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

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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.



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

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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!

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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!

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tiny finishes

Not that tiny houses are ever done – as we renegotiate, redesignate, reorganize – but, a few weeks ago, the tiny got some finishing touches. There were a number of things we didn’t get to in our rush to make the initial move. BUT! Because my buildingpartnerincrime graciously came to help a few weeks ago, we finished the tiny the way we started: brushing dust and grime off long-cornered things, making new by re-visioning old.

simple, small finishing touches do make an enormous difference in the space. Though the tiny has always felt home-y, it now feels like home. Here’s what went down: (but first a pretty picture)

She's getting spacious!

Medicine cabinet, comes from an old box found in my grandmother’s garage:

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Utensil holder, from used drawer found at Bring recyclery:

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Drawers, re-sized from drawers found at Bring also:

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Tilt drawer, from the end of old wine crate also found in my grandma’s garage:

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Installed my stove cover (and sealed a friend’s ceramic tile to the top – extra pretty heat pad):

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For aesthetics, this old farming-row sign adds “eye-heighth” to the room:

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AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, sealed the shower (with epoxy and old washers); I tried various methods over the last year and a half, to no avail… but now it WORKS!:

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This means that everything! everything! everything! in the tiny house works!

Hooray everything! Hope your things lead you to an everything, but are not that in themselves. Love. aa.

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“small on wheels”

the Eugene Weekly ran a great piece about the local (and national) tiny house movement; I was fortunate enough to be included in it and had a lovely time with Shannon and Todd. Read the article here.

hope the day is blessing you.

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The Oregon Extension Fall 2014 Stipend

Originally posted on The Oregon Extension:

reading2.jpgOnce again, the Oregon Extension has been awarded a development grant for the fall of 2015 from the Clif Bar Family Foundation.  Under the terms of the grant, any student who applies and is accepted for this coming fall will receive a $2,500 stipend for the semester.  The stipend may be used to pay for room, board, activities fee, books, tuition, travel, or any expenses related to the semester, after the semester begins.  This is a one-semester grant and applies only to the fall 2015 Oregon Extension program.  Spaces for the fall are limited.  The $2,500 stipend will be awarded to all fall students.

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isolating insulation

Almost record lows hit the PNW a week ago – temperatures were at -9! While an extra space heater took care of the tiny house insides, the outside pipes quickly froze.  The tiny has no foundation  and foam-insulated pipes aren’t a sufficient buffer for extreme winter conditions – freezing found the house isolated and exposed. But this problem has to come up every winter season for many, many tiny housers. What do tiny friends in colder places DO?  What are your experiences with cold temperatures? How do you care for your pipes and water heaters during cold snaps? If you’re not using running water, how isolated are you from other sources of potable?

Hope you’re keeping warm – and participating fully in a love-filled holiday season.

Blessings, April

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showers/snow

Much later than I had meant to write about this, but … let’s talk PLUMBING…

I’ve had an issue with water backing up into my shower instead of flowing into the drainage pit. I called many plumbers/handymen but no one would work on any structure they weren’t insured for – the inbetween tiny didn’t qualify as an RV or a house.  BUT, I was saved by an old friend from high school who is now a plumber. He graciously came on his own time and brilliantly rearranged the pipes. Now, things are smooth as can be.

Unfortunately, though, I haven’t been able to consistently use my shower since living in the tiny (I’ve adjusted – showering at the university gym or a family member’s house).  Two central problems:

1)   Because it’s a wet bath, I step into the shower every time I use the bathroom. This leads to debris (and, in this house, cat hair), which eventually clogs the drain. I now keep the drain plugged and clean the shower out before showering. And I flush the drain once a month with baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water.

2)   The entire wet bath is pieced together from old aluminum ducting. Because the ducting is in strips, there are seams that have inevitably leaked. That, combined with a custom drain that is ill fitting, led to a few water bails-outs from under the sink.

– I tried sealing it all with marine grade sealant, but the sealant yellows and catches dust/hair. It was gross.

– I removed the sealant and instead primed/painted it with this (which supposedly fills seams):

After three coats, it looked solid. And it seemed to work – for the first week or so. Then the seams began to break and a very small amount of water trapped between the shower and the tank below it. Because I haven’t had the time to fix it, I haven’t showered in it since. Soon, I will try a different sealant for the big seams, and then 5 to 10 coats of the elastomeric coating over it all. Fingers crossed that I can shower here before the new year. :)

In the meantime, happyhappyhappy holidays from the tiny house! We are cozied up and hoping you are too.

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tiny aphorisms

Idealism without critique = complacency.

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Jeremy Beasley, a documentary photographer and filmmaker working on a film about the human side of the tiny house movement (check it out here). I was not only impressed by the crew themselves – Jeremy and the production manager Kelly Nardo are just LOVELY – but also the questions they asked. There was an honest responsibility to the lived tiny house experience, both the benefits and criticisms, in every one. Reflecting on our discussion, a few adages seemed to emerge:

* Every object you own is a relationship: I have mentioned before (here) that getting rid of almost everything I owned gave me a new appreciation for the truly meta – as in beyond – physical value of some possessions; some objects are not the same in memory as in your hand. Not because the object is the memory, but because the object informs the memory. You need some things. You miss some things. Yet, what’s wonderful about life in the tiny is you do really get to know your “things.” You have to consider the use value, emotional or physical, for everything you own. That awareness begins to infiltrate seemingly insignificant daily decisions.  At the end of the week, you only have a quart’s worth of garbage (that’s nice). This tiny life brings a subtly massive reorientation of perspective; small moves add up, though some objects become worth their thingy-ness because they feed what is beyond the immediate – what is a relationship between you, your possessions, and the lives beyond and before them. Tiny living means owning less stuff, but the stuff you own begins to mean more than possession.

* Our most expansive needs are not material: Many people have remarked on the “let down” of tiny house building – the abrupt transition from the communal that comes in seeking out help, expertise, tool shares and material gathers, to the actuality of living in a tiny house, typically alone, parked in solitary. I realized in talking to Jeremy and Kelly that I suffered unknowingly from that very phenomenon when I moved into the tiny. While building, life had developed a rhythm that was constantly adjusting to the many people gifting their time, energy, or gadgets. Even for a person who adores alone-time, the isolation after experiencing such generous community was an insidious infiltration into my first months of tiny living. It felt lonely. Fortunately, with the growing popularity of the movement and the desire of many current tiny-housers, there are people developing communal “parking” spaces for tiny house communities, organized around a common building.

* The smaller the space, the harder the corners:  Shared spaces for tiny houses to plant have the potential to address many of the more problematic nuances unique to tiny houses – aspects preventative to sustainable living. Two of the easiest examples are the difficulty of bulk food preparation, like canning, and bulk food/household storage. It often feels like a game of tetris to fit a small amount into the crooks of the tiny, and while that was one of my favorite video games as a child, now confinement complicates the environmentally conscious ethic of most tiny house dwellers. A communal space could simplify some of those complications.

* Screened windows are importantThey filter what comes in when the windows are open. They spread out the sounds of the seasons – tonality that drifts, like light, into our most quiet spaces, from crisp to sultry to shadowed. As my first year in the tiny rounds into my second, I am realizing how subtle – like moonlight moving in – the ease of home has settled into the expanses of the tiny (expanses, yes – even though it can’t store much, it can also feel quite spacious).  Just as many aphorisms play with juxtaposition, the tiny life is itself a continual re-acquaintance with the dialectic of human life. It makes of your porch a viewing platform for feisty squirrels, dopey opossums, and also manymany insect-y insects. It simplifies by its very nature, but confronts with the comfort-costs of simplicity. It plays with you in romance, and stubs your toe on realism. It slaps you, like a sharp and hail-filled wind as you’re distracted by the lightning’s brilliance.

So, screened windows are important. And so is the painful honesty of what it means to live the tiny life, and to fall in love with it. Idealism without critique is equivalent to complacency (and isn’t that an oft-cited precursor to divorce?).

There have been some great get-real blogs about tiny house difficulties, one of my favorites from Macy Miller here. But here and here also (about Portland and their “love” for tiny houses here). And another of mine here. Also check out the first EVER Tiny House Conference – EXCITING.

Huge blessings from the tiny house,

April

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