An interview with “J” by ISABEL BRAVERMAN
“Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can”
A house that is 10 by 12 feet sits on a piece of land near the Delaware River. Could you do it? Could you live in such a tiny house? That is what J is doing, living in a small dwelling that she renovated and moved on to her land. With the house she moved all her belongings, and soon realized that in order to live in a tiny house you have to downsize.
The idea to live there was inspired by someone she was working for, who lived in a tiny house and had others on her property. J fixed them up and decorated them, and realized she could live in a tiny house too. She said, “You don’t need all of these things that the world says you need.” So what do you need? How do you give up your possessions? Read the interview with J below.
Q: Tell me about the house
A: When you walk in there’s a wood stove and a little kitchenette, and then my bed and then a desk. The peak is ten foot high. It’s shaped like a barn, with a half-octagonal roof. There’s actually a lot of unused space there, but it works out. I put windows in it, and I need to put more windows in it. I had a porch built on the front of it with a roof and recently closed that in. Now that’s my little studio where I can sew and create and make things. The way I look at this project is it can be slow moving, because I want to spend the rest of my life there. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away.
Q: How did you learn about building and renovating?
A: Oh, I didn’t; I just did it. I learned by doing. Growing up in my bedroom and always being in that one room in that small square footage, I was always rearranging and putting up a shelf or doing those things. It was something that I just did. Now, a drill is my third hand. I’m always fixing up something.
Q: Did living in such a small space take any getting used to?
A: It was something you would think would be really hard to adjust to. For some reason, it wasn’t. I started staying there in the winter. It was September that I got the dwelling on to the property, so I had to finish renovating and it’s getting cold, it’s fall, next thing you know November rolls around then December, and I’m in there in hard core winter time, freezing. I had electricity running to the property. At the time I didn’t have the wood stove yet. It was so drafty in there, icicles and stuff.
But, I did adjust perfectly fine. It was like no big deal to me. It was just, ‘this is what I’m doing now.’
Q: Does it ever get filled up with stuff? How do you deal with storing things?
A: With my in and out lifestyle, because I work all the time, I do come home and just plop things down. So it can get crowded very quickly. But for a living I organize and design spaces, so it’s in my nature to be able to easily put things away quickly. When I first moved there, I was like ‘everything I own is going in there.’ And I had collections of vases and a full dish set and it was very quickly that I got rid of everything and gotten myself to the minimal amount of things I need. I have two forks and two spoons and two of everything. I don’t have much stuff; I minimalized.
Q: Did that feel freeing?
A: Oh yeah, definitely. I built a shed too, because I have tools and things I need as well. So I needed to build a separate building for those things, and ended up storing yearbooks and trophies and T-shirts and even my tassel from graduation, all those kinds of things I was saving. I got to the point where I could get rid of those things too. Because it’s just a thing; I have that in my head, I’ll always remember what that T-shirt looks like; I don’t need that shirt sitting in a box. It’s very freeing to be like I can just pack up and go any time I need to.
Q: How does it feel to not have any rooms?
A: That was the part that I was trying to figure out. Originally my bed was a loft, so I could hang out underneath and have my computer and guitar, and I could paint down there; it was like my mini studio. But, it was too cramped; it was like ‘this is not comfortable.’ I took the loft bed out last year, and have my bed on the floor and it’s just interesting how the space can change with not having multiple rooms. Usually you have a room just for sewing, or just for sleeping or a kitchen, so it is interesting to be able to fit it all in one room and be comfortable with it. And it is just fine.
Q: Do you have any future plans for what you want to do with it?
A: I do. I really want the self-sustainable thing to happen. I only want to grow enough food for me to live off of. I have a plan of putting in a root cellar. I have this amazing hill behind my building that I want to dig out and put a root cellar in there, for canning and storing food, and not have to rely too much on going other places. The wood on the land would be great for making paper, so I can make my own toilet paper. This year I’m looking into making a washing machine that can use rain or creek water and runs by hand. I want to slowly implement those things that don’t require you depending on the consumer world.
Q: What would you say to someone who wanted to move to a tiny house?
A: I would first tell them that they need to hire me to help them to do this. You can email me at email@example.com . I would tell them it’s really good to have someone there to go through your things, because it’s very important to downsize. I didn’t have that much stuff as it was, but I moved in there with all of my things. I had a shelf up here with all of my vases on it, and it was so ridiculous. I would coach them on letting go of things and realizing that if you’re going to actually live in a tiny home, you have to understand that things are just things, even if they have a sentimental value to them. You need to just bring what you need with you and the things you want to work with. It’s been fun figuring it out while I’ve been living here.