Meanwhile, in Japan.

Research Phase

This post begins with an apology to all our readers and supporters. In December 2015, we left Newfoundland to travel to India for a friend’s wedding, and two months later, continued on to Japan where we have been living ever since. During this time, we have been living in the moment as best we can while observing and taking notes on so many different housing and living choices.

In India, we were able to truly realize what we did and did not need in order to travel comfortably, and find purpose in what we were doing. Not surprisingly, this surmounted to very little. We found that as long as we had a shower, clean water to drink, and a place to sleep at night, we were totally fine. Food was never a problem. The things we brought in our packs (in no specific order), and could not compromise on, included the following:
[I included links to Amazon for both my American and Canadian readers – sorry to everyone else!!]

As long as we had these things, we were ok. We actually had a bit more than that in our packs, and we did buy souvenirs (mostly for friends and family), but next time we know what we’d leave at home.We never missed having an expansive wardrobe or my shelves of books, nor did we feel our lives were lacking because we weren’t surrounded by our possessions.

In Japan, we were able to truly realize what we did and did not need in order to live comfortably, and find purpose in what we were doing. Not surprisingly, this amounted to very little. This sounds crazy, but our apartment in downtown Nagoya (the 4th largest city in Japan) is smaller, less convenient and less efficient than what our tiny house will be. It’s only 190 sq. ft. – 9’2″ by 20’8″. It was arranged for us by the school I’m teaching at, so we didn’t really have a choice in the matter if we wanted to be living together in the same apartment. But it was just fine for us, given our tiny aspirations and all.

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Our kitchen is less than the size of what our tiny house bathroom vanity will be. It consists of a stainless steel sink with a cupboard underneath and a one-burner induction stove top; only 6 inches of counter in between the two. Above the sink is a drying rack for dishes, built with stainless steel rods to allow for water to drip back down. Above this are two shelves, about 22 inches wide and 10 inches deep. Between the side of the shelving unit and the side wall of this odd little kitchen unit, we’ve put in spring-loaded expandable poles. On these, we’ve been able to hang most of our utensils and useful things with hooks. Outside of said utensils, we have two titanium sporks, two sets of chopsticks, two large shallow bowls, 3 small bowls, two soy sauce dishes, two wine glasses, two titanium mugs, one saucepan, one frying pan, one steel mixing bowl and one sake decanter with two small cups for drinking. That’s it! We put a suction-cup towel rack on the front of the shelving unit for dish towels. In the space under the stove top, there is a small, cube-shaped bar fridge with an interior volume of about 1.2 cubic feet (35 litres). That’s about enough space for 3 days worth of groceries.

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Our bathroom is also smaller than what our tiny house bathroom will be. The apartment is quite old, probably built in the 1970s or thereabouts, so the bathroom is kind of a one-unit module that has the toilet box, sink, and tub all in one piece. Even the floor, walls and ceiling are moulded together to form one continuous plastic box. The sink faucet swivels and can reach out over the edge of the tub to fill it up if you want a bath. There is no real counter space, but we have used the space on top of the toilet box effectively with some organizers for our personal items. There is another shelf/rack thing above the toilet – same as the one that’s above the kitchen sink, built from steel rods. We keep extra supplies up there, and have hung some small decorative containers from it with hooks for extra storage. I hate all the plastic, but it works. One benefit from this set-up is that it acts like a wet-bath. You don’t have to worry about anything getting wet, and if water spills onto the floor, it’s slightly tilted towards the drain located under the sink (a gap exists at the bottom of the sink unit for this purpose). You’ll also notice a ceiling fan, and an access hatch in the ceiling for the pipes. We did have a leak once, so this was incredibly useful.

dsc00958The entrance way is a typical Genkan, a slightly sunken square of tiled flooring where you must awkwardly take your shoes off with no hands, while you have no where to put down your things, and simultaneously avoid trodding on anyone else’s shoes or the recycling that needs to be taken down to street level. I’m all for taking your shoes off, like you would being from Canada and all, but you need a bit of space! On one side of the Genkan is a closet of sorts, with multiple shelves inside supported by more of those spring-loaded expandable poles (read: they can’t hold a lot of weight). On the other side is a narrow rectangular alcove, with one shelf in the middle of it. We keep umbrellas and that sort of thing underneath it. A friend of ours who’s been living in Japan for a decade and has lived in these type of studio apartments before let us in a sweet bit of info – the front door is steel. That meant we were able to get magnetic hooks and hang up our sweaters and jackets. There’s literally no other place for them, so that was a win!

dsc03207As for the rest of the apartment, it’s just one ‘big’ room (lolz). When we arrived, there was a twin bed on a wooden frame, a modern-ish desk with filing cabinet and folding chair, and a small chest of 4 drawers – 1 drawer for Tim, 2 for me, and 1 for out of season clothes. We added a full length mirror, a metal shelving unit for storage and extended kitchen prep-space (the shelves are adjustable, so we put one right at counter height), a collapsible coffee table, a TV (for movies, we don’t have cable or satellite) and a small sectional couch. Everything we bought was second hand. Bought new, we acquired bed clothes and some canvas storage bins. There is a small balcony with just enough space to hang up your washing… I would have liked to put a small table and stools out there to enjoy the evening sun, but there’s really not enough space. The balcony has nice big glass sliding doors though, which let in lots of light. We’ve left them open from April – June and now again from October – December. During the winter, I can count on my hands how many times we turned the heater on, but in the summer, we used the air conditioner daily. It gets too bloody hot in this country for my constitution.

In conclusion, we have been living on a shoestring for almost exactly a year, and we’re really quite content. The things I miss the most are

  1. Having an oven
  2. Having a freezer
  3. Having enough space in the fridge for leftovers
  4. Personal things, like artwork, that remind us of our past and our travels

These, we know we need and plan to include in our tiny house. Outside that, Tim laments not bringing his safety razor. He bought a cheap one here in Japan, so it’s alright, but a nice quality steel safety razor body saves a load of money on disposable razors. He also wishes he brought a pair of jeans (I did :P). Tim has been doing a lot of online work with respect to his photography and building a website so he has relied on my laptop. It is nice to have your own personal laptop and not have to share with anyone, but again, we have made do and it hasn’t been unworkable. The same can be said about smartphones. We’ve shared just one the entire time, and it’s been fine. I’ve actually really enjoyed not having one on me when I leave the house, it has been very liberating. I could have gotten one in Japan, but I decided it was unnecessary. The only time it’s really a pain is if I go out after work with friends, but in that case, I just ask to borrow someone’s phone to shoot Tim a quick message to let him know.

We haven’t signed an internet contract for our apartment either – the whole time we’ve just been hot-spotting from Tim’s iPhone to the laptop. He bought a sim card with unlimited data when we arrived in Japan, so we never have to worry about going over. For a 6-month term, it costs $174 CAD (¥14,400).  Although this method makes for very slow download speeds and inconvenient browsing, we choose to visit a local cafe once a week for heavy internet use, where we can relax with a coffee and piece of quiche. This might seem wasteful (you can make coffee at home!), but it’s an awesome substitution for having an internet bill.

For the sake of people who want more concrete evidence on this whole concept, i.e. ‘living tiny is a lifestyle choice that allows you to have so much more’, I’m going to continue to lay out costs and expenditures, specifically. I’ve read lots of articles that present tiny living as either extremely luxurious and trendy, or as a solution for homelessness, without any reference to people in between the two. I’m not criticizing either of these scenarios, tiny houses are means to so many different ends!  But I think a lot of the criticism that is directed towards tiny houses / tiny living results from a lack of detailed information about how the lives of people on this path play out, and how these decisions translate practically. “The house is so cute, but are they really happy?”, they ask. I say yes, it requires some compromises, and yes, you do have to make some sacrifices; but, it also allows you to spend a lot more of your time (and money) having fun because you don’t have so much financial baggage!

Rent for us is $478 CAD (¥40,000) per month. Our monthly electric bill has come to an average of $34 CAD (¥2800), our gas bill is around $23 CAD (¥1900), and water works out to about $13 CAD (¥1100). Conservatively, groceries surmount to no more than $478 CAD (¥40,000) per month as well (for two people) but you can do it for less than that (we like treats). My subway fare to get to work and back every day comes to $124 CAD (¥10,400), but I am reimbursed for this by my employer.

So, our monthly utilities costs run us about $100. Including rent and food, in total, we pay ~$1,067 CAD (¥89,285) per month to live in Japan, with no frills. Remember, this covers two people. The total one-time investment we put into making our tiny space livable with furnishings came to $445 (¥37,200).

Now of course, there have been a few frills! We’ve gone on a week long camping and hitch-hiking trip through Aichi, Gifu, Nagano, and Niigata Prefectures. This cost us about $417 CAD (¥35,000). We went on another such trip down to Nara and on to Kobe, which cost a bit more (around $620 CAD (¥51,900)) because we stayed two nights in a hotel. We went to the Summer Sonic music festival in Osaka, which cost about $980 CAD (¥82,100) (including tickets). We went to Kyoto for Tim’s birthday in July, which cost only $380 CAD (¥31,800) because we camped both nights. For my birthday in November, we went to Tokyo, which was our most densely expensive trip – 3 days and 2 nights, no hitch-hiking or camping, and travel by bullet train, we spent $975 CAD (¥81,600) (we did A LOT of cool shit). Oh, and we hiked Mount Fuji in September, that trip cost us $465 (¥39,000). A few smaller trips include going to Ena, Gifu in the spring for rice planting and again for harvesting in the fall; and we went to the same town to stay overnight in an old traditional thatch-roofed inn in July. We went to a firefly festival about an hour away in June, and the Toyota Rock Festival in September. In October we went to an expo park to see a re-creation of the house from My Neighbour Totoro (Japanese animated movie). All of those experiences cost us between $60 and $120 CAD each (¥5,000 – ¥10,000). Halloween night, summer festivals in Nagoya, and various parties and evenings on the town were had as well.

Due to the fact that I still have 4 months left on my contract, I’m not yet allowed to divulge my salary, but I can tell you that my plan is to have $10,000 CAD saved by the time we leave to go home to Canada (after a little more than a year of working). It’s looking like this goal will be achieved even before it comes time to leave. We’ve lived extremely modestly (two people on only one salary), but have had a LOAD of fun times, as you can see.

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My point in all this is that by having a tiny house (and a tiny amount of possessions) you can actually live very large. This is our aim. This is our mentality. The past 12 months have proved to us that not only is it doable, it is enjoyable, and allows us to have so many more new experiences that we would otherwise not be able to afford. I feel ready, prepared, and motivated to return home and complete our build, so we can try out this life on Canadian soil. The part that blows my mind is that our tiny house will allow us so much more efficiency, beauty, and quality in our living space than our Japanese apartment does, and we will own it outright when it is finished. I will forever be grateful that I discovered this path as early on as I did, and didn’t waste my time and money on a McMansion, mortgage, and material possessions. Cheers to tiny house living!

 

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The ideology behind going Tiny.

Research Phase

The bigger, deeper reasons why we’ve decided to build a Tiny house are much more rooted in the people we are and the lifestyle we enjoy. Many ideologies that are strongly connected to the Tiny House Movement have resonated with me for many, many years, and for that reason, it wasn’t at all a surprise to my family when I told them what we were planning. In fact, when we told them that it was actually Tim’s initial suggestion, their response was,

“Really?? We would have guessed it was your idea, it seems SO Jess. Huh.”

This was very pleasing and reassuring 🙂 In this post I will go through a few of the main ideological reasons why we (and perhaps future you) will love going Tiny!

Ecological Footprint
I remember in first year university, in my Environmental Management course (I was in a Business Management program at the time), we had to use a Carbon Footprint Calculator to give us a sense of the impact our lifestyles had on the environment, and how dependent we are on fossil fuels. No calculator out there is perfect because there are way too many factors to consider in order to be really accurate, but they are definitely very useful tools to use in comparing how you match up against the average Canadian, and the global goal for individuals. I remember being pretty shocked, since I consider myself to be pretty environmentally conscious. I did it again just now to give you an idea of what the results look like for someone who typically buys local organic, lives in a basement apartment of a well insulated house, uses one car, and went on one holiday in a 12 month period. I used http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx, and my results were as follows:

  • Your footprint is 15.83 metric tons per year
  • The average footprint for people in Canada is 20.00 metric tons
  • The average for the industrial nations is about 11 metric tons
  • The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 metric tons
  • The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons

This is scary stuff. Regardless of what our backwards government is (or isn’t) implementing, how can individual people of the western world even dream of participating in a combat against the effects of climate change if our lifestyles so drastically do not match what the Earth can sustainably support? That’s a mouthful. But sadly, in my humble opinion, it’s an unpleasant reality.

Tiny house dwellers use a whole lot less electricity than traditional houses, and produce astronomically less waste (of all kinds). Because there is so much less space to fill with useless possessions, tiny housers are forced to constantly be mindful of their surroundings and what they choose to bring into it. I have come to understand a truth in my life, which I think probably rings true for most people, and it is this: You will spend money according to your salary and you will purchase belongings according to available space.  These two things inevitably lead to one conclusion: the more space you have, the more stuff you end up mysteriously owning, and you eventually get so tied down that you really don’t have any freedom at all.

“The things you own end up owning you” -Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

Simplify your house, simplify your life, be less of a burden on the Earth.

Freedom
I think for most people my age, the thought of taking out a mortgage, buying a house, picking out drapery, paying property taxes, and deciding which light fixtures best represent our personalities is really, really terrifying. I’ve been uncomfortable with debt and loans and the concept of being owned by a bank for a long time- my parents were very frugal people and they taught my brothers and I from a young age that you must live within your means. I guess I probably took their lessons even more to heart than was intended, and now enjoy an irrational resilience to complicated financial commitments.  But you know what, I’m OK with it. I know in St. John’s (and most everywhere else in Canada) there are a tonne of couples like Tim and I who make a comfortable living, but live very carefully and minimally. They do this in order to save every penny possible for a down payment on a house that is really just half decent, AND THEN once they have it, they spend the next 20 years paying off their debt and the interest that goes along with it. But that’s normal, so no one questions it.

If you wanted to put a 20% down payment on a $300,000 home in St. John’s (which is pretty normal for a good quality, nothing fancy house, nowadays), you’re looking at $60,000. When my parents were my age, they could buy an entire house for that amount of money, and have no mortgage. Things have changed. A tiny house (including the trailer), for people who build it themselves, typically ends up costing between $20,000 and $30,000, depending on your tastes for the interior. That’s the equivalent of two years’ rent for me. I don’t think I have to say much more about this.

In addition, being on wheels means that you don’t have to grow any roots until you’re ready, or maybe never! Since leaving home at 17 in 2007 for university, I’ve moved 6 times. I’ve never gotten very comfortable in one spot, for one reason or another. All in all, the financial and geographical freedom a Tiny House would allow me is very appealing.

Realistic Needs
For as long as I can remember I’ve been challenging the assumptions of what people REALLY need, both to survive and to be happy. I camp all the time in a little two-man tent with Tim that is only tall enough to sit up in. My family thinks I’m nuts half the time and my mom always worries I’ll land myself between a rock and hard place, but my running theory that we need way less than we think has served me very well so far. Andrew Morrison talks a lot about this in his video about the Tiny House that we’re basing our structure on. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSzgh3D7-Q0

Historically, humans have been living in very small spaces for a long time. The idea of a gigantic house in the suburbs with no arable land, half an hour’s drive from any property that isn’t residential is a very new concept. I’ve heard tiny housers talk about this in their videos, but here’s an article that sheds some light on this topic: http://www.100khouse.com/2008/10/20/so-many-square-feet-so-few-people/ 

If you only go back as far as 1950, the average American home was 983 square feet. In St. John’s right now, an average house is probably about 2500 square feet, but the proportion of houses way bigger than that is large. I’d love to see some stats on this, particularly what the median size is. I know my grandparents and great grandparents lived in a house half the size of the one I currently live in (including the upstairs apartment) or smaller, and had like 10 siblings too. They all turned out to be spectacular people, which really goes in the face of what we are currently led to believe we need in terms of per capita square footage.

Photo of Tim's great-grandfather's house. Jack Lake took this house apart in Darby's Harbour, and reassembled it in South East Bight.  The ceilings are extremely low, and there were 9 people living in this while Jack and Mary raised their kids.

Photo of Tim’s great-grandfather’s house. Jack Lake took this house apart in Darby’s Harbour, and reassembled it in South East Bight. The ceilings are very low, and Jack and Mary had 9 children.

A really interesting spin-off of this topic is how our living space and the way it is divided impacts human interaction and child development. This is something I’ve only recently been delving into, but based on what I’ve read so far and a general instinct, people are not as happy at a base level being so far apart and isolated all the time in their own homes. Being able to give conflict a nice wide berth with a whole floor and 5 doors isn’t really that helpful in the quest to become an emotionally intelligent, reasonable human being, when you think about it. Please weigh in if you have any insight, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I could definitely go on, but I think this post exceeds what my high school english teacher would ask for a final exam essay, so it’s probably time to stop. Here are some great links that expand on what I’ve discussed, and if you have an hour or so of free time this weekend, I’d highly recommend the youtube video linked below, “We The Tiny House People”:

http://thetinylife.com/what-is-the-tiny-house-movement/
http://www.diyhousebuilding.com/index.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDcVrVA4bSQ
http://fullmoontinyshelters.com/about/

There’s a lot more on the philosophy behind Tiny Houses that I want to express, but I expect it will come out in dribs and drabs as things progress. Thanks for reading!

How we found ourselves in this place to begin with.

Research Phase

The biggest question we’ve gotten from most people after we tell them our plans of building a tiny house is: WHY?! This post is going to explain where we’re coming from, and the reasons why we’re choosing this path. I won’t go too much into detail about the savings in money, energy, and stress that really make the sell for going Tiny- this will be the topic for another post.

It started out probably the same way it did for most people- a friend had shared a post on facebook about a tiny house (in fact, Tim had also shared it around the same time), which was the first time i’d ever heard of the concept. Here’s the page: http://news.distractify.com/people/itty-bitty-house/?v=1. The featured image at the top of this post is of the tiny house showcased in this article, which was built (and is now lived in) by Andrew and Gabriella Morrison. The reason the Morrissons’ tiny house caught my eye was more so because of its efficient use of space and capability of having a small ecological footprint. It never occurred to me that it might actually be something that I could do.

Then a few months later, in September 2014, Tim and I were on the plane heading to Dublin, Ireland for a two week trip when, by total chance, the man sitting next to me was a tiny house owner from Nova Scotia! He explained that he had a carpentry background and his life situation had changed such that he realized his needs could be completely met by what a tiny house has to offer. So he got a trailer, built the house, and moved in. Simple as that. Now he’s happy as can be with very small bills and the ability to up and leave whenever he wants. This was a huge step for us in realizing how doable it actually is in our part of the world, and that having our own tiny house is a realistic dream.

I could have SWORN I wrote down his name and contact so that we could get in touch once home again, and could hear more of his story and his perspective on tiny houses, but somehow I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Hopefully one day we’ll run into him again and be able to tell him how grateful we are for instilling the confidence we needed to seriously think about getting a project like this off the ground.

Even after all this, we still weren’t close to making any kind of commitment to building our own Tiny house. It required the connection to real necessity for us to open our eyes and actually make a move in the right direction. We have been thinking for a while now that we’d like to take some time to do a bit of longer term travelling before we have any real responsibilities in our world. And with Tim finishing his journeyman block (welding) just before Christmas, the opportunity would present itself in 2015 to get going. Trying to think ahead, we wanted to sort out what we would do for storage, since we’re way too attached to some of our possessions to just sell everything (I know, I know, I’m working on it). We knew that paying for a storage unit would be out of the question- if there’s one thing I’m tired of is paying money into a black hole with nothing to show for it at the end. Tim suggested that we could build an enclosed trailer, which would be costly upfront but we’d at least have something we owned when it was all said and done and could sell it later if we wanted.

At some point in the days following this decision, the thought popped into Tim’s head: If we can build an enclosed trailer, why don’t we just build a tiny house?! And so it began.

Once we’d finally added 2 and 2 together, we tore into this idea like wolves, hungry for information on trailer dimension regulations, floor plans, framing options, insulation R-values, roof and truss designs, and pretty much everything that you need in order to build a smart, efficient, tiny house. I’ll go into much more detail on these topics and more as time goes on. But for now, hopefully you have a better idea of where we’re coming from, and perhaps it doesn’t sound as crazy as it did before you read this.