The doors of the tiny are more open than most. So should ours be.

“Dirt used to be a badge of honor.  Dirt used to look like work.  But we’ve scrubbed the dirt off the face of work, and consequently we’ve created this suspicion of anything that’s too dirty.” -Mike Rowe

Last holiday season (that is, over a year ago), I went to Trier, Germany to see some very special people in my life for the holidays. I was gone for a total of 2 weeks and didn’t have any one staying at the tiny house, loosely considering the fact that two felines run the joint. My mother and grandmother stopped in once a day at least to feed and love on them. No problems were reported. When I arrived home, it was very, very late and I had been traveling about 34 hours straight (between bus, flight, flight, flight, shuttle, taxi). When I finally stumbled in, I noticed the floor in front of the doors (human and cat) was filthy. So was the ladder – dirt was caked on the rungs so thick it was as if my cats had a hopscotch contest in the muddiest of muds and then ran directly up the ladder as a test of their leftover springy-ness. In my jetlagged state, I shrugged it off and crawled in to bed, brushing off the dirt enough to secure a semi-clean sleep.

I woke up perhaps an hour later to a low familiar growl directed at some loud smacking and crunching coming from the food bowl. Realizing both cats were laying on me, I sprang out of bed to the sound of scuttling claws, then fur shoving out through the cat door.  I flung open the door in time to see an enormous raccoon jumping off the front porch and into the night. He came back two nights later but was promptly refused entry by both my dumbly-territorial cat and the fact that I was awake. I haven’t seen him, or his evidence, inside since.

As I was trying to get to back to sleep that first night, I realized that another unintended consequence of the tiny house being so small is that not only do I limit my own space, and that of my feline owners, but I expand the space in which I am a guest. For all I know, I invaded that raccoon’s area when I moved my tiny to where it now sits. His dirt-laid-tracks in my house should perhaps be more righty read as his re-marking his domain. In all likelihood, He was there first. While I cleaned the dirt’s traces off the wood, I’m trying hard not to erase the beauty that is being – quite literally – un-settled.

“If you’re lucky, and a building succeeds, the real product has many more dimensions than you can ever imagine. You have the sun, the light, the rain, the birds, the feel.” – Peter Zumthor

Small IS Beautiful

I just finished screening Small Is Beautiful. The documentary most certainly lives up to its name, but not in an idealized or trite-and-tidy way. The film is made by, and features, refreshingly honest and wonderfully courageous humans.
Some small, and selfish, ways the work blesses me, personally:
1) It made me think of the first time Nikki and Mitchell walked by my house that summer (2012). I was hot, overwhelmed, and most likely feigned more enthusiasm than I felt. But we chatted and now I have the pleasure of feeling like I had a small part in encouraging their beautiful build.
2) I smiled to see Proper Eats, remembering when I first moved to St Johns and the market had just opened which I took as a major indicator that I was living in the right neighborhood… the neighborhood Nikki and Mitchell would later find me in.
3) It was great to see Green Anchors and flash back to meeting Mark Fisher one day at Anna Bannanas just after he leased the land for the business. I was soooo excited for him and the project, and am absolutely thrilled to see what the property has become.
4) This documentary, and all the people in and of it, remind me that every person makes a difference – very, very literally. Further, the enormity of changes needed in the world do not fall on just one person’s shoulders. There are so, so many people doing important work everywhere. The film is an emphatic statement of this, and an enormous reminder of how to hope. To borrow from, and change, Bucky Fuller: Like us, hope is a verb.
5) The film also truly honors the complexity of the build; in each of the stories, the film treats the emotional labor happening because of, and alongside of, the building journey. This is one of the BEST features of the film… and reminds me there is so much of living in the doing, so much of the doing teaching us about the living, and so much of the teaching coming from listening; so much of listening occurring over vast stretches of time. This film allowed me to listen, three years later, to my own experiences in building.
6) One favorite moment: Karen said, “the lesson that the tiny house brings up for me is in unconscious assumptions.” Karen speaks about finding a girl sleeping in the bushes outside Karen’s place of business one morning. Karen remarks that she just said “good morning” and only later, when the girl asked if Karen was going to call the authorities, did Karen realize that the girl was doing anything “wrong.” Karen attributes this perspective-shift to living in her tiny house (called “Serenity”). I think she is right. In her words, “Suffering makes us more human.”
7) To those featured, Karen, Nikki & Mitchell, and Ben, thank you for your courageous honesty. It was so important for you all to be vulnerable enough to share your difficulties, to show how the build is inevitably about more than just constructing a tiny house.
The build, and the life, fundamentally change people (it did me). This very fact is what makes the movement so radical. And the film so beautiful.
In Ben’s words: “This house is not so much a way to escape as a way to take root.”
What an incredible blessing to be a part of this, and an even bigger blessing to watch the film from the comfort of my bed, rooted cozily in the tiny house that a community and I built – very literally from inside the house that built me.

small universes

This morning I opened Facebook to see a photo of my house in my news feed. The photo heads a radio story on tiny houses here, and reminds me how very small our world can be – in the most beautiful of ways. That smallness should not, however, betray the expansive and radical potential of the tiny house movement – something that I hope my recent chapter on tiny houses communicates. HUGE HUGS from the tiny house and her kitties and her human :)

tiny troubles, getting their due.

Portlandia (the oft cited – and frequently maligned – reason many people are flocking to Portland) will be airing a spoof of tiny living on their show this week. See the clip here. Their spoof gets at, in part, a “rub” between the romantic idea of tiny house living and the more crude realities of having to confront our shit (figurative and, ahem, literal). I take this satire as proof that not only has the tiny house movement definitively reached a level of popular mass, but also the movement is being more complexly represented. Such satire shows the movement gaining greater critical awareness, correcting some of the lapses I tried to discuss in my recent chapter.

“Status is always ripe for satire” – Stephen Colbert :)

Keep the satire sharp, people! (“when it hurts, you know it’s the right thing.” – Milk Carton Kids, a long standing musical obsession of mine)

Singing it now, April

few little lessons, long time coming.

LESSON: Never underestimate the complexity of achieving simplicity.  For me, any work on the tiny house, no matter how small, has always seemed to replace with three steps what once was only one. *that was meant to sound complicated ;) This summer’s example: a simple propane regulator replacement led me to swap the busted one with an unfortunately-recommended model which blew my stove and heater (thankfully, two different repairmen and three weeks later, Jerry’s reimbursed the $400 of service charges that the error cost. Really incredible business. Patronize it.). I didn’t get it all fixed until about a month ago. The most recent example: I have been trying to get some small remodels done on the tiny. They were minor changes I could have done myself had I had the tools and time, but I decided to holiday-gift myself the hiring out of the work. The primary changes were:

  • A new bench top, widened by 5” with a 2” lip to hold the pad in place. This was so that bench would be more comfortable for lounging and hosting
  • A moveable side for the bench so that someone could lean up against it as a couch.
  • Rewire a new light over the desk (a Christmas gift from my grandmother from a local artist in Eugene, made out of an upcycled glass jar and some solder.)
  • Move my ladder to the far side of the wall and fill in the wood holes.

First, I spent weeks trying to get someone arranged, but I finally had a contractor out three weeks ago. Despite specific instructions, I came home the day of the changes to find most every project completed poorly in some way. No need to rehash the details, but suffice to say after some brief panics, venting, and unscrewing unsanded low-grade plywood by hand, I finally called a friend for help. He was gracious and talented enough to not just fix all the problems, but better the tiny with a beautifully carved back piece for the bench that perfectly matched the interior wood of the whole house. the complexity of achieving simplicity is that it’s hard, it’s imperfect, and takes more patience than I typically have to give. but I’m learning. The hands of craft are sometimes not the same as those of occupation, and space is only bettered when we honor it.

The light:

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The ladder:

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And the beautiful bench:

* $20 for one new pillow on-average! STUPID. so I thrifted five used ones as well as three flannels and two old sweaters for sewing into covers. Spent $25 total for five betterthannew pillows. And my sister-in-law recovered the bench seat for me out of the kindness of her heart, while I cuddled with my nephew. WIN!



LESSON: Degrowth grows. I presented on the tiny house movement in the U.S. at the Fourth Annual Conference for Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Leipzig, Germany this summer. It was incredible in so many ways, but here’s the slim-down and the beautiful-dirt-y:

  • The city is in close competition for my favorite place in the world
  • The people at the conference, and that I met in the place, are lovely in radical ways. I was truly inspired by the diversity of lifestyles, living choices, and community structures. I was also heartened to see the thousands upon thousands of people so fervently committed to modeling alternatives in their actions (exhibited even in dance moves). Examples: the many  bauwagenplatz (just for example, here)  and Garten Anna Linde
  • Degrowth as a concept, for me, is much more useful than “sustainability,” “leave no trace,” or any wilderness romance or geo-engineering heroism (I group the last two together because they seem bound by the same fundamental escapism).
  • I was able to stay at the beginnings of a pemaculture collaborative and met some truly wonderful people. Our last night, I had a short-but-very-sweet conversation with a stranger, and stayed up singing a two line song with new friends, drumming and humming and laughing and sighing. It wasn’t meant as a send off, but it was a glorious one.

Degrowth is based on the active growing of communities, spiritual, political, and material. Nothing happens without action.

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LESSON: tiny house corners make sharp criticisms. The chapter that I wrote about tiny houses (info here) was published in November of last year. The chapter reads popular media accounts of the movement and uses individual examples as indicative of some larger trends in the movement itself, some of the movement’s misleading or less-than-responsible rhetoric, and the movement’s more productive potential. As with any sort of cultural critique, my chapter risked offending some in an effort to prod a more nuanced debate around environmental sustainability and community ethics. The chapter made explicit it was not commenting on individuals, but trends, and that its particular argument arose out of pure love for the movement and the people in it. However, intentions are not always received as clearly as they were thought to be articulated. Such was the case with a recent e-encounter with a person whose project makes an appearance in my chapter. The individual who shall remain nameless launched a series of emails grossly misreading my reference to his tiny house, my intentions, and my overall message. I made the decision to engage him in an attempt to clarify, correct, and more generally converse about the work that I do. But, I didn’t sleep so well that night, or the night after, and had to do a lot of self-talk to let it go. Ultimately, I have come to realize that just as the tiny house itself makes sharp the corners of day to day living, so too does engaging with the movement inevitably run a person up against fundamental differences in definitions of ethics, community, and what we do in the academy. And that has to be a good thing. I am counting this experience a clear reminder of how we never can tell where our work will end up, nor control whose eyes will fall harshly or generously on it. The best thing we can do is be honest, open to constructive critique, and responsive to the communities to which we belong. Blessings from my communities to yours, April

tiny time

I have been meaning to write for so. so. so. long. – a post about the latest lessons the tiny has taught me. I have the notes scattered over my tiny desk and the desire, it just seems I have only (and appropriately only) tiny amounts of time to do so. But soon, I will be sorting those sticky-notes.

As a teaser in the form of a romantic mystery, I have a very small (and fantastically ideal) hope that a certain handsome man I met my last summer night in Leipzig might happen across this site and find that, though I am not a person of regret, I should have walked him to his tram stop. at the very, very least.

The end. for now. loves!

knocking on noggins.

I have been seeing more and more smart critiques of tiny house living, the privileged “minimalist” movement, and the trendiness of secular asceticism. As I wait on prints of my forthcoming chapter on tiny houses, I am so encouraged by these critiques – they are great examples of what I had roughly in mind when writing. After wrestling with many of the same criticisms, I am currently of the opinion that the tiny house movement does hold radical political potential. First, the difficulty of going tiny in our current culture clarifies the failures in, and sinister natures of, structural and systemic ideologies which prefer to be assumed unquestionably ubiquitous; and – more materially – when living in a tiny space, one must confront waste (bodily and consumer) in ways virtually impossible to ignore.

These critiques are a sign, I think, that the movement and public perception of it is becoming more nuanced – itself a symptom of more engaged politics. Tough questions come from thinking harder and, in turn, make people think harder. Incisive critique creates tension for, and demands responsibility from, the ethos behind the movements. Dialogue and debate is good for the noggin (and the spirit)!

In that spirit, keep on thinking, disagreeing and demanding more from our imaginations!