The Mayday Experiment: A Big Anniversary for the Tiny House

Generally speaking, Facebook’s “memories” feature that it thrusts at the top of your feed every morning harks back to meaningless, long-forgotten posts, often of things that you’d prefer not to remember. But this morning, as I turned on the computer and sat down bleary-eyed to attempt to write (after falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and procrastinating an appropriate amount of time, that is), the post that greeted me at the top of the feed was not only relevant, it was momentous: It was the post announcing my intentions to begin the Mayday Experiment, a project that didn’t even have a name yet but had a bunch of unrealistic and possibly grandiose plans. But why not dream big, right?
It would still be three months until I began building, until Philip Spangler drove here from Ohio and we started figuring it out by watching videos and reading e-books and laying 2 x 4s on the concrete floor of the studio. In the meantime, post-announcement, I began gathering every bit of free lumber on Craigslist (most of it completely useless, in the grand scheme of things), buying inappropriately sized pieces of furniture that I thought I could modify (I won’t), and making a series of ridiculously vague plans in a variety of formats. I dreamed up elaborate traveling chicken hutches and convertible rooftops that rivaled the dream-house plans the six-year-old me painstakingly drew on my dad’s graph paper for their impracticality. No, there wasn’t a dolphin holding tank with an exit to the ocean or an attached unicorn stable, but there were thoughts about rooftop gardens that would have littered the highway with greenery on my first journey. If anything, this process has been one of winnowing the fanciful and impractical, and focusing more and more on the essence of what I hope to accomplish, both for how I want to live and how I want this project to interact with the community.

There are many, many times I have regretted my exuberant announcement on Facebook, which followed a surprise revealing at an artist talk at Mai Wyn Fine Art. I had told a few people what I was contemplating, but once the cat was out of the bag, it seemed time to describe my intentions. I had been musing to my Facebook friends for a while about potential paths, post grad-school and post-divorce – moving to the Hudson Valley with my mom, becoming part of the artist migration to Detroit, applying for teaching jobs wherever…but this idea had seized upon me, and once it did, I couldn’t get loose. But announcing your plans publicly has a certain danger, because once you’ve committed, you’ve committed, and you court public failure to back away.

And then I upped the ante on the “public failure” potential by beginning this column, which at times has been a joy and at others a painful chore. But something happened when I announced my intentions in this project: Others became invested in it. And even though I’ve sometimes wish I’d never started, and sometimes want to run away and hide, and sometimes want to give up and disappear just to have less to focus on…I am glad for the fact that announcing it kept me honest. After twenty years of thinking about it and wishing aloud to friends that I could get off-grid, I was now going to publicly document my slow, painstaking process, in between working jobs and continuing my life as an artist…recording my successes and failures for all to see.

The past two years have been incredibly humbling. But starting with that Facebook post – possibly the most popular I have ever written, with 268 likes and 182 supportive comments, offers of places to visit and congratulations — I have felt my community with me the entire time, and it has bolstered me. I have felt that others are invested in my success, both through financial support (thank you!) and emotional, through sharing the blog, spreading the word and asking, always asking, “How is the tiny house?” And lately, I have been satisfied with my answer of “slow, but sure.” Each week, small steps are accomplished: electrical plans and solar loads, discussions on siding (a decision that has been hanging me up because it is both so important and so much weight), and working on the parapet gutter for the stealth rainwater collection system. Bit by bit we’re getting there, and that’s what counts in the end, right? Despite feeling like it at times, I still haven’t given up. 
When I started this journey, there were no tiny house shows, and I had never even seen a tiny house in person. Now I know a community of people building or living in them, and they are in a zeitgeist moment…something else I sometimes regret, as I’ve always hated being in the midst of a trend. But I know it is bigger than that, and though the timing isn’t what I wished, I live in the real world, and it’s what I can do…which makes it a much more real story, in the end.

Here is the original Facebook post, from two years ago:

Here we go...
I apologize in advance for how long this is, but there is much to tell you…

So, everyone has been asking me…what are you going to do? Where are you going to go? And I love that you all care, and I love your curiosity, and up until a couple of months ago, I just didn’t even have an answer for you. But I so appreciate all of you, how you’ve been along on this journey with me…through grad school, through moving back to Colorado, through my explorations in the Hudson Valley and my musings over Detroit…you’ve all offered advice, support, and insight, and I hope will continue to do so in the future, when I will need you more than ever. Six months ago, I could never have foreseen telling you what I’m about to tell you. But after a lot of soul-searching, unexpected life changes and sifting through silver linings, I’ve distilled down what is important to me, I now feel I’ve come up with a plan.

When I think about what my real goals are, it’s to continue making my work, which is driving me towards being more nomadic, and more in nature, and less in the studio. My work for many years has been about climate change and the environment, but I feel a deeper and deeper urgency about how much time we have left to make the changes we need to make, as well as a deeper and deeper disconnect in our conversations about these urgent matters. Our dialogue is broken. It is easier for people to link the first blog they’ve scanned after googling in order to prove their point than it is to listen to one another or truly attempt to understand the science. But I feel deeply called to speak about these issues, and I can no longer do so without going all in. Gandhi said to “be the change you want to see in the world”, and I’ve decided to do just that, in my own way.

So in order to live more in accordance with my values and to spread the message of sustainability, I’ve decided to build an off-grid tiny house on wheels, with the mission of traveling across the country for all of 2015 and attempting to change the conversation, one on one. To spread a message of hope that yes: we CAN become more sustainable, in little bites at a time, and that actually, it isn’t hard. To spread a message that yes: we CAN choose the lives we want, and follow our dreams, and that maybe we don’t need quite as much to be happy as we think we do. 2015 will be an experiment in living, in fusing life and art, sustainability and nomadicism.

My hope is that by visiting parts of the country, I will find my place, and document our time through the voices of others in video interviews and relentless blogging and writing. Along the way I will continue my research and work with bees by visiting apiaries and the Melipona bees of Mexico, following the migration of the Monarchs, and continuing my sculptural practice in my tiny sustainable house / studio while doing residencies along the way.

The biggest goal in my experiment in sustainable nomadicism will be to visit schools to spread the message of sustainability and show off possibilities in living, from vermiculture to growing food in the tiniest most awkward of spaces (Did I mention that it will be a rolling mini-farm as well as my home and studio? Oh yeah, THAT!). I will also visit university art departments and speak to future artists about sustainability for their practices, and their futures. I’ll visit farmer’s markets and arts districts and let people walk through the tiny house, to show them possibilities.

At the end of the year I hope to have three things:

1. An idea of where I belong for my future, and where I can sustainably and affordably live amongst a community that I can contribute to building.

2. A book, featuring journals, drawings and photos from the road.

3. The beginnings of a film, giving voice to the people I speak to across the country, exploring the intersections of climate change and gentrification.

You are ALL an important part of this journey. I will be crowd-sourcing everything along the way – from oil for biodiesel to places to park to ideas about where you feel I just have to visit to document our changing world. And I’ll want tour guides to show me your city both as you remember it and as it is now, and have art projects for people to become involved in, too. I’ll look forward to meeting many of you along the way, checking out art scenes, and making tons of new friends. However, I also will need your help in funding this journey, and I will be actively looking for sponsorships, starting a Hatchfund campaign, and seeking out materials and helping hands when I am building this summer in Denver. My goal is that the entire house will be built from recycled and reused materials, and to that end, I’ve already started a fine collection! (If you are remodeling or have lumber you need gone or leftovers from projects, please, by all means, let me know!)
So stay tuned. Consider this your “save the date” notification. In the coming months, this project will get a name, a new blog, a youtube account and a funding campaign. Climate change is bigger than all of us, and this project is bigger than me…so if you believe that things need to change, then please, add your support in the future and stay tuned for more updates!

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