Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

There are lots of Tiny House blogs on the web. I am guilty of sometimes neglecting my work to read about the dreams and designs, the gathering of materials, the hammering and sawing, process and progress, that go into each of these tiny places. Most are built with excitement, enthusiasm and love.

You follow, you follow, month by month and then the little house is launched into the world, into a back garden perhaps, or parked in someone's driveway. But there most Tiny House blogs stop. Few of them go on to describe what it's like to actually live day-to-day in a tiny house. This makes me wonder if they are more an expensive toy than a realistic housing solution?

The romantic dream of living in a 120 sq ft doll's house can quickly dim faced with the reality of cooking, eating, sleeping, toileting, bathing, and all the myriad activities that make up an average day, in such a cramped space.

All the gingerbread and clapboard can enclose an unexpected nightmare if you are not very careful. If you are going to live in a tiny house you'd best be prepared to:

1) jettison your stuff. My antique china, silver, furniture and art collection have been sitting in a kindly friend's garage for close to four years. I miss the familiarity of some of these things, although I don't miss the upkeep they required.

2) maintain a small wardrobe. For a tiny house we have a generous 48" closet. For two of us. We each have a drawer for foldables. Many closets are bigger than our house.

3) get along. If you or your significant other need "alone" time and "private space" you better start looking for a divorce lawyer at the time you start framing walls.

4) pick up after yourself. One thing out of place looks untidy, two things out of place looks slovenly, three things out of place will eventually turn you into a raving loony. Points at self as proof positive.

5) believe that less is really more. Ninety-nine percent of the population still believes more-is-more. You'd better be hearing that different drumbeat pretty strongly, because most people will think you are nuts and/or poverty-stricken.

6) not believe in claustrophobia. I like small spaces and feel uncomfortable in large rooms, but the "crawl-space" loft bedrooms in many tiny houses somehow remind me of the iron lung I was in when I had polio as a toddler. Panic and suffocation come to mind. At least we have a main floor bedroom with a queen size bed you can walk around. And no climbing over each other to get in and out of bed, no ladder to climb up and down in the dark when you really need to pee.

7) cook in an area the size of a cutting board. Unless you eat out all the time, which is expensive and usually overrated, you have to devote space to storing, preparing and serving food - and washing the pots and pans.

I can tell you from experience that a four cubic foot bar fridge is inadequate, two burner "stoves" suck and bowl-sized sinks are a headache, even if they are the highly polished metal-of-the-moment. I love my current kitchen which has a eight cubic foot fridge (still considered only half the minimum size required for two), a four burner stove, microwave, two sinks, and a dishwasher, even if the storage is difficult to use. This kitchen was designed by an accountant, not a cook, but it is heaven compared to the 14" of counter space I had in the 119 sq ft Tinpalace.

I'm really not trying to be an old crank. From the ages of 10 to 18 I lived in a succession of trailers, because my Dad's work kept us on the move and rental housing was hard to find and often down-at-heels. And I learned to love living in a small space.

I still marvel at how well those little trailers were designed in the 50s. They were marvels of efficiency. We had a 33 foot long, eight foot wide trailer which had a corner kitchen with full-sized appliances plus a table and chairs for four. There was a full-size bath, two bedrooms, a living room with a full size sofa bed for guests, two easy chairs, a coffee table, an end table and a TV stand. Fitted much like a yacht, not a single inch was wasted, and we had everything we needed.

No house is an end in itself, tiny or not. The adventure doesn't end when you slap the last brushful of paint on your tiny dream, or park it, or wave goodbye to your acreage of floorspace. In truth, that's when the adventure begins. It can be a life-altering, wonderful, experience. As long as you realize that the adventure is in learning to adapt to a totally new way of life.

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