Tiny House Obsession

The concept of tiny house living is intriguing to me. The idea of keeping a small footprint and being mobile is appealing. I also like the idea of having less stuff. It all sounds great.

After all, the more house you have, the more there is to pay for, insure, heat, clean, pay taxes on and furnish. That means more money and more time spent on the house instead of on other things that may be important to you.

There’s a show called Tiny House Nation that follows homeowners as they design and downsize into tiny homes of under 500 square feet. Sometimes they’re very small and mobile. Sometimes they’re a little bigger and the owners have no plan to move.

I’m always amazed at the people who want to do this and how unrealistic they tend to be. A family of seven moving into 350 square feet in Montana from an enormous home with an attic, basement and garage? That one was painful to watch, partly because the wife was clearly struggling to let go of the family dining table. Plus, where do you store food for seven people and how do you handle the laundry?

The average 3 star hotel in the US offers rooms of about 300 square feet. I wouldn’t want to spend a night much less a lifetime with six other people in a space like that.

It seems like it’s always the clothes horse or the shoe collector, the entertainer, or the person with a room full of scrapbooking supplies. These folks seem genuinely surprised that they can’t keep all 96 pairs of shoes and that there won’t be space for a dozen friends to sleepover after a party. Really? What party? Where will everyone stand?

I always feel bad for the kids who have to leave behind favorite toys, teenagers with no privacy and the pets who will be cramped.

It makes so much sense for many people but I can’t help but wonder what some are thinking. At the end of the show they do a big reveal and it always looks so nice. But they come back for a follow-up interview in a couple of months and it’s always cluttered or the homeowners have had to retrofit something to make it livable.

I have some friends who downsized to tiny homes and they seem quite happy. All of them seem to have done it to save money to travel and were realistic about letting go of the extras.

I am not a materialistic person. I could walk away from most of my possessions. At the same time, I like to be surrounded by things that I associate with happy memories like family heirlooms and travel souvenirs. Decorating for the holidays is something I enjoy but there would be no room to store seasonal decor.

Houses have gotten too big and mass produced goods have created too much clutter. Prewar homes were about a thousand square feet. Closets were tiny, bedrooms were small and kitchens weren’t equipped with elaborate cabinetry. People did quite well in these homes for many years.

There has to be a happy medium for some of us wishing to occupy less space and to consume less stuff. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll stick with the bigger house – after all, it provides plenty of room for Scout to run around!

A Detour To Kinnikinnick Fen

Yesterday was a little cool but sunny so I took a detour to Kinnikinnick Fen after work. It was a short walk plus several minutes spent sifting through rocks and leaves on the beach as I listened for birds and frogs all around.

It was a delightful break from reality.

I pity people who don’t enjoy being outside or who don’t get to spend much time in nature. I feel more like myself in the quiet of nature – even if it is brief.

Wherever you are, I challenge you to get outside today. You’ll feel better. I promise.

The Creatures Paused To Mourn

Coming home from work last night was odd. The old oak tree was gone, as well as a small mulberry tree that it destroyed when it fell in Friday night’s storm. They also removed another tree along the driveway that wasn’t especially nice but had been there for my entire life.

In short, home looks almost unrecognizable now.

After writing Ode To An Old Friend Destroyed By Storm this weekend, I witnessed county workers cutting the tree out of the road. It all reminded me of something I read in college. It’s a passage from the classic book “Night Comes To The Cumberlands” by Harry S. Caudill.

Here’s part of the passage:

“When approximately one third of the trunk had been chopped away, the axes were laid aside and a long cross-cut saw was laid to the opposite side. For an hour or two the droning teeth gnawed their way into the vitals of the centuries-old titan. Suddenly, when the unsevered wood was only inches thick, the dying monster swayed and crashed to the earth. Its descent was terrific, its ancient branches tearing a mighty swath through lesser timber on the hillside below. The mountains and valleys echoed and re-echoed the thunder of its fall. Wild creatures fled the area in fright; then, a moment later, the thunder was replaced by a curious stillness as though the forest and all its creatures had paused to mourn the passing of one of its patriarchs.”

If you’re a regular reader here and this sounds familiar, I once referenced this passage in another story.

While the tree’s demise was caused by nature rather than humans, the imagery of the creatures of the forest pausing “to mourn the passing of one of its patriarchs” seemed fitting. The forest fell quiet just before the chainsaws buzzed and it remained quiet for a while after.

And so ends the story of our friend, the grandfatherly old tree who gave shelter and beauty to all who sought it.

There’s an adage that says “blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”

I think it’s time to plant some trees.

Staying Warm When The Power Goes Out

My new survival strategy for cold weather power outages is made possible by my parents.

They thought my request for a pop-up tent was a little odd given that I don’t camp. But they bought me one for Christmas this year and it was the best thing ever.

When this bad boy is zipped up, body heat keeps it nice and warm. It was a little cooler than it could have been because I had to leave the door unzipped enough for Scout to get out to his litter box. All the same, it was toasty compared to the rest of the house this weekend.

You can set it up on the floor or on your bed. I thoroughly enjoyed building a little nest for us to stay comfy and to have enough light for late night reading. It was so comfy I really wanted to curl up in there for an afternoon nap yesterday but there was no opportunity.

So if you live in a cold climate and worry about power outages, a pop-up tent is a great way to go. It fits in a small bag that’s easy to store and can be put together even by one person.

Ode To An Old Friend Destroyed By Storm

Friday night’s storm took out a tree along my parents’ driveway. It fell across the road, splintering an electric pole and downing the nearby power lines and transformer.

My dad sat in the truck in their driveway Friday night, shining headlights on the tree until the county came to put up road closed signs. People drive too fast on our country road and he feared someone would hit it in the darkness.

There are now road closed signs but people are just driving past the signs only to slam on the brakes when they get to the tree. A kid on a dirt bike keeps riding up to it, seemingly to gather enough courage to drive through. He hasn’t done it yet but I wouldn’t doubt that someone will try before this is all over.

The power company says to stay back fifty feet but they have not been out to even look at the situation yet. At one point, they had over 15,000 customers without power so the small amount of darkened houses out my way probably aren’t a priority.

And so we wait.

I tell you that to say this.

That tree isn’t just a tree. It feels like we have lost a member of the family. Seeing it splayed out across the road for strangers to gawk at feels so undignified. He once stood so tall but his bare branches and exposed roots seem to shrivel in shame with each passing hour.

This mighty oak was like a kindly grandfather who provided habitat for any number of little creatures. Deer crossing the road would hesitate here, taking shelter and sniffing the air before bounding off on their way. Squirrels scurried about, teasing the dog and giving chase to each other up and down that large trunk. This grandfather tree gave shade on a hot summer day and beautified the landscape every day he lived.

We don’t know his age but he was tall and big around. My dad recalls seeing this tree in very old pictures. The rings will no doubt tell a story.

He was pulled out by the roots, leaving a large hole in the earth and a gaping hole in the landscape. This tree was a symbol of home and a friend to many. He will be missed by all who knew him.

I have made numerous photos of this tree over the years but I really like this one from last February. On this day, like many others, he presided over a world blanketed in snow and shining like diamonds. Look at the long shadow he cast.

It’s hard to believe that this view is no more.

Decluttering With Strangers On The Internet

Decluttering is something I like to work on during the winter months. It’s a perfect job for this cold season and for my No Spend Challenge. After all, nothing makes you want to stop buying stuff quite like getting rid of your excess and thinking about how much money you have wasted on unnecessary crap over the decades.

While convalescing this weekend, I perused YouTube and watched a handful of videos about how getting rid of unneeded stuff can inspire inner peace. One video in particular listed over fifty things you can get rid of today. I was on board with a lot of her ideas but she and I parted ways on several topics.

For example, she doesn’t believe in having more than two pieces of luggage, purses or backpacks. Why would anyone need more than two suitcases anyway, she wondered. I have several pieces of luggage because every airline has different carryon allowances. If I were loyal to one airline, I could get rid of the excess but I tend to go with the best flight deal. Not to mention, road tripping me has different needs than flying me. If I’m hiking a lot I need bulky items like hiking shoes, extra water bottles and more clothes because rewearing yesterday’s sweaty clothes isn’t an option. Do I have a suitcase for every occasion? No, but I have more than two!

She also talked about throwing away spare change. She doesn’t like having it around and so she will sometimes just throw it in the trash. Who throws away money?

I hold onto my change in a ceramic Snoopy bank. Once I’ve accumulated a good bit, I take it to our bank to cash in for dollars. There are many years I’ve funded road trip gas with coin. We live in a country where people beg for change in the street and she’s sending it to a landfill? Wow. Tone deaf and wasteful don’t begin to cover it.

She also suggested family heirlooms like grandma’s turkey platter should be dispatched immediately if not sooner because there’s no point keeping something you use one day per year. Winter coats and scarves? You need one of each. Never mind that you might need something for dressing up for work and another coat for walking around. Plus, anyone who lives in a cold environment knows there are varying needs throughout the season.

I could go on but there’s no need to nitpick. Clearly, her values and priorities don’t align with my own. There’s nothing wrong with that (except the money thing and that’s just nuts).

However, I would caution you to think critically when people advise you to just throw away or donate something that you enjoy, that you use, or that has value. They may have Instagram worthy homes but they don’t live your life.

I will never be that person with four plates and four cups. My home will never be a showplace and, hard as I try, the cabinet with my cookie sheets is always kind of a mess.

In this season of decluttering where there’s constantly someone shaming you for your messes and trying to sell you containers, don’t buy into the hype. Keep what you love, donate or sell what you can and feather your nest in a way that makes you happy. It needn’t be perfect as long as it is perfect for you!