Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gifts, Thefts, and New House Guests

I'm back from spring break, but obviously a bit behind in my week. Oh, the game of catching up! Not that I was doing all that much to distract myself- I spent much of my week nestled in my loft watching the snow fall. And fell down a mountain trying to ski in New Hampshire, of course.

Given the wintry nature  of mid-March this year, my break wasn't quite conducive to the home-improvement fiesta I'd planned in my head. I didn't end up installing a grey-water system, building window boxes, scrounging up more inside seating or any of that business. Soon enough, though, a girl from one of my classes wants to install a grey-water system. I'm very, very excited, and glad to be able collaborate with students from other disciplines.

Since I've returned, I've spent almost all of my time in the house trying to crank out a couple more pieces of writing- my college career is swiftly drawing to a close, and I can hardly believe it. Good thing I've been at home so much, though- otherwise I might not have gotten the chance to watch someone very casually steal my bike from the side of my house today.

Yup. It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in, and I probably wouldn't have even noticed without my hawk-eyed boyfriend. Luckily, I filed a report with campus police and they managed to retrieve it within 20 minutes. Crazy. I guess I never thought anyone would bother stealing such a crappy bike. So if you have a tiny house on a college campus, make sure to lock your bike up, even if it's cheap and shabby. I went ahead and popped mine in the house for the meantime.

I've had so many wonderful gifts come my way lately that I probably would have just shrugged off the theft after a few hours of anger. When I got back from my weekend of skiing, I had a lovely gift waiting for me: a maple leaf from Vermont pressed into a glass window hanging. So wonderful! I'm sorry I missed you, kind friend! I'll answer your questions very soon : )

For every piece of criticism or incidence of bike thievery  I've had about ten times as much encouragement and generosity, and I'm so grateful. Thanks to all of you that have kept me afloat with your positiveness- lately, I've had a visitor just about every day, which has been lovely. I'm heading home next week for a stretch, but after that I'll post some distinct visitor times, so you make sure I'm here (and fully clothed) when you come by.

In other news, my ferret is temporarily taking up residence in the tiny house. For those that ever thought about having a weird little pet in a tiny house, feel free to ask me questions. It's worked out super well, surprisingly. He seems happy enough, and now I have a reason to stay in even more than usual.

I imagine things will get easier as the weather gets warmer- I'm excited to start doing dishes outside, hopefully with rainwater, and to eat my meals at a picnic table. Until then, I'm staying cozy. A few weeks ago, I did purchase a very small space heater from Target to supplement my propane. The brand is Vornado, and it's pretty tiny- it looks like a little fan. 

For $30, it actually works amazingly well, and is very portable- I drag it around the house depending on where I need warmth most urgently. I've even had days where the fireplace stays completely off. People have walked in and complained about being too hot, for once, which is awesome.

Now that Ferret Bueller is watching over the place, I use the little heater to warm up his kennel at night. I think it's had a kind of crazy sedative-like effect on him, as he now spends roughly 23.5 hours a day sleeping in all kinds of adorable positions.

I'll leave you with that image for now, and get on with my school work: I've got a big cup of coffee and a whole lot of Elvis Costello to get me through the rest of the day.

 More to come soon. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Radio Bit

Sorry for the lack of action lately- I'm spring breakin' and preparing for a number of big old academic deadlines. Back soon! But in the meantime, check out these few minutes of tiny house stuff on NEPR:

Morning Edition Extra, March 22, 2013 at around 8 minutes in.

They even pronounced my name right! I think I like radio fame more than anything else so far.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Big Day for Tiny Life!

It was a crazy day. Two very important pieces went up on the internet: one was on the FRONT PAGE of the Boston Globe (sometimes they won't let you read it if you're not a subscriber  it's also in print if you're in the area).

The other was completely irrelevant, written by me, and about moustaches. But you should all check out Switchboard Magazine, so I'm linking to it.

Also, I got an eye-exam. Turns out I'm near sighted.

Anyway, it was cool to be famous, and too see my name in print. It was extra cool to see Larry Archie and Deb Gorlin get some shout outs. But the best part of my day was facilitating a class with two other students...about housing!

I'm a part of a really cool class called Environment and Community. Each week, three students facilitate a 3 hour class on a topic of their choosing: so far, we've talked about things like water sources, agriculture, and consensus building.

Naturally, I couldn't avoid throwing my whole life into things: I chose housing. I was lucky to find two other amazing ladies in my class who had shared interests.

We spent the first part of class writing and talking about our varying senses of home, and what they meant in a larger context. One of the articles I shared with the class is particularly fitting when it comes to tiny house talk: Ellen Pader is an awesome awesome scholar who writes about things like occupancy standards. If you ever get a chance, check out some of her stuff.  For many of the students, this was the first time they'd questioned engrained ideas about how many people belong in one bedroom. We talked a ton about privacy, ownership, and other vague terms I'm too lazy to expound on.

The second half involved a field trip to the tiny house and a shelter building activity in a small patch of woods.

It was fun to play with sticks, and  was very cool to be able to incorporate my living arrangement into my class. Plus, with all these visits, I've really had to keep my house clean. 

Oh, and speaking of housekeeping, today was also a big day because I got curtains. Really, I went to Salvation Army and got what I think is supposed to be a table runner, then cut it into 6 curtain shapes. Hopefully, I'll be able to get into crazy-work-zone now that no one can see me. At least from the one side of the house...I ran out of table runner.

More soon, guys. Thanks for all the positive energy- you keep me going! 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tiny Lockout

Well, it happened. I locked my key inside the house. So many "if only" laments and people to blame; so little point in listing them. What's done is done, and now it's up to me, some string, a credit card, and a magnet or two to figure it out. I spent the night house sitting with a friend and some adorable animals, and now I'm just getting my coffee and internet on in the student cafe, and THEN I'll head out in the rain and figure it out. Stay tuned, locals. I may need to use your couch.

At least this is the first real crisis, and it's probably actually a good sign that it's so hard to break into my house. It's been a few more days of tiny life, and I'm still happy to report that I'm still happy, provided that I can regain access to my clothes and food. Not once has the house felt too small, too cluttered, or too...warm. Luckily, spring is on its way, and I'm finally getting to the point where I don't have to leave the heater running all of the time. Rain, too, can have very pleasant effects in a tiny house, like making me feel cozy and dry and poetic.

Lately, I've been hiding away in the loft quite a bit. It's an ideal place to get writing done. I'm isolated enough to concentrate, but next to a couple of sizable windows. I'm generally warm up there, surrounded by blankets, and I have a little wooden lap desk that I use for my laptop so as not to crush my legs. It's always tempting to drift off after a while, but for the most part I resist. 

What am I writing, you might ask? Currently, I'm working on a long-winded "domestic autobiography" of sorts. I've been interviewing my mom, the internet, and myself about the history of our house in suburban Chicago. It's an interesting way to further develop my perspective on the tiny house, as well as common ideas regarding home ownership and personal property.

Boring, right?

Well, that's all for today. I'm having an open house on Sunday, and a very exciting interview tomorrow, so I'll keep you posted.

Be well,


If you were wondering, the wonderful folks at Hampshire's facilities and grounds saved the day once again. It wasn't easy, but I'm inside again. And I'm never leaving. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Welcome Home, Again.

A brief recap: for the last 6 or so months, I kept a blog about various housing across the US. I drove my mom's trusty Prius from Chicago to New Mexico to Maine, with plenty of stops in between. When I felt sane enough, or crazy enough, I wrote about some of the things I saw.

Since returning to school, however, my beloved blog has quickly gone stale. After much deliberation, I've decided to start anew. Recently, I've moved into a tiny house on my campus full time, and have temporarily ceased my restless physical exploration of this country's housing. This blog will take a more focused approach on one specific form of alternative housing- the tiny kind.

It's been 6 days since I moved all of my suitcases, blankets and backpacks into a beautiful, 130ish square foot house on my college campus. The house, on loan to me from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, was built in Wisconsin. It traveled briefly to Boneyard Studios in Washington DC, but had since returned home to Wisconsin- what a crazy thing to know the traveling history of a house!

Anyway, during my drive around the country, I often found myself lamenting all the unoccupied houses in this country. I was particularly affected by homes that are in perfectly good condition yet sit unsold. I've long been inspired by artistic endeavors that expose this discrepancy,  like the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

As I was preparing to return to Hampshire after a semester of field study, it occurred to me that I should take the opportunity to practice what I preach, so to speak. A friend suggested, probably jokingly, that I live in a tiny house on campus. With a little encouragement from my incredible advisers  I started taking the joke seriously.

Initially, I decided I was going to build one over January. It seemed feasible enough- my boyfriend had a large barn in Maine and all the power tools I could possibly need. I figured I would gather scraps and just nail something semi-functional onto a trailer. The prospect of practicing construction for the first time in the bitter cold, however, was daunting, and I eventually developed a new approach. 

Surely, there had to be an unoccupied tiny house I could make use of in an innovative way. Of course, I was totally unaware of the Wisconsin Fencl when I first contacted Tumbleweed. In fact, I contacted a number of people in the tiny house community, pretty much willing to accept any level of support.

Ultimately, Tumbleweed was the only company to respond. Lucky me. After some negotiation, we struck a deal: I'd use my writing skills and status as a student to open up communication with a younger crew, while sharing my experiences with the larger tiny house community.

Several months later, my Fencl arrived. Getting it here was time consuming and exhausting, not to mention expensive: everything a sane human might expect from trying to transport a house in the middle of a New England winter. Finally, thanks to a determined trucking company and an incredible crew of Hampshire superheroes, I wake up gazing out a skylight at the Holyoke Mountain Range.  

Though it's been less than a week, I've found that I've been quick to make some not-so-tiny adjustments. Despite being in the middle of a residential area of campus, I don't have water, plumbing, or very much heat in my house. Sometimes I get intermittent internet, which is really slow and pleasantly reminds me of my dial-up youth. It takes much, much longer to figure out basic answers, and definitely makes me realize that internet is another resource I don't want to exploit, even if the impact is less obvious. 

Still, overall the level of luxury the Fencl provides is astounding- to be honest, I'd hoped to "redefine" my ideas of housing by living in something akin to a shack, romantically returning to old ways and engaging in somewhat heroic sacrifice in my daily life. I'd pictured reading by candlelight, heating my house with recycled oil (french fry smells everyday, hallelujah) and so on. To have something that feels much more like a sophisticated cabin is at once comforting and guilt-inducing- everyday I use Hampshire's electricity instead of working on obtaining solar power I feel a little less proud. 

I've found that it can be difficult to explain exactly what my hopes are for this project. Are tiny houses an end-all answer to college housing? Not necessarily- I'm a huge advocate of shared space and shared resources, when it comes down to it. It makes sense to have college apartments. But I think there's immense value in also providing alternatives. I often think of the University of Santa Cruz's camper park, a residential option for students that involves owning their own space while also sharing in communal resources. There are so many benefits to this model, including the ability to practice artistic expression, develop responsibility for personal space, and have say over resource usage and lifestyle.
Soon-to-graduate students like myself will be the next crowd to sweep cities worldwide, looking for apartments and house shares and anything they can afford. I hope to reach a small group of these people with this project, opening up a dialogue about truly living within one's means and the sacrifices that may entail- I live in fear of another generation of debt-holding, foreclosures, and over-consumption.  Meanwhile, I'm working on my own ideas about materialism and luxury. So far, the less I have, the easier my life becomes. I'll keep checking back, on that one. 

Ok, enough. Sorry for the overly academic tone....back in that mode.  

Stay tuned,