Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Downsizing Enough to Fit in a Tiny House

Earlier in the year, I found myself thinking fairly often about what it would take for my girlfriend and I to downsize our "stuff" enough that we could comfortably live in a tiny house on wheels. I feel like I would love the freedom to buy property and move the house with us rather than having to try to sell a house and buy another if we should choose to relocate in the future.

We currently live in a 1,000+ square foot apartment with two bedrooms, a large living room, a walk-in storage closet, a small "den", a bathroom with a full size tub and a kitchen with two small closets. One of the bedrooms functions as a craft room and the den is used as a home office but both end up also being used for storage. I'm not going to lie, we have a lot of stuff. Some of this stuff hasn't even been unpacked from the move before last when it went into storage for two years.

So while we do have enough indoor space (and central A/C, which is nice in the summer,) we also have horribly loud downstairs neighbors (the second set of them in two years) and we pay too much in rent, especially for the location and the lack of amenities. I have lived within two miles of where I grew up for all but 4 years of my life (2 college years a few hours North and 2 years an hour West) and I'm feeling more and more like it's time for a change of scenery and weather.

If we did decide to try out a tiny house on wheels, we'd need to weed out a lot of our stuff and try to figure out what it is we need to have then take that into consideration when planning of the layout of the space. In our current apartment, most of our time is spent in the living room, so I think that would be the primary space we'd need to plan around. We'd give some extra consideration to the kitchen layout to try to fit a full size oven and sink. I'd also attempt to make the living space flexible enough to occasionally do things other than just sitting around watching TV. Hopefully, having less indoor space (and maybe moving to an area with more mild winters) will help push us outdoors more, though. I miss being outdoors.

I'm thinking that we'd end up getting an additional storage shed for the larger outdoor items that we'd need/want (outdoor tools/bikes, etc.) that are currently in storage with family members but we have a lot of other stuff that would have to be eliminated in order to comfortably fit in a much smaller space. I know, for me at least, that many of the things I have accumulated over the years (mostly CD's, magazines, books, computer parts/equipment, snowboard, skateboard, guitars) could be weeded out a little more aggressively than I've done in the past, but I'm worried that there are things that we'll miss when they're gone. I'm sure a lot of that is just sentimentality (random things from my childhood, souvenirs), but there are things like my girlfriend's sewing machine and books and my desk and CD collection that take up space but we wouldn't really want to part with. Those are probably the biggest things that would be tricky to work into a tiny house floor plan. Then there are some other things that I'm conflicted about. I've always wanted to learn to play guitar and I have two guitars and an amplifier. However, I haven't touched them in the past 5 years except to move apartments twice. Will I make time and the effort to learn someday and wish I kept them? Honestly, probably not, but will I regret getting rid of them and end up buying them again?

I'm really not sure where to start, though, aside from just taking passes through the stuff and selling/donating/recycling/discarding the things that I know I can do without. Then we're left with the more tricky/sentimental things. I don't want to end up moving a bunch of stuff and putting it in storage, so how do you work through getting rid of that kind of stuff?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Have I made any progress?

Just over a year ago I posted a plan for the rebirth of my blog. It's time to see how I'm doing.

Since I made that post, I've only posted 4 blog entries. One was about someone (accidentally?) using my email address to sign up for accounts. Two were observations about behavior of coworkers. The last was about "corporate personhood" and the relentless pursuit of profit. I didn't post about any of the things I was planning on working on and writing about over the past year.

So, here's an accountability-type update, as brutal as it's going to be for me. These were the things that I had planned on working on and writing about:
  • eating more healthy / in-season / local food
  • cooking at home more
  • eating less prepared / fast food
  • incorporating more enjoyable physical activity into my life
  • finding ways to reduce stress
  • worrying less
  • meeting new people
  • spending more time with family and friends
  • keeping in touch with non-local friends
  • simplifying and decluttering
  • learning new things
  • attempting to work on more creative / artistic things
  • sharing thoughts and ideas
  • starting new hobbies and revisiting old ones
  • reading more books
  • spending less time in front of TV
  • spending less time aimlessly browsing on the internet
To be completely honest, I feel I've done so poorly, it's embarrassing.

I didn't make much of an effort to do too much with the food related topics. We did buy a little bit more fruit and vegetables and tried to work them into meals a little bit more. We ate a little bit less fast food but a little bit more prepackaged, frozen meals.

I went for a few walks, mostly on my days off, but that was about it for additional physical activity.

Reducing stress, worrying less: Not really.

Family and friends: Probably worse than before. I live close to my family (after being an hour away for a couple years) but really only see them on holidays and special occasions. I spend most of my time doing the things I was trying to do less of (TV and internet browsing).

Simplifying and decluttering is one of the areas that I've made some progress. After our last move, where most of our stuff was in storage for 2 years, we moved it into our new apartment where it continued to stay boxed up in our office and craft rooms. Much of it had never been unboxed in probably 3 1/2 years. So we started going through it and weeding out much of it for donations. We have made a few trips to Salvation Army to donate stuff already and have another small pile ready to go. A lot of the challenge here is the sentimentality of objects we've had for a long time, but don't really have any use for. I've been trying to periodically and repeatedly go through things like this and find more and more I'm willing to let go with each pass. I don't really want to move it again and have to find new places to store things that aren't useful.

Learning new things: I've worked a little bit on brushing up on some programming skills and started learning about some new programming languages, but at work I've been pushed more in the direction of business analysis instead of coding, so I'm also picking up a bit of project management and business analyst skills.

I haven't done too much with creative and artistic pursuits. I haven't spent much time on photography, painting or writing. I haven't picked up any new hobbies. As far as old hobbies go, I have spent a little bit of time working on computers (doing upgrades) and have spent a little time playing some computer games (Minecraft, Farming Simulator 2015, Forza 6, Fallout 4) and done a little bit of website work for my dad's business. I haven't spent any time working on cars or anything really mechanical. I read a couple books, but not too much more or less than usual.

I haven't decreased my TV or internet browsing time much, but that is one of the things that I really want to focus on this year now that the weather is getting a little warmer here in the Northeast. Making an effort to get outside will help keep from sitting in front of various screens for the majority of my life.

My realistic plans for the future are to actually try to eat a little bit more healthy. I plan to also get outdoors much more often to walk, run, ride my bike and do some easy hikes. I really want to make an effort to be more social, to see friends I haven't seen in a long time and be with my family. I want to continue to work on simplifying and decluttering to make it easier to move, should I choose to do so... which leads into my biggest thing to consider: moving.

Our current lease is up at the end of the summer and we don't want to renew. Work has been less engaging, more stressful and less rewarding. I'm getting tired of the area I've lived in for most of my life. I don't know where I would go if I didn't stay here, though...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Corporate profit before all else.

Certainly there will come a time when the "corporate profit before all else" mentality has to come to an end. The questions are: When and how are we going to get there?

As a younger, more idealistic version of myself, I used to think that I had a strong dislike for "corporate America" but didn't completely know what that meant. Now that I'm a little bit older, I realize that I still don't know what it means.

I remember standing in a corporate bookstore flipping through a copy of Adbusters magazine, but (of course) not buying it. (Aside: How can you justify buying something with the whole profit model based off of convincing you not to buy something else? Wait, isn't that how a large portion of our consumer culture works? "You'll certainly be happier if you buy this brand of dishwashing liquid instead of that cheap ass one that's sure to leave your dishes dirty and make you the laughing stock of the whole neighborhood!!!") I'm sure I stood there for a few minutes in my [brand name] sneakers also flipping through a stack of magazines about mountain bikes, cars, running and whatever else I was interested in at the time thinking about "culture jamming" and the destruction that corporations were causing the world.

I remember eventually coming to the conclusion that it's hard to walk the line between feeling like a socially conscious, responsible person and a complete hypocrite... and the days I feel like I'm more on the former side, it's just complete and total ignorance.

The fact is that it's close to impossible to opt out of the "system" and still survive. Even if you pick an area of focus and do something that you think is a better, more responsible choice like buying "organic" foods at the supermarket from smaller companies, chances are good those brands are now owned by giant corporate conglomerates that have snatched them up for the brand name and the increased profit that comes with them.

In this example, larger companies snatch up smaller companies with good ideas / market share / turf that they desire and then slowly kill them off internally, fold them into their massive corporate structure and then "downsize" or just grab the brand and/or patents and sit on them. There are hundreds of things that are done purely in the name of profit that are much more questionable or unethical than buying up your competition, but I don't want to turn this into a massive list / rant.

Now usually when people become outraged by something they clamor for "increased regulations" but that usually just makes things worse. Tying shit up in bureaucracy for years and trusting someone that somewhere up to half of the population didn't vote for based on the side they label themselves as or even just how familiar their name is. Then these "representatives" hopefully ignore their convictions, biases and contributors and do the right thing for the country and the majority of the people. Yeah. That sounds like *exactly* what happens. (/sarcasm.)

There have been some headlines in the past few years about "corporate personhood" here in the United States (in light of a recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage by insurance and religious convictions) and how it's probably time that it's ended. Many of the comments about these type of articles tend to lead to the conclusion that if a corporation was actually a person it would be a heavy-handed, greedy, money-driven psychopath with no empathy, sympathy or conscience.

That's the whole game, though. If (corporate) profit drives all available choices, and every one of those choices is a bad choice for someone or something else, why not just pick the best choice for you and get on with your day? Why care at all?

Acknowledging this isn't me giving up. This is me realizing that just saying you don't like something isn't going to change it. It's time to break free of conspicuous consumption and unchecked corporate profit and power.

We need to find better ways of defining what it is that makes us happy and better ways to get there if we want to have any sort of a future.
  • We need to figure out how to destroy the notion of corporate personhood.
  • We need to take away incentives to destroy everything (the environment, people's rights and freedoms, etc.) in the ruthless pursuit of profit.
  • We need to tweak the legal system to end frivolous lawsuits.
  • We need to stop funding government organizations that don't have the best interests of the people they serve best interests as their only reasons for existence.
Most of all, though, it starts with making better choices as individuals. Some things that will help:
  • Stop coveting other people's stuff.
  • Pick some concerns that you're passionate about to focus on (environment, local business, etc.) and try to work them into all purchasing decisions.
  • Take a few extra minutes to consider whether you really need something when making purchasing decisions.
  • Try to buy secondhand goods, when possible.
  • Donate or sell things that you've accumulated that someone might make better use of.
  • Look for more durable, locally made products as an alternative to the mass-produced junk at the local big-box store.
  • Services aren't exempt, either. Find a local Credit Union to do your banking. Skip chain restaurants, haircuts, stores...
The more we can shift power (money) back into our local economies and businesses, the more quickly change will come.