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, 



  1. Hi I love your house. What kind of toilet is that? Are you running your house off a plug in electric. The heater I use keeps my house at 65 and barley increased the electric bill. I live in a Tiny House in Alexandria NH. We have no zoning laws in Alexandria. Everyone knows I am here and supports it! So when your done with college this could be an area to consider. My mil will be renting out her 60 acre lot. Love the house!

  2. Hi! It's a regular low-flush RV toilet, and I'm actually not currently using it. I'm working on developing a composting toilet right now with a group of students. I am using an electric plug in, but my heater is propane. What kind of electric heater do you have? Thanks for the tips- I'd love to see a picture of your tiny house!