in a long time, and I miss that simplicity. I’d need more over a longer period of time, yes, but how much more? What makes me smile? Is it the things I surround myself with, the time to enjoy them, or forgetting about the things and refocusing on what really matters? And what does really matter to me? I don’t look at the things I acquire and think, wow, I remember buying that. That was great! I’m sure glad I have that! No, I forget I even have the stuff. What I remember enjoying is walking in the woods, exploring new areas, meeting new people, gardening, swimming, biking, traveling, and working together with others. What makes me smile isn’t the things I have at all for the most part. It’s living life to it’s fullest, and for me I’ve found that my living is done best when it’s done with less. Minimalistically.


My order is confirmed; I’ll be attending a tiny house workshop! In the meantime, I may start building my small house. I’m nervous about purchasing the land though. Do I build in town? I’m a country girl, but if I build in town I can walk to work. I wouldn’t have to drive, and car insurance would be cheaper. House insurance and taxes may be too, but land is cheaper in some of the smaller communities in the area. I really don’t want to invest $45,000 in a small house, but that’s my first estimate based on land, utility installation, a guestimate on the cost of the shell, and the finish work. That’s scary. What if I need to move? Will someone want it? Could I rent it out? If I rent it will someone abuse it?

Would it be more responsible to buy a larger house that’s on the market? It might, but I’m not sure. And I’m not sure I care. Or could I find a vacant lot in an area where land is a high commodity? There seems to be one lot available at a very good price. If so I could build for $35,000 or less including the land. That seems more doable. Tomorrow morning by 9:00 I will be there finding out.

What to take with me

I have blogged several times about all that I’ve given away and that I haven’t missed. Now, I’m going to start a draft of a post about what’s left. I’ll only publish it after I’m through to keep from boring anyone silly with multiple posts about weight. I still want to keep track of what I’m giving away, but I also want to focus on not moving too much.   I have about 55 lbs of hang up clothes… 18 lbs of bedding plus what’s in the wash and what’s on the bed… And whatever is in the drawers



3/21 I got rid of 43 more pounds of stuff-a CD player, candles, three candle holders, 2 sheets, a coverlet, 5 shirts, 3 suit jackets, and a pair of pants.

IRC Codes

In the city I’ll be working in, they follow International Residency Code, or IRC. IRC requires:

a permanent foundation,
a main room of 120 sq ft or more,
every other room (including bath?) to be 70 sq ft or more.

Total requirement: 190 minimum or 260 with a bedroom. I believe that’s within the realm of possibilities, especially when I was considering 300-400 sq ft.

The most interesting part of my day? My chiropractor has looked into Tumbleweed tiny houses, himself. My director and his wife are considering a very small home (less than 700 sq ft). Apparently, the idea of living small is getting BIG!

Things to watch for when purchasing land

I’m learning. There are things to look out for when purchasing land for a small house. So far I’ve learned:

Call the city  and county. Ensure that what you want to do is within code.
Talk to the locals. Find out whether they are agreeable with small space living. They can make things very good for you or very bad, depending on their perspective. Especially in a smaller community.
Call the county appraiser. Find out what the taxes on a small house on a permanent foundation will be. Insist on getting a direct answer. Who wants to pay $1800/year on a 300 square foot house? That’s about what I got into today.

Appraisals are strange things. For a property to be appraised correctly, there have to be other properties to compare it to. If there are none, some counties seem to consider what you paid to build it and what other small properties are valued at, no matter their age. Others consider what other NEW CONSTRUCTION buildings are appraised at, irregardless of size. Mill levy variations will also have a huge impact on the taxes, of course. And those vary city by city and even by location within a city/county.

The city I almost bought in taxes a home built in 1900 at over $700 a year, while in  the next county over, the tax on the same property would be around $400 a year. The difference in lot price? $2000. And properties in the area with lower taxes sell better and people are more agreeable to a small house lifestyle, too.

Building codes also vary vastly by area. Some counties are more accepting of alternatives like composting toilets. Some require minimum housing square footage, while others say that the house can be any size, but the bathroom or bedrooms have to be a certain square footage. (It’s simple to avoid the requirement on bedroom square footage: simply don’t have one. Use an alcove or build a “walk in closet” or loft and just wait until after the inspection to place furniture where you want it.)  If a county won’t accept a plan, talk to a city in the county. If neither will accept a plan, talk to the next county or city over. Generally codes decisions are local in the midwest, not statewide.

And then there’s the land itself. Is it stable? How far down is bedrock? Do foundations crack often in the area? What type of foundation would be best? Has the land ever flooded? (Flooding indicates two things: unstable ground for foundations and a potential for future flooding.) If you want any on-grid utilities, are they near enough to make access less expensive? Are any public utilities required by the city/county? Are any off-grid options banned? Are there trees that will interfere with foundations later, or is the land already cleared? What was the land last used for, and what sort of preparation will it need for a permanent foundation? Can gray water be used for irrigation?

What other things should be watched for?

House hunting some more

The $7500 property has two foundations. The “house” doesn’t sit on either of them. I can see daylight through the roof where an addition was improperly added. There is no insulation at all.

By the time I invest in a decent building, even doing much of the work myself and/or repurposing as much of the current structure as I can, I will still not be able to justify the cost. And I need a house now, not in 12 months or more. I debated buying the lots anyway (at a very reduced price) and living there for the summer while I worked on something more suitable, but then I’m 30 miles from the house and that isn’t responsible or efficient.

Other properties I’ve looked at are also in very poor condition. They are also way too large.

There is a developer who will consider a tiny house development. But all houses would be hooked to the grid and would have to be built by a licensed construction company. And the lots are too expensive, too.


There is a house built in 1900 that is for sale by owner. It has it’s issues, but it’s only 734 sq ft including the attic, which had been turned into a room. I don’t know what the downstairs footage is, but I’m guessing 660 or so. It’s still too big, but it’s already built, the foundation is decent, I could move in quickly, and I’ll probably end up spending on it about what I’d spend on a tiny or small new construction house. So I placed an offer. I’ll close the attic space off, which means I’ll still be reducing by two-thirds for now, and will still have the opportunity to reduce more later when I have the time to build.

I’m sad. I wanted to get a tiny house now. But it doesn’t seem like the timing is right yet, after all.

The house hunt, continuing saga

The land I was hoping for IS available. And apparently is adjacent to the town’s much used railroad tracks.

I am going to look at a 488 sq ft house on Monday. It’s $7500, and I will probably buy it because buying it and living there awhile is much cheaper to buy it than it is to build something and then find out what I built is either too small or too large. Coming from about 1920 sq ft (including the basement) I believe experimenting with space in a small low-priced home for at least six months would be wise.


I’m beginning to believe that 400 sq ft might be a little to large. I’m considering 300 now. And I’m discovering that more and more of my friends are considering downsizing, themselves. Now, I hear, “Mary, did you realize that there’s a small house movement? That there are people living in less space and they’re saving money that way and having more time for activities they’d enjoy? I looked around and realized I don’t even use a third of my house for living!” Hmmm… yes, as a matter of fact, I have. What amazes me is that I’m hearing this from people who’ve been living in 2000-3000 sq ft and others who’ve been living in 800-1000.

It’s not the amount of floor space a person has, but what they do with it, how it’s laid out,  and how efficient it is.