From the outside, things have been quiet with the tiny house, and it would appear nothing is happening. But appearances are misleading: There has been a flurry of plans drawn and redrawn, as Victoria Salvador and I figure out stairs from a Sketch-Up drawing on Imgur; more research done; budgets redrawn; ducks placed in a row, as opposed to the disordered mess they had become. Now it’s time for the real plans: the plans that will create a living space. Instead of just charging ahead, I have important decisions to make.
This also means a lot of thinking about how I live, or rather, how I WANT to live. In many ways, my tiny house is not being built for who I am right now, but who I am striving to become. I know from experience that living in a small space forces new habits upon me, but how long will I keep them up? I hate having people in my home when it’s a mess and yet, my tendencies veer towards the slovenly, and I am far more likely to feel at home in chaos than a strictly ordered environment.
But is that who I am, or who I was? I know that I love the feeling of an orderly space, and take great joy in finding just the right nook or cranny to stash a supply or tool. The best part of planning the tiny house is thinking of each nook and cranny as an opportunity for storage. However, my working style is an explosion when I am inspired, and things never find their way home, but pile upon each other until my surroundings are unbearable and a gigantic cleaning day (or really, week) is in order. When you’re someone who sees possibilities in every object and you have a lifelong habit of dragging home anything from interesting rocks to straight-out trash for use as supplies, the clutter can become overwhelming.
But my experience of space — both large and small — has always been the more I have, the more I’ll fill. Living in a warehouse presents an endless possibility for one more ragged tree branch...and why not just take that pile of junk someone is getting rid of? But space is expensive, and even free junk has a cost.
As I began to make plans to build the tiny house, I started dragging crap in from the alleys and purchasing things that I thought somehow would “fit” inside – a gorgeous but relatively gigantic hand-painted vanity from one of my favorite stores, Djuna, that I now realize is total nonsense scale-wise, yet I don’t quite make the moves to sell off. A low bench that I thought would be a good couch base that I now realize is completely impractical and more poorly built than I could do myself. And truckloads of lumber – from alleys, from Craigslist, from auctions sight-unseen that went unused and was later donated just to get it out of the way. Old cedar fencing and broken windows, vintage doors and overly heavy vanities. If you were getting rid of it, I would take it – after all, there was still room in the studio if we just shuffled a few more things, wasn’t there? It took a while, and a lot of reshuffling, to pare down to what lumber I have now, much of which still has no plan for it but at least is leaning inoffensively against the wall. (And meanwhile, other lumber will still need to be purchased: Cabinet-grade plywood is never on Craigslist for free!)
Of course, Philip Spangler had different ideas, and once he arrived the bubbles started to burst. The hidden splits were found in doors, the impracticality of walls built of old windows in a moving vehicle pointed out. Several times I fought back – beautiful rotting barnwood may not be structural, but, but…just LOOK at it!
The practical finally seeped into my brain, however, through Philip’s constant efforts and simple logic, and architect Victoria’s need to have things done properly. I want my house to last – I could be living in it for a year or the rest of my life; things are that unknown for me. And if I decide to sell it, this is literally my home equity – my only true asset, after having sold my house in Denver. It is crucial that it be well built, for those reasons and the chilling fact of constant vibration on the road. Particle board and manufactured “wood” won’t cut it; only the best materials should go into my home, whether used or not, lest it vibrate itself apart under the flex and friction of a moving vehicle. So, funky vintage wood windows transformed to double-paned vinyl windows (extra expensive to replace, thanks to the vandals). I got my vintage door —- not from an alley, but only after constant looking for JUST the right door everywhere in town.
One of the biggest challenges in this process is figuring out what I need, where things will go, what can stay and what must go. Some things, like my well-worn Blendtec blender or my desktop computer, may not be practical from an energy-use standpoint, but are too much a part of my daily life to consider giving up. Other things, like a coffee pot, become unnecessary when one considers that pour-over coffee takes up less space and energy and also tastes better.
But then, through this entire process I’ve never thought that I would be getting rid of everything. My studio in the tiny house will need to fit in a four-foot-wide cabinet; it’s impossible to think of cramming my 500 square feet of workspace into that, nor do I want to give up a lifetime of hard-earned and well-loved studio equipment. But my studio may live in storage for a while, in which case my hoarding of wacky vintage materials and tragic taxidermy will be an expensive habit.
This slow process of transformation encompasses so many habits, including changing everything from my cleaning sprays (I’m now making my own out of vinegar, grapefruit peels and tea tree oil and it works better than anything I’ve ever bought in a store) to my personal habits, as I attempt to pare down not just the things I own but the products I use, the energy I require, the trash I create. And yet: It doesn’t seem like a sacrifice, but an opportunity to simplify. Stuff is overwhelming, it requires care, organization and constant sifting through. Habits change slowly, but I am trying to start now, so that by the time I am in the tiny house I will already have some of my new habits in place.
Maybe it’s time to get rid of that vanity...
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.