Things I’ve Learned From Living in 200 Square Feet (So Far…)

I wish I had some amazing, chic Tiny House photos to share with you. I started dreaming of tiny living about three years ago, when I was moving to London in the Fall of 2013.

With the property prices in the state of my birth rising and rising and rising like some over-leavened cake, it was feeling unreachable already that we would have the kind of house that I grew up in. In Denver, house prices are up 48% since 2011 (and rents are up 50% in the same time period). Put another way, that’s a 10% rise every year.

The suburbs are also the place that I have fought hard to leave since high school, and to which I cannot return for having been changed by travel in the intervening ten years. My living situations have been unconventional since leaving college in 2010, when I started living out of suitcases and on multiple continents full-time.

  • In Chile, I lived in a hostel/host family with lots of boarders. Up to 60 people stayed and I helped out with serving meals, doing all the dishes by hand while chatting (Spanish skills overload!), and keeping the rooms nice.
  • In London, we shared a Victorian terraced house in the East End with six-eight other working adults. We shared a single toilet, and a single shower. It was a long year even if I loved our neighbourhood.
  • In China, we lived in what now seems like a giant apartment with a living room and a balcony. We lived above our landlords, a Shanghainese couple in their 70s.
  • In Iceland, we happily lived with a bunch of counselors and/or volunteers in an almost commune-like atmosphere. I miss the shared space, intense as it can be to live in such a small community.

img_5443Our new Korean apartment in Busan: about 200 square feet. We’ve made it! We’re in a tiny house!

Except that it isn’t all woodworked and handmade-looking, and it is stacked within a building full of other ones. Still, since we aspire to living in a very small house of our very own one day this is great practice. Living in 200 square feet is changing our habits already. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about tiny living (from real experience!) in the last month.

Keeping the house clean is easier and harder at the same time

It’s smaller, so there is less to clean. I clean for about an hour every Friday after the workweek. But it’s smaller, so the mess takes up a bigger overall percentage of your living space. One ill placed dirty dish and it looks like our kitchen is filthy. I recently figured out that I can wedge the clothes horse into the corner a little further under the boiler, opening up the kitchen by about a foot. That’s huge in our tiny space!

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My sister and her boyfriend made a schedule for their house titled, ‘The Gears.’ There is a small cleaning/maintenance task every day, and the title is a reminder that if one of the ‘gears’ isn’t working then the whole thing starts to clunk along or grind to a halt. In a tiny house/apartment, the maintenance has to be done daily. You have to keep up on the mess or it will swallow you.

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This is basically all the cabinet space we have. Use all available space. 

Headphones will (help) keep you sane if you need ‘Me Time’

We are two people living in 200 sq. feet. We are also two giant people (both over six feet tall). We share one room and two closet-sized not-exactly-rooms. We are both introverts.

When you need a little relaxation with trashy reruns of COPS on Youtube, but don’t necessarily want to include your partner in your guilty pleasure, you need headphones. It does cut one off a little from the world, but for a couple hours a day it can be necessary. We spend a huge amount of our time together, and everyone needs a little break sometimes.

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You might want a big fancy tea towel, but a tiny one (or none!) will do. 

You just don’t need that much

Minimalism is a huge deal in 2016, not least because many Millennials are redefining what it means to live well. It’s not always a choice to have fewer things, given how little disposable income we seem to have as a generation. But slapping a trendy label like, ‘Minimalism’ on our inability to acquire the traditional markers of economic success makes it feel better. No car? Minimalist! No property? Minimalism! See, see…it’s a trendy lifestyle choice and not merely carefully masked desperation.

Being full-time wanderers, we don’t have a lot of stuff to begin with. Some of the stuff we had growing up or in our early adult years is stored with our parents (thank you!). We brought a suitcase and a backpack each to Korea, and already I’m feeling like we have way too much stuff. There are already clothes that I don’t wear very often, and it already is a question whether we should try to get another fold-up table or not because it might just make things too cluttered.

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Access to Public Space Is Fundamental

The mess is so much more in my face in my Tiny-Ass Kitchen. It doesn’t help that this tiny space doubles as our laundry room. I have about four square feet in front of the stove. We do laundry twice a week, and this means we have to hang our clothes up to dry.

Unless we get a great day like today! Then I get to put my washing outside on the communal line on the rooftop. Then it gets to dry in hours instead of days and smells better than any dryer sheet could approximate.

Public spaces like pubs, cafes, parks, and rooftops are key to living in such a tiny apartment. If my arse is sore from sitting on our floor for one too many history documentaries, I can go to a coffee shop and sit in something resembling a comfy living room. If my tiny kitchen is bare, I can go to a restaurant and get cheap and casual food. If I’m losing it from touching too much concrete in the city (anthill?), then up the mountain into the forest it is.

img_5438Small Touches Make a Big Difference

I made this wreath for autumn with my mom and sister back in Colorado. It hangs on the wall, pulling our ‘tiny house’ together. I’ve decorated one wall near our bed with the dreams that we have already lived, as a form of traveller’s dreamcatcher. I took washi tape to the cabinets and fridge (which now looks like its style choices were influenced by David Bowie in the 1980s).

This is our home for now. A lot of people teaching in Korea don’t buy things for fear of later having to sell them. This is not about buying stuff. My wall is from my travels. Our wedding pictures are from the best day of our lives. The macrame curtain is from my hours and hours spent listening to Casefile podcast in Louisville, trying to not stress out about the visa. Those two posters hung in our apartment in Shanghai earlier this year. I arrange the things we already have in optimal ways, to make it more like Our House and less like a concrete living cube.

 

Find small (and for the nomads, light) things that make you feel like you are home, and use them to your advantage.


I’ll do an update of this post in five months’ time, when we’ve been living in our ‘Tiny House’ for six months.

What have you learned from your first forays into ‘Tiny’ living? Have you thought about how much space you have in square feet? Have you adopted any Minimalist tendencies? 

 

Boulder Day: A New Holiday

To celebrate being back in Boulder, the land of my birth, I went with my parents to have the most Boulderite day ever on Wednesday! We rolled on our Patchouli oil, put on our Birkenstock sandals, and headed out in the cool rainy May weather.

Our stops for the day:

  • Chautauqua Dining Hall, where I order a brie pizza and 7 Chakra herbal tisane
  • McClintock Trail, to survey the damage from the 2013 thousand-year flood
  • The Trident Cafe on Pearl Street, for Puerh Tea and a look at second hand books
  • Piece, Love, and Chocolate for locally-made truffles
  • Redstone Meadery for free tasters and mead to bring home for our fire ceremony on Saturday
  • Whole Foods’ flagship store on East Pearl Street, for dinner fixings

Boulder really has changed a lot in recent years. Even since I graduated in 2010 from CU-Boulder, buildings are going up all over and places I used to love are no more. I had a sense, walking around in the Trident, that it might not be here when I come back next. It might move on to its next incarnation. Secondhand books might be going away soon, as even a Neo-Luddite like me now has a Kindle.

Boulder changes, and it doesn’t. It’s good to go sample while I’m here!

So uh, this is life right now…

I locked myself in the kitchen with the heater, and I sit on stools with my dodgy laptop.

But hey! Our sink is clearer than in months. If your sink gets messed up, or runs slowly, do this:

  1. Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down the sink. Add a little water if needed, but only enough to make a paste.
  2. Pour white vinegar down the drain. It will sizzle a lot.
  3. Pour freshly boiled water down the drain.
  4. BOOM. Clean drain.

I can’t even believe it myself.

I received a great package from my family today. I miss them, and I am happy to wear the bracelet! Love you guys!

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Goodbye, Etsy: Why I Will Never Purchase Through Etsy Again (And Neither Should You)

EDIT: Since I posted this, I’ve received at least 50 emails and comments about the same situation for others. It seems that in some cases, Etsy even threatens their customers with legal action if they complain about a missing purchase. I have still not bought a single thing from my former favourite website. 

I attempted to buy myself a pair of boots for my birthday this year. I had a pair of leather boots from Peru that I loved in the past, and wore until the soles came off in Korea. I have been searching for a pair like this ever since (almost five years now).

What better way than to order custom-made boots on Etsy? I loved Etsy. I bought a huge amount of the things for our wedding there, including the materials to make my veil and our wedding goblets. I loved the community aspect, and the fact that Etsy actively promotes their both global and local maker community. I even wanted to open my own shop at some point to join in more. I trusted them.

I was apparently wrong.

My boots turned up in time for my birthday. They are made of leather, and of good quality. But they are also approximately seven sizes too small. They look like a comedy prop. This, after I had measured my feet and indicated that I wear a US 10 (Eur 41).

I contacted the seller, and they said that there were ‘some problems’ with their Etsy site. I found out upon checking that they had been removed from Etsy for what I can only assume were fraud reasons. Etsy never notified me of this, even though the website was removed during my transaction.

Oh yeah, and I paid $137 for those ‘custom boots.’ 

At no point did Etsy notify me (or anyone else who might be caught up in this) that they had removed the seller from the site. I attempted to file a claim about the case on Etsy. It was immediately ‘resolved’ by saying that the seller was no longer active/allowed, and that I would not be able to take any further action with Etsy. I had to go to Paypal directly and hope for the best.

This is the message I sent on 18th October after they ‘closed’ my case immediately. Subject line: ‘This is outrageous.’

I require that Etsy immediately issue a refund to my Paypal account for a purchase I made recently.

You apparently allowed a person who swindles people out of money to not only sell items on your website, but *did not notify or contact me when you closed their shop*. I had a purchase for a significant amount in process, and my birthday has been ruined as a result of Etsy‘s negligence.

I attempted to open a case directly, but received this ‘closure’ instead:

‘This is Etsy‘s Trust and Safety Team.

cmonroe1611, we are sorry to inform you that dreamgirl220220 no longer qualifies to sell on Etsy and will not be returning to the marketplace. While this case is unresolved, it is now closed.

Because this order was paid for using PayPal, your next step will be to open a separate claim for a refund with PayPal. As you may already know, PayPal’s policies state that buyers have a specified amount of time to file a claim for a refund. This eligibility window may differ depending on your location, so at this time we would recommend that you get in touch with PayPal directly for more information. Their contact information is as follows:

– PayPal Help Center: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/helpweb?cmd=_help
– PayPal Contact page: https://www.paypal.com/contactus
– PayPal # 1-888-221-1161 (US), 1-402-935-2050 (if calling from outside the US)

If the PayPal deadline passes, you might consider reaching out to your bank or credit card issuer. We apologize for the inconvenience.’

This, I’m afraid, is completely untenable. You have a responsibility as a site that hosts sellers to notify buyers of problems, especially when more than $100 is at stake. I don’t make very much money at all, and I chose to use your site to buy myself a nice pair of shoes (the only ones I will buy all year) for my own birthday.

Instead, I am stuck with shoes that are more than three sizes too small and you will do nothing about it. When you cancelled the store for the seller in question, why did you not immediately contact anyone with an outstanding order? You actively allowed this person to take my money and ruin my birthday.

I will never purchase anything from Etsy again, and will actively discourage others from doing so, if this is not immediately resolved. I simply cannot believe how bad your customer service is.

I am contacting Paypal directly, and expect your immediate and complete cooperation on this matter.

After several days, I received a response from Etsy’s ‘Trust and Safety’ team.

Hi there,

Thanks for getting in touch with us. Before I address your concerns, I hope you’ll forgive our slow response time. We’re currently experiencing a high email volume, and are answering each email in the order that it comes to us.

I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t received your order from SmithHandmadeShoes. I’ve looked into this, and I see that this shop no longer qualifies to sell on Etsy and will not be returning to the marketplace. While this means we can’t ensure you will receive your order, I wanted to provide you with some suggestions for your next steps.

Although the seller can no longer be contacted on Etsy, you’re welcome to continue discussing your order with them via email. Here’s where you can reach them: dreamgirl220220@163.com

Taking a closer look at your order, I noticed that your payment was sent directly to the seller’s PayPal account. Some sellers opt to receive funds into their own PayPal account. This means that PayPal, not Etsy, is the only party that has access to those funds. As you may already know, PayPal’s policies state that buyers have a specified amount of time to file a claim for a refund. This eligibility window may differ depending on your location, so at this time we would recommend that you get in touch with PayPal directly for more information.

I’m including the contact information for PayPal below:

Additionally, PayPal may require the PayPal transaction ID, which is different from your Etsy transaction or order number. For your convenience, I wanted to provide this number for you: 0DX075027C305141B

If your date to file a claim with PayPal passes, we’d urge you to contact your credit card issuer or bank for further assistance in pursuing a refund.

You may also want to consider taking these steps to protect yourself and others:

  • File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
  • Contact a law enforcement agency in your location or the seller’s location

I’m sorry that you weren’t contacted when SmithHandmadeShoes was removed from the site. For privacy reasons, Etsy doesn’t currently notify buyers when a seller has been removed from the marketplace. More information on our Privacy Policy can be found here:https://www.etsy.com/legal/policy

I definitely understand your concerns, and we’ll consider this as we move forward with the site and the way that we handle these issues. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts — please be assured that we hear you and we will take your thoughts into consideration as we continue to work to improve the site.

While I don’t want to discount the difficulty you’ve experienced with this seller in any way, please know that these situations are rare. Most transactions on Etsy are completed without incident, and the average Etsy seller is a devoted and passionate individual who is willing to do their best to assist you with any order you place in their shop.

That being said, I hope you’ll consider this an isolated incident and give the Etsy Seller Community another chance again in the future. Should you have further concerns about this, please let me know.

Best,
Etsy Trust & Safety

So yeah. Apparently it was worse than I even thought.

Etsy’s official policy is that they never tell a buyer when the seller is removed. 

This means that for any purchase made on the site, there is no protection for the buyer. Etsy could remove a seller without letting anyone know, and close any cases that come up as a result. At one point last year, we were considering buying an Engagement Ring on Etsy!

I mean, Jesus Christ! Can you imagine if someone bought something that important, hoping to get outside the mainstream wedding industrial complex and support a small scale artisan, and Etsy just deleted the seller and made no attempt to contact the buyer?! You could be several hundred dollars in the hole and without the ring, and Etsy’s ‘Trust & Safety’ would just put up its hands and say, ‘I’m sorry that you weren’t contacted when EngagementRingsRUs was removed from the site. For privacy reasons, Etsy doesn’t currently notify buyers when a seller has been removed from the marketplace. More information on our Privacy Policy can be found here:https://www.etsy.com/legal/policy. Case closed.’ 

I could never make a significant purchase on Etsy again, after what’s happened. But worse still, they apparently are lying about what has happened in my case. They claim that I was issued a refund through Paypal. This is definitely NOT the case. The seller refunded some of the shipping fee because I am in China. I’m still out more than $100.

Screenshot from my former Etsy account

Screenshot from my former Etsy account

Let's zoom in on the problem...

Let’s zoom in on the problem…

Ah, there it is!

Ah, there it is!

That has not happened. The proof is in the Paypal.

From Paypal's Resolution Centre - clearly showing no refund issued.

From Paypal’s Resolution Centre – clearly showing no refund issued.

A consolidated list of the issues, then:

  1. Etsy allowed a fraudster to take more than $100 from me 
  2. Etsy’s policy is not to contact buyers if a fraudulent shop is removed, even mid-transaction
  3. Etsy closed my case without resolution 
  4. Etsy claims (falsely) that I have received a full refund via Paypal

As a result, Etsy’s team received this email from me today:

Dear Trust &Safety,

Thank you for getting back to me. I have filed a claim with Paypal but do not expect to receive a refund.
 
If Etsy‘s official policy is that buyers are never notified when a seller is removed from the site, I’m afraid I have no choice but to remove my account effective immediately. It appears that Etsy puts seller privacy ahead of buyers’ security, money, and peace of mind.
 
I will never purchase from Etsy again as a result of this transaction, and will actively discourage others from doing so.
 
I am so disappointed in this situation, and cannot believe that the official policy is designed to screw over buyers in situations like mine. I had hoped to open my own Etsy shop in the future and am so sad that I cannot use the services of this site anymore. I feel that I have been betrayed by Etsy and I am losing a significant online community, which I loved being a part of until now.
 
But I cannot now trust Etsy to treat me well as a customer, and I could never make a significant purchase on the site again without fear that my money and effort could be wasted.
 
I will be blogging about this situation and from now on will discourage everyone I know from using Etsy.
 
Best,
Coleen

And I have deleted my Etsy account as of 12:00 CST today. Their banner popped up afterward, seeming to mock me and this situation directly.

Definitely unsatisfied customer here. My seller was certainly passionate about ripping me off! And secure transactions? Please.

I will never purchase anything from Etsy again, and neither should you. 

EDIT: I received this email back from Etsy’s ‘Trust & Safety’ team. I publish it here to show just how much Etsy wanted to shift the blame for this situation onto me for this transaction.

Hi Coleen,

Thanks for writing back to me.

Again, I’m sorry there wasn’t more we could do for you regarding a refund. I’m here to help, and while I may not be able to lessen your frustration or ensure your satisfaction regarding your order, I want to do everything I can to provide you with the information that I hope will be most helpful to you.

Some sellers opt to receive funds into their own PayPal account. When you send payment directly to a seller’s PayPal account or send or a check or money order, you submit payment off-Etsy to the seller directly.

For this reason, Etsy does not have access to the funds you submitted, and we’re unable to issue a refund.

I am sorry to see you closed your account. Again, I would like to state that these situations are rare. While it is our hope that sellers will practice good customer service, but we regretfully cannot guarantee that this will be the case.

We hope you’ll return to the Etsy community. In the future, I recommend that you try contacting the seller directly before committing to a purchase.

You can do your part to help ensure a smooth transaction by following the best practices for buyers, which are outlined here:https://www.etsy.com/trust

Getting to know your seller can help you to make an informed decision. This article from our Help page explains how to send a message using Etsy Conversations: https://www.etsy.com/help/article/71

You may also wish to check the seller’s Shop Policies regarding shipping to see if they offer tracking information or insurance for their orders. To find their shop policies, go to the main page of the seller’s shop and click on the blue Policies link in the left-hand menu.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to thoroughly read the listing description for each item you’re interested in. I also suggest you take a look at the shop’s Reviews. To see reviews that have been left for a shop by other buyers, visit the seller’s shop and click on “Reviews” in the menu on the left. A shop’s star rating is the average from the last 12 months. The review count is the total number of reviews received. You can also see all of a shop’s written reviews on this page.

Because you paid with a different method than using a credit card on Etsy, such as through PayPal, you may wish to familiarize yourself with PayPal’s process for reporting a problematic transaction as well as Etsy’s process.

I’m sorry there wasn’t more I could do for you. If you have any further questions about this matter please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m always here to help.

So in short, make sure that you contact everyone that has ever viewed a shop, and contact them privately outside the normal Etsy process of messaging and listing it for sale, which is totally not what we do as a company. They clearly have no care at all for people who buy on their site. Instead, let me patronise you about how you should have been more careful when using our ‘secure’ site.

My response says it all:

I’m glad that you’re happy to shift the blame onto me for this situation. If Etsy had any modicum of respect for buyers on its site, this situation would never have happened. Rest assured that everyone I know will know about how badly Etsy treated me, and that you have lost a customer for life.

I Can’t Come Home

The skies are uncharacteristically grey for Colorado outside. The soft and unintelligible conversations of the kitchen are floating outward. Somehow they sound stressed. Normal for a kitchen.

I’m sitting in a cafe in downtown Louisville, the city of my childhood that has changed so much since I was a a child. Funnily enough, when I put the period on that particular sentence a song from early high school came on with unbelievable timing. Nickelback. Someday. Bizarre in the way that I perfectly remember the music video from the first few times I was actually allowed to watch MTV. When MTV actually played music videos. In the afternoon.

The tables in the cafe are artfully distressed, and there are large burlap coffee bags lining the bench on the other side of the room. There is local art on the walls. Two slightly out of place, matching chandeliers on the ceiling. I have no real recollection of what this building was when I was growing up. Practically everything has changed except the barbershop across the street. Louisville is a trendy, cool place to be.

What the hell?

Now the song is Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day, another early high school anthem. Somehow the music streaming service must have sensed that I was going to be writing about how it once was here. This song was released more than ten years ago. At least it’s now 2004 in here, and not 2003 like when Nickelback was playing.

Home is not home anymore, and it probably hasn’t been for a long time.

I knew that travelling would change me. I knew that opening up to more than one home carried the inherent risk that the first one would be diluted. My homes, as my Gravatar profile says, are all over the world. Puerto Natales. Ferrara. Suwon. London. Very very soon, Shanghai. It may have been a decision as crazy as the Gnarls Barkley song that is the next throwback to come over the speakers. Now it’s 2006, the year I moved out of Louisville for the first time.

The couple next to me seem to have confused this cafe with a sit down restaurant. Poor them. I don’t blame, because the whole of Main Street is now full of shops and restaurants and pubs and breweries. Growing up, there were about two. The Blue Parrot, the ever-present and fairly downtrodden Italian and Pasquini’s, it’s slightly cooler and more concrete sister. There are plenty of people who live in Louisville who have no memory of that place. No recollection of its name. All these are good changes. Louisville was a social desert growing up. You had a choice to basically stay home in someone’s basement or hang out at the 7 11 on McCaslin (which is now a credit union).

The next song in the nostalgia rotation is Everlast’s What It’s Like. I suddenly realise that I might well have gone to school with the woman across from my seat. But then, I see people that I know everywhere in the world. In London especially, I would see people everywhere that my brain told me I knew. I know her! That’s your old friend from middle school! That’s your old professor! That’s your sister and her boyfriend, come to surprise you at the bar you work at in Camden. They’re just being quiet and hiding so it’s a better surprise!

My brain was trying desperately to reconcile the fact that I cannot run into anyone I know when I’m living my life abroad. It was trying to bring this first home to me in my fourth. But now, I’ve been in Louisville for two months and I’ve not run into a huge amount of people I knew growing up.

A lot of demographic change has occurred. A lot of people my age can’t possibly afford to live here anymore, since property is up 10% last year and almost every year since I graduated in 2006. Even the 2008 recession couldn’t wipe out the housing growth here. Those are London housing growth percentages. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian oligarchs start parking their investment money here, too.

The place has changed. I have changed. It’s a very, very nice and comfortable place to visit.

But I can’t come home.