Friday, March 10, 2017

Lessons I Learned from my Tiny House

Welcome to my session of the Tiny House Summit.  
This experience was so fun that I'll be doing LOTS more video in the future!
Plus there are so many great sessions from all sorts of speakers in the tiny house community, 
so I hope you'll drop by the Tiny House Summit and have a look around.
I learned so much by listening to those sessions!
PLUS: I'm blogging a little more frequently at my other blog
so feel free to drop by over there and see what I'm up to today.
(and as always)
Stay Tuned,
PS, let me know what you think of my video!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Find me at the Tiny House Summit!

This week I recorded a presentation for the good folks at the Tiny House Summit and I hope you'll drop by and sign up to enjoy this remarkable collection of folks who have experience with Tiny Houses in some capacity or other.  (Plus, it's FREE to watch now, later I believe the whole event will be made available as a package.)  I've found the first day of sessions to be very intriguing and I believe you will also.

A little of my unique history as a 'tiny houser'...

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a Van Dweller.  I bought a van and named it "Vincent, my Van that Goghs", or "Vinnie" for short.  I outfitted it as an RV and I lived in it here and there, never for very long.  I was determined the shake myself loose from materialism, and since I was newly divorced, I was intoxicated by the sudden freedom in my life.  I daydreamed about just getting in the van and traveling the country, enjoying the freedom.  I went through my belongings and shed my old life piece by piece.  It was a remarkable season of liberation in my life and I was completely jazzed by the process.  However, I was connected to the area by friends and family, and jobs that mattered to me, so I ended up keeping pretty close to home. 

As a child I had one old Barbie doll inherited from my cousins.  I played for hours creating tiny homes for her with cardboard shoe boxes for the walls.  I built the interior furniture with building blocks borrowed from my brother.  I dressed Barbie and my tiny little model homes with clothing and decor I made from scraps from my mom's sewing projects.  This was one of my favorite ways to play and it's one of the reasons I think this life suits me so well.

In art school I studied Architecture and designed several buildings during that season developing excellent drafting skills.  I can "see" a home from looking at a floor plan, and in some cases I have, while sound asleep, walked through a home I designed in my dreams.  That's a very interesting feeling!

The American Flag Sound Sculpture by Xaver Wilhelmy
Eventually I met a man and not just any man.  Xaver Wilhelmy is a pipe organ builder, an inventor, and an amazing person.  I knew who he was, and some details of his innovative work, but getting to know him as a person was even more amazing.  In time we married and opened a restaurant.  Sadly, even though our work as restaurant owners was rewarding, it was also keeping me at work long hours, and he was traveling and working on pipe organs.  So it became clear that as much as we enjoyed each other, our two businesses were keeping us apart.  We talked about it, and then we put the restaurant on the market.  Liberated, once again.


In the fall of 2014 we moved into our 125 square foot RV, which we also call "Vinnie".  We own a pipe organ restoration company and have a number of big projects in the works, so this is not the time to build.  We continue to explore low-tech off-grid technology and look forward to building homes that are earth friendly and follow the principles of Zero Energy Building.

Eventually we will find land that is right for us, and build our first small off-grid home.  Since we have lived in 125 square feet for so long, we have come to really appreciate the many perks.  

I'm currently writing a memoir of our first two years living tiny, and as we build, we'll be sharing each step of the process with our readers and viewers.  I hope you'll join us for the adventure and follow us on social media to stay in touch.

Stay Tuned,
Carmen Shenk & Xaver Wilhelmy

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How to Take a Breather in a Crazy World.

The first days of the Trump presidency has us all on edge.  We are all watching the political scene more closely, attending marches, and doing our own brand of activism while keeping tabs on the news. As our leaders gain experience in governance at our expense, it becomes ever more important to live with purpose and peace. While we may not be able to control the chaos of living in the United States at the moment, we do have a measure of control in our own homes. The very best thing we can do for ourselves when the country is struggling, is to tend to ourselves and those we love. Choose one hour and turn off the screens. Turn off the TV, step away from the newspaper. Put away the cell phone. Put it all aside. We cultivate the ability to absorb the troubles of the world on our own terms because being overwhelmed and angry won't help us formulate useful responses. Now is a good time to take a breather in a crazy world.  Here's how.

 First, GENEROSITY!  Take five minutes to find the book Total MoneyMakeover by Dave Ramsey and order your copy, or find a FinancialPeace University class offered near you and sign up. It will only take a few moments, but it will get you on the path to financial freedom.

While I don't agree with Dave Ramsey politically, that doesn't mean I can't learn from his considerable wisdom in handling money. This material does have some religious overtones, and if that makes you uncomfortable, please realize that the end goal is an honorable one. In his class, Ramsey promotes taking care of one's financial life so that one may be generous. That's the whole goal, and even if you aren't religious, I think we can agree that this is a remarkably powerful goal. Living on less means the freedom to put our money in places that matter to us from a personal or political standpoint. Giving money to a cause we care about is a powerful happiness generating activity. So all the way around, handling our financial lives leads to less stress and more generosity. Generosity is key to living well. Making even this small step forward in this area will have lasting benefits for you and the causes that matter to all of us.  Set yourself up to be generous over the long haul.  It matters.

Second, CLEAN! I find that cleaning house is a great way to bring order out of chaos and it can be fun. Choose your favorite music and turn it up, then set a timer for 15 minutes, and get busy dance-cleaning.  (My favorite household cleaner recipe is here.) Find something to do, put a little dance in your step and get busy. Whatever you take on, do it with enthusiasm! Do the dishes, scrub the sink, and clean the counters... or tackle the shoes in your closet.  Drain your own swamp.  Whatever needs doing, for 15 minutes get at it like a whirlwind. When the timer dings, keep cleaning if you are enjoying it... or wrap things up, it's up to you. Looking at the area that you have cleaned will give you a sense of accomplishment, and that's a great boost. Plus, when there is chaos, the act of ordering our world is a personal statement that I am powerful.  Yes we can make a positive change, see?!

Third, DECLUTTER! Find a cardboard box. Set the timer for 10 minutes this time and do the “Donate Dash”! Go around the house looking for things to donate. Fill the box with anything you're not using and that is cluttering up your space. Still see stuff that can go? Start a second box! Duplicates and dust catchers, get rid of them all. (Don't donate someone else's stuff.)  Don't forget to put some good stuff in there also!

Do you have larger more valuable items that you've been meaning to sell? Ebay, Craigslist, and yard sales... they are all stressful and you never get what you hope out of something. So why not just let it go? Do yourself and the community a favor and donate whatever-it-is to your favorite charity. That will take "sell stuff" off of your to-do-list and clear out your space.  Clear out the fluff and meaningless stuff.  Even those of us who have been minimalists for a long time have stuff we can part with.  Fill your boxes and take them to the car.  Drop them by your favorite charity this week.

Forth, ART! Power down all the electronics, turn off all the screens.  Embrace the silence or enjoy some soothing music.  Make a cup of tea and explore zentangle, coloring, watercolor, collage... anything.  Pick your favorite colors, play, and pray.  If you aren't feeling artistic, write a hand written letter.  Make your artwork into a card or postcard to send to a friend.  Think who could use a boost.  Write a thank you note to someone whose kindness deserves recognition.  It doesn't have to be beautiful, just bless someone by letting them know that you are thinking about them.  Make art, pray, share love.

Ignore the clock. Ignore the world. For this hour we give ourselves permission to turn off the chaos and order our own world. We refill what has become depleted.  We refocus ourselves, not on an enemy, but on affirming life, gratitude, kindness, and generosity.

See you at the march,

Friday, January 13, 2017

Two Great Big Reasons I Love Living Tiny.

I'm not so sure I could have written this blog post a few years ago when we started living tiny.  These two important benefits of living tiny have come as a surprise, and that's why I'm so pleased to share them with you.

 First of all, I love the intimate nature of living in a loving relationship in a small space.  Manfriend, the dawg, and I recently vacationed in a vast waterfront home with amazing views in a place that we all love so much.  I watched a documentary and went to talk to Manfriend about it, but he had been in another room when I watched it.  He hadn't even seen it.  In a tiny house that just doesn't happen.  When the TV is on in 125 square feet, everyone in the house is in on the experience!  A number of times I spoke to him, and he didn't hear me because of the acoustics of the large space.  A number of times he was in another part of the house and it took me a while to find him.  I was constantly leaving my drink or book in another part of the house and walking lots of extra miles to go back and find them.  And cooking in the gorgeous kitchen while enjoying the waterfront views was a pleasure... only it required a lot of walking every time I wanted to get something from a cabinet on the far side of the room.  I've got nothing against walking miles and miles, that's not an issue, it's just that I missed the remarkable ease of having everything at hand.  As much as I love the amazing vacation home with waterfront views from every window, I still missed the intimacy of living so closely with Manfriend.  I found that the vast space made me feel isolated.  I think this sort of experience is extremely useful in planning how to purchase land and build.  It's good to find a sense of confirmation that living in a small intimate space is the right choice for us, even once we're no longer living in the 125 sq ft RV. We really love the intimacy of living tiny, and even when we build, we will still chose to build a beautiful small minimalist home.

Secondly, (and this isn't really a surprise) I love the freedom that comes in living the way we do.  I was musing on how little money it takes to cover our rent and utilities.  We rent a parking space for our home.  We paid for our home upfront, so we have no mortgage.  Our electric is included in our rent, and we track our usage on a meter.  We use very little electricity, surprisingly little.  Insurance is extremely affordable.  We have an off-grid water source that is free to us.  It's remarkable that anyone can live as cheaply as we do.  And if I mentioned the actual amount that we pay for housing, utilities, and insurance... you would not believe me.

Here's the thing... this gives us so much freedom.  We eat like kings.  We go out to eat, and we make marvelous food at home.  Every single list of how to save money will tell you to eat out less often.  Cook at home more, and buy food in bulk.  However - we eat out and we cook at home.  We have the freedom because of how we live.  As a matter of fact, we have the freedom to collect interesting vintage cars, take a class, travel, and do a lot of things that people don't get to do when they're making big mortgage payments.  I love to weave, and I've got expensive taste in yarn.  One day this week we had a lovely leisurely lunch with friends, which I'd never be able to do while holding a normal 9-5 job.  Hey, I do not have a normal 9-5 job - talk about liberation!! We have freedom to be generous with ourselves and others AND still save money.   I don't take that lightly. 

This is the magic of living tiny.  In the old days I often heard the phrase "but we have to have a ____" and even though we can't afford it, we have to have it.  I hated hearing that message, because it was never true and I knew it.  However, it's a point that's nearly impossible to make someone who doesn't want to hear it.  It is liberating to live on less so that we can enjoy the things we really do love... and all while still saving money.  I know it sounds sacrificial, but I'm not so sure it actually is.

I'll admit that at the beginning I was frustrated that we couldn't have a garden because we moved around so much.  I was frustrated that there wasn't much space to store food or clothing.  I never really missed vast open space because our home is loaded with windows, but sometimes I do get frustrated over details.  If one wants to complain, there will always be something to complain about.  At the beginning we loved living tiny because we chose to love it, and because Manfriend has a way of making everything into an adventure.  Now, I think I love living tiny because we've lived this way long enough to understand and appreciate that it really does work for us.

Living tiny gives us the joy of living together in an intimate space, and the freedom to live in a way that is generous with ourselves and others, while still saving up money to build a home on a foundation.  Life is good.

Stay Tuned,

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tiny House Wardrobe Pt 1: Underwear

Clothing is a complex issue for women.  We want to look nice and to wear clothing that flatters us and expresses our sense of self and style, and it is fun to feel "put together".  Isn't it strange then, that we have so much clothing, and most of it we don't even like?  And sometimes the clothing we chose is so closely connected to body issues that it becomes a sensitive subject.  Unfortunately, the clothing that is currently available is often such poor quality that it doesn't last very long at all.  All of this makes putting together a wardrobe of wearable clothing a challenging task.

I've read a lot of different approaches to downsizing clothing and there is a lot of great information out there. But if you don't have a lot of time and money for a big wardrobe revamp, then the same goal can be achieved by working intentionally through manageable portions.  Marie Kondo believed it's best to tiny clothing all at once, making the point that it will be easier to maintain the change after one big dramatic change.  I understand her point, but not everyone can approach downsizing in this way.  For many of us, downsizing is something that has to fit in with everything else we are already doing.  So do it your way, but do it.

Here's where to start. Foundation garments, or... perhaps “Ladies Intimate Apparel” is another way to put it. I start here because if you're wearing the wrong undergarments, your clothing won't fit right. You won't be able to judge the fit, but not because your body or the garment is wrong, but because the bra doesn't fit, or the panties aren't doing you any favors. So this is where we begin.

Step one is always messy.  Pull out all your underwear, shapewear, and hosiery and put it all on the bed. Start a pile in one location on the floor for discarded items.

Step two is always liberating.  Remove all items that are torn, broken, stained, tattered, or worn out or have an unpleasant memory attached. Remove everything you haven't worn in the last year, which is easy because it will be at the back of the drawer. Remove all bras that cause you pain when you wear them. Remove everything that is clearly of the wrong size. Of the items that are left, try on each item and see how it fits you. If it creates ridges, bulges, restricts movement, rides up or down, or just looks funny, remove it. Try on your hosiery and remove anything that will ride down or up, has holes in it, or doesn't fit properly.  You don't have to keep things in your drawers that you don't use.

For many of us, this process leaves us with a pair of panties that isn't quite worn out, a few odds and ends, and a bit of lint left on the bed. That's fine.  We all have to start somewhere.  Clean out the furniture with a damp cloth. Neatly fold and put back what remains.

You're finished with steps one and two, and if there isn't much left, don't panic.  It's fine to hang on to a few items until you're able to replace them.  No worries.  Revamping a wardrobe takes time and money but it doesn't need to be finished by next Thursday.  Do this at your pace.

Take note of what you need.  Make a list.  This is one of those occasions when you need to go to a brick-and-mortar store and do the work of shopping.  Shopping online really won't work.

Step Three: Educate yourself about FIT... & Step Four: Go shopping and try things on!

Ladies, first read this helpful guide (including the helpful video).  Go to a department store and pick a few styles you like and then go to the dressing room to try them on. If they don't fit, dress, and go pick a few others. First choose the style, and then make adjustments to the size until you've found a good fit. This process can take time and require quite a few trips back and forth to the dressing room, but don't give up.  Don't worry about what the dressing room attendant thinks, trust me, her opinion is not what matters.  Keep working until you have found one style of bra that works for you in a size that does not hurt, bind, cause bulges, and fits smoothly over your skin. Again, the helpful guide above will help you understand how a bra should fit.  It is remarkable to see how much more comfortable and attractive you are when wearing no bra or wearing a bra that actually fits properly. 

I could go on and on about the evils of bras... and science indicates that it's best to go without a bra as much as possible.  So have at least one good bra and get creative about covering up what culture seems to find horrifying (silly culture!).  And the moment you are at home, lose the torture device!  Wear a bra as rarely as possible.  Hey.  It's called "Minimalism" for good reason. 

Choosing panties can be a challenge, be sure you read this link to find a pair that fits properly.  And of course, the only way to avoid visible panty lines and the uncomfortable problem of panties creeping north is to go commando!  Three cheers for Minimalism!

Other tips: only purchase multiples of something you've tried on and know will work for you. Keep in mind that if you are shopping at TJ Maxx or Ross, you won't be able to go back in a month and find that product again, so shop accordingly.  And last but not least... skip the shapewear.... unibutt is weird, yo.  

Step Five: What to do with discarded undergarments:

  • Donate new underwear that has been tried on and worn briefly, then washed.
  • Cotton undergarments that used to be white but are otherwise still in good shape can simply be dyed a darker color. Check out Dharma Trading Company and buy this easy little kit, and follow these directions
  • Throw away.  Yes.  It is acceptable to throw away used undergarments.   
  • I've read that you can compost cotton undergarments after removing the elastic.  I'm skeptical.  

Step Six: Fold your clothing and put them away.


Isn't order beautiful?  I think so.
Stay Tuned for more great big ideas on how to GO TINY and simplify life,

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Brewing Simplicity

Make your coffee at home instead of buying the expensive kind.” I'll bet you saw that on one of those lists about saving money to get out of debt, right? It's a good suggestion. But how? How do you take something you enjoy... out of your routine, in order to save money, without feeling like you're making a sacrifice? If it feels sacrificial, the change won't last and neither will the savings. The answer for me was actually pretty simple. Find a way to make your own treat, then make it into a real production.

A morning beverage ritual is a delight for the senses!
Here's what I mean. I love having a cup of Earl Grey tea in a beautiful china cup with a saucer. I stir in a splash of Evan Williams Egg Nog (how decadent) with a silver spoon, and sip it slowly. Savor each lovely sip. It's not a big cup, and this is the amount that is perfect for me.  (I hate finding half a cup of tea hours later – cold and disgusting.) I know it sounds a little 'Downton Abbey', but we're still in my color-saturated artsy tiny little world, not Highclere. My other favorite is a Hibiscus tea that is red when brewed and so delicious! It may take an extra moment, but believe me, this little ritual is a gem in my day. This is my morning tea, and it's a production in the sense that every element is chosen and beautiful, but the routine is still blessedly simple.

Off Grid Coffee
I make Manfriend's coffee at the same time as I make my tea. (Or he makes it, whoever gets to it first.) He prefers a mug, but the process is also very simple. I boil water on the propane stove in a whistling tea kettle. I put one gently heaping teaspoon of German coffee (from Aldi's) in the bottom of the cup, and boiling water right on top. He stirs the top (yes, just the top) of the coffee with a beautiful silver fork and when the grounds all settle, he drinks his sublime cup of rich dark coffee. He drinks all but the last bit where the grounds are. There is no energy sucking machine taking up prime real estate on my kitchen counter, no gear to clean with vinegar, no ugly plastic machine, and no need to buy filters. As we go along, every transition we make to living our lives more off-grid is a personal triumph. Cleaning up Manfriend's gritty coffee cup is simple, just add a bit of water, swish, then dump the grounds. What could be simpler?!

This is our morning off-grid routine, and believe me, it's a real treat. It's especially nice when we also have a bit of toast, egg, or oatmeal and can actually stop and enjoy breakfast together. The Starbucks experience can't even come close. If you have the habit of stopping at Starbucks for an expensive cup of coffee, then maybe it's time to explore how you can design a treat experience that will take the sacrifice out of kicking the Starbucks habit. Design your ritual. Start by removing all plastic and disposable items from the experience. You are not plastic, you are not disposable. Choose each element to be pleasing to you. I've chosen a tea cup that is delicate and fine, yet strong, as am I. This pleases me. Pause, savor, & save money.

Once you've created your new habit, collect all coffee/tea gear and cups from all corners of your home. Take a look at the place where you keep your coffee and tea gear. Take everything out of the cabinet and clean the cabinet. Choose only the items you love and use in your new ritual, and put them back in the cabinet (one station at only one place in the house). I have two tea cups and saucers, and a special little saucer I use for my tea bag, plus two mugs for Manfriend. I have a tin with my tea bags and a quart canning jar with Manfriend's coffee. That's it, and it doesn't take up much space. Take all the ugly mugs and unused coffee and tea making gear to Goodwill. Take the products you no longer wish to use to your break room at work, or drop them off at the homeless shelter nearest you. Don't bring anything back into this sacred space that does not belong. It's clean, organized, and spacious now, right? Celebrate!

Saving the planet.
Our landfills are overflowing with amazing silly things, single serve coffee/tea non-recyclable pods (seriously, drip coffee is not difficult to make!), small plastic cups that once held a substance masquerading as cream, plastic coffee stir sticks, single use coffee cups. If these are part of your habit, use up what you have and please don't buy more. If you have single serve tea or coffee bags, use what you have on hand. After that, no more disposables. You are not disposable. With all this gear, we haven't made coffee or tea better, but we've made it painfully bad for the environment. The next time you have the opportunity to choose, take the time to chose a product that is good for you, and for the planet. Don't fall for the marketing nonsense.  For me, no plastic or paper please, just tea.  I am not disposable.

When I run out of my decaf Earl Grey tea bags, I'll be buying loose tea and using my little metal strainer for each cup. Loose tea is cheaper than single serve tea bags anyway, and then I can get the naturally caffeine free kind instead of decaffeinated, which is better for me. Plus then it can be composted. Everything we keep out of the landfill is a triumph!

Let me know if you are following along. I'd love to hear about your favorite coffee/tea cup, your triumphs, and additional ideas you might like to add. Leave me a comment by clicking the minuscule comment link in the gray bar at the bottom of this post.

Recommended reading: A Brewing Problem

Stay Tuned,

Friday, January 6, 2017

Medicine Clear Out

Continuing my series on going tiny, let's tackle that medicine cabinet.  Locate all medication in the house including pain killers. Retrieve these and prescription medications from any location where the may be in the house (including your purse/luggage) until they are all right in front of you on the kitchen counter.
First, go through all medication and set aside any that has expired. Go through what is left to see if it is something you currently need. If not, set it aside as well. Get rid of anything that is gross, damaged, no longer useful, or compromised in some way. Refill purse medication container and return to purse. Clean each bottle.  Put what is left in a neat container and locate it in a central place in the home (not all spread out in different rooms) where children and pets do not have access to it. Place in a locked cabinet if needed. This is your new medication center, do not distribute medication around the house from here on out.

Now, about those medicines that are ready to be discarded... There is a safe way to do this. DO NOT FLUSH MEDICATIONS! Municipal water treatment systems are not prepared to remove medication from waste water!

Here is a safe disposal method:
  • Mix the pills (do not crush) with kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds, dirt, or anything else that will make the drug unavailable or unappealing for a pet or child to eat. This also works with liquid medications. 
  • Return the resulting gunk to the bottle, 
  • and mark out all identifying information on the label with a sharpie. 
  • Seal the bottle with the lid 
  • and seal in a plastic bag to disguise the contents 
  • and place in your household non-recyclable trash. 

Well done, you've downsized and organized your medication!  Feels good, doesn't it?  I was surprised how much potent medication I had in my home that was expired and useless.  It was very nice to have it all neatly stowed away.  And it takes up a lot less space now, right?  Well done!

Further reading:

Stay tuned for more great big ideas on how to go tiny.

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