That Time I Hated My Tiny House

There have been some times over our years of living tiny that Xaver and I have faced some really crazy schnitzel together.  Dominant culture tells us that having a lot of stuff equals wealth.  And yet, there I was looking around at my tiny house and realizing that I had a fraction of the stuff I used to have.  So… does that mean I’m poor?  People that knew our living situation sometimes treated us as if we were poor, but were they right to do so?

Culture tells us that a guy with a nice house, a nice yard, and a couple of nice cars is a pretty good guy.  A woman with an expansive collection of shoes and handbags, and a business empire is really something special.  And Billionaires are gods.  They must be smarter, wiser, or maybe they know some secrets the rest of us don’t know or they wouldn’t be wealthy, right?  And yet we’re seeing day-by-day proof in our political arena that wealth does not equal wisdom and human value can’t be measured by the mathematical equation of net worth.  I knew that a wealthy person wasn’t worth more than me in my head, but somehow my heart wasn’t getting the message.

There we were in our tiny house, living out some sort of intentional homelessness.  Sometimes it felt like we were doing something revolutionary.  Screw the system!  Sometimes it felt like we were being naughty because when people don’t understand your steps outside of conformity, they sometimes pull out the disapproval.  But I don’t have to live by their standard.  I have to live by mine.  When we stayed grateful (which wasn’t always) then it was an amazing and liberating experience.  And when I focused on what I didn’t have, it was awful.

Xaver and I have been through some battles that brought us back together at the end of the day feeling like the world had chewed us up and spit us out.  In fact, we had a client with a three million dollar project decide that they didn’t want to pay their bill for the work we’d done for them.  We actually had to take them to court.  It was one of those David and Goliath moments, and believe me, it wasn’t fun.  What made it worse was that “Goliath” was a congregation with the meanest pastor I’ve ever met.  I’m also a person of faith.  Church folk aren’t supposed to act like that!  What made it worse yet was that we had earmarked that money to pay a bill… and since that money didn’t come – our other bill got bigger and bigger.  The legal battle took forever!  We were demoralized, hurt, and angry.  There were times when I looked around at my tiny house, and I looked at our clients with their expansive 3 million dollar church renovation project… I felt very small and very poor.  There were moments in that season where I hated my tiny house.  It was a reminder of what we didn’t have.  And dealing with lawyers and the legal system only accentuated the sense that “justice” was beyond our grasp.

I was stressed out.  We both were.  In that season we created some new habits for ourselves that really helped.  These little habits helped us move from the poverty mindset into purposeful simplicity to make our home a haven.

Turning off the Screens

And we’d turn on the news and it would be some crazy “sky-is-falling” stuff and on top of what we were going through.  It felt like too much!  Twitter or Facebook would be flipping out over this or that new scandalous event.  We turned off the screens. We’d make a great meal, and open a bottle of wine left over from the restaurant.  We’d light a beeswax candle and put on some nice music.  Then we’d pull out the cards and play games for a while.  Without really meaning to, we were changing our focus away from the big bad world beyond the walls of our tiny home and placing our focus on the wealth of love that we shared.  It was amazing how much it helped to enjoy a lovely meal and unwind together.

Rituals

We also have some little rituals that have helped us.  When we’re really feeling low, we go outside and brush the negativity off of each other as if it were dandruff or dog hair.  Sometimes we go inside after a long day and wash our hands to wash away the cares of the day.  We pause to say a prayer before our meal and thank God for getting us through another day.  These were small rituals, but they have helped us make our home a haven.

Connection

In cases where we’re really struggling, but for whatever reason the problems we are facing need to remain closely held, that isolation can become a real challenge.  In fact, tiny houses are a great help it keeping isolation at bay!  I didn’t realize how great tiny houses were at keeping us connected until much later.

In January one year, the host of our favorite AirBNB invited us to stay at his place for a week.  He and his home hold a very special place in our home so of course we were delighted to visit.  I spent some time in the kitchen baking apple pies.  There was a glorious huge TV in the kitchen, so while I baked my pies, I listened to a documentary on minimalism. Do I know how to party or what?! LOL!

Xaver was in the next room, reading a book. Later I mentioned to him something I’d noticed in the documentary, and he didn’t even know I had the television on! In a tiny house, if the TV is on, everyone hears it! In fact, as that week progressed in that huge house, I began to feel more and more isolated. I was surprised how the vast empty spaces of a beautiful home could make me feel so alone. I was so happy to get back home to our tiny cozy space. That reality of being connected and close is one of the things I love about our tiny home. We’re together. We’re connected. We can hear each other without raising our voices. That isolation just can’t hang out with us. We’re close. Literally. The fact that the space is small and cozy really does focus our connection in a way a big house just cant do. This is to our advantage. We stay connected and bring friends and family into that space through hospitality, and isolation doesn’t stand a chance.

The Dove Family

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Years ago I heard a guy talking about a family of doves that lived in his porch.  When the family fought, the doves would leave.  When the family lived in peace, the doves would return.  I suppose that’s true no matter what size your home is.

Through a very difficult season of our lives when our tiny house accentuated our sense of poverty, we learned a few things that helped us remember that our choice to go tiny was about purposeful simplicity.  We learned to turn off the screens and enjoy a lovely meal together.  We learned small rituals that had meaning to us.  And we learned to stay close to each other.  In this way our tiny house became our haven-home.  It really is possible to use the tender walls of a tiny home to create space that is sacred, restful, and healing.  

Peace be with you,

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Kitchen Simplicity

IMG_3744My cute little book is ready for the world today, and I’m so pleased to make it available far and wide. This has been a long time coming! Find your copy on Amazon. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

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The Shareables are here!

And thanks so much to each of you! This sweet little book has been a labor of love for me, and to hear you all responding with such interesting and thoughtful reviews and comments on social media has just been incredibly gratifying! Over and over again I have been moved by the way people respond to this little book and I appreciate all of you so very much!!! ❤

All my best,

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Getting Vinnie Legal with the DMV

IMG_426034 days ago, our documents arrived at the DMV in Richmond (the capital of Virginia) including the form we were given by the folks at our local DMV.

We just got it back in the mail with a “application denied” letter and thankfully they included *the right form* for us to fill out and send back. They also included a very clear list of requirements, which is hugely helpful because try as I might, I could not find Virginia’s list of requirements anywhere online and our local DMV didn’t have that information at hand.IMG_4263

I know what we need to do now. One requirement is to create a detailed document with all the changes we’ve made to the bus, have it notarized, then send the whole stack of info back to Richmond again. Then there is an inspection. We were initially told it would take two weeks, but we now know that it will be a another 30 some days minimum. Expectations adjusted.

Sadly we won’t be able to take our Skoolie to Omaha Nebraska for Tiny Fest Midwest as we had planned. That’s a bummer! I was so looking forward to meeting more tiny house and Skoolie people, especially since I follow so many of you on Instagram and love seeing your beautiful homes!! Plan B is in the works – no worries!

IMG_4331The silver lining is that now we can help anyone else trying to change a bus to an RV here in Virginia. People who are considering the Skoolie thing need to know that it can be kind of complicated (but still totally worth it). People also need to know that Virginia is one of the toughest states for the bus to RV transition, so if you can buy a bus and make the transition in another state, that might not be a bad idea. Apparently North Carolina is pretty easy – no inspection. At any rate, when I get time I will write up the whole thing on our website so that people can have the info they need to get it done much more quickly.

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In what state did you do your build, and what were the requirements? If you have all this info written up on your own blog for your state, please send me the link and I’ll link to all of them.

Sometimes getting to simplicity is kind of complicated, but it will be worth it.

We get by with a little help from our friends.”

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Mise en Place

“A place for everything, everything in its place.”  —Benjamin Franklin

There is a cooking practice, called Mise en Place [mizã ‘plas] which means putting each ingredient in place before you begin cooking. This is a classical approach to cooking used by professionals to have every ingredient ready to go at the beginning of service. 28c13-img_7861For example, instead of having a bell pepper on the counter, a chef would prepare a container of bell pepper cut precisely the way she or he prefers. Chef would prepare this before any cooking began. Television cooking shows sometimes do this: every ingredient—even each spice—will be placed out on the counter in darling little bowls. This sort of preparedness and efficiency allows one to enjoy the un-rushed art of focused cooking that can lead to spectacular meals.

Red Black 2To follow “Mise en Place” literally creates a lot of dishes to wash and I have mixed feelings about this.  I do keep some sweet little bowls in my kitchen, because I love them and I have collected them over the years when I see a cute one at a thrift shop.  I don’t cook by recipe though, so I’m not measuring out a teaspoon of this or that and putting it in a lovely tiny bowl – only to empty it into the saute pan in a few moments.  In fact, I enjoy a variation of “Mise en Place” cooking simply by having the lemons, limes, garlic, ginger, and other spices and herbs conveniently located to my cooktop.  In fact, because my kitchen is tiny, everything is already conveniently located – and isn’t that the point of Mise en Place?

Red Black 1The beauty of a tiny kitchen is that you may set it up for efficiency. Everything can be right in its place, and right within reach, not because you got it out of the cabinet to put it there – but because that’s where it lives. The tiny house kitchen has a sort of built in efficiency that guarantees that every ingredient and tool is close at hand. You can still decide to prep ingredients before you begin cooking – such as cutting the vegetables and peeling the shrimp. Efficiency is one of the things I love about cooking in a tiny house kitchen.

49678-img_7877In fact, Xaver and I visited our favorite AirBNB for a working vacation. There is an expansive glorious tricked-out kitchen that is pure perfection in every respect and I love it! I was looking forward to really spreading out and enjoying some cooking and baking in a “real” kitchen after having lived tiny for so long. What surprised me was how frustrating it was to want something that was on the other side of the kitchen and how much time I spent running around gathering up ingredients and equipment – not to mention cleaning it all and putting it back away. I was surprised how much longer it took me to prepare a very simple meal. I was also surprised by how annoying it was to want the plate that was held captive in a dish washer that wouldn’t be done washing for a while. In fact, I was very surprised to find that cooking in a large kitchen equipped with every possible convenience was much more tiring and much less fun than I remembered. Wasn’t this kitchen the holy grail? Surprisingly, no. Not to me. Not anymore.

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Mind you, our entire tiny house could fit inside that kitchen with room to spare – so the scale and proportions are hilarious by contrast.  For many people, a large kitchen is their “normal”. In fact, when we had the restaurant we had an expansive 580 sq ft prep kitchen and a smaller 240 sq ft kitchen where dishes were assembled and plated. I was used to cooking in a tricked-out kitchen… but look how my sense of normal changed after living tiny for a number of years?! Now, I’m perfectly happy to cook a great meal in a very small kitchen where everything is right at hand. In fact, having now tried the various cooking and baking options, I’d have to say that a tiny kitchen is my preference.  I’m as surprised by this as you are.

Shrimp Rohini

Shrimp Rohini, recipe by Carmen Shenk

We tend to think of having a small kitchen as a problem to be dealt with.  We wonder if we will have room to cook our favorite dishes or bake our favorite treats.  We fear running out of space and being frustrated by a confining kitchen. But living tiny has taught me that cooking in a tiny kitchen is a wonderful thing.  Everything is right there.  There are no wasted steps.  There is no needless complexity.  It’s just focused, fun, efficient cooking.  We tend to worry about the space we may lose in a tiny kitchen, but what if we focused instead on the efficiency we gain?

What if the tiny house kitchen was the “holy grail” of cooking and we just didn’t know it?!

That’s something to chew on, isn’t it?!

Signature Tiny House Foodie logoBTW, doesn’t that Shrimp dish look amazing?  The recipe I created for Shrimp Rohini is here… (along with the story of what inspired it) and that’s one dish where cooking in the traditional Mise en Place style is a very good idea!  Enjoy!

The Tiny House NC Street Festival

Street FestXaver and I had a great time at the Tiny House NC Street Festival in Pink Hill, North Carolina last weekend!  The hospitality of the host, Andrew Odom, and the community was spectacular.  They really did show southern hospitality and it was a joy to be there!

I spoke on Saturday and again on Sunday at “center stage” which was this lovely shaded spot with some bleachers and a sound system.  I spoke on Pain, Pie, Poverty, and Purpose.  We met the most interesting people – plus – touring those tiny homes and skoolies is always energizing to me!

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The best Shrimp & Grits I’ve ever had – from Chef & the Farmer

I tried to get a reservation at the Chef and the Farmer, but they were full.  That was fine, but then Andrew Odom pulled some strings and got us in, and boy are we grateful to him!!  Xaver and I even enjoyed a delectable meal of steak tartare, beet salad, catch of the day, shrimp & grits, and dessert!  That was the best meal I’ve ever had and it challenged me to up my game!  lol!

I’ve been getting really great feedback on the book and that is so gratifying.  After the many solitary months I have invested in getting those words on the page, it really rocks to share this message with the world and see it resonate with other people.  I wrote it to help people navigate the transition to living tiny – and it would appear that it is doing exactly that.  I’m soaking it all up and glowing because of this happy outcome!Screenshot (6)

Tiny houses and festivals are exciting and fun, but the downsizing process may not be.  I created a Super-Simple Kitchen Gear List to help you move gently through the process.  Sign up here to get the FREE PDF.  This is not dogma – just a resource to help you create the simple collection that is right for you.

PLUS, as an added bonusvideo series – here is my Right-Sizing Your Kitchen Video Series.  You will find this practical and helpful as you work through your kitchen at your own pace.  If you find that you need to replace or upgrade a few items, then check out my handy Buying Guide for help in selecting just the right items for you.  I have found that the quality-over-quantity approach really suits me.

I’m passionate about tiny house minimalism because it helped us hit the reset button on our lives and I know there are a lot of folks who would also benefit from a reset.  Plus, TINY house minimalism makes room for BIG dreams!  So I’ll happily travel to meet the people who are interested in tiny house living and I’ll have one message: I’m here to help you navigate through the transition of going tiny – especially in the kitchen.  You can do this, I know you can!

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Derek Diedricksen with my book.  His new book is coming out in November, so make sure to pre-order your copy now.

If you’re in the neighborhood, I’ll see you in Fredricksburg, Virginia on May 12th and 13th.  The festival details are here.  Look me up!  I’ll have the FESTIVAL COPY of my book available – and this is the edition that won’t be available anywhere else but a tiny house festival!  Soon enough (June?) it’ll be on Amazon and a lot of other interesting places.  At the moment – visiting a tiny house festival is the only way to get one.  That means I get to meet folks like you and we will talk together about our challenges and triumphs.  It’ll be great fun!

All my best,

TinyHouseFoodie.com
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#5 Vinnie Vlog – How we Designed the Interior of our Tiny House.

 

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I love designing homes and spaces and I love the renovation process.  So of course I’m eager to get going on designing the interior of our new Skoolie.

I’ll walk you through the steps of designing the floor plan for your tiny house in this video. First – measure everything. Then draw up your plan on Floorplanner.com, or any CAD program, or use graph paper. Draw the floor, mark where the windows go, and mark things like wheel wells, etc. Then measure the furniture or elements that you plan to use, and begin placing them in the space to see how they fit. Explore your options until you’ve found the option that suits you the best. Then get busy building!

This video isn’t really designed to teach you how to use the Floorplanner.com (or any other CAD) interface – it’s more just to show you how a tool like this can help you design.  It’s also really fun that you can look over the 3D version and see what you think.  It’s not going to be exact but it is enough to give you a feel for how things will look. From here you can make decisions on electrical and plumbing design, and choose your finishes.

It all starts with a sketch and a few good ideas. In our case it helps that we’ve already lived in 125 sq ft for 3+ years so we know what we need and what we want. Plus, this bus has 128 sq ft of livable space in it, so it’s not that different from what we are used to.  The design process is fun and invigorating and I think you’ll enjoy it. 29c45-1a2bcarmen

Vinnie Vlog #4 – Floor ~ Power ~ Mess

IMG_3403We’ve made some progress on the Skoolie this week.  The floor is down, and the wiring is underway!  We’re making progress!  We’ve got a little more work to do so stick around!!

What’s your favorite part of a Skoolie conversion?  The power? The furnishings?  The Kitchen or Bath?  Stick around.  We’re taking it all on – step by step!29c45-1a2bcarmen

Is the Food Processor really a Time Saving Device?

Good morning Tiny House people, thanks for joining me today.  I want to share with you my epic battle with the Food Processor.  I was curious – is a Food Processor really a time saving device?  The process of finding that answer was pretty interesting, and I drew some conclusions from the experience (that are at the end of this video).  Let me know what you think.  I was surprised to find that many of my friends were already on team #knifeandcuttingboard.  Maybe fewer folks use these space-hogging machines than I realized.  Are you going tiny?  Will you take your food processor with you to your tiny home?  Why or why not?  Let me know in the comments.

IMG_2487What did I do with all those chopped carrots, celery, and onion?  I bought a great big organic chicken and made chicken soup with all of it.  Yum!