The Unbearable Lightness of Tiny Living
Each week we are profiling real people who are editing their lives for more freedom and happiness. This week we hear from Jan, who lives in 98 sq ft tiny house. He shares his experience about the freedom of tiny, lightweight living as well as the difficulties of meshing different attitudes about stuff and space in relationships.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Jan. I am 45 and work as a photographer and videographer. I am separated with a 3-year-old boy.
My parents, both children in Germany during the WWII, instilled a non-consumptive, credit free life-style. They modeled buying quality over quantity and only paying cash for what you can afford.
Later, I backpacked for several years, and all through my twenties and early thirties never paid more than $100 rent per month. I learned to build and built my own shelter, or did work-trade for rent. For years I kept my possessions down to what would fit in the back of a small pick-up truck.
In my late thirties I fell in love with a beautiful woman who lived an unedited life. Stuff gave her a sense of security. Clutter was her art form. For six years and through the birth of our son, we tried to blend our lives, but could not. Accepting neither of us would change, I built a 6×9 foot shack in the backyard and moved out. We get on much better now.
What makes your life an ‘edited’ one?
I’ve always been self-employed, so I’m very aware how much effort it takes to earn each dollar. Not believing in credit, each purchase I make is a conscious decision. How much of my life does it take to afford this thing? I’m also aware how much effort is required to own stuff. Where to store it? How to store it? How to care for it? Unnecessary stuff and clutter simply makes my anxious. But that’s not to say I’m non-materialistic. I would argue that I’m hyper-materialistic. I love the look, feel and function of something well made that fits my life perfectly. A pair of shoes I wear every day. Two sharp kitchen knives. A bicycle. A camera. All these things, carefully chosen gives me great pleasure to buy and use daily.
How long have you been living this way, and do see yourself continuing to live this way?
I have always had a minimalist bent, but lately have been refining it with far more awareness. It merges many divergent interests, from macro and micro-economics, environmentalism, self-sufficiency, spirituality, design, art, parenting, and how we will make it as a species in a shrinking world. Presently, how I live is a personal choice. In the future that choice may be forced upon us.
What are the biggest advantages of living this way?
A profound sense of lightness in the world. Every time I discover a way to live more essentially, I feel a surge of freedom. When I refine an elegant solution to a vexing problem, I gain great pleasure each time I engage with that solution. Something as basic as placing a hook into a wall so I can hang my bag and not trip over it on the floor. Or building a composting toilet for a few dollars and taking personal responsibility for my own waste. Or lying in bed at night in a loft that fits me just so. Watching the moon rise and stars turn because I deliberately placed the windows in these precise locations. Or each month doing my bookkeeping and seeing my savings increase to a point where I could live comfortably without working for a few years. And not because I earn a lot of money, but because I have learned how to spend wisely.
What are the biggest challenges?
Trying to meld a minimalist lifestyle with someone who does not share the same interest. It is an exercise in futility and frustration. I had to learn to accept that I can neither change someone else’s life nor repress my own nature.
For families, how has this lifestyle affected the other members of your family?
Thankfully I have a young son who stops me from getting too anal. He helped build the shack and feels it is his as much as mine. He comes and goes as he pleases with his toys, muddy shoes and dirty fingers. I let him climb up ladders, on counters, light stoves, play with tools and knives, and in doing he learns respect, consequence and body awareness. He teaches me to let go and lighten up. If he breaks something we fix it together. If he gets something dirty, we clean together. After all, it’s just stuff. What’s essential is the respect between us.
In terms of partnerships, I think a minimalist lifestyle only works both partners already live this way. I also strongly believe in a shack of ones own. My home only cost me $5000 and three months of work. I’d rather help build a partner their own home than try to blend two incompatible lifestyles together.
What is the number one suggestion you’d give to someone looking edit their lives?
Read the book “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robins.
What item(s) have made your lifestyle easier?
A good bicycle, good tools, a few comfortable clothes that fit well and can be worn in different settings.
Do you have any design or architectural suggestions derived from your lifestyle?
Consider curved rafters. That simple architectural detail made all the difference in turning my loft from a cramped triangle into a spacious cocoon.
This post was originally published November 28, 2012.