Guest post by Alaska Wagoner, The Tiny House Concierge
Tiny House Expedition was kind enough to let me take over their blog this week to tell you the story of how my tiny house forced me to be a better person.
My name is Alaska, AKA, The Tiny House Concierge. I’m a writer, a realtor, and a Millennial, who suffered a nervous breakdown before reinventing her life—in a tiny house!
In the beginning, I had all sorts of notions as to how I was going to use a tiny house to improve my life- I had not counted on The Tiny House of Peace using me to improve the world. In fact, I only lived tiny for seventy-two hours before my house started calling the shots. Here’s how it went.
Friends, before I get too deep, I have some things I need to confess to you. It’s entirely possible that I used to do some things that...er… were less than admirable. I will now publicly declare my sins on the internet in hopes of a better Universe. Ahem.
In my life, I have been guilty of the following:
- Leaving every light in the house on while using the hairdryer and making a smoothie
- Literally flushing an estimated 87,600 gallons of clean drinking water down the toilet
- Filling a standard, thirteen-gallon kitchen trash can on a weekly basis
- Dumping hundreds of chemicals into my body and planet Earth
- Inviting less-than-impressive friends and significant others into my life
- Throwing easily fixable things into the trash
- Buying new things, because I had so many things I couldn’t find the thing I needed
- Wasting time, money, and energy, thanks to an ill-formed sense of self
- And living up to the ideals of big corporations and other people
I lived this way for most of my life, and even though it feels a little crazy to look at it in list format, Friends, what I have just presented to you is nothing more than a snapshot of normal life in the Western World.
Now, before I go any further, I want to make two things clear:
1) I am not a perfect person. I still occasionally commit the sins listed above. I also do other questionable things, like eat entire sleeves of Oreos, use masking tape in place of Band-Aids, and leave voicemails in British accents. This is an article about progress, not perfection.
2) This article is not intended to make anyone feel guilty. The human mind is incredibly malleable; no wonder we all do these things—they’ve become our normal! If I seem horrified, it’s only because I think it’s high time we collectively clutch our pearls at the very thought of poo-ing into two gallons of drinking water before sending it off to a lab to be flushed with enough chemicals that we are legally allowed to drink it again.
Sound good? Progress, not perfection. Pearl clutching, not guilt. OK? Awesome.
Let’s get to the good stuff.
The Tiny House Makes its First Demand
Three days. That’s how long it took for my tiny house to start whipping me into shape. Remember when I confessed to you that I used to fill a kitchen trash can on a weekly basis? Well, upon moving into the tiny, I was reduced to one trash can that was less than half the size. On day one, the trash was half full. On day two, the trash was totally full. On day three, I made the tiny house rookie mistake of getting takeout.
The “helpful” restaurant server packed my food in a huge styrofoam to-go box that he secured with two rubber bands. He then grabbed a bunch of condiments, a pair of chopsticks, a fork-and-knife set, a handful of napkins, and a fortune cookie wrapped in plastic, and put it all into a paper bag… which he then put into a plastic bag… to which he stapled my paper receipt… and a menu. Are you sweating?! I’m sweating! I wasn’t at the time, though. This is normal, remember?!
My house, however, did not think it was normal, and later that evening, it let me know. As I tried to dispose of the garbage created by my takeout adventure, the already-full trash put an end to my behavior.
Friends, soy sauce, went everywhere. Bits of rice fell out over the edges of the bin and onto the vacuum cleaner (they share the same drawer because, tiny house), and I stabbed myself on a chopstick trying to stuff it all down. For the life of me, I could not get that drawer to remain closed. Over and over, the house ejected the drawer and spat trash all over the living room floor.
By day four, the following rules were in place:
- I will consider the amount of packaging when shopping.
- I will not get takeout from restaurants that drown their food in the garbage.
- I will embrace being the person who keeps Tupperware in their car.
- I will start a composting bin in my freezer (which keeps it from smelling!) to not fill the trash with what is actually reusable material.
- House: 1
- Planet Earth: 1
- Me: 1
Well played, tiny house.
The Chemicals Were the Next Things to Go
My second parking space had a greywater-into-the-ground system. This meant that overnight, it became imperative that I never, ever put chemicals down the drain.
Friends, this one blew my mind. Do you know how many things we use every day that cause chemicals to go down the drain? In one 24-hour period, I had to examine my toothpaste, mouthwash, face wash, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shave gel, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, and anything that might be used to clean a sink or shower. The bad news is that it was a super overwhelming week. The good news is that the world has made so many improvements to biodegradable products! If you’re holding out on making the switch because you used-a-couple-products-a-few-years-ago-and-they-sucked, you can put that fear to bed. Your fellow humans have come through and made some truly great things. If you need a place to start, I recommend replacing all hand and dish soaps with Dr. Bronner’s in foaming pump dispensers.
The tiny did it again! In one fell swoop, I was forced to make changes that were better for my body, better for the planet, and in some cases… cheaper!
Then There Was The Toilet
When I bought my tiny house, there was a regular toilet installed. So how did my tiny house convince me to transition to the composting variety? Well, Friends, it turns out that a traditional toilet really limits your tiny house parking options. My tiny journey began in an RV park where the sewer was available, but when I decided to seek out a parking space on private land, I realized that a flushing toilet was a dream of the past.
Here’s the thing: most people have a garden hose connection, many people have a heavy-duty electrical outlet, but very few properties come equipped with an additional sewer or septic option. Moreover, it isn’t easy to put one in. The government doesn’t raise much of an eyebrow over the installation of an outdoor electrical outlet, but I promise you they will be curious as to why someone wants to do what? In the far corner of the lawn. Trust me, if you’re thinking of going tiny, do yourself a favor and plumb for a waterless toilet of some kind.
Results of making the switch:
- I save 20+ gallons of freshwater per day.
- Waste does not need to be chemically treated.
- Solids and TP are redirected from our water supplies and trash into compost that can be used to grow food. Go, tiny house, go!
The Less Than Impressive Friends
Right. So, I don’t want to say I was reckless, but I may have occasionally invited people into my life who weren’t helpful. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
*Sorry, my tiny house made me a better human, but not a perfect one, remember?*
Anyway, here’s what happened. Immediately upon moving into a tiny house, everyone and their mother expressed an interest in “coming to see it,” “coming to stay with me,” or even just “moving in.” My initial reaction was to say, of course! I love my tiny house; it’s cute, and I’m proud of it. Why wouldn’t I want to share it with as many people as possible? Due to Covid, I was not able to immediately accommodate these requests, however, and boy am I glad that it worked out that way!
Here’s the deal. You know how some guests are allowed in your kitchen, but not your bedroom? A tiny house is like your bedroom. You can’t hide how you spend your day, whether or not your bed is made, or what you’ve chosen to value. Sometimes the medicine cabinet is full, and your pills are on the counter, or the mail is faceup literally next to the spot where guests hang their coats. Does someone have to use the bathroom? There is only one, and also, while you use it, I will be hovering fifteen feet from the door because that is where the living room is located.
Friends, a tiny house is an extremely intimate space. It’s absolutely a benefit of the lifestyle, but as I close in on my first year as a tiny homeowner, I have a new rule about who I allow into The Tiny House of Peace: Only people I love and trust. I have to know you, and you have to bring good juju. Wine doesn’t hurt either.
Making Smoothies While Blow Drying My Hair
I am ashamed to admit that prior to moving into a tiny house, I didn’t take the saving of electricity all that seriously. I mean, if you’d asked me, I’d have been like, of course, I want to save whales!!! But then I would have totally left the thermostat at sixty-eight degrees and opened a window for fresh air.
As I write this, I can feel anxiety building because I have the A/C on, and I’m realizing that the house is currently cool enough. Actually, hang on, I need to go turn that off.
OK, I’m back now. What you just witnessed is 100% due to what happened in my second month of living tiny.
In my second month in the tiny, I attempted to run the air conditioner while taking a sauna. (I know, the irony is killing me too.) (Also, yes! There is a sauna in my tiny house!)
All of a sudden, there was a loud BEEEEP and everything shut off. It took two days of calling electricians and fiddling with the tiny house breaker panel before I realized that I’d tripped the breaker on my landlord’s house! There are now pieces of blue tape over all high-energy appliances to remind me to be judicious.
Other improvements: I now remember to turn lights and climate control systems off before leaving the house. I also consider the energy usage of appliances before I buy them and have since stopped making smoothies. (Although, full disclosure, that last one has more to do with running out of protein powder.)
Buying New Things, Because I Had So Many Things I Couldn’t Find the Thing I Needed
My mother called me yesterday to tell me that she’s going to buy a slow cooker for the apartment she’s renting while relocating. You have a slow cooker; I reminded her. She reminded me that it was in the storage unit she’s also renting. I’ll never find it, she said.
Friends, I probably could have left the conversation here, but what I actually did was to remind her that technically, there were two slow cookers in the storage unit because there was also the one she bought last winter when she couldn’t find the original slow cooker in her multi-thousand square foot house. I may have used the phrase “Russian nesting doll situation” and threatened to buy her a tiny house for Christmas. Oopsie!
I fully admit to being in the wrong here. (Sorry, Mom!) The truth is that I have done this exact same thing. Sometimes, I’m still tempted to do it! Believe it or not, it is possible to lose things in a tiny home! Unlike with a regular house, however, you can’t solve this problem by buying something new. The pain factor of having too many items in a tiny will prevent this from becoming your solution. You have to keep hunting. You will find whatever it is you need to eventually and will probably get some deep cleaning done in the process.
Throwing Easily-Fixable Things into the Trash
I don’t know that this one needs a ton of explanation. After going tiny, I now find that I have the time, energy, and mental bandwidth to repair things. It’s awesome! Also, tiny house trash cans are small, remember lesson one? You can’t just throw things away willy-nilly.
My Tiny House Forced Me To Define Myself
I have owned some truly ridiculous-and-yet-amazing things in my life, including, but not limited to: a disco ball, a fog machine, a snow-cone maker, and full hula attire. If I lived permanently at a Burning Man festival, I would totally endorse myself in keeping these items. Unfortunately, I do not. I have a job and said job’s dress code frowns upon coconuts.
My point is this: Not very many things will fit into a tiny house, and this forces you to choose how you define your life. Maybe your go-to date night is turning on the disco-ball and making snow-cones, but if it isn’t, you can’t spare the space. A tiny house will force you to refine what you value. It will also encourage you to cut down on consumption and rely on your greater community because sometimes we all need to borrow a fog machine.
My personal proposition: Every family is required to own one weird item. When you need to borrow an adult-sized squirrel costume, call Dave. Shirley is in charge of water skis, and Ernesto has all things cake-baking on lockdown. Who’s in?
Living up to the Ideals of Big Corporations and Other People
There is no ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ when you live in a tiny house! Big box stores would have you believe that you don't love your family if you don’t buy a certain amount of plastic decor every year. On the surface, I know these things are ridiculous, but in reality, I totally fell into those traps all the time until, again, my tiny house taught me differently.
I don’t go buy new things on a whim anymore, not because I’m a “woke” person, but because there is no faster way to turn a serene tiny house experience into a majestic Christmas nightmare than to buy unnecessary trinkets and decor items! If you really want to do yourself in, order everything on Amazon. I promise you; just two shipments will turn your tiny dream house into an episode of Hoarders while you try to figure out how to dispose of a thousand packing peanuts responsibly.
Even if you wanted to throw everything in the trash, you literally can’t. Again: see lesson one. Do your tiny self a favor: shop less, and buy local.
And So It Goes...
Whew! Friends, this is truly a list that goes on and on, but for the purposes of this article, I will end things here. If you have gone tiny, I imagine a lot of this resonates with you, and if you haven’t gone tiny yet- please don’t be afraid of these changes! I promise you they become second nature faster than you think!
How is it possible that low trash creation, buying local, and using eco-products have become naturally occurring and preferable choices in my life? I don’t even know, but that’s proof that Tiny House Magic is real. This lifestyle has made me happier, healthier, and freer, and it’s saving the planet in the process. The best news? Everyone is totally invited. Tiny living is a lifestyle as much as it is a house, and you do not have to live in less than four hundred square feet to join in the fun.
I want to remind us all one more time not to feel guilty about where we’re at today. Noticing is the first step, and progress is a messy road. I still continue to purchase the occasional piece of disco attire, only to remember that one of my life themes is not being an Elvis impersonator. I’m not perfect; I’m just an 80’s baby, raised in suburbia on Shake ‘n’ Bake; I’m just a girl trying her best, one whose life was turned upside down by one very small house.
Thanks for listening.
Alaska is a writer, realtor, and tiny homeowner living in the great state of Colorado. She is the founder of The Tiny House Concierge, a company that provides education and consultation services for people looking to re-think their housing and re-write their lives. You can find her on Instagram: @tinyhouseconcierge.
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