I just got back from Safeway with a full freezer worth of free, day-old, “compost” bagels. I’m guessing that’s legalese for “don’t sue us if these make you sick” though they don’t look in the least bit sickening.
As I walked home with that slightly precarious load tied onto my grocery trailer, I got to thinking about the kind of life I want to live and how my tiny house will play into that. Intercepting a year’s supply of bagels on their way to the landfill is certainly consistent with my goal of making smaller environmental footprints, but what other tenets are important to me?
Google “tiny house lifestyle” and you’ll get over 20,000 hits, but is there really such a thing? Some talk about living in a tiny house for the mental health benefits of limiting one’s possessions, others for the improved ecological sustainability, the financial savings, the career freedom, or the geographic mobility. I care about all of those factors, but some are more important to me than others and they all mean something slightly different to me than they would to someone else. More to the point, discovering what my personal tenets are has been the most important step in my tiny house design process. After all, form follows function.
I’m not a die-hard dumpster diver. If nothing else I don’t have the time to check every promising dumpster in town several times a week in order to feed myself. I am an opportunistic food scavenger. Because today’s accidental bread hoard discovery is actually a pretty common scenario for me, my tiny house plan includes a chest freezer that’s twice the size of my fridge where I’ll be able to store all my rescued food-stuffs. Preventing waste is important to me.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a 10C/50F house. A few extra layers keep me plenty warm and I have a small space heater that can add a few degrees to the room I’m in if my fingers get too stiff to type (unfortunately gloves and typing don’t go together…). Since having to get used to much colder temperatures while living in a house with poor insulation and no central heating, I’ve discovered that 10C/50F makes for a nice compromise with minimal fuel use, no frozen pipes, and good personal comfort. Similarly, six months living in Cairo, Egypt, with no air conditioning made me realise my body is quite capable of acclimatizing to anything up to about 40C/104F (Cairo got to 49C/120F and that proved a bit much!). In fact, not having A/C made life overall much more comfortable as going outside was not a shock to the system. My tiny house will have no A/C and only minimal heating because, for me, that’s an easy way to cut my energy usage without compromising comfort. For some others I expect it would be a pretty good description of hell!
If my family had a motto, it would probably be “do it yourself”. If something breaks it gets thoroughly disassembled and jerry-rigged before buying a replacement is even considered. If something can be made from scratch, buying it would be almost blasphemous (case in point being the hot-tub my dad built when I was a kid for which everything from the actual tub to the water heater was designed and built by him). So, quite aside from the budget considerations, that I would build my own tiny house rather than purchase one ready-made was a foregone conclusion from the start. Furthermore, my dad and I will be constructing our own air-to-air heat exchanger, solar water heater, solar air heater, solar panels, composting toilet, etc. from scratch as well. I mean, why buy something when you can enjoy the challenge and educational experience of building it yourself, right?! I’m sure division of labor economists wouldn’t agree, but efficiency and happiness aren’t the same thing.
Finally, I want to touch on probably the most important driving tenet behind my tiny house design, the importance of family and community. Where many talk about tiny houses as ideal for single people, I came to them because I want to raise my family in a space which promotes community and de-emphasizes consumerism and personal property. In a lot of ways my childhood was the rural ideal that you read about in old British children’s books. Weekend days were spent exploring and building forts or improvised bike ramp courses with friends. Weekend evenings all our families gathered for dinner, bonfires, games, and conversation – usually at our house as the old farmhouse kitchen there made for an excellent community hub.
I still remember my parents asking me at age 8 whether we should get a TV and I couldn’t think of why we would want one. To this day I still can’t. But the clearest memories I have of my childhood are of that kitchen, full of people cooking, eating, playing cards, or just talking together. So, besides not having a TV, my tiny house will have a large, inviting kitchen. There will be enough counter-space for 3 cooks, enough oven and stove space to feed a small army, and a direct door onto a deck with seating enough for 12 (the indoor table seats 6 for winter and bad weather). About 2/3 of my tiny house is kitchen and everything else is designed around that because living in community is the “tiny house lifestyle” I want.
So what are your tiny house tenets? If you’ve built already, how did you make them work in your tiny house? If you’re still in the planning stages, what are you trying to incorporate? Please share in the comments!