There is much to read on the internet these days in terms of tiny homes: blogs about the building and design process, personal stories of living tiny (including our own!), and builders advertising their services, to name a few. We’ve even participated in a couple of different research studies related to tiny home dwellers.
At times, we can find ourselves a bit overwhelmed by all of it! Our decision to live in a tiny home came about way before they were proliferating (which does not make it any better of a decision, just our reality), and it arose out of some very personal intentions and history. We are not people who went into tiny home living unprepared or inexperienced. We had both happily worked for a travelling university program for over ten years where we slept in three person tents for eight months of the year. Our belongings were in single personal milk crates underneath the bus seats and our clothing was in a cubbyhole overhead. The other four months or so we either had work to do at the office in Belfast, Maine, where we would also camp out with friends or, for a while, Judy had a partially underground home that she rented out and returned to in the summer months. When we first met, pretty much all of Nicky’s belongings fit into her backpack except her guitar (in its own case). While Judy had lived for seven years with her (then) partner and a small dog and an ever shifting number of cats, in a house that measured 12 feet by 12 feet, with a small loft and a shed out back where the refrigerator and sink were set up. It was kind of a summer kitchen – that was more of a four season kitchen, where each season the tasks that happened there shifted. The fridge was plugged in in the warmer months and unplugged as it started to get cold – until it became a freezer and the fridge food went into a cooler in the house itself.
Oh, by the way, just to be clear, we were not particularly young when we set off on our most recent tiny venture. Judy was 65 and retired, and Nicky was 47 and still working full time as university faculty. We are fairly reflective people and were looking at how our lives had taken on a life of their own, in a way, but the way was not our way. For many, choosing to live tiny represents a radical shift – from something. But for us it has not been a radical shift from who we were before, but rather a coming back to who we are, just in a slightly different way.
One of our smaller prior homes – a rented one (as have been all our together homes up to now) – was a cabin in Lubec, Maine. It was not an easy place to get to – it required a walk in on a path of about a quarter of a mile. Nor was it an easy place to live in – our water came from a well 200 feet away with a concrete lid that had to be lifted off, and then we dipped out the sweet tasting water with Judy’s mom’s silver pitcher into gallon containers that we pulled in a garden cart (or in winter months on a sled) to the house. We showered in a galvanized tub while one of us poured warm water (heated on the nearby woodstove) over the other, and all our grey water left the house by hand in five gallon buckets. It was off the grid so our internet was dialup, and our light came from several solar powered lights, soy-based candles, or gas lanterns (depending upon the season and amount of sunlight). And the bathroom, of course, was an outhouse in a beautiful birch grove out back a ways. Yet, despite the untraditional nature of many of our prior homes, people often chose to visit us, or to stay in the house when we were away. They would tell us repeatedly that they loved the feeling of our homes – the loveliness of the spaces we found to live in and the ambiance created. Naturally, we wanted to have this still be true in Tiny.
This meant that we had to bring to consciousness what it was about our prior homes that made them feel this way – to us, and to others. We knew that we intentionally made each of the places we lived in both personal and sacred. Our things, even then, were chosen for the meaning they had for us – whether it was their beauty, what they were made of, the stories they held, who they came from, or what they said about the creator, the giver, or the place from which they emerged.
In many cases, the houses we lived in also had history. Since Tiny was to be built new, where would the history come from? One of the things we did was to send out a call to loved ones – friends and family – for prayers, hopes, songs, chants, or quotes to bless our house. We wrote these all on the walls and floors before we painted, knowing that they would be covered over, but that we (and Tiny) would always know they were there, infusing our lives with the orisons from others through the words and sounds they sent to us. We also repurposed things we treasured: Part of our secondhand bureau that we loved became the bathroom sink cabinet, and the other parts became the shelves that hold our linens. We made a hearth for our beautiful propane fireplace (that is our heat source) from rocks and crystals that we had collected from all over the world (following the example of a dear friend). Because it is elevated, we both get to enjoy it from the living room, and beneath it is a place to store our boots, shoes, or sandals when the seasons change.
And not everything has to serve a practical purpose. Above our cookstove is a shelf that holds glassware and pottery that is special for us and used only occasionally. We have cut glass vases from Judy’s mother and tiny pottery ones from our friend Shanna Wheelock. An icon painted by dear friend, Jacqueline Carole Mizaur, graces our entry. We actually have a sealed storage area in one of the stairs to the main loft that is a time capsule of sorts and contains sacred items that are inaccessible, but serve to further bless our tiny home.
It seems important to us to put out into the world that creating and living in a tiny house is not just about a trend, do-it-yourselfing, the potential money saved, or the environmental and social impacts of living small in a time of living big. The choices we’ve made don’t feel at all universal, and thus are not something we’d recommend for everyone. Reflecting on personal values and prior experiences can be key. Living tiny can also be about beauty, sacredness, and deeply held values.