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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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.