Beginning of the Season – DIY Paper Projects

Hello, out there! I’m working on being more connected to this blog again, and have several posts in the works. But today I was off work sick (again, due to the stomach issues that come with living in Vietnam).

I used the time to make some paper DIY projects and get into the holiday season. You can find the Youtube videos that I used to learn to make these projects below.

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!


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.


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.


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.


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? 


Mythbusters: Moving to Shanghai Edition

One of my favourite shows of all time, Mythbusters, will end after this season. In tribute, I would like to bust some common myths spouted on the Interwebs and elsewhere about life in Shanghai. I moved here six months ago and have the documentary evidence of experience to evaluate these myths.

Probably no explosions in this episode, unfortunately.

Myth #1 – If you don’t live in Xuhui, you don’t live in Shanghai.

Shanghai is massive. MASSIVE. Coming in on the taxi, flying along the busy elevated ring road from Pudong International Airport in April saw to my initial impression of the city as one of the biggest construction projects I’d ever laid eyes on, followed by an even bigger construciton project and another.

By latest accounts, the population of Shanghai is 24,256,800. The population of Xuhui district?  982,200. A whopping 4% of the megacity’s population.

Bear with me, because I’m an English teacher and not a Maths teacher. But the non-Chinese foreign population of Shanghai is about 170,000 this year, down 2% from last year. That’s a tiny portion of the total population of the city. Maybe the perceptions among English teachers are skewed by the ‘fact’ that so many foreigners live in Xuhui district, but I’m not convinced the numbers are there. One might be tempted to say, ‘But but but, breweries and restaurants and nightlife and that LIGHT nightclub that’s blindingly covered in LEDs!!!’

But that’s not ‘real Shanghai.’ That’s an entertainment district, whose description could fit almost any major city’s similar quarter.

Besides, it’s obvious from the sheer numbers. 96% of Shanghainese (foreign or otherwise) don’t live in Xuhui.

 Myth #2 – Everything is super-expensive.

This one could get a Politifact ‘Half True’ rating.
If you eat Western food every day, and only ever shop at City Shop, and drink heavily at bars on the Bund, and take taxis everywhere…sure. Things that are expensive in all major cities are about the same price here. I lived in London for a year and a half, and the prices are comprable for many Western goods and services.
But there’s a huge amount of ways to keeps costs down. The bus is dirt cheap (think 20p in GBP per trip). Chinese food is cheap. Crappy local beer is cheap. Train tickets, even all the way to Guilin, are cheap. The Internet is cheap. Groceries are cheap if you shop locally. You get the idea.
The main thing is not to fall into expecting your lifestyle here to match exactly what it would be in a major Western city. In many ways, it’s more convenient and (dare I say) better! You can save quite a lot of money here, if you put your mind to it.
 Myth #3 – The Internet is slow/blocked/unusuably archaic.

The fact that you are currently reading this post should do away with that myth neatly. There is Wifi almost everywhere. There are smartphones almost everywhere. People get antsy when they can’t connect to WeChat for a couple of minutes (ok, seconds). 

The Internet is practically as usable as anywhere else in the world. My theory is that this myth comes from those who come on a 72-hour visa and stay in a major hotel. That’s where internet tends to be slowest.

This one’s Busted.

 Myth #4 – Anybody can be a teacher.

There may once have been a time when TEFL certificates were not necessary and you could live on a great salary while working a mere 12 hour week, travelling and learning as much Chinese as possible in your copious hours of free time. That time is not now.

Demands on English teachers in Shanghai are high. You will work long hours, have frustrating administrative tasks, have extra training that makes you have to come in for a 12 hour shift, and have a lot on your plate. Some people just honestly can’t handle it.

This is a job, and it’s one that is far from family and support systems. Some people genuinely freak out. Some party way too much. Some retreat and stop talking to coworkers. A few adjust and do okay.

It’s hard to be a teacher in Shanghai. This one’s Busted.

 Myth #5 – Deodorant and Tampons are harder to find than the Holy Grail.

Or…they are in literally every store I’ve ever checked. Every Family Mart. Every All Days. Even the cruddy shop up the road near the bus stop has some OB in their original packaging.

And there’s Tesco, Walmart, and Carrefour to boot! You can even have your special selected imported fancypants expat tampons and deodorant delivered to your door by any number of grocery delivery companies.

Busted. Busted. Busted.

And here’s a finale explosion, just to keep the spirit of Mythbusters alive. In German, for some reason.