Tag Archives: Tiny living

Small Homes

Remember when we had a friend over to take pictures of our house for possible inclusion in Lloyd Kahn’s new book, Small Homes?

We were included, and two copies of the book arrived in the mail today. Eep!

This is a cool book. We’re on pages 142-145.

It was fun to look at the pictures, which showed how the house looked in December 2015, before I redecorated four rooms, swapped out a bunch of furniture and discovered the magic of cheap IKEA shoe bins. Sometimes I forget how far we’ve come in here, and seeing old photos — accompanied by a narrative showing my thoughts at the time — gives me a nice sense of accomplishment to counterbalance all the times I walk in here, see what needs to be done and get frustrated with myself because I haven’t done it yet. (Yeah, kitchen floor, I’m lookin’ at you.)

The photos were taken near Christmas, obviously.
I’m amazed we got four whole pages. Not bad for a house we didn’t even build.

Even before all my projects last year, our house looked fairly spacious, and I’m proud to have it featured in the book, where hopefully it will inspire somebody else to experiment with minimalism and downsizing. It isn’t carved out of the side of a hill, sculpted by hand from cob, rescued from the brink of demolition or located in a picturesque forest or desert, but Kahn’s justification for its inclusion delighted me, because it sums up my reasons for sending him photos and information in the first place:

“As you may know, our building books are generally heavy on graphics and light on details. However, this meticulous rendering by Emily and Ron of their ideas for living in a small space, and the cost-conscious ways they’ve carried out their goals is rare and useful, practical information.” — LK

I hope people do find it useful and practical, and if anybody found out about this blog by way of the book, I strongly encourage you to search my Eco-Saturday and Tiny Tuesday tags to see more examples of our efforts to save space and live lightly on the planet. And, of course, if you found out about the book by way of this blog, I encourage you to support Kahn’s work by buying a copy or clicking over to The Shelter Blog to see what else he’s got up his sleeve. He’s done some great work over the last few years, and we always keep a copy of his Tiny Homes book handy to fuel our daydreams.

Oh, and mad props to our friend Laura Simon, photographer extraordinaire, who shot a bunch of the photos that ended up in the book. (We’ll be giving her the second copy of the book, of course.)

Emily

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Tiny Tuesday: Hang a basket on the wall

This functional basket replaced a cute but useless plaque next to the shower.
This functional basket replaced a cute but useless plaque next to the shower.

Baskets seem to be a theme lately — and for good reason: In a small space, a well-placed basket can mean the difference between a cluttered mess and an attractive living area.

Our bathroom didn’t look terribly cluttered, but some of my storage strategies weren’t as convenient as they could have been. Case in point: washcloths. I had the washcloths stacked in the cabinet above the toilet — neat and out of sight, but nowhere near the shower, which seems silly. Meanwhile, I noticed some more underutilized space above the towel ring between the medicine cabinet and the shower, so I decided to take down the decorative plaque that was hanging there and replace it with a water-hyacinth basket.

A single-unit storage cube would have fit in that space, too, but the one I had on hand was an open-backed model that would have been a pain to hang up, as I would have needed special mounting hardware. All I needed was a place to store a stack of washcloths and maybe an extra bar of soap or two within easy reach of the shower. As you can see, the basket serves that purpose nicely, and being made of natural materials (or maybe crumpled paper designed to look like natural materials), it will coordinate well with the rest of the bathroom when I finish painting my faux-stone mural in there.

When we build our tiny house, I’m planning a permanent structure, but a lot of tiny-house enthusiasts like to build theirs on trailers to avoid some building-code hassles and allow themselves freedom to travel without leaving the comforts of home. If that’s the direction you’re considering, you’ll want to swap shelves and cabinets for baskets wherever possible to keep your home’s weight down. (And yes, I’ll explain the building-code workaround I’m planning in a future post.)

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Check your supplies

This post could fit under either Eco-Saturday or Tiny Tuesday, as it conserves both materials and space. You might already be doing it; if you’re not, it won’t cost you anything except a little time, and it might save you a few dollars.

Many years ago, I decided to boycott Wal-Mart. I really wasn’t sure I could pull it off, as I’m prone to work on projects at odd hours and frequently ended up having to make Wal-Mart runs to buy supplies or materials for whatever I was doing. Without the convenience of 24/7 access to paint, basic hardware, and whatever else I might need to complete a project, how would I get by?

Among other things, I discovered I was terrible about buying duplicates of things I already had, simply because I didn’t bother to check before I shopped.

Sometimes a project calls for a specific item; for instance, I made some repairs to my dining-room floor today and found a certain type of screw worked best for the job. If the item I need is a specialty item I’m not likely to have on hand, I’ve no compunction about going to the hardware store. But more often than not, I can make do with whatever I have.

When I quit shopping at Wal-Mart, I had to improvise. If I needed inch-long screws at 3 a.m., I had to remember where I put the leftovers from my last project. I spent a lot of time rifling through my toolbox and using up odds and ends I already had instead of going out and buying more just because I was too lazy to look for my existing stock.

This saved me money, obviously, and it allowed me to reclaim some storage space. It also saved resources: the materials to make whatever item I’d decided not to buy; fuel to get it from the manufacturer to the store; fuel to drive to the store to pick it up.

Over the years, this has become habit. Very rarely do I buy new items without checking first to see whether what I have will work — even when I’m shopping during normal business hours.

If you’re looking for a way to help the environment and your pocketbook, I highly recommend taking an inventory of the stuff you have on hand so you’ll know what you already have and won’t waste money and resources buying new every time you need something.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Kitchen-sink organizer

When I started washing dishes by hand last winter, I discovered another storage need and another example of wasted space in my kitchen.

Dishwashing tools — rags, scrubbers, Scotch-Brite pads, rubber gloves and the like — are fairly ugly and tend to clutter up the area between the faucet and the backsplash.

Fortunately, thanks to the positioning of the window and cabinets in my kitchen, I had a big, empty vertical space to the left of my sink, so last winter, I rigged up a storage caddy from a small metal sign, some magnetic clips, and a dollar-store basket.

It wasn’t pretty, and the magnets occasionally slipped if I put something too heavy in the basket, but it kept my tools handy, and I decided it was probably worth my effort to construct a more permanent setup.

Here is what I came up with:

Cheap and handy.
Cheap and handy.

And here is how to make it:

Materials
Cheap Masonite clipboard
Clothespins
Two Command hooks or similar product
Small, narrow plastic storage basket
Gel-type super glue
Lacquer
Sturdy cup hook
Paint and/or paintmarkers (optional)

Instructions
Decorate the clipboard to suit your tastes. (I doodled a sort of faux-mid-century pattern on mine, but I’m not wild about how it turned out and will probably paint over it at some point.)

Super-glue the clothespins to the clipboard. Arrange them at whatever height and spacing seem convenient based on what you’re planning to hang up there.

Super-glue the Command hooks to the clipboard about two inches from the bottom and as close to the edges as possible based on the spacing of the holes in your basket. (I put the hooks on the basket and then laid the whole thing on the clipboard to figure out the spacing.) If you can find very small screws that won’t go all the way through the clipboard, you can use them to reinforce it, but I didn’t have anything that small on hand, so we’ll have to see how the glue works by itself.

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

Seal the board with lacquer on both sides, making sure to coat the edges so the Masonite won’t get too wet and start to deteriorate.

After the lacquer dries, use the cup hook to hang the clipboard from the side of the cabinet, hang the basket from the Command hooks, and you’re good to go.

Clutter corralled.
Clutter corralled.

I like this little organizer because it’s cheap, easy to make, and corrals all my dishwashing tools in a convenient spot while reclaiming some previously unused vertical space.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Toaster oven

In my relentless march toward a tiny house somewhere off the grid in New Mexico, I’ve spent a big chunk of the past year experimenting to see which appliances are expendable, which are helpful but not absolutely necessary, and which are completely non-negotiable. (More on that in a future Tiny Tuesday post.)

About a year ago, as part of my experimentation, I bought a lower-end toaster oven similar to this one and started using it in place of my regular oven.

Small but mighty.
Small but mighty.

Even if you bake regularly and are absolutely committed to using a full-sized oven for cakes, cookies, Thanksgiving meals, etc., you can do the environment (and your power bill) a big favor by using a toaster oven instead of your regular oven as often as possible.

I cook most of our meals at home, and for just about everything I make, I’ve found the toaster oven equal, if not superior, to the regular oven. Its compact size means I don’t need to preheat it, which saves me time and money every time I bake. I always hated preheating, partly because it took extra time, and partly because I resented the fact the heating element was drawing power for 10 minutes without giving me anything in return.

The smaller size also means you’re not wasting money and energy heating a lot of empty space around your food. If I’m just making a small fritatta for the two of us or a few break-and-bake cookies to soothe a craving, I don’t need to heat five cubic feet of space. Instead, I use the toaster oven to get the same results in roughly one cubic foot, thus knocking down my energy consumption for that meal by about 80 percent.

Two other ways the toaster oven saves resources, neither of which would have occurred to me before I bought it:

1. The smaller space means I cook smaller batches, thus reducing the risk of having more leftovers than we can eat. (This also helps with portion control, as I don’t end up eating more than I need just because it’s there.)

2. Most toaster ovens come with a timer that shuts off the oven when the time is up, reducing the likelihood of wasting food by burning it.

A toaster oven won’t work for every household or every project. But it’s a nice option, and one I’ve used far more than I expected.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Outdoor living

In assessing how much space we need in our home, I find it valuable to consider three questions:

1. How much time do I spend indoors?
2. What am I doing there?
3. How much of that could be done outside?

The answers to those questions will help you determine what kind of square footage you need and how comfortable you’re likely to be in a small space. Most of the things I like to do in my spare time — read, write, surf the internet — takes up very little room and could be done just as easily outdoors when the weather is decent.

A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for sipping coffee and relaxing next to the pond.
A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for relaxing next to the pond.

On clear days when it’s not terribly hot and humid, I like to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast on the deck while the dogs play in the yard. On cool evenings when I have a little time off, I might sip a craft beer next to the pond, where I have a little concrete bench just big enough for one person to sit and think, and on drizzly days, the papasan chair parked at one end of our wide front porch makes an inviting place to curl up and read a book amid the scent of petrichor and the sound of the rain. A couple of years back, I added a little tile-topped plant stand that’s just big enough to hold a glass or a small plate, and next year, I’m planning to add a small table and chair to the other end of the porch to create a sort of outdoor office suitable for writing or working on other projects.

I’ve put a lot of time into customizing my yard, turning it into the kind of place where I like to hang out, and I imagine that will only increase when I get to New Mexico, where nothing indoors is ever going to be as pretty as anything outdoors, and where the weather is generally much more favorable for spending time outside.

If you’re trying to figure out how much space you really need, do yourself a favor and try spending more time outside. You may find you don’t need as much room as you thought — or you may find you can keep your climate-controlled space to a minimum and swap some of it for a transitional space that doesn’t have to be heated or cooled, such as a sunroom or conservatory with big windows you can open to let the breeze through on nice days.

Go play outside and see how it works for you.

Emily