Today we celebrate one year of tiny house living!
A year and one day ago, we called it the build site, and the next, we called it home.
Looking back, I almost can’t believe it. It has certainly been the roughest, most colorful and most surprising year of our lives so far. Big Country’s and my shared adventure of glamping with baby as it were, with Rig, 4, Firebell, 2, and nine-day-old Hazelnut in our very sparse little home-under-construction has been . . . well . . . interesting, character-building, and truly unforgettable.
So what have we learned and how have we grown? What has been gained, and where do we go from here? Some discoveries that could truly only be learned with boots on the ground . . .
Children need a simple life.
Theoretically, we all know that kids are pretty happy as long as their basic needs are met. It’s us parents that stress about everything!
Once in awhile something will happen to us grown-ups, like the truck backfiring, the water tank overflowing, or the oatmeal burning, and little Rig will start shaking his head, clucking his tongue, and saying things like, “Oh my, that’s not good. Not good at all. What are we going to do?” Then he’ll look up at me for validation and immediately return to the magical world of T-Rex whales.
Amazingly, nothing gets him down except us and our problems, and then only momentarily and quite superficially. It’s as if he realizes that he should politely furrow his brow at our problems, while naturally enjoying the ultimate inner peace of a good childhood.
Because we’ve pared our lives to the basics through the tiny house journey, the children’s basic needs have shone through all the more clearly.
Children need healthy, real food. A safe, warm home.
Parents who are dependable, present, honest, loving, affectionate. Parents who discipline themselves, who apologize when they blow it, who face their own challenges with endurance, hope, and joy.
Nature, playtime, sunshine.
Singing, dancing, laughing, story-telling.
A few things like blocks, cars, animals, or even just rocks, leaves, and kitchen utensils to spark the imagination.
And winter boots without holes is a bonus. Everything else can tend to crowd out these essentials.
The paradox of child-raising is that you truly can raise a child essentially for free, although it’ll cost you your life. It’s utter nonsense that children’s needs for clothes, shelter, health, and a stellar education have to cost suitcases of hundred dollar bills. Our kids think a banana is dessert, doing farm chores is play, and a nature film every month or so is special entertainment.
Shepherding children is a high calling, and it’s up to us to set the bar for things like joy, self-discipline, materialism, and how we relate to and love others.
Perspective is everything. And I can choose joy.
Tiny house regret is real. So is big house regret.
Regret over marrying the wrong person, regret over letting a love slip away.
College regret is real – just ask any student who busted their butt all day and night but chose an unwise major or couldn’t finish, and now faces limited job prospects, a mountain of loans, and ridicule on top of it all. The regret, the pain, the failure is real.
And yet forgoing college to travel, do mission work, or pursue another line of work – there can be loss, regret, and a tugging sense of “what if?” over these choices, too.
Any significant risk you can take can break your heart, empty your wallet, shatter your peace, and cloud your purpose. How are we to handle life’s inevitable challenges?
Some nights I lay quietly up in the loft next to my sleeping, softly breathing family. Above our heads are the hand-laid layers of cedar wood, alpaca wool, and metal roof shielding and sheltering us from the elements outside. In these still moments I have a choice: to look around at our life and see unending work, frustratingly low earnings, debt, injury, and pain . . . or to see sound sleepers, inquisitive minds, full bellies, wild laughter, and abundant hugs.
Both sides of our lives are real. After one year of tiny house living and into the next, we grapple with the deep paradox. On my good days, I choose joy! And on my bad days, I pray, write, call up Mamaw, and, increasingly, read about the various struggles of people around the world and realize that I’ve got it so made.
Through hard times and easy, when I want to see it, there is quiet growth as surely as the leaves color, fall, blow away, lay dormant, and sprout anew.
We can work harder than we thought . . . with quiet growth resulting.
It turns out that waking up to the snow flying is a great motivation for finishing your roof!
And three hungry mouths are great motivation to get up, gather the eggs, and heat up the frying pan.
You do what you gotta do when the going gets tough, but for us, it has really been Big Country pulling more than his weight.
Whether he was chopping wood at 11pm in the dead of winter, hauling compost buckets to the north pasture, designing and building the loft, the shed, and countless other house projects with no experience, or enduring the grueling fire academy training to the point of injury, Big shined through the storm. What can I say, except where would we be without him?
And through all this slog, and although it may not be visible to most, we’ve come a long way.
Unexpectedly, we’ve discovered a beautiful niche for Big within the career of firefighting. The challenge, rigor, stability, benefits of time and money, and camaraderie seem tailor made for his aptitudes and our family goals. We’re praying that that door hasn’t closed with his recent knee injury and that he’ll be able to re-enter fire academy next fall.
Since moving in, we’ve completed at least 45 projects on the house, big and small, requiring anywhere from an hour to several weeks. All have been learning experiences and milestones, moving the house beyond just a free shelter to a financial asset as well.
Financially, we have paid around $18,000 off in debt over the last ten months. We have no credit card debt and are barreling forward toward ultimate student loan payoff and saving and investing for the future.
Along the way, we’ve discovered how to avoid the typical American’s Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness and see all our needs met, and then some, on $1200-1500 per month. On this, we eat lots of wonderful food, enjoy a home so warm we rarely have to wear sweaters even in winter, drive way more than we should all over Colorado’s Front Range, and are free to pack up and move, or rent or sell the tiny house, as circumstances suggest.
I can feel us finally cresting the wave – the momentum is building, and it’s all up from here! Ten years into marriage, the rhythm, the flow of what we do and how we do it, is fun and motivating.
Crafting the perfect capsule wardrobe, camping gear collection, kitchen cabinets, or tool storage is overrated.
What do the above things have in common? They’re groups of things we amass, organize, and upgrade in order to be ready for specific desirable experiences and to project a message.
But you know what I’ve learned? We don’t need even a fraction of what we think we need, to fully live.
When I got bored and sought a little intellectual stimulation, I began reading unread books on our shelves, my friend’s shelves, the library, and free on Amazon.
When I got cabin fever, I got outside, took a walk in the pasture, basked in the sun, started exercising, and just recently found a hidden walking and biking trail near our home.
When I wanted to feed my family more healthily, seasonally, and cheaply, I got back to the basics of good eating: bone broth, raw milk, beans, rice, potatoes, onions, pastured eggs, meat, and butter. Apples fallen from the trees, a pumpkin from a friend, venison from another friend, leftovers from the garden, chickens from processing day.
And when I got lonely living out in the country, I looked through my phone’s contact list, reached out, invited myself over, asked for help, gave of myself as I could, and things got more real.
We subconsciously believe that we’ll achieve peace somehow with just one more possession – whether for our bodies, minds, homes, vehicles, or lifestyles. But I am more certain than ever that mitigating the pull to buy and own more, especially through forgoing TV and shopping altogether, is not only wise but essential for deeper joy.
The truth is, this past year of tiny house living has packed quite a punch in surprise, discomfort, upending old notions . . . and somehow, it has also ushered in a new breakthrough in living.
*** See pictures of the tiny house as it is now here. A work in progress, just like us!