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A Movie Review – Tiny: A Story About Living Small

I’ve been to the cinema again, and this time I want to tell you about a movie that’s not about waste, but about simply living and small spaces. Tiny: A Story About Living Small follows the story of Christopher Smith, a 30 year-old American who has a dream to build a tiny house and live in the wilderness. With limited funds and absolutely no building experience, but overflowing with passion and enthusiasm for achieving his dream, Christopher attempts to build his own tiny house on a trailer.

You can watch the movie trailer here:

Here’s the official synopsis from the Tiny Movie website, which also gives a quick explanation of what the Tiny house movement is all about, if you don’t already know:

“After a decade of travel, Christopher Smith approaches his 30th birthday and decides it’s time to plant some roots. He impulsively buys a 5-acre plot of land in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of building a home in the mountains of Colorado. With the support of his girlfriend, Merete, he sets out to build a Tiny House from scratch despite having no construction experience.

From 1970 to 2010, the average size of a new house in America has almost doubled. Yet in recent years, many are redefining their American Dream to focus on flexibility, financial freedom, and quality of life over quantity of space. These self-proclaimed “Tiny Housers” live in homes smaller than the average parking space, often built on wheels to bypass building codes and zoning laws. TINY takes us inside six of these homes stripped to their essentials, exploring the owners’ stories and the design innovations that make them work.

When Christopher decides to build his own Tiny House, he dives into the tension between settling down and staying adrift, between preserving a parcel of land that he loves and developing it. Merete begins to ask her own questions about settling down, and both walk away with unexpected lessons about the meaning of home, the importance of place, and the personal impact of sticking with a project that became bigger than they’d ever imagined.

TINY is a coming-of-age story for a generation that is more connected, yet less tied-down than ever, and for a society redefining its priorities in the face of a changing financial and environmental climate. More than anything, TINY invites its viewers to dream big and imagine living small.”

I’ve read a bit about Tiny Houses, and I was keen to learn more. I found the movie, a mix of Christopher’s journey and interviews with other Tiny House dwellers, an interesting insight into the reasons people choose to live in such small spaces. I also found the movie quite motivational, and I left feeling quite inspired. I don’t know if I could ever live in a Tiny House, but it certainly reminded me that my ongoing journey to minimalise my possessions was waiting for me to revisit it!

Some of the people I went to the screening with felt the movie was lacking in depth. By focussing on two aspects – Christopher’s story of building a Tiny House and also the lives of others who choose to live in Tiny Houses – there wasn’t enough time to go deep into Christopher’s story, his plans and his dreams beyond the consturction project, nor to truly understand how Tiny House dwellers make living in a Tiny House work. The film finishes with Christopher towing his newly built tiny house to his patch of land in the wilderness. But questions remain about how this house can really be home. What about food? Water? Fuel for the heater? Work? Is he intending to live in this dwelling, or is it actually more like a campervan for holidays?

For me, this movie was a beautiful story, and I felt like I could really connect with the reasons behind the choices these people make. If you want to see an inspirational look into the lives of people who choose to live differently, then this film is for you. But if you want to know more about the practicalities of Tiny House living, of what happens once the choice to live this way are made, then the film will probably still leave you with a number of questions.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Do you have any thoughts on Tiny Houses, or the Tiny House movement? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a message in the comments!

An exciting letter in the post…

I’ve been excitedly waiting for the gas bill for a couple of weeks now, and yesterday it finally arrived! Yep, you read that right. I was excited by the thought of receiving the gas bill.

Three months ago we decided to be pro-active about reducing our gas consumption because we realised our gas bill was unusually high for such a small flat, and being conscious of our environmental footprint, we decided to do something about it. Living in a rental, we couldn’t do much about the rubbishy cheap inefficient boiler with the gas-wasting pilot light that the landlord had installed. What we could do, and what we did, was reduce the pilot light to the lowest setting and lower the temperature setting so that we no longer need to add any cold water when we shower. Read more

As it turns out, weddings are stressful

For those of you who missed the update, my boyfriend proposed at the start of August. It was a complete surprise, but a very pleasant one. It only occurred to me some hours later that actually, after an engagement comes a wedding. It hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Some girls have dreams of their big day, and have been planning it since they were tiny; I am not one of those girls. I have actually very little idea about weddings. I’ve only been to a handful myself. Read more

My new minimalist living space (the confessions of a hoarder)

I decided to take a week off from writing the blog in order to clear some space in my life (both the tiny flat that I live in, and also my schedule) and create some order. Now I would like to return triumphantly with reports of dazzling success, a new minimalist living space and feelings of serenity and calm.

Alas, that isn’t exactly what happened.

Last week I set myself the challenge of ridding myself of 100 things I no longer wanted/needed/used by the end of the month. I was committed. I was willing. I hadn’t decided what 100 things, but that was just a minor detail. To make it even easier, the weekend was a long weekend with a public holiday, so an extra day for sorting.

But despite my best efforts to sit on the sofa whilst willing the decluttering to miraculously begin, berating the general lack of action, and chastising my boyfriend every time he settled down to read a book/magazine for not helping, we didn’t manage to clear out anywhere near as much as I’d hoped.

We managed to fill a box with stuff to take to the charity shop. We also managed to get rid of two wastepaper baskets of recycling. I wish I could say it was a commendable effort, and a good first attempt, but in three days, I think I should have managed a bit more. I think I should have managed a LOT more. I like the idea of the stuff being gone, but actually doing the tasks that make it happen is another thing altogether.

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This one box was the result of three days of sorting. I think it demonstrates quite well how most of the ‘sorting’ actually consisted of (me) moaning about the sorting, and (me) talking about how great it would be once the sorting was actually done, rather than actual genuine sorting. We (actually, no, my boyfriend did that) did put an additional couple of things on eBay and Gumtree, but actually, they’d fit inside this box too, so no extra points for those.

And that’s the thing. It’s me that’s stopping the process. I just can’t get rid of anything! Every time my boyfriend threw something in the bin I scurried over and fished it back out. He tested a drawer full of pens and threw the ones in the bin that didn’t work, but even then I was tempted to get them back out and test them myself just in case one of them could be saved. Why?! We have a million other biros that work and we don’t need those either.

And then on Monday evening when we went to bed, I said that I wished we’d got it all finished, and he looked at me in amazement, and said “but it’s not a job that’ll be finished and then you’re done. It’s a job that you’ll always need to keep coming back to.”

What?!?!?!? How can that be true?! Surely I can spend three days sorting out my things and then I will rejoice in my clutter-free space and will never need to declutter again? What if I declare never to buy or acquire anything ever again? What does he mean, I’m going to have to go through this all over again in a few months time?!

Of course, he’s right. Maybe some people could do it, but I am never going to be a true minimalist. I’m probably never going to be close! I hate waste too much. I have three pairs of shoes in my closet that I haven’t worn for over a year – in fact two of them I haven’t worn in two or three years. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.

I think when people accumulate stuff, and the stuff starts to get in the way of their lives, they have two choices. They either get a bigger house, or more storage, in order to assimilate their possessions and not have to really think about them. Or they decide to have a clear-out, in which case they have to face up to the money they’ve wasted, the dreams that never quite came true (even though you bought the book on paper maché crafts or the home candle-making kit or whatever new hobby, you just never quite got round to it), and the emotions which come with that (be it guilt, anger, resentment, or simply frustration at having too much stuff). Maybe some people really don’t care, they happily just chuck it all in the bin and head back to the shops to get a load more shiny new stuff, but for me, I find this second option really confronting.

What it means, though, is that on the public holiday weekend, whilst friends of mine are spending a few days relaxing in the beautiful Margaret River region down south and having a glorious time, I am at home fishing things out of the dustbin. That is the consequence of my having too much stuff. And it’s rubbish – literally.

So I’ve decided I need to rethink my challenge in order to actually make some progress. I think it’s going to be easier for me if I break my goal of 100 things down into bite-size chunks. I’m going to commit to getting rid of 5 things every day for the next 20 days. That will take me to the 24th June. Hopefully if I’m on a bit of a roll, I’ll be able to keep going until the end of the month.

I think spending a few minutes every day is a much better option than dedicating three days to achieving greatness, and then feeling miserable about my lack of achievement. And as that didn’t work anyway, I’m not going to spend another weekend floundering.

So, small steps. I’m off to find my five things to get rid of today. Wish me luck!

The weekend and the washing

laundryjpgI had a really great weekend. Friday night sushi and a rare trip to the theatre with my boyfriend (Death of a Salesman by the Black Swan State Theatre Company), a Saturday afternoon afternoon trip to Fremantle then dinner with friends on Saturday night, and lunch with family on Sunday afternoon. Busy, fantastic company, amazing food, loads of fun. Read more

The power of nanna-technology

You’ve probably heard of nanotechnology. Well this post has absolutely nothing to do with that. I’m talking about nanna-technology.

Our tiny flat is leaky. In winter it leaks warmth. Australian houses just aren’t built to stay warm in the cold months, they leak warmth, letting the heat out (but letting it all in during the summer, when everyone is trying to keep cool). In our tiny flat, there are gaps between the door frame and the wall where you can see straight through to the outside. I’m not talking about the gap between the door and the door frame, although of course there’s a gap there too, but a gap between the actual door frame and the wall. Crazy. There’s also a space of about an inch under the front door, and another at the balcony door. The windows are single glazed. Even when they’re closed I can feel the cold air breezing in. And the window in the bathroom actually has a three-inch gap where there is no glass at all.

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I’m not joking either! The gap at the bottom of the door is big enough for me to put my whole hand underneath, right up to my knuckles! And these gaps mean cold air coming in.

All this means that in winter inside the flat it can get quite cold. You may think of Australia as sunny and warm (I thought that before I came here), but in Perth in winter 2012 the minimum temperature averaged 6.7°C at night, and some temperatures were below zero (statistics here).

We rent our flat. We can’t just replace the door frame, install double-glazing or add roof insulation to make the place warmer. Even if we didn’t rent, these things can be expensive to install. But if we don’t do something, we’re going to spend a fortune trying to heat the place, and the heat is just going to escape outside through all the gaps.

So this brings me back to nanna-technology. If you’re suffering from the same problem as me, don’t just admit defeat and crank up the heating. Ask yourself, what would Nanna do?

You don’t always need to spend money to find solutions. Don’t let expensive solutions that you can’t afford be a reason not to do anything. Just try to find solutions with what you have. After all, if your house is drafty you’ll spend a fortune in electricity or gas trying to heat the place up by burning fossil fuels.

To help plug the gaps under the doors, I’ve made two draft excluders using some spare towels and a few elastic bands. They may not look catalogue-perfect, but as long as they’re doing their job and I’m not cold, I don’t care!

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Just looking at these guys makes me feel warmer!

Last winter was my first winter in Perth, and I wasn’t prepared for the cold or the drafty-ness.  This year, I say bring it on.

The Joy of Second-Hand

This weekend we were able to borrow a car for a couple of hours, and took the opportunity to go furniture shopping. I wanted a desk to be able to work from and as we recently sold our sofa to free up some space in the tiny flat, we now actually had room for one.

When we moved into our (unfurnished) flat 15 months ago, we decided that all the furniture we purchased would be second-hand. There were a number of reasons for this. The environmental factor was a big one, of course. Why buy something brand new when we could buy something old and give it another lease of life? New items are also always ridiculously overpackaged. Having just come from the UK, we had recently experienced selling a number of (once-new) items for significantly less than they had cost to buy. Not only did we realise the depreciation of new and shiny bits and pieces, but having seen the smiles of the people who were walking away with our stuff bought at cheap-as-chips prices, we realised that second hand furniture didn’t have to be rubbish and there were bargains to be had.

Our first purchases were a washing machine (I researched the top water efficient models currently on the market, and then looked for a second hand one) and two old but clean and surprisingly comfortable green armchairs which cost just $10. We have since added a bed, mattress and two bedside tables, a dining table and four chairs, the sofa (which we have just re-sold) and now the desk. I have also bought a couple of second-hand kitchen appliances. We’ve saved a few trees (and a lot of plastic packaging!) as well as a few dollars, and we’ve had only good experiences with everything we’ve bought.

Now I can’t imagine buying brand new furniture. That’s not to say I never will, but whilst there’s so much great pre-loved furniture out there just waiting for a new home, there just doesn’t seem to be any reason why I would.

Nine reasons why second hand furniture shopping is great:

1. Sustainability

In a world of finite resources, why waste what we have making new things when there are old things that can do the job perfectly well?

2. Plastic free

Second hand furniture never comes cling-wrapped or bubble-wrapped, there’s no individually wrapped drawer knobs and door knobs and screws, and there’s no plastic wallet for the ‘instruction manual’. In fact, there’s no instruction manual as it’s already been put together. Hurrah!

3. Individuality

Second hand furniture is a chance to find exactly what you want – quirky, functional, antique, ethnic, bohemian, sensible – in the colour, material and size that you’re looking for. Rather than in the shops, where what you can buy is dictated by what the powers-that-be have decided is fashionable this year.

4. Better quality

Things that are made to last – guess what? – last. Things that are made to be cheap usually don’t. For the same price as you’d pay in the cheap mass-produced furniture warehouses you can buy solid items that will last much longer. And, as an added bonus, you don’t have to traipse around a mass-produced furniture warehouse clutching a colander and some wooden coat hangers that you’re sure will come in useful.

5. VOCs

You how those new items you buy smell so…new? Well, that would be the volatile organic compounds, and you’re breathing them in. These are chemicals found in paints and coatings with low boiling points, which evaporate into the air. Because second-hand furniture is older, they will have less VOCs.

6. Money

Second hand furniture is invariably going to be cheaper than its brand new equivalent, and rare antiques aside, most furniture will depreciate. Scuffs, knocks and scratches are bound to happen in time, so why pay a premium for scratch-free? People sometimes need to sell stuff in a hurry, and it’s possible to find real bargains. In fact, people give away items that they no longer need if they are going to a good home.

7. Glimpses into the lives of others

It’s not often that you are welcomed into a complete stranger’s house. I love getting to see new neighborhoods and briefly glimpsing the lives of people whose paths would probably never cross with mine, were it not for this brief transaction. Whilst that may sound a little odd (!), it’s really surprising how often people ask about your plans, or share their own history, and you make a connection.  After all, you’re taking a tiny piece of their life, and placing it in your own. That’s how I feel, but maybe that’s just me!

8. Convenience

No traipsing round the shops with half the local population at the weekend. Instead, browsing online from the comfort of my own home at a time that suite me and making a quick phone call or two.

9. Freedom

There’s a quote from the movie Fight Club that goes “the things you own end up owning you”. I love the way that second-hand items feel transient… they might be mine now but they belonged to someone else before me and they’ll probably belong to someone else after me.

How to Build a DIY Worm Farm

One of the first things I noticed once we stopped buying plastic packaging was that our rubbish bin was now filled almost exclusively with organic waste – vegetable peelings, fruit skins and cores, leaves and the like. In the UK our local council had provided a brown bin for organic waste, which was industrially composted, but here in Perth Australia it was heading straight to landfill.

This meant someone was driving a truck to our flat, picking up our organic waste, driving it to a landfill site, dumping it into a hole in the ground and covering it with rocks. With fuel and machinery costs, wages, increased pollution from vehicle emissions, and the resulting contaminated land, it seemed like a lot of energy (and effort) was being wasted dealing with something we could potentially deal with at home.

And so I built a worm farm! I use the term ‘built’ loosely, as there was no actual building involved. In fact, it is dead simple. Additionally, we spent ZERO! Nothing! Zilch!

How to Build a Worm Farm

What you will need: two polystyrene boxes, a skewer, scissors, junk mail or shredded paper, some worms, an old towel

We salvaged two polystyrene boxes with lids from our local supermarket. I just went to the Fruit & Veg section and asked a member of staff. In Australia, vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts are delivered in these, and once emptied of stock, they are simply thrown away. The boxes need to be the same width and length, but the same depth is not necessary.

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Two insulated boxes, courtesy of the supermarket. The bottom box doesn’t need a lid as the other box sits directly on top.

The boxes will be stacked on top of one another, so if they are different depths, choose the shallowest to sit on the bottom.

The top box is for the worms, and so needs drainage holes. The bottom box will be used to collect liquid that drains from the other box, so no holes in this one! To pierce holes in the bottom of the box simply use a skewer, making the holes approximately an inch apart.

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Drainage holes allow liquid to drain away, and stop your worms from drowning. The liquid collects in the bottom box.

Place a layer of cardboard at the base of the top box so that the worms do not fall through the holes. Next, add some shredded paper to make bedding for the worms. This is a great way to get rid of those annoying supplements and catalogues that come in the newspapers, or in the mail.

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If you don’t have a shredder (I don’t) then you can make strips of paper for bedding by cutting slits in a newspaper at 1cm intervals along the spine, and then tearing.

Using a litre of water (ideally rain water of filtered water, if you have) pour carefully over the bedding to ensure it is wet. Any excess water will drain through to the bottom box.

And then…worms! I got mine from a friend but many community gardens offer them either free or for a small fee. You can also find them on gumtree or freecycle. If all else fails they can be purchased at the big DIY stores but be aware that these will have potentially been sitting on the shelf for a long period of time and may not be in very good health, so will take longer to get going.

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The worms in their new home : ) One fistful of worms needs one fistful of food per week. It’s important not to overfeed them as this means a stinky worm farm and can also attract other unwanted pesties who want in on the action.

Finally, cover the worms with an old towel, sack or carpet, or if you don’t have these to hand then use cardboard. This cover keeps the worms dark and damp, and keeps flies out. If you’ve used cardboard or something biodegradable you will eventually have to replace this as it will disintegrate over time.

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An old flour sack acting as a worm blanket, as I don’t have any old towels.

Lastly, replace the polystyrene box lid, after piercing a couple of holes for air, and place in a shaded spot. My worm farm lives on my balcony but it would be fine to keep indoors in a laundry or kitchen…if you wanted to! Do not feed the worms for a few days to give them a chance to settle into their new home.

And there you have it – a DIY worm farm that didn’t cost you a penny!