Monthly Archives: September 2012
This article isn’t about small houses, but it is.
Some things I knew to plan into my own small house-fewer windows on the sides facing north and west, good windblocks on those sides, shade trees on the east and south, a smaller space with the quality I want, spaces that combine into several functions. What I did NOT realize is that a square house takes less materials to build than a rectangular house. I also hadn’t considered lumber sizes into my plans. When considering whether to build an 8×11 or an 8×12 building, an 8×12 will use the same lumber. An 8×13? Out of the question. Boards don’t come in 13 feet lengths.
And if I don’t want a square house? No problem. But I don’t plan on moving mine, so a square is fine. A square with a nice wrap around deck covered by an overhanging roof and lined with pretty pillars? Even better.
What size? I’m not sure yet. A 20×20 would give me 400 feet of space. With a shed or garage, I think that would be more than enough. Do boards come in 20 foot lengths? Maybe a 16×16 would work just as well… (Actually most lumber does come in up to 24′ lengths, it appears.)
I’m rich. Not by American standards, not by far. That’s not what this is about-not the accumulation of stuff and the bigger and bigger stuff, but something else.
Standing in the kitchen this morning finally unpacking the last of the food and cooking breakfast, I couldn’t find my spatula. A few months ago I had five or more. Now I don’t know what I did with the one I kept. My first thought wasn’t panic. (Actually my first thought was to make due with another utensil.) My second thought was, “If I can’t find it, I can always just buy one.” That’s when it hit me. I’m rich.
Not because of what I have, but because I no longer worry from day today if I’ll have enough stuff or if I should get something more. If I need something I can buy it. If I don’t need something, I enjoy life without it.
When I graduated college, oh… a couple decades ago, I constantly worried that I could accumulate enough, that I would never have to pay full price for an item, that I could save money that way. That is so very, very far from the truth, that concept of accumulating more to save. Where did it come from? Family genetics. Hopefully I’ve mutated enough that it won’t be a problem in the future. I used to spend several hundred dollars a year collecting things I didn’t need so that I would save money on their eventual purchase. And then I put them away and never used them. Not once.
If I’d saved that $200-300/year on things that simply got in my way and frustrated me but were never used, I would have saved $40,000-60,000, thrown away half (or more) as much stuff, and been happier and healthier, too. And now… now I’m rich. Not by accumulating all those years, but by finally getting rid of the accumulation. My wealth is no longer measured by what I have. I haven’t fulfilled the “American dream”, I suppose. Actually, I think I packed it and donated it with everything else. And I don’t miss it, either.
I have been pleased that I got rid of a ton of stuff. But I was recently shocked to learn that most people throw away about a ton of stuff a year! I laughed as I realized I wouldn’t make headlines for cleaning out a ton of stuff, when others send that much to the dump in a year.
I wonder how much trash I throw away in a year. Generally it’s 1-3 plastic grocery bags of stuff a week. Another 1-2 of recycling, at least during this downsizing process. That would be… 10-15 pounds? That’s about 500-600 pounds of trash a year. Too much, but only a fourth of what apparently is considered average in America.
So I’m now considering a new challenge: I want to get to a point where I know I only take 10 pounds a week to the trash. Then less if possible. Not by simply refusing to throw things away, and not by rethinking what could be donated or recycled since I already do that. This I will need to do by rethinking what I buy and choosing items with less packaging whenever possible and shopping more wisely for food. (I rent, so I can’t compost. Food waste is a large portion of my trash weight each month.) I don’t know how it will work. But then, I didn’t think I could get rid of a ton of stuff, either. But I did… and more.
Hmmm… perhaps I could find someone who composts…
I’m several months into living in 600 square feet and two weeks after selling my big house. Cleaning the kitchen this morning, I laughed when I realized it doesn’t even seem strange not to own a stove. I forget I don’t have one and don’t see a reason to ever own one again. People have been shocked, saying they cook too much to not have a stove. I cook too. But I cook in electric pots and skillets and in the toaster oven. For a family, I’d need a stove. For myself, what I now have is more efficient and effective. If anything, I’d buy one more electric pot.
What else have I missed? Hardwood floors. The woods behind the big house. My own yard. Having a garden. Owning more than one closet. Having a garage. Well, I never did have a garage. But I want one and have decided that I definitely want one when I get my tiny house. I want a work area for my tools and a place for my bicycle. And I don’t want to chisel ice off a car in the winter ever again. Also, garages can legally be messy. The idea of owning a space that no one expects to be clean or organized is very appealing. A stopping place for stuff that comes in, until I can put it away, also sounds great.
There are more things I’ve regretted getting than that I’ve regretted getting rid of. That extra laundry detergent that was on sale months ago. The canned goods that fill two cabinets and I’m not really even interested in eating now. Extra shampoo and cleaning supplies that now clutter my space but once were divided between rooms. I used to see buying in bulk as a very good thing. Now I see it more as an annoyance, and I’m realizing how very little it really saved me in most cases.
Have I missed anything as a result of downsizing? Did I give away anything that I regret? Not really. There are a few things I have fleeting thoughts of regret over having given away. And in a way I miss having a full size refrigerator. Not enough to get another, though. The small one costs less in electricity, my grocery bills haven’t gone up any without the larger fridge, less food is wasted when I don’t have a way to stockpile it, and I’m eating healthier since there’s no room for frozen pizzas and microwave meals.
I don’t ‘fit’ quite right in this rental. It wasn’t made for me. There are a few things I would design into a tiny house that I hadn’t thought much of: storage drawers under the bed, a better designed closet-and more than one, and more outlets-or at least outlets where they would make more sense. Eight cabinets is plenty, but these are broken down. I’d have four real cabinets, with working doors and drawers and just shelves above, and a drawer to keep paperwork in. I would, I’ve decided, keep a microwave, even if it’s not necessary.
Fancifully, I’d like chutes that sent recycling straight to a recycle bin outside. And I’ve debated making a “three car garage” with two bays becoming my house and the other staying a garage. That way the house would be expandable. The garage would block wind and help insulate the house if I put it on the north or west side. I want a pull string shower like I saw at a campground, where I just release the cord and the water stops. But I want a base that holds just a little water when I want it to.
It would be really nice if the shoe rack were built into the closet door, and when you flipped it, the winter clothes would show with winter shoes, or the summer clothes and summer shoes. But that would probably take a bit of space.
There are things that I would prefer and things I miss about owning my house. But do I miss the extra space? No. Actually, I look around and realize that I still have more than I need.
It will still take a bit longer to get rid of the extra stuff still floating around. There are still some things I’m deciding about and some things it doesn’t seem quite… normal… to get rid of. All the pots and pans for a regular stove, for instance. A stove I no longer own and never want to have again, sure, but still. And yet a little at a time, a box here and a box there, I am whittling it down. In the mean time, I can enjoy the reduced weight in my life. I tried to describe the reduction of stuff to one person today: it’s just more peaceful without it. And still, nearly 2500 pounds and four months later, I’ve only missed four things–less than 4 pounds out of 2500. Those weren’t things I rushed out to replace, just the only four things that I ever thought, oh, I wonder where that… oops, I think I donated it. What have I missed that was worth replacing? Nothing. Not one item. Kind of motivates me to go pack another box…
Today I went shopping for the first time in quite awhile. I bought a few videos. I can watch them a time or two and then donate them to the local library, who will be happy to have them. And I can always check them out if I want to watch them again after that. I bought two books. At least one of those will probably be a read and donate type book, but buying it was probably cheaper than paying the library fines that are a typical part of my library experiences.
I also bought an inverter for my laptop (rather than buying a new laptop or a new battery, because I don’t have internet at my house and my battery life is approximately 15 minutes now. The library is 5-7 minutes away, so it’s a rush to get there on time and post something after hours, even though they leave their WiFi up. And a purse to replace my threadbare one. And soap.
The shopping experience consisted of 3-4 stores including Walmart and took over four hours. I had fun, but didn’t spend very much at all, came home more than satisfied with my purchases, and kept things within reason.
I picked a few things up that I considered buying. But then I remembered I didn’t really need them, and was happy to put them down and walk off.
From the scent of smoke and the sparks coming from my juicer, there will be one more purchase in my near future…
I didn’t realize just how disorganized I was until now. I spent the night sorting through probably 30 sewing bobbins, more nails than a carpenter might have, paperclips, hairpins, staples, and junk. How many zippers does a person who only makes curtains need? I had more than a fistful.
Just gathering all this miscellaneous little stuff into one place has helped. It had been scattered all over in the big house and I didn’t realize how much of it I had until now. The little stuff just sifted down amongst the bigger stuff and hid there. Now it’s being discovered in massive quantities.
Hmmm… I think last year I used maybe 3-4 paperclips all year. Why do I have 100+?