Thursday, May 28, 2009

Live Simpler... Lose Weight?

In January 2008 I began thinking that I needed to simplify. My weekdays consisted of wake, commute, work, commute, read or take classes, sleep. While that is a simple daily schedule, I couldn’t find time to exercise, ate out all of the time because there wasn’t time to cook (and I don’t enjoy doing it because I'm really quite bad at it - who wants to eat bad food?), and although creative ideas came to mind, quite often I always felt too tired and stressed to follow through on any of them. My weekends consisted of errand after errand. I decided that I wasn’t having enough fun so I needed a change.

I started my simplicity change with hopping off of public transportation a mile from work before work and walking the rest of the way past a lake. I walk it early in the morning when few people are out, there’s a cool breeze, and the birds are just waking so it’s a very calming place.

Well, I began to feel better after a couple of weeks so I started to look at my eating habits. I stopped eating donuts for breakfast and stopped eating out for lunch and dinner. I ate more salads, fruit, nuts and grains and less meat, bread and desserts. That August I started eating a mainly raw diet after trying to see if my allergy/breathing problems were related to food. I already knew I was allergic to caffeine and shellfish and now realized that any kind of cheese made with milk also gave me the same reaction.

Many people wouldn’t eat this way and enjoy it but food preparation now takes me less time and it tastes better since I’m not killing it with my bad cooking. I eat raw fruit, vegetables, sprouted grains, seeds, nuts and occasionally raw fish (sashimi).

I eat simpler, feel fuller longer because of the fiber and fats, enjoy my meals more, feel better physically (woohoo! No more allergies either) and I’ve finally dropped weight that I’ve been wanting to for many years (25 pounds). I didn’t spend money on new exercise equipment, don’t belong to a gym, and don't take any diet pills or pay for any specially prepared ‘diet’ meals.

I have a pair of sneakers and make sure to work up a sweat when wearing them by simply taking a daily walk and doing old fashioned calisthenics (crunches, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, calf raises and dips). I eat three healthy meals a day plus just as many snacks.

Sure, there are days when I don’t walk (maybe that morning it’s 85 degrees and muggy), or times when I eat something that’s not raw (like at a party). But I’m trying to enjoy life while not depriving myself so a few days of a more relaxed schedule here and there aren't a big deal. I feel really healthy for the first time in years so I must be doing something right more often now than in my past. Simple.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Eat Simpler, Save Money

I recently took a look at my monthly food expenses to see if I could cut back at all on costs but was very happily surprised. My average DAILY tally for food is….. $4.50. That’s less than most people spend on ONE meal eaten away from home.

How I do it:
I buy produce on Saturday mornings at the local farmer’s market a few blocks from home. I’ve found that I can buy organic there for a fraction of grocery store prices.

I enjoy the farmer’s market because I go to same stalls weekly, am always greeted with a smile and a hello so I feel that my purchases are appreciated. It feels like people are less hurried, I like the free entertainment, and I feel like I’m more connected to the planet because I buy directly from a local farmer. If you go to the market the last 30 minutes that it’s open then the prices are drastically reduced though there is less of a selection than earlier in the day. Whatever the farmers don’t grow I’ll buy at Trader Joe’s, a health food store or (ugh) the big food chain. I buy what's in season or on sale so my food varies weekly.

Since last August I’ve been trying to eat mostly raw (recognizable) food. I say mostly because I try not to beat myself up about the occasional ‘slip’. I want to enjoy my meals while still eating healthy food so sometimes I will have some freshly baked bread or add cooked beans and brown rice to my salad.

This month I bought:
1x month = $30.80/4= $7.70 wk
6.00 Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
5.25 raw honey
4.00 old fashioned oatmeal
1.80 raw sunflower seeds
4.50 raw walnuts
4.00 raw almond butter
1.25 nutritional yeast flakes
1.00 flax seeds
3.00 raisins

2x month = $15.70/2= $7.85 wk
2.00 carrots (8)
6.00 apples (4 lbs)
.50 cilantro
.70 radishes
.70 scallions
.80 celery
5.00 avocados (5)

4x month (this varies according to what’s in season) = $15.60 wk
.80 cucumber
1.60 sprouts
4.30 oranges
3.00 yogurt
.80 lettuce
3.00 tomatoes
2.10 bananas (uh, no, not locally grown)

$7.70 + $7.85 + $15.60 = $31.15/7 = $4.45 day

Every 3 to 4 weeks Jeff and I will eat out. Sometimes we enjoy sashimi/seaweed salad/sushi or maybe a ploughman‘s style meal of fresh bread, olives, hummus, smoked salmon, lettuce and cheese made from nuts instead of milk. I find that I’m enjoying eating more simply rather than spending more time cooking than it actually takes me to eat it. I also enjoy knowing that the food I eat is fresh, I feel better physically and, surprisingly, that I’m saving money too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My List of 100 Things

I recently saw a list like this on a blog about another couple who are downsizing their possessions too. Jeff and I will be calculating the total square footage available for storage before we move into our cottage but I thought this would be a great exercise to try before that.

Here is my tentative list of things that I'll keep:

dressy pants
dressy top
dressy top
cowboy boots
dressy shoes
bike shoes
coat (black leather)
coat (brown suede)
battery powered clock
mixing bowl
mixing bowl
manual juicer
manual veg. slicer
decent kitchen knife
spice grinder
antique speckle ware frypan
small wooden box from Jeff
handmade box from Kirk
digital camera/charger
cell phone/charger
rechargeable batteries/charger
bath towel
bed pillow
reusable shopping bag
reusable shopping bag
antique telephone
portable victrola
sewing machine
roll of quilting bat
1 box fabric
1 box fabric
1 box fabric
deck of cards/cribbage board
1 toolbox
1 toolbox
#75+ undecided so far

Sunday, May 17, 2009

We Have Walls

Well, the wall framing is complete. This first picture is where we started today. I am finishing up my last quarter at Cal State East Bay, so over the last two weeks, Arlene has been building the frames daily after work. (Note: as always, we've posted more pics than we've blogged here.)

We pretty much had all the walls together and ready to go up when our helpers, Rick and Scott, showed up. Arlene had put the walls together on the floor of the house. This made her feel more comfortable about getting the measurements right. It made me less comfortable (than if she'd built them on the build space floor) because I worried about our brand new douglas fir floor. But she was careful and it turned out alright.

Once a wall was up, we'd level, plumb and brace it. We used long screws to attach the base board of the wall frames, through the douglas fir floor, and into the floor joists.

The second wall we put up was the shorter of the two long walls. Our porch will be about a 2.5 x 2.5 foot corner taken out of the front of this wall (In these photos, we're looking at the back of the house, which is the front of the trailer).

The third wall went up fairly easy. Then we lifted the toilet and refrigerator into the house since getting them in later would be - difficult (our door will be custom and narrower than most).

I'll try to get some pictures of the framing in the front of the house later. It is hard to see how it turned out in the these shots.

Basically, we have 3 walls that form the front of our house. One, the lager, will have 2 windows in it. The next will have the door, and the last will have one more window.

When we had the walls in place, we put a few 2X4s on top to keep everything together, plumb, level and tight.


Thanks to Rick and Scott!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Modified Floor Plan

Our cottage will have inside dimensions of approximately 7’-6”x18’-6”. We started with plans for the fencl because we like the architectural detail above the doorway outside but found that the floor plan just wouldn’t work for our needs. This won’t be a cottage for one person, we both plan on living in it together, so we’ve modified it.

The original bay window was too short to make into a sofa/guest bed and we also need a double desk which wouldn’t fit there either. Sure, the front door is cute to look at from directly out front but function won over form. All available space needs to be usable in a tiny space like this.

What we decided is to swap a window and the front door location so that when you step into the cottage you will be standing in what would have been the bay window. We essentially made a foyer; a place to hang our coats and take our shoes off. We also deleted the far side of the bay window but added a window on either side of the cottage in the living area a little farther back so that we’d still be getting quite a bit of natural light.

With the front door opening to the right instead of straight ahead, we now have the full wall on the left to make into a double long desk with storage below and the fireplace mounted just above it between the two work areas and windows. We’re planning on making a customized sofa/bed to go on the opposite long wall. Both the desk unit and the sofa/bed will cover the wheel wells because they jut into the living area and we don’t want to see them. Between the two desk work areas we’ll have a fold up cabinet door to use as a dining table/additional work space.

We also moved the kitchen and bathroom. Before deciding to build the cottage we laid out string on our (current) living room floor outlining the suggested built ins. We didn’t like the original bathroom location because it was so small that someone sitting on the composting toilet (this one is large) could shower at the same time. While this is probably a time saver to someone, we wanted more space to shower and dress. We also found that two people couldn’t comfortably work in the kitchen at the same time when it was alongside the bathroom. If we enlarged the bathroom using the original floor plan then the kitchen would be further reduced and vise versa.

The bathroom is now about 2’-9”x7’6” and runs along the back wall and we will install the same sized window in there as in the rest of the cottage. From back of the cottage to the front we now have the bathroom, closets/storage, galley kitchen, living area/office, then the foyer.

We thought about enclosing the whole loft area (we wonder about having enough storage space) but would miss daylight upstairs. The loft above the kitchen and bathroom will be the sleeping area and a small loft above the foyer/front door will be for storage.

We have considered adding eyebrow windows or shed dormers on both sides of the roof so that we could park the cottage sideways (the front door could face the front and the cottage would have more character). Right now we've decided against those options but we're not yet up to the roof so we might change our minds. Currently we plan to install a skylight above the sofa so that both upstairs and downstairs gets natural light as well as better ventilation.

We're very happy with our modified floor plan. The cottage will be much more comfortable for two people to live in and the space now better suits our specific needs without sacrificing anything that was important to us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts About Building a Custom Home

Jeff and I have designed homes that we would build ‘someday’ since we were kids. We each have our own ideas as to the aesthetics and components; sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. Designing and building our tiny cottage has been an interesting exercise in communication, cooperation, compromise and construction.

Because of this project I’ve thought about not only us building a tiny livable structure, but also others who go through the process. Each custom house has something of the designer/owner/builder in its design. Each home will have its own unique qualities because, although we’re all human, we’re each shaped by our life experiences and have different needs and personal preferences.

For example, I tried to get Jeff interested in building a tiny home that was not only healthy to live in, but also completely off-grid, and very inexpensive to build. We both compromised. (Of course, if we were building a tiny home to live in alone, neither of us would have had this experience.)

Healthy: We did agree on this. I’ve been doing research so that we will use as many healthy building products as we can find. I might miss something but I’m trying my best not to. We’ve heard stories about the FEMA trailers that were used after hurricane Katrina and that so many people became sick while living in them. We don't want that.

Off-grid: Ok, yes, I admit that my favorite vacation was a three week trip in Death Valley. Two Jeep Wranglers, four people, no refrigeration, no electricity, no roads. Jeff and I would take walks just after sunrise, we’d eat simply, use hot springs to wash off and we’d all dance under the stars to Frank Sinatra or Etta James. Sure I’D live in a home that had gravity fed water, lanterns for lighting, more sweaters/blankets/cuddling for heating, didn’t have a frig and used a compost toilet. Jeff doesn’t want to 'camp' everyday though. We will have a compost toilet but we’ve compromised on the other things. We’ll use a garden hose for water pressure for the on-demand water heater, we'll have some battery powered lights, an LP gas heater and will use an extension cord for a small frig. We do expect to use a rainwater cistern / grey water system and agreed to run some conduit in the framing so that if we choose solar power at some point it can be easily installed.

Inexpensive: Since we didn’t have a place to build ahead of time, and didn’t have free storage space to stockpile salvaged windows or a used trailer, we ended up renting a small warehouse to build in which raised the cost of building right away. It wasn’t a choice to pay extra for the space but we want to live in a tiny home so we do what we need to now so we can have the end result. We also didn’t find a used trailer that fit our building needs when we needed it so we bought a new one. Although we paid more for the trailer, we know that we won’t have to worry about whether the brakes work or whether the trailer is capable of hauling what we need it to. This saved us repair time, hassle and worry.

We could have simply bought an older Airstream trailer or a retired school bus, gutted then customized, but we both agreed that we wanted a home that looked like a home on the outside as well as on the inside. We want to build a place to live that has a warm and inviting personality; a place that we build together. Part of building a tiny cottage for us is the appeal of sharing this experience.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Search And What We Hope To Find

We now have 4 months until the planned relocation. We’re officially starting the search for a place to park our tiny cottage and we thought that if we listed what we’re hoping to find, that readers could possibly keep an eye out for leads.

The hopes:

The host-house owners will be happy to have a tiny house on their property. Although the property we’ll live on will probably already have a house on it, we’d also be open to renting an empty lot instead. I already know how to research who the owners are. I just need the address or nearest cross streets.

The area will be quiet and safe. We won’t have anything to steal, but when walking/biking near the cottage in the darker winter hours we’d like to feel fairly safe.

Not too far from the University of Washington or downtown. A 30 minute or less commute by public transport would be ideal but we’re open to living farther out if need be. Farther out simply means we’ll definitely be ready to do the 208 mile Seattle to Portland bike ride our first July there (with minimal extra training).

The monthly rent for the space will be reasonable. We simply need a space to park the cottage, an outdoor extension cord for our tiny fridge and a garden hose for a hookup for showers when we don’t shower at the YMCA after a morning workout. Besides the rent, we can pay extra for our utility usage (although we don’t think you’ll notice much of a difference to your regular bill). Wireless internet would be a big plus, but isn’t necessary. We also don’t need access to the host-house as we can use nearby laundry facilities and have our own kitchen and bathroom. To rent a room in Seattle (including utilities and access to a washer and dryer) is running about $450 so we would expect to pay less than that since we need less and won’t be invading anyone’s privacy. I’d be very willing to help with the gardening or help with house maintenance to keep our rent low.

We pay our rent on time, won’t be having any large, loud parties, don’t have any drama in our lives, don’t smoke and we don’t have any pets although we do like them. We would like to secure a place to live before we arrive in August.

If you live in, or about 30 minutes from, the UW or downtown,
have a space that you would like to rent to us,
have an elderly relative who could use the extra income/help around the yard
or see an empty lot somewhere,
then please contact us directly by clicking on the "-Contact Us-" link under our photo.

Thanks, and we’ll see you soon in Seattle!

Friday, May 8, 2009


Every wonder how much this adventure is costing us? I have had a few queries about it. So, just for fun, I have embedded part of a Google Spreadsheet that I'm using to track expenses. As I update the spreadsheet, this will update automatically. But folks probably don't want to go back and look for this post, so I will also put it the side bar on the left near the bottom so you can see it anytime.

At this point, we've done all the big purchases associated with our project. We have the windows (under the Home Depot category), refrigerator (Sears), hot water heater, heater, trailer and a good part of the lumber (no roof framing, plywood or roofing) - certainly enough to finish framing the walls though. So the expense list will change, but not by a huge amount.

In terms of the allocation of expenses, the chart shows a proportional accounting by category.

Well, that's enough goofing off for me for now. Back to school work.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Slower, Less Stressful, Balanced Life

Before we even thought about building this tiny cottage we discussed what kind of life we wanted upon moving to Seattle. Right now it’s rather hectic; school, study, apply to grad schools, work, research, build, eat and sometimes get some sleep.

After we move into our cottage we want a slower, less stressful daily life. We’ve wondered that if I’m at work days and taking some night classes, and that Jeff might have day classes then teach in the evenings, will we ever see each other? We think that maybe since we’re both early risers that we can keep the downstairs floor area fairly empty so that we can wake up, do a bit of yoga together, sit and chat over breakfast, then head out for the day either to the local Y or to school/work.

Right now I take public transport to work but I’m planning on bringing my bike with us because I’d love to make it my primary mode of transportation in Seattle. They have so many bike friendly routes!

Because of living in our tiny cottage I will have more options as to what I am able to do to earn a living even though the economy stinks. The current rate in Seattle for a tiny place is around $1000 a month but the rent for a space to park our cottage will be only a couple to a few hundred dollars. If I can’t find CAD work in the engineering or architectural fields right away, we won’t have to stress over where the rent money will come from. This cottage will enable us to live off of only Jeff’s TA income if we have to. If I do find work in my field, then living on less means there's more money that could be set aside for retirement planning or vacations.

Of course, fewer living expenses also means that I’ll have the option to work part time in my current field, to change fields altogether not worrying that it pays less than what I’m accustomed to, or to do unpaid work. I read constantly and have always wondered what it might feel like for someone who either never learned how to read or who doesn’t read well. I plan on checking into what I’d need to do to become a Literacy Plus Tutor once we relocate and get settled in. I haven’t made the time for it up until now but I think I’d really enjoy doing that as well as getting back into hobbies.

We’re thinking of our cottage as a way to improve our lives as well as a way to save money in the long run simply by lowering our living costs. Although it’s uncomfortable seeing our savings lowered temporarily as we build, we are building the cottage with the knowledge that it will also be energy efficient and healthy to live in which is more than we can say for most existing housing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Floor Finishing - Part 1 of 2

We’ve put the floor finish on hold temporarily so that I can do more research.

I'd already found a couple of products that we could use but then a professional floorer we met this weekend highly suggested using Watco Danish Oil with a covering of Minwax Finishing Wax for a really great finish. He also explained that if we ever get a big scratch or dings that we’d simply sand the area, reapply the finishes and the marks would have disappeared. Well, yesterday I looked up the products and the MSDS said it wasn’t all that healthy to apply. We have no idea if the stuff will outgas, and if so for how long, so we’re back to looking for all natural products.

Since our cottage will be mobile, our needs are possibly different than what a stationary house can use. What we’ve decided so far is that we need a finish that is:

Water resistant
Matte finish and a
Natural color

We aren’t yet sure what products we’ll choose but we’re leaning toward using an oil then a wax finish. The oil I like best so far is Bioshield Primer Oil. The write up describes it as a “deeply penetrating wood primer/sealer that creates and elastic, breathable…wood-grain enhancing surface…easy application…with superior water-resistant qualities.” Bioshield Penetrating Oil Sealer also looks like an option though it doesn’t specifically mention elastic, breathable or water-resistant.

Although Douglas fir a very soft wood, for the wax I’m thinking we should steer clear of anything with carnuba wax in it. I’ve read that it is a ‘hard wax that will continue to harden as it ages’ which sounds really great for a soft wood floor in a stationary house, but will it make our floor splinter when we move our cottage again later?

Since I need to complete the floor finish research, but don’t want to hold up construction progress, last night I put down a protective cover on the floor so that I can move on to wall framing. I duct taped together 4’x8’ sheets of masonite to protect our sanded wood floor from dings, dirt and scrapes as we attach the wall framing. Mike, a friend who has built his own home, professionally redone others’ (and also beautifully rebuilds antique cars piece by tiny piece), says that the construction industry uses thermoply to protect floors then throws it away. We didn't see a product with that name at our local home improvement store but we guess it's similar to masonite. We’ll either find another use for the stuff after it’s done its job on our floor or it will be posted on Freecycle since it will still be usable.

Have you ever used a No VOC finish for floors that is water-resistant and possibly flexible? What are your thoughts on our floor finish needing to be flexible?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Softwood Flooring

This past weekend we laid a Douglas fir tongue and groove floor, on top of rosin paper, over the floor framing. No subfloor. It took 3 of us to lay the floor (Thanks, Scott!); from 9:30a to 5p including a lunch break. It took me another 2 hrs after dinner to smoosh putty into the floor cracks wearing heavy rubber gloves. I tried other methods but this way was the most effective. We chose Douglas fir because it has a beautiful grain and was far less expensive than the prefinished hardwood floors we had oogled. Until this week when I started to research no VOC finishing options we didn't know that it is the softest wood. We now have a rule that we won't wear shoes in the house so it will look great longer.

Flooring lesson #1: Use the right tool for the job. We had a table saw and thought that we could use it to cut the floor boards. Because we're stubborn it took longer than it would have if we'd just rented a chop saw. It took one of us at the table saw trimming ends while another of us held the other end of the 8' long board in order to get a straight cut. Do yourself a big favor and use a chop saw for this job. We did rent a pneumatic soft wood flooring nailer and loved the tool.

Flooring lesson #2: The first few rows along a wheel well are the hardest and slowest to install. After the first 2 1/2 hours we had only about 5 rows nailed down. After lunch we picked up speed once we got into the groove of things.

Flooring lesson #3: Brute force may not work when flooring so take a deep breath and think of another solution. The milling of lumber is seldom precise so sometimes the tongues from board to board don't align so the groove of the next board won't attach. We loosened the nailing on the lower board when this happened and shimmed it so it won't squeak later. We found brute force didn't help this problem...

Flooring lesson #4: Be prepared to be carded when buying plastic wood which is the putty we used to fill between the floor board cracks. We don't exactly know why we were carded but others obviously have more fun with this putty than I did. Nightclubs sometimes have a 2 drink minimum but we weren't told that there was a maximum on putty purchasing. We used 2 small cans.

Flooring lesson #5: Because we didn't install a sub floor (to save on weight), the floor boards need to be butt jointed and end nailed directly to the floor framing. Jeff had calculated the amount of flooring we'd need but can't remember the formula he used. I can tell you though that his calc was so amazingly close as we were left with only about 4 feet of board left over; all in small unusable chunks.

On Sunday we rented a random orbital floor sander and we worked from 9:30a to 2:30p. We started at 35 grit paper and went to 80 grit. The machine had a dust collector (which was fantastic!) and was very easy to use.

The vote was unanimous. We agreed that this was a fairly easy job to do. The hardest parts were the backache that came from bending over the pneumatic nailer to whack it with the hammer and lifting of the floor sander onto the trailer with the backache from the day before.

Tomorrow I buy the floor finish and will start to apply it on Tuesday after work.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Downsizing – How To - Part 3 of 3

What will you need to live comfortably?
We've recently scaled back our energy and water consumption drastically and have noticed that we're still quite comfortable. This practice will be easy to continue in the Tiny Cottage.

We've decided to use propane for heating, cooking and the on-demand hot water heater. For most lighting we'll use a bunch of LED rechargeable battery-powered strips and occasionally a couple of LED Christmas light strings for mood lighting.

We chose a compost toilet which is huge compared to everyday toilet sizes but this unit requires less fiddling with than others we found. We'd rather use this sort of system than to own a black water tank and experience the joys of finding a place to dump it.

Since we can't make water (and no, it doesn't always rain in Seattle) we'll need a garden hose hookup for showers and will use a grey water system to give it safely back to the environment. The installation of rain barrel or two will happen after the move so that we will use less 'grid' water and we already have a very low-flow shower head that has an on/off mechanism to bring with us.

We'll need an extension cord from our host house to give us power for only our tiny frig and the LED Christmas lights. At some point we might go solar but we don't yet know where we'll be parked (if you have any leads for us in/near Seattle then please let us know) so we're not sure that we'll be able to get enough power off of that to be cost effective. We'll figure this out after the move.

Will H. recently gave me a great mandoline (manual veg slicer) so we'll keep that as well as our manual juicer, some utensils, a few dishes, pans, cups and a favorite cutting board. The Champion Juicer stays for a while but will go at some point. I use it often now but haven't yet decided how often I'll use it after the move; they're expensive to replace.

We're looking to downsize, not to live like we're punishing ourselves. Voluntary simplicity can be comfortable. Keep the things you need and use and get rid of the rest.

What goes?

Things we don't use often or at all anymore include a food processor, microwave, crock pot, Foreman grill, toaster, Ronco food dehydrator, rice maker, blender, hand mixer, lots of towels, sheets and clothes along with the before-mentioned tools and most books.

Important papers will be scanned and kept on disk. Antique family photos will be scanned and my brother will get the originals. None of these will be missed.

What brings you happiness?
I'm not a 'recreational shopper' but my teenage son does outgrow his clothes so I do occasionally find myself in a store and sometimes I do get an urge to buy a nifty-new-thingy just because I'm there.

I try to remember that money spent on something that I don’t truly need now, takes away from other areas in my life where it could be more enjoyably used. I love to travel, attend live performances and take classes. Now, before I purchase something, I make much more of an effort to ask if how I’m spending my hard-earned cash will actually make me happy.

Usually, I know that the item-of-interest will only be used for a short time before I get bored with it, it exists but I don't really see it, or it gets stored in a closet. Instead of buying one, can I borrow the nifty-new-thingy from a friend? Can I rent one for a couple of days just for 'the experience'? I remind myself that once its life with me is done that I will spend more time and energy getting rid of it and I know I'll be doing the environment a favor by borrowing or renting rather than buying too.

Have you downsized your possessions or changed your spending habits? How and why?