Interdependence Day

I think it telling to our American Values that our greatest national holiday is a celebration of independence. Some people say that we hold individuality in such high esteem as a country because of our cultural myths of scarcity, separation, and progress through competition. I feel that.. I feel we are separate, and that I have to compete, and that it’s a dog eat dog world. I have been told that I am “free, white, and twenty-one” over and over again and that I have no excuse for failing to achieve great success. People think I am smart, I don’t know why; I think it’s pretty clear from my writing I am uneducated. My explanation for peoples’ benevolent prejudice is that they see blocks of text they have no interest in reading and assume my body of work has worth and value. People assume that I am college educated and hold multiple degrees because that is generally the type of company I keep. I have the apparent free time and money to pursue interests and hobbies, rather than seeming to be running on the hedonistic treadmill that is the compulsion to build empires and monuments. People seem to think I am successful and it’s mostly because I am white, and able to schedule three o’clock meetings during the week. I am pretty grateful for it because I end up with opportunities not available to people who.. well .. “aren’t free, white, and 21”

We teach our high school children that Thomas Jefferson penned this immortal and amazing document which touts high minded principles and rights endowed upon us by the creator, and then we share a chuckle about how he kept in bondage and subservience human beings who had a darker complexion than himself. We use this as an example of how public perception of Morals and Ethics changes over time. This Founding document speaks of Democracy, and Freedom… about Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and then go on to create the constitution which is the actual legal framework that has nothing to do with Justice or Majority Rule, and everything to do with property rights, and who qualifies to have them…. these rights and principles only applied to free white men of age.

Many “Tiny House” people were attracted to the movement by the idea of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency. I also liked the idea of having higher quality stuff, and more money to presumably spend on quality foods, consumer electronics, musical instruments, and my hobbies in general. Promoted is a sense of peace and order; you would look at those tiny beautiful interior spaces and think “I would never misplace my keys or wallet again” Photos of tiny house interiors across the web inspire a feeling of openness, simplicity, and order with clear counters and space on the bookshelf for your tchotchke. It turns out that is all just images of perfection; a beauty that we long for but can never quite attain. Life in a tiny house is real… I mean really real. It’s hard to describe how intense life can be so consider this metaphor. Imagine a pint glass full of water… now imagine dissolving everything that is your life into that water and boiling it down until there is one or two ounces left. Everything that is your life is still there, but there is a lot less water and you are left with is a viscous mess of all that is you.. the real you; and you are forced to look at exactly what it is that makes you so viscous. We thought that we were building a home, but the reality is that no matter where we go we will be guests. In our search for self sufficiency and independence, we discovered how desperately interdependent we all are; no Tiny House is an Island.

A tiny house is a big mess. Life is messy, and in a tiny house it is doubly so. I have to be conscious and mindful of my behavior, for every time I pick something up.. I will have already had to consider where I am going to put it down. Behavior is something that comes from thoughts; thoughts are based on underlying assumptions that we make based on conflicting fundamental stories we tell ourselves about who we are. A person who fundamentally believes all humans to be selfish and that selfishness and competition create wealth will build their beliefs and political analysis quite differently from individuals who understand that our fates are all intertwined. This is odd because the attractive little cottage in the woods speaks to my desire to hitch the house up and head for the hills in retreat; the American image beatific which is in stark contrast to the behavior which would honor true interdependence. My messy house is keeps me safe and warm at night, and it provides me security in that I can lock those material things that I care about and they will be safe until I return.

I have seen people exclaim “a conspiracy by the rich to convince all the poor people to live with less, so they can be crammed into even tighter spaces. The wealthy elite will create even more bogus financial products to divide the land and developers will get 30 more years of work building things” To these people I ask that they spend some time asking themselves where they fall on the spectrum of fundamentally independent or interdependent. Creating a legal infrastructure for these things is going to be difficult because it is so new and the local governments have been working with builders and financiers for decades and are entrenched in system that stands only to be taken down a notch by wide spread self provisioning and refusal to take on debt. This is opening the door not only to a new types of housing, but new types of civic organizations, and new types of thinking about addressing root causes social problems.

History has shown us multiple times that natural and man made disasters alike can strike anywhere and at any time, and millions of people have experienced instant peril. 19.5M worldwide refugees at the end of 2015… which proves that not only are we interdependent upon the living economies of human activity that are beyond any individuals’ grasp, but we are in fact also interdependent upon entire systems which are the mechanics of the one universe which we are all experiencing individually but can never fully understand. On this day, may we wave our flags in an understanding that yes, we are all fiercely independent, with our unique gifts skills and thoughts and behaviors. We are also inextricably interdependent, reliant upon our planet, and it’s systems, as well as upon each-other for every individuals’ unique contribution or need. Happy Independence day, but Happy Interdependence day too.

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The long awaited update… thank you for your patience

One of my biggest fears was that we’d finish the house and I would stop writing because I wouldn’t have the same push or motivation to share our latest building progress. I guess that fear manifested. So, here I am, eh-um, yes, 7 months later, ready to give you an update on Tiny House (non)living.

Since we were obviously not getting anywhere with Code Enforcement, we decided to take it up the ladder of City Officials and found 2 individuals who were respectful, kind and very reasonable to talk to. It was a 180 degree turn from the Code Enforcement officer who was rude, dismissive and avoided answering any questions by talking himself in “because I said so” circles.¬† So, with a little help from our friends (yep, it really is all in who you know…) we were able to get our story in front of the City Manager & the Director of Community Development. They found nothing illegal with parking the Tiny House in the driveway, apologized for the hassle we had experienced with Code Enforcement and closed the case. Yay!

A big thank you to all who helped to decipher city code, offered legal advice, suggested people we should talk to in gathering more information, those who spoke to city officials & those in the public sector who practice open communication with their residents in hopes of building a better community. Also, a big thank you to all of you who are following our progress and are putting good vibes out into the universe for us! We couldn’t have done this without your words of wisdom & support. Time for a group hug!

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The catch is, although it’s legal for us to park the trailer in the driveway indefinitely, city code makes it illegal for us to live in it. So, our dear friend Mr. Krug, who has been gracious enough to offer us his driveway for the Tiny House, has also opened up his home and rented us a bedroom with complete use of the kitchen and bathroom in the front house. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity as it has given us a soft place to land after our first confrontation in the evolving experience of ‘Where can I legally park my Tiny House’? If we were in a situation where we were forced to park on the street and needed to move every 3 days, I don’t think I’d function well from day to day. Being at Chip’s has offered us a reprieve from the year & a half of building, gave us security of place for the time being and a sense of home we were looking for (without actually living in our tiny home). Thank you Chip!!

So, what are we doing with the Tiny House?

In order to tame the withdrawals of not being in the house every day, I started using it as my office/yoga studio/walk-in closet. I enjoy reading in the loft, meditating, and turning up the spacer heater, lighting candles & stretching (which I don’t do often enough). Aaron & I watch movies in there too. It’s a great hide-out space; like the cushion fort you built in the living room of your childhood home (only this is a bit more structurally sound). Lu, our tiny cat, likes hanging out in there too. It’s perfect for a temperamental creature who loves dark, enclosed spaces, especially when she has access to all the nooks and crannies. She’s even learned to use her litter box in the closet & crawl out through her own little porthole.

I was pretty bummed that I’d have to wait to use the kitchen in our house; in protest (and curiosity to see if it would fit) I moved all of our “pantry food” into the Tiny House. I’ve spent the last 7 months slowly moving it back to the main house, piece by piece. I’ve really enjoyed using the kitchen in Chip’s house. It’s beautiful… the tile is from the 50’s, there’s an old-school gas stove with a grill-top between the burners (great for quesadillas!) and a large ceramic sink to do the dishes. Having the kitchen to ourselves has been awesome; I spend many of my days off in there and have been thoroughly enjoying it! And there are bonuses!

Bonus #1: there’s a record player in the next room with shelves full of albums from the 70’s. Sweet!! Bonus #2: the large double-sided fridge/freezer¬†doesn’t work, so we moved our Tiny House fridge into his kitchen. We’ve been honing our grocery-shopping skills and practicing for the big time, folks! For me, the most exciting part about Tiny House (non)living has been watching us eat all the left-overs before they are pushed to the back of the fridge and lost in the depths of “eww… do I really want to open this container” land. I’ve struggled with this (ashamedly) for years and so happy that the solution to this awful & wasteful habit was to buy a smaller fridge! Composting also helps with the guilt.

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So, that’s the basics. Other than working, we’ve been gardening, spending time at home tinkering with projects and helping Chip out with odds and ends, creating art, cooking, cleaning and organizing our artist space at Whole House Building Supply. We saw Garrison Keillor with friends at the Mountain Winery and traveled to see family and friends in Oregon, South Dakota & Wisconsin; trips which included 2 weddings and a family reunion. Now that we’re back home for the time-being and after my half-year hiatus, I’m relived – and a bit nervous- to be slowly working my way back to the blogosphere. It’s been nice to take a break and catch up with myself again but hope to get back on track with regular updates and thoughts of Tiny House (non)living.

Best wishes to you all as we head into colder temperatures and longer nights! Thank you for your continued love and support!

 

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A Big Day for Tiny

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http://www.tinyhousehotel.com/

Portland, OR. further cemented it’s Status among the hip cities this month when our Countries’ very first “Tiny House Hotel” opened for business in the Aberta Arts District. Some might disregard this event as an anomaly that “keeps the town weird”…

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and I certainly wouldn’t argue against the weirdness of Portland… A town where Tall Bicycle Jousting does not require a release of liability waiver, and emergency medical care is defined as “two shots of jack Daniels administered regardless of consciousness” by the organizers of the event

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Weirdness aside… I consider the Opening of the “Caravan Motor Hotel” to be a major milestone for the “Tiny House Movement.” From here on out, people will walk into banks, or approach private investors with solid business plans that have been tried, tested, and found viable.

Food Trucks Provide a great example. What food trucks? you may ask … well .. they are coming soon to a city near you… at first it was “weird” to build a Gourmet food truck … but now …

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Yeah … “Roach Coaches” have been around for over a century now in one form or another… the essence being a mobile kitchen designed to cater to work crews. A tragic life to be the butt of jokes about poor sanitation and bad taste….

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the cooking of local feral wildlife….

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and the harvesting of human organs for export…

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but in case you haven’t heard… Food Trucks are now “In.”

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These trucks are serving a variety of foods and fusion foodstuffs, with menus as diverse as an entire cities’ food offerings condensed to one parking lot.

The point that I am trying to make is that people are walking into banks and meetings with private investors to get loans to buy or build food-trucks…. because they are profitable.

http://photos.oregonlive.com/photo-essay/2013/08/tiny_house_hotel_opens_in_port.html

And people are flocking to the Caravan… to live in under 100 sqft at $125/night

Maybe the novelty will wear off and this business will crumble… (or at least end up towing it’s major assets somewhere else) I don’t think so, though. I think they will set the stage by which we judge our own success.

There isn’t “more to life” than just doing what you need to do to get by… there’s less to life than you might think. It seems to me that the more I let go of, the better off I am… physically, emotionally, spiritually… financially …

Try to den up for a night in a tiny house on wheels… you just might wake up in the next county over … or … just maybe … you will wake up in an entirely new world.

http://earthfix.opb.org/communities/article/worlds-first-tiny-house-hotel-in-portland-gets-a-g/
http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/worlds-first-tiny-house-hotel-opens-portland-185200077.html
http://inhabitat.com/caravan-hotel-uss-first-tiny-house-hotel-opens-in-portland/
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/remodeling-design/blogs/try-tiny-house-living-on-for-size-at-portlands-newest-hotel

To all that came before us: thanks for the inspiration.
To all that come behind us: have a good build.

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An Argument for Simplicity

Do you want to create positive dialogue in your neighborhood about Climate Change? Most people I speak with agree that Climate Change is a big issue, but say that they are completely powerless and our best hope is “science” to save us from our certain doom… and many people seem convinced that the next ice age will be the day after tomorrow… it does seem rather alarming, doesn’t it?

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Parking our Micro-House in the front yard of a 1950’s suburban development was one way to get some conversation brewing. In front of this modest house sits the only structure on the whole block (or in the whole city for that matter) that protrudes past the required fifteen foot site setback. We even ended up having a bit of a climate change discussion with the Department of Community Development because of it. Code Enforcement ultimately agreed that our house was not an illegal dwelling unit, but was indeed a travel trailer (but it was against city ordinances to actually live in it.) Turns out that living a more sustainable lifestyle is against the law. It certainly isn’t a good model for increasing suburban density near the traffic corridor; It’s a Menace to Public Health.

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Telling people that they will have to cut back and consume less is a tough sell. Ever try telling someone that they are going to have to give up meat and dairy and learn how to sort their trash? When people step inside the Micro-House, though, they really get a vision for how nice a simple life could be. In a neighborhood where a 1000 sqft house goes for 250k, Candace and I get to tell people we own our own home outright, and paid less per square foot to do it. Our house takes Minutes to clean (even if it is totally messy) Requires a fraction of the energy to heat and light ($20/month in propane for cooking/hot water … $15 electricity for heating/lighting/ventilation). I own less stuff and don’t have to deal with clutter because everything has a place. The money we save on rent enables us to do cool things like rent an artists workspace (where all the clutter goes) and work fewer hours so that we can spend more time doing things we like to do (like cluttering the workshop.) So tell me… would you rather live in a tiny house, or a 2500 square foot debtors prison? Would you rather live in a rolling cabin built with loving care from recycled materials? Or would you rather live in town-homes designed for speedy construction, and to maximize the ratio of square footage to material cost?

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Many neighbors come by and tour the house. Neighbors meet other Neighbors in our front yard because of the house. About 1 out of 20 express a desire to live in one. Most people share their contact information with us to be informed of “Tiny House Parties” and “Tiny House Concerts.”

Also, I get to practice civil disobedience and Occupy something. The rent we do pay goes directly to a homeowner in need and not some faceless trust or property management corporation. Win-Win-Win.

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The Tiny Housing Crisis: Part II

When people hear the phrase “economic security,” an immediate association is made of vast amounts of cash, or a bank account with 7 digits on the good side of the decimal. A million dollars isn’t what it used to be. When I hear the term “economic security,” I think in terms of food, water, shelter, opportunities, education, public health and safety, and strong social institutions. This is what “economic security” and “the wealth of nations” looks like, not a briefcase full of paper.

Our tiny home is one of a growing number of such dwellings that have been designed for mobility, durability, aesthetics, and customized for the habits, needs, and lifestyle of the occupants. The Modular housing model will indeed be making an economic impact in the near future across a wide demographic range. The next decade promises a growing population who will need end-of-life care, and as we are confronted with the cost of this endeavor, simple dwellings will step into this economic niche in a variety of ways. A spare bedroom can be quickly set up to provide a non-intrusive nurses unit; especially in Alzheimer and Dementia cases where removing a patient from familiar surroundings promotes acceleration of symptoms. Caretakers can live on-site and quickly earn enough money to buy their own tiny home. Many people will choose to provide care to their parents directly, and a tiny house can provide an “instant in-law-unit.”

College Graduates are moving back home at an alarming rate, burdened with vast student debt while entering a competitive job market where labor is exported and undervalued.

Businesses are downsizing their offices, and small business owners need affordable office space; separating business from home-life is important… imagine how easy that could be (and how much gas money you would save) if the driveway is your “business zone.” Artists, writers, artisans, and hobbyists alike already benefit from their tiny backyard sanctuaries.

Community Level Discussions on increasing Urban Density near the transit corridor are dominated by developers, Realtors, and builders. In the meantime, thousands of people are living in overcrowded units. So people are living in illegal dwelling units, some of which are unsafe and many lacking sanitation… but an accessory structure doesn’t attract much attention if it is under 100 sq ft and does not have plumbing or electricity. http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/development/2013/05/san-francisco-likely-has-tens-thousands-people-living-under-stairs Honestly, wouldn’t you rather have people living in your neighbors’ driveway?

We are realizing that a single weather event can displace hundreds of thousands or more individuals within a matter of hours. A well co-ordinated dispatch of housing, complete with supplies can be trucked in within days; providing immediate relief to those displaced, as well as short term accommodations for aid-workers and those concerned with rebuilding. Climate Scientists have been warning of increased frequency of severe weather events. You should get a tax-break for building a tiny house and keeping it in your driveway… so long as you register it with fema and agree to dispatch it in the event of a natural disaster. Hasn’t America been defined in terms of our response to national tragedy over the last couple decades? What could be more American than having an emergency shelter in your driveway?

So .. on a personal level… I am pretty confident I have embarked on a lifestyle that will enable me to pay down my personal debts, as well as pay down my personal ecological debt to any children Candace and I may or may not have one day. Either way, aren’t all the kids our kids? Do we have the right to borrow against their economic and ecological future?

I guess that depends on values. Maybe you believe that our kids will enjoy a higher standard of living than we could ever dream… Personally, I tend to think our children will have to learn to make do with less, and I am not eager to take more than my fair share at their expense. No matter what you do, just stop taking it for granted… admit that every act of meeting the economic needs of 7 billion on this planet is an unsustainable act.

I’m now grateful for every damn ice cream bar I eat, and every piece of fruit that travels thousands of miles to be ripe on my plate. My personal values have shifted from the material, and my life goals have shifted to “living a long time” which means my priorities are a good diet, and a healthy lifestyle… other than the Camel Filters… anyway.

We (we bay area folk) are truly reaping all of the spoils of empire, and I for one won’t allow myself one second of guilt for enjoying so much while so many people have so little. But… when you put what we have now in perspective of what humans have over the course of history, and will have over the course of the uncertain future ahead… All I can feel is gratitude. So I smoke my cigarettes and drink my wine and boy do they taste sweet… I eat a hamburger and I drink my dairy and I enjoy the variety of goods on the marketplace that have come to the shelves in a store near me and it all is a bit sweeter to me than most… because I truly appreciate the long-term cost that is incurred.

I’m getting ranty now, so I’m going to have to drop off and think of a way to explain how simple shelters can be leveraged to tackle huge social problems that we are faced with, such as homelessness, veterans programs, illegal foreclosures, and a criminal justice system that could only be described as a system in crisis.

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