A Master Suite Or An Annual Month of Vacation?

A Master Suite Or An Annual Month of Vacation?

Does your life serve your home, or does your home serve your life? That’s the question I’ve been chewing on for over a year, since I first wrote “Why Do We Love to Look At Homes?” about the curious predicament of lusting after pretty houses that would actually thwart my ability to live my life the way I want. Lately I’ve been looking for ways to make the idea more concrete, and the universe delivered one when I watched a House Hunters marathon on HGTV. Everybody on House Hunters seems to want a master suite – a bedroom connected to a private bathroom, with an optional fancy walk-in closet that sometimes connects the two spaces. They’re the new normal in modern homes despite the fact that they’ve only been around since the mid 1980’s, according to Zillow. After watching couple after couple reject perfectly nice homes because they “didn’t have a master,” I wondered, what else can you get for the price of a master suite? Are they still so desirable in the context of your whole life, and not just isolated in home blogs and magazines? Would you choose an extra-private bathroom over almost a month of vacation every year? Because my math says that’s just about what it costs. A Home That Serves Your Life Talking about how your home can support your life can sound vague or “woo-woo”, but it can also be very concrete. Let’s do some math about it and put the cost of a master suite in the context of something many people like even more than luxurious bathrooms: vacation. Here’s the infographic...
How to Decide Whether to Buy, Rent, Borrow or Repair

How to Decide Whether to Buy, Rent, Borrow or Repair

A tricky question we face as members of a consumer society is not, “To buy or not to buy?” But, “How can I have access to what I need?” Shopping might be the most common means to that end, but it’s only one of many. You can buy (new or used), but you can also trade, repair, rent or borrow.  One of my goals for my Unshopping Challenge, the month that I tried not to buy anything new, was to try some of the access methods I don’t use often enough, and figure out when each method makes the most sense. How to Choose? Renting and borrowing came up frequently in the interviews I did for the Life in a Tiny House Ebook. When people can’t fit one of everything they ever need in their home, they find ways to get what they sometimes need, just when they need it. Repairing didn’t come up as often, but for many it’s a part of that same ethic: reduce stuff, reduce waste. I wanted to conclude my experience with the challenge in a way that would guide my future decision making, and potentially be helpful for others as well. Instead of writing a blow-by-blow account of my month in purchasing, I made a flowchart that sums up what I really ought to do, when I’m at my most thoughtful. This includes some of my most common emotional stumbling blocks: Thinking I should buy something when I really just want to try it out, and thinking I should toss something out and replace it when I really just wish it worked like...
How to Change Obligatory Shopping Traditions

How to Change Obligatory Shopping Traditions

Let’s say you’re working on yourself to become a more conscious consumer, but then it’s the holidays or somebody’s birthday, and you’re suddenly obligated to buy stuff. And just thinking about how to explain to your sister that you’d rather not buy her son the plastic toy set he wants makes you so exhausted that you just give up and get it for him. Shortly after beginning the Unshopping Challenge, a month of not buying anything new, I got on a plane to visit my family. I knew this might be my downfall in the challenge, because our shopping habits get extra complicated when traditions come into play. And, honestly, living by your values is hard enough without anyone else around. But throw in a friend, family member or entire culture that sees things differently, and sticking to your guns can feel almost impossible. I accidentally made some headway in how I handle that culture clash last week that I’m excited to share. If you can non-judgmentally open up the conversation about why you’re shopping in the first place, and just what those gifts are trying to represent, you might make a lasting change in your family or community. Good Intentions and Clashing Cultures There are numerous traditions in today’s culture that require us to buy products for people, and where opting out can look rude or cheap. It’s a really special kind of first world problem, isn’t it? Many people are on the same cultural page as their partner or close friends, but also share in family or community traditions with people whose beliefs about material things are...
How To Forgive Yourself For Buying Stuff You Don’t Need

How To Forgive Yourself For Buying Stuff You Don’t Need

Last week I signed up for the “Unshopping Challenge,” a commitment to buy nothing new for a month, except consumables like food and gas. I wanted to take the challenge because I’ve been thinking about my possessions more than usual lately. It’s spring cleaning time, and I have the urge to purge. But it’s also my birthday soon, so I have the urge to treat myself, too. When I’m already having strong, mixed feelings about my relationship to material life, what better time to learn from it? I purposely took on the challenge at a time when I knew I might fail. In fact, I might have already lost the challenge, depending on how you interpret it.  But for me, the point isn’t to win for a month, it’s to spend a month examining why I do what I do, and apply that knowledge to the rest of the year. So win, lose or draw, I’ll be documenting what I learn in three posts: beginning, middle and end. And I’ll start with some of the first steps I took earlier in my life to change my relationship to stuff: figuring out why I loved to buy, and forgiving myself for buying the wrong things.   Where Stuff Comes From People’s relationships to possessions probably vary even more than their relationships to homes, so it helps to establish some context for mine. In recent years I’ve become a pretty conscious consumer, mostly because I am cheap. And while I have always been cheap, I used to rely much more heavily on toys, clothes and other stuff to improve my life....
Why Do We Love To Look At Homes?

Why Do We Love To Look At Homes?

Do you like looking at pictures of houses? ME TOO. But…why? When we look at pictures of other people’s homes, what exactly are we looking for? Eye candy? Design ideas? “10 Stylish Ways to Store Shoes”? It took me years of drooling over other people’s living spaces before I realized what I was really looking for: not inspiration for my kitchen design, but inspiration for my whole life. I’m sure some people are just having good, clean fun when they browse Apartment Therapy, but I don’t think I’m the only one looking for something else beneath all the attractive surfaces in home photos. I think I finally know what I was really looking for, and how to find it. It already influenced the tiny home owners I’ve visited so far, and now it’s helping me determine who I interview next.   Life: Not Pictured For longer than I can remember, looking at homes has been like a hobby and therapy in one: I browsed architectural magazines or design websites when I felt bored, stuck, or panicked. On some level I thought finding my “perfect home” would give me clues to my perfect life, but I usually felt jealous just as much as I felt inspired. I also felt confused. I always wanted to know who lived in the home I was looking at. Where and how did they get all that cool stuff? How can they afford that place? What do they do for a living, and do they like that? Do they really enjoy living in that apartment, home, neighborhood, city? How does their home support what’s really...
How Tiny Houses Promote More (and Better) Experiences

How Tiny Houses Promote More (and Better) Experiences

What is a “perfect day” for someone who lives in a tiny house? I wanted to understand how tiny homes influence people’s lives in and out of the house – you know, where most of life happens – so asked everyone I interviewed what a perfect day might look like for them. While their answers were unique, they shared a common theme: they listed experiences, satisfying ways to spend their time. Is that any different from someone who lives in a conventional house? I don’t think so. Most people want the same things, in a “What you regret on your death bed” kind of way. I think tiny houses just have a special way of reminding people that life is about doing more than having. Maybe that’s why tiny homes can be polarizing. Some are instantly attracted to a life based primarily on experience, where accumulating possessions is a secondary concern. But to others, watching people pursue a material-minimum life can feel like a judgement of their own buying habits, and even their own lives. But I haven’t experienced the tiny house movement as anti-materialist. It just prioritizes experiences over material things in a visually dramatic way. Tiny homes often open the door to practical circumstances that help people spend their time in ways they really value. But they also help people recognize that if life really is all about experiences, then the mundane, little moments can matter just as much as the lofty achievements and really big deals.   Experiences Make You Happier Than Things Every couple of years a new scientific study emerges about how spending money...
Why “Do It Yourself” When Someone Else Can Do It For You?

Why “Do It Yourself” When Someone Else Can Do It For You?

The ranks of tiny home builders are growing rapidly, so it’s easier now than ever to buy a tiny house instead of building one yourself. This is great, because not everyone has to, or should, build a tiny home themselves – just as not everyone has to grow all their own food, sew their own clothes or fix their own car. We develop areas of expertise so we can do things better and faster for others than they could for themselves. But is there value in doing it yourself when having it done for you is a viable option? Yesterday I was reminded of one of the many things I learned from my tiny house interviews that had implications far beyond houses and home. While many of us live in a culture that makes it easier than ever to have things, there’s still no substitute for doing things. Creating something with your mind or your hands makes you curious, engaged and confident in your abilities in ways that can be just what the doctor ordered…even when you could order the same thing on Amazon.com for cheap. Creating a Can-Do Attitude For Christmas I asked for Michael Pollan’s most recent book, Cooked. It chronicles Pollan’s journey of learning to bake bread, fire up a barbeque and ferment his own pickles. On the jacket was a question Pollan had asked himself: “How can people living in a highly specialized consumer economy reduce their sense of dependence and achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency?” For Pollan, the answer was cooking, which he finds valuable and fun despite the prevailing notion that, “While...
How Tiny Houses Changed My Life – Even Though I Don’t Live In One

How Tiny Houses Changed My Life – Even Though I Don’t Live In One

Interviewing people about how they decided to live in tiny houses has changed my life – even though I don’t live in one, and don’t plan to. I embarked on this project to demonstrate that while tiny houses won’t work for everyone, they’re more practical and possible than many people think. But I also suspected it would teach me something, too. Something about how we pursue our dreams, and build the lives we want to live. I gave a talk in Portland recently that I’m excited to share with the wider world, because it’s not about how tiny houses will save your life. It’s about how to figure out what you want your life to be about, and then make choices that support that, even if they’re not the choices you expected. The tiny house folks I interviewed were scattered around the country and came from many walks of life, but all used a strikingly similar process to determine that little houses were right for them. That process involved figuring out what was most important to them in life (not just in housing) and then changing their circumstances to support and focus on those things. Which, for them, meant a tiny house. But anyone can go through that same decision making process and make choices that help them live a life focused on what’s really important to them. I already have. You can too. And although I’ll use examples from the tiny house community, a tiny house isn’t required. “Dream House” I break down the process in detail in the video above, during a talk I gave recently to...
Tiny House Parking: A Perspective That Works

Tiny House Parking: A Perspective That Works

How do people who live in tiny homes handle parking and legality? To me, this was one of the most interesting things to discuss with the people I interviewed for my ebook, Life in a Tiny House. People who are interested in tiny homes often cite the parking and legality issue as their greatest barrier. Yet people who already live in tiny houses say their biggest challenges were things like roof rafter patterns So where’s the disconnect? Why is parking the central issue for some, and an afterthought for others? This is going to sound a little “woo-woo,” but it really is all a matter of perspective. Is it risky, or not? Is the letter of the law something you follow, or interpret? Perspective alone doesn’t build houses, but it allows some people to move forward with their plans now, and keeps others waiting for changes in external circumstances like zoning and codes. The legal reality is the same for most people: tiny homes on wheels are usually just too new an idea to be considered fully legal housing. If someone doesn’t like where you’re parked and they complain to the right people, you might need to move. Once you know that, your perspective on the situation determines whether you still want to move forward. So how do the people who already call tiny houses home think about their parking? Problems are Solvable Most of the people I interviewed shared some variation on this theme about parking: “It will probably be fine, and if or when a problem comes up, I’ll just solve it.” That’s it. That’s the secret...
Tiny Houses In Context: What’s a “Normal” House, Anyway?

Tiny Houses In Context: What’s a “Normal” House, Anyway?

A lot of people ask me what a tiny house is, but I think these questions are just as interesting: “What’s a ‘normal house?’ Where is it normal? And for how long has it been normal?” The main thing that makes a tiny house tiny is what we’re comparing it to, and the context in which we see it. But context changes over time, and is different from place to place. I wrote recently about why it’s hard to choose something we’re not used to, and how we can do it anyway. A lot of that is emotional, but some of it is factual. When we look past the cultural moment we’re in right now and widen the lens of our perspective, do tiny homes still seem weird? And do they still look as tiny? The Context of Time We sometimes hear statistics about how houses in America have been getting bigger over the years, but it’s hard to really notice when we live in the midst of it. It’s easier to see that what’s “normal” is relative when it changes right in front of us. I noticed these neighboring homes near me in Portland, Oregon. They’re a real life diagram of how a “normal” home in America has ballooned during the last 60 years. The house on the left is 1,169 square feet and was built in 1955, according to public records. The often-cited statistical average size of a single family home in the United States during the 1950’s was 983 square feet, so that’s pretty darn close to average. The home on the left is 2,552 square...