Category Archives: Living large… small

blogs about small space living, reducing clutter, and donating/recycling

Social Infrastructure
We value self-sufficiency, but community is also important. It’s one of the things I value about the small house movement: although we tend to be very self-sufficient, we have also tend to be more socially connected to those around us.

People have worried about small house safety. However, several small houses in community could actually be safer because people know each other. According to the link above, social infrastructure is at least as important as physical infrastructure in natural disasters and during climate change. How important? In two very similar communities in a 1995 Chicago heat wave, in the community where no one knew anyone, 33 people in every 100,000 died. In the neighboring community, with it’s coffee shops, laundromats and shops, only THREE people in every 100,000 died. Following those communities for the next years, researchers have discovered that the people in the second neighborhood, all things else similar, also tended to live five years longer than those in the first neighborhood.

How important is community to you? Will a small house help grow that community?


Deprived or Fulfilled?

“You don’t have a stove? I could never…!” someone recently responded to my statement. No, I don’t have a stove. No, not everyone would want to relinquish that item. For me it has been freeing. Yes, I cook. And I enjoy it immensely more now that I don’t have a stove and oven to clean.

It’s the difference of perspective that makes me feel fulfilled and someone else deprived if there is no stove or less floor space. Honestly, I’ve reacted in much the same way when others mentioned things they did without… things like extra dishes (only one cup?!?! What about company?) or only three pairs of shoes (I need work boots, dress boots, work shoes, dress shoes, business shoes, and comfy shoes because of a variety of diverse activities) or a sawdust toilet (ewww!). Thankfully, one thing I’ve noticed about the small house movement, the green movement, the simplistic movement, and the eco-friendly movements is that they all tend to accept and even respect others’ different perspectives. As a result, we learn from each other and glean some ideas we can incorporate into our own lifestyles.

Those I’ve talked to about my stovelessness have often gotten a far away look for a moment and then admitted they only use two burners usually, or that crockpots are their favorite cooking appliances. Those who wouldn’t dream of living in 300 square feet have admitted that they could do with less… less stuff and less space. And in listening to them, I’ve admitted that I could waste less, recycle more, use more green energy, and live more simply even in a larger space.

Admittedly, one of the best benefits of living smaller for me has been learning to eat better. Less plastic and single serving containers. (They take up space). More fresh fruits and vegetables. More whole grains. (They don’t have to be refridgerated.) I didn’t get involved in the small house movement to learn how to eat, but a little more simplicity here, a little less space in the fridge, a few comments about plastics, and I decided to try different food choices. How surprising to find I enjoyed fresh foods more, and that they took only minutes longer to prepare!

What have you learned from others’ perspectives in the small house or similar movements?

New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions. Those horrid things that we do to self-evaluate at year’s end and then feel guilty about when we bomb a week later. Grandiose plans that this year will be different, this year will be better, this year, somehow…

I don’t do resolutions. But I do plan.

I plan this year:
To live free of clutter.
That when I find something that doesn’t make me smile and doesn’t immediately benefit me in some way I’ll simply get rid of it.
That I will no longer hold onto things because “someday…” but will get rid of them because today, this year, I don’t need them.
That when I have something that would bring someone else joy but brings me none, I will give it to them, so that we may both smile more in the giving.
To live more simply.
To live more deliberately.
To eat healthier foods from healthier, less wasteful packaging… or no packaging at all when possible, since the healthiest foods have no packaging but their own skins anyway.
To dream more.
To worry less.
To do more, see more, believe more. To accumulate more happiness, freedom, peace, laughter, and joy. To live, and live fully.

More Donations

I downsized once. Now I’m downsizing again. Not much, not as radically, but still reducing more. Some things are slated for my family-actually most things at this point. Pressure cookers, for instance, that they will use for canning. (Since I don’t have a stove, we will share that adventure, with me doing more of the preparation work and them doing the final canning process, although I do have an electric pressure cooker for minor canning needs.)

I suppose I’ve been downsizing all summer and into the winter, really. I haven’t bought more than a can or two of food for months because I’m eating down what I had hoarded away-which has also had a lovely affect on my food bills. My grocery average is less than $50/month.

Today it was clothes yet again. I’ve stuck to my pattern of getting rid of something if I buy something, but since I’d cleaned house in the summer and wasn’t sure what I’d be wearing through the winter yet, I kept more than I should have. At this point in the winter I know what I will and won’t be wearing, and so more things had to go. There are still more clothes in this house than any one person should own, but since some are business clothes, some are chore clothes, and some are weekend clothes, some are winter and some are summer, I’d say the six drawers and a 3′ closet isn’t a bad number… especially considering that less than a year ago I had over 16′ of closet space full plus 10 drawers (at least).

The downsize has been incredible. I love having less stuff, and look forward to moving into something smaller and reducing even more. Out of all of it, I’ve still only missed maybe four things. Very fleetingly.

Hurdles, Hoops, and Setbacks

Before I bought the land, I got estimates for tearing down the fire damaged house that’s on it. I failed to check references, though, or written quotes. That’s going to hurt, because now the estimates are MORE THAN DOUBLE what the original estimate was, at least from the reputable companies. The less reputable ones are now indicating cash upfront or don’t want to put anything in writing. Lesson learned.

At this point I’m considering either going home for a week and tearing off siding and removing windows myself, then either getting a new (hopefully lower) quote or tearing off shingles and pulling insulation and sheetrock out as well and then calling the fire department and torching it where it stands, then hauling off the ashes. Another fire and a new foundation would cost less than the demolition charges I’m being quoted. A new foundation would probably be a good thing, anyway, since I’m planning to be there for several decades.

The insurance company wants pictures of the buildings currently on the property, too. Within a week. That could be a little… difficult.

Still, the appliances should be gone now. Any that are left next week will go to the neighbor for scrap. Appliances scrap there for $185/ton. I’m hoping the guy who wanted them took them all. For me it wouldn’t have even been worth the gas-he might have made $80 after cleaning out and loading a deep freeze, fridge, two stoves, a microwave, and a dishwasher.

After living in this old rental house the last few days in the sudden cold, I’ve decided radiant floor heat needs to be a strong consideration in whatever I do. And with the fiscal cliff looming, off grid heating if possible.

Clearing Land

I spent quite a bit of Christmas out at the new land since it’s near family and I’m generally much further away. People probably got very tired of hearing me talk about it, but it’s been an experience. The people who lived in the house that burned down had a very different lifestyle than mine. And so I spent a few hours familiarizing myself with what would need to be done, what could be salvaged, what should be recycled.

Anyone reading this should know first of all that I currently live six hours from this property. I may be the only one in America right now who is a little excited about the possibility of being laid off, but it does appear that I may be told that funding has decreased and my position is no longer supported soon. This land has kept me from a lot of frustration, because if I do get laid off, I have something to look forward to and time to do it. I do worry some about what will happen if I lose the job, but the hopes for the land and house keep things in perspective, and gives me an outlet.

This weekend was one of the only weekends I will be able to be at the property for the next few months. The massive amount of salvage and recycling that should be done would keep me busy for a week or more. As I said earlier, the family who lived there had a much different lifestyle than me. When the house burned, they left… games and clothes on hangars in the closets, dishes (all plastics) in the dishwasher, food in the refridgerator and freezers, towels in the cabinets, bath soaps and shampoos in the bathroom, books in good condition on book shelves, unmarred videos in their cases… furniture that was salvageable, appliances… glass bottles and beverage cans are strewn outside, along with dirty diapers, mattresses, now rusty tools, more videos, and clothes… The intentional waste shocked me. It also troubled me. What could I do in a matter of hours to right some of that wrong?

After considering the situation overnight, the next morning I was ready to get to work. I started with the books, knowing they didn’t even smell of smoke and had no water damage. There were probably 30-40 pounds of books, at least. I loaded them into pillowcases that I’d stripped off the pillows still on the bed. They were donated to a local thrift store that isn’t likely to throw them away and donates their profits to a local charity. So was the complete crib set that was crated and sitting in the shed, nowhere near the fire. As I loaded them, a man drove by and stopped. He asked if he could have the appliances for scrap. I gladly said yes. He also offered to take a load of paint buckets and paints and any other scrap he could find, and offered to run up an estimate on tearing the house down, salvaging any boards and cedar siding he can-more for himself, but again a hearty YES.

And so on day one of my work on the property, I donated more weight than in my entire personal downsizing effort. As an added benefit, some of that came with new friends (friends with skill, tractors, brushhogs, and backhoes) and free labor. It was a very profitable day, and the new friends seemed to think so as well.

The second work day (the only other day I had to work on the property this weekend), Dad came with me. Dad isn’t fond of this two acres or of a small house. I’d hoped he and I would be able to work together on it, building memories along with a home, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the case. Still, while I loaded everything that looked salvageable out to the shed (except a metal bunk bed that the man will probably scrap and a dresser that was too heavy to lift over the damaged floor safely), Dad took down the wooden bifold shutters. He saved six to eight pairs, plenty to add character to a very small house. I also cleaned up some things in the yard and salvaged a good number of DVDs that had been left in the muddy yard in stacks. They were overgrown with grass, but the DVDs themselves still play. As we finished, a neighbor came over and asked if he could have some old logs for firewood. I was grateful to have them gone as well-one of those logs would have heated my house way too hot for way too long. They were large pieces I wouldn’t have wanted to dealt with, pieces that would need to be split into fireplace wood. He also offered to take any appliances the other man didn’t.

There’s still probably a few hundred pounds of stuff that could be recycled. I cringe at that, and have debated which would be less harmful to the environment, taking a 12 hour round trip road trip to drive it to the recycling center or allowing it to go to the dump. I suspect the dump would, in this case, have less environmental impact than that trip. (My parents are much closer, but can’t understand my enthusiasm for recycling and would see it as a wasted and costly trip.) I’ll at least wait to go back or send them up until I find out exactly how much my new acquaintance is willing to scrap. Maybe he’ll want the appliances and TVs, computer and microwave. I certainly hope so. In the meantime I’m excited about the amount of work that was done this weekend in such a short amount of time, and the amount that I could save of what was inside.

KwH energy

I just read that the average household uses 958 KwH of electricity a month. In November I used 50. And yes, I double checked, that was for the month. I’m not really sure how I’d use 500, much less nearly 1000. No wonder when I converted to the new curly bulbs it didn’t affect my bill.

That usage hasn’t changed terribly much from when I was living in a larger space. It’s kind of hard to know exactly why, but I have a few guesses:
I don’t generally use the oven.
I live alone (so I control what lights are on or off).
I don’t watch much TV or many videos (though I do spend a lot of time on the computer).
I can only find six outlets in my house, and that doesn’t really bother me.
I don’t run the air conditioner unless the temperature is over 85-90, and then normally just to cool the house off. I don’t run it all night hardly ever.
I don’t own a dryer… although I would like to some of these days. But when I do, since I only wash 2-3 loads a week, there isn’t that much drying time. And when I move, I want a clothesline more than a dryer.

I’m not as old as I’ll sound with what I’m about confess, but my parents never owned a microwave until I’d graduated college. We never had cable or a VCR. And the thing is, because I never had them, I never really missed them. I didn’t own a TV until I was almost 40. There just didn’t seem to be a need. Even now, the set I have is used only to play old VHS tapes. I watch DVDs on my computer. And lights… other people’s houses seem way too bright at night. When I wind down it’s with candlelight or 40-60 watts.

Want to know a secret? I don’t miss a single KwH I’m not using.

The Septic, continued…

I had someone meet the septic inspector today, and things turned out better than inspected. It *nearly* passes! It will take $1500-$2500 worth of work to get it perfect, we think, but that’s not out of reason, and some would have to be done anyway-for instance, I knew the pipe from the house to the tank would probably have to be replaced, especially if I changed the location of the house at all.

And so really and truly I should have land very soon. Then the real work begins.


Two acres, 8 miles from a good sized town, 5 miles from a smaller one. Flat, with a severely fire damaged house on it right now.

The next weeks will be interesting as I find out more about any septic repairs, arrange to have the house burned completely down or┬átorn down for scrap, have the foundation examined and measured to see if my small house will fit on a part of it with minor adjustments, move the cabin to the land, and decide if I want to build or simply live in the cabin, at least for awhile. In the spring there will be lots of landscaping to do. There’s a tree to try to save as the current house is demolished. There’s some brush hogging to do, and new concrete to pour probably as well.

I looked in several areas, but the area I purchased the land in holds a couple attractions: I’ll be close to my aging parents, the land is reasonably priced, utilities are already on the site, it’s on blacktop near a major highway, and because the land will need clean up and landscaping, I can restore it to natural habitat rather than destroying habitat to build on virgin land.

The location isn’t perfect. I’ll keep watching for something closer to jobs. And watch more closely for jobs closer to this land. Still, having a home and land again is exciting.