On Life in a Tiny Home, Quadrupling Space, and Gratitude

My posts have been scarce in 2014, I know. In January, I decided to move into a new home. In February, not quite unpacked, I went nose to the grindstone to finish a manuscript with a Book Doula client (more on that book in future posts, as we get closer to the publishing date sometime this Autumn). And I’ve just returned from a 2+ week odyssey in Southeast Asia.

It’s the move I feel like writing about today: an ode to the space I left behind, and to the new one I now inhabit.

Wide Angle Lens on my Tiny Home

In late 2010, I was presented with an opportunity to buy a small space. To call it an “apartment” would be an exaggeration. It had served as the guard’s/doorman’s quarters in an early 20th century building, and had no kitchen, just a toilet and a small sink inside its meager 23 sq. meters (247 sq. ft). It was unloved and very, very affordable, even for my modest means as a freelance writer, even after a 2-year stint living in New York City that had ravaged my minimal savings. In a leap of faith, I spent the entirety of my remaining savings between buying it (with no mortgage!), fixing it up, and installing a bathroom and a mini-kitchen from IKEA.

I didn’t intend to live in it for long, just a few months before turning it into a short-term rental. Because even with my simple and often-itinerant lifestyle, 23 sq. meters seemed…oppressive. But somehow, three months turned into three beautiful years.

In those three years, while still averaging about the same level of income as in the previous three years, I saved up twice as much money as I had been able to in the previous five years. Truly, the greatest gift of Tiny Home living is financial freedom. Tiny Home owners (most of us own as opposed to rent) have more savings and less debt. (Click on the graphic for more stats.)

Yet they felt like opulent years. It’s true that after the initial outfitting, I bought virtually nothing for my home. I can literally count the things that I did buy, mostly small mementos while traveling, such as the toy VW Beetle fashioned from Coke cans that I got in Cuba. But I did buy top quality food…often!, considering I was dealing with a mini-fridge the size of the one I had in my freshman college dorm. I managed to cook one amazing meal after another on the two burners in my tiny kitchen, even hosting periodic dinners (though never for more than two guests. There were only two chairs…) and once, a birthday party that 30 people attended, so my place had the feel of a very, very popular boutique bar with a line of guests waiting to be admitted. In those three years I had exactly two houseguests (for 4 nights, and 8 nights, respectively) before declaring a moratorium –note it’s an open-plan space without a single real door, even to the bathroom, which opens off the bedroom via a sliding door–  though overnight visitors (ahem) were frequent enough, accommodated with intimacy.

I also travelled quite a bit for both work and pleasure, which took me away from my apartment a total of about 2-3 months every year, and I rented a desk at a co-working office every month I wasn’t traveling. These things helped me keep my sanity, in the same way that many Tiny Home owners are surrounded by nature, or at least a nice yard, and make living outdoors into part of their routine. My space, on the ground level of a 5-story apartment building, did not have that perk, although my windows did look out on a beautifully-maintained green courtyard.

I flushed with immense pride when I showed my Tiny Home to anyone, feeling an inherent achievement (and here, I note a huge First World privileged mindset, given how the majority of the world lives) in my lifestyle: one can live very happily with very little, the space said for me. While some visitors seemed to regard me with pity, many got it. If I had a Euro for everytime someone exclaimed: How do I find one of these?!..

It probably sounds weird, but I often showed visitors my waste situation (working with Annie Leonard on The Story of Stuff book made its mark). Aided by the admirable city-wide waste separation system which provides every building here with receptacles for glass, plastic&metal packaging, paper, and food waste/compost, I collected food waste in a tightly covered bucket under my sink, paper in a bag near my tiny desk, brought plastic and metal containers out within a day or two of emptying them, and generated less than a half-gallon of other trash every 7-12 days. Yes, you read that right, I emptied my “other trash” receptacle approximately once every 10 days, on average. A boyfriend actually took a picture of my tiny trashcan (from MUJI: leave it to the Japanese to make a two-quart-size trash receptacle) because of how I went on and on about it. (OK, yes, I’m a little strange.)

So why did I decide to move, as 2014 dawned? For one, because I could afford it, thanks to savings and to the fact that I can and have rented my Tiny Home. Also, because I missed the light. My Tiny Home is on the ground floor, as I said. And I missed having a bathtub. And because I happened to find (in a very competitive rental market) a magical space on the top floor of a nearby building with skylights, a big terrace/balcony, and a bathtub. The light is amazing. There is sky everywhere, sky in all the spectacular permutations of every hour and weather. The rooftops that surround me are frequented by flocks of birds. I purchased a washing machine, marking the first time I have had my own machine since leaving my marriage 8 years ago. Eight years of carrying loads of laundry in bags and backpacks to laundromats (again, First World privilege speaking, I am aware).

In this new space, I am filled with gratitude so intense that tears literally come to my eyes when I turn on the tap to fill the bathtub, or run a load of laundry, or step onto my terrace with my first cup of coffee. Constantly, in fact.

I was in no way unhappy in my Tiny Home. But after three years, 80 sq. meters (861 sq. ft, still considered a Tiny Home by many USAmericans) feels like a palace, and I am the princess.

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