open tin of colourful gummy fish
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box

Was Radiohead referring to tiny houses? Ok, it’s not that bad, but I’d be lying if I said adjusting to tiny home living was easy. We’ve been tiny home dwellers for a couple months now and we’re still getting the hang of it, but I thought it’d be a good time to share what we’ve learned so far.

Insight #1: Cleaning takes much less time, but you’ll need to do it more often.

Pretty intuitive: two adults and one cat generate the same amount of dust and dirt no matter the size of the home. So, while it takes half the time to clean a 500 square foot space as a 1,000 square foot space, you have to do it about twice as often.

Insight #2: You’ll likely need to rearrange your “stuff” several times until you get it “right.”

If you’re like me, you’ll notice that where you initially put some “stuff” isn’t the ideal place for it. I’ve been making small rearrangements and changes based on how often we use or need to access certain items. The good news is that every time rearrangements are made, the living space becomes more comfortable.

Insight #3: Fridge space is important.

We’re staying at a temporary rental until some of the early build-out on site is done, so we didn’t get to choose our kitchen and its half-size bar fridge. We will be going with a full-size fridge in our permanent tiny home: more fridge space means more fresh/whole foods, without having to rely as much on packaged/processed foods.

Insight #4: Schedules are important.

Two remote workers in a shared space means one of you is taking a Zoom call in the bathroom if you don’t plan ahead. Every morning we discuss what our schedules are for the day and we check with each other before we book any Zoom meetings.

Insight #5: Include white noise.

Speaking of bathrooms, it’s good to have a noisy bathroom fan. The white noise from the whirring of a fan provides an aural barrier for sounds that need not carry throughout the whole space.

Insight #6: There are ways to get “alone time” even when you can’t be alone.

You know when you see a coworker wearing headphones and it means “don’t bug me?” Well, I’ve learned that works well in a tiny household too. When it’s harder to get “alone time” (especially in winter when working outdoors is less comfortable), you can create alone time by putting on some headphones and listening to ambient sounds or your favourite tunes, which also subtly lets your partner know you’re “busy.”

Another “alone time” trick: if you can’t see your partner, it’s almost like s/he isn’t there (don’t judge until you go tiny). We have three “workspaces,” one of which is around a corner, out of sight. It works.

Also, earplugs and an eye mask are critical for the later sleeper. That’s an obvious one, but worth mentioning.

Insight #7: Once you get past the initial challenges of tiny house living, it’s really quite nice.

I like knowing that all the “stuff” we have is “stuff” we need, or, that that is an achievable end goal. Tiny home living is simpler living. You know how the late Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit so he didn’t have to think about it? It’s kind of like that, but it extends beyond one’s wardrobe. And, perhaps the best thing about tiny-house living – particularly when it’s out in the wilderness – is that nature’s beauty is just outside your door, reminding us that there’s a big world outside our cozy abode.

Photo by Roseanna Smith on Unsplash

Mountain sunset with reflective pond in foreground

A Head Full of Dreams

The secret to good sleep? Move to a mountain acreage. I’ve heard about “sleep quality,” but I never understood it until we settled into our rental in Silverton – it’s as though my husband and I are catching up on years of sleep. We’re tired at 8:30 pm and can sleep 10 hours (or more). And, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually dreaming.

It’s just so peaceful out here. I’m not awoken by squealing tires or garbage trucks or an altercation in the nearby parking lot at any, and all hours of the night. Instead of the motion sensor light from the building next to us, or the circular illuminated parking sign that has served as our moon for so long, it’s nearly pitch black, that is, aside from the multitude of stars we are now able to see. 

I didn’t realize what a difference it would make. I am so much more relaxed, calmer. I am captivated by the mosses and mushrooms, the frogs and birds. There is a family of deer that come to visit a few times a week. I’m reminded of all the beauty in the world – all that’s right, instead of all that’s wrong.

And isn’t that increasingly the best lens through which to view the world?

overhead photo of a red SUV driving on a windy country road at dusk

Setting Forth

The day after tomorrow, we will be moving from Calgary to a rental in Silverton (until the Shangri-loft is complete). I find myself thinking about all the things I’ll miss in Calgary.

What I’ll miss most, obviously, is being close to my friends and family. My friends have been a wonderful support throughout the years, and it’s hard to leave them. But, many of them are thinking of moving on to new chapters in their own lives that would scatter some of them across the country. And my in-laws won’t be a mere 1.5 hours away anymore. Fortunately, COVID-19 has prepared us for limited face-to-face time, and has gotten us used to virtual gatherings, which, thankfully, can continue at any distance.

What else will I miss? The convenience of having a variety of goods and services available within walking distance. The luxury of putting in an online order and having it arrive within a day or two. Takeout.

Nothing worth doing comes without a sacrifice, though. So, if being somewhat isolated, surrounded by nature, with the opportunity to join and/or develop a new community and the potential to be self-reliant means living without the conveniences of living in a city, so be it.

Now I’m going to order a pizza.

Photo by Christopher Rusev on Unsplash

white neon sign that says Do Something Great

The Space Between

Surrounded by boxes of what we’re taking to B.C., it doesn’t feel like we’re really “living” in Calgary anymore. There’s still a month until we move, and it’s as though we’re somewhere in between.

It’s given us a lot of time to think about what we want to do with Big Calm. The first objective is to finish the Shangri-loft, so we can move in. I want our plans for both Big Calm and the Shangri-loft to be guided by the principles and ethics of permaculture, so we are thinking about ways to efficiently capture and store energy (solar panels, solar thermal, batteries, electric generators, etc.) while ensuring there are redundancies in place. 

Here in Calgary, we are in a condo building with 47 units, but we hardly know anyone – I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to a neighbour if we needed anything. We’re surrounded by people, but there is no community. We decided that we want to build one at Big Calm, and have established our vision: 

To create an ecologically sustainable, self-reliant tiny home community, guided by the ethics of permaculture, and strengthened by collaboration, mutual support and the diversity and skills of its members.

We will call the Shangri-loft home while we establish the first phase of Big Calm, after which the Shangri-loft will serve as a shared community space. We plan to incorporate other elements, including other community gathering spaces, food garden beds, a greenhouse and eventually, a food forest. 

There is a lot to consider, and we want to be thoughtful in approach. We can’t wait to share more (per Geoff Lawton: 100 hours of thinking for 1 hour of work). 

Have ideas for us? Drop us a line!

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

a jumble of clutter household items
CategoriesLifestyle,  Tiny Homes

All the Things That We Can’t Leave Behind 

So. Much. Stuff.

We closed on our property, which we have named Big Calm, at the end of June. It has a lovely, but old, cabin on it, in addition to a beautifully-built post-and-beam barn. Our plan is to develop and live in the loft above it, which we have named the Shangri-loft. It comes in at about 500 square feet of functional space, half the size of our condo in Calgary. 

We have to downsize. A lot. Not only do I have way more shoes and clothes than I need, I’m ashamed to admit that some haven’t even been worn. I have two giant canvasses, that have been sitting there for five years, blank, waiting for me to be inspired to create something beautiful. CDs and DVDs. I found dried corsages from my high school graduation. I’m sentimental, but this is ridiculous.

I guess one amasses a lot of stuff, especially having not moved much. That said, my husband has moved more than a dozen times and has more stuff than I do (Ed. Not true!). 

There’s a saying that “the stuff you own, ends up owning you.” So true. It just becomes a burden, especially when you have to get rid of it. And more importantly, most of it could be very useful for those who are less fortunate (not the corsages of course). 

We didn’t employ the “only keep what brings you joy” approach, but rather “does this have a function?” approach. It turns out that we have several things that serve the same function, and many things that don’t serve any. Looking at it through a permaculture lens, the ultimate goal is to ensure all elements perform multiple functions. We did our best to donate the rest.

Not only has “the great purge” been liberating, but it’s also the first step to living a simpler life, collecting more experiences than stuff, and acquiring memories, rather than things.

Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash

sunny morning view of a homestead driveway and paddock

We Found It!

Last summer, my husband and I went on our second road trip across B.C. to look at properties. We knew we wanted to get closer to nature and become more self-reliant, but didn’t have many plans beyond that. The goal of the trip was to decide where in B.C. we wanted to move.

We fell in love with the Slocan Valley. It’s perfectly situated between our beloved Nelson and the up-and-coming Nakusp we just discovered, with beautiful views and the most down-to-earth people (though we found those throughout our travels).

One of the properties we saw, near Winlaw, really stood out to my husband. He saw its potential immediately: it’s unzoned, has two water sources, and a cleared area that could be used for a variety of purposes. I was skeptical as the main residence, a cabin, needed some work, but he couldn’t shake the desire to pursue it. Fortunately, it was still on the market when we decided to act.

The pandemic had a major impact on my outlook: it eliminated all of my doubts. It wasn’t until I witnessed the faltering supply chains that I realized how vulnerable we were. It was then that I saw the property, and it’s potential to make us more self-reliant, as a lifeline. The pandemic made me see the need and permaculture made me see the way.

We are set to close at the end of the month. I know there is a ton of work to do to get the property to where we want it to be. I also know it will be harder than I think. But, for us, it’s the only option.

drawing a permaculture design blueprint

Start Where You Are, Do What You Can, Use What You Have

I have been interested in permaculture for some time, recognizing its nature-guided, systemic approach to sustainable living as a set of principles I’d like to adopt.

Last month, I was thrilled to start Verge Permaculture’s online design course, where I first heard the maxim that serves as the title of this post (which, I should note, is unsolicited).

I am loving this course so far. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information, but I appreciate the simplicity, obviousness even, of the permaculture approach: let nature guide the design and development of a resilient, and ideally, regenerative system.

As one Verge instructor said: nature has been “designing itself” for more than four billion years. Who are we to assume to know better? We are fortunate that nature is antifragile, but it can only tolerate so much devastation.

It has become clear to me that humankind, generally speaking, has lost its respect for nature, to its own detriment. We have been focused on extracting from the earth as much as we can to sustain our unsustainable lifestyles, and we haven’t been giving back. And, it’s not just an error of omission – our extravagances have increasingly been wreaking havoc on the planet.

Climate change, pandemics, and politics aside, surely everyone knows that you can’t grow food in dirt. You need soil, a living ecosystem all its own, which the earth is losing at alarming rates. Take care of the earth, or count your numbered days.

This post was not intended to be doom and gloom, rather, hopeful in nature (pun intended). The Verge team, as well as its 300+ students, have given me hope. Permaculture can easily be practiced by anyone who is patient enough to observe and design based on natural ecosystems. When we take care of nature, we take care of ourselves.

When I get overwhelmed by how to design the perfect permaculture guild or rainwater harvesting system, I remember that permaculture is an iterative process, and to just start where I am, do what I can and use what I have.

illustration of a cartoon peering into a dark doorway

Down is the New Up

How profoundly the world has changed.

Looking back at Big Calm’s pre-pandemic posts instills mixed emotions. On one hand, the expressed dissatisfaction with what can be termed the “old normal” is overwhelmingly passe. On the other, the pandemic has underscored the false sense of security many of us have had all our lives.

The pandemic has, amongst other things, demonstrated that our supply chains are extremely fragile. First, there was a toilet paper shortage, now it’s PPE and disinfectants. We are fortunate that our food supply chains have not yet been affected, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be, especially considering what’s going on south of the border.

The pandemic also has revealed the extreme complexity of global systems. It’s the butterfly effect on steroids. The “old normal” was riddled with uncertainty, and the pandemic has increased that uncertainty by orders of magnitude. The “new normal” is a misnomer of epic proportions, especially if the pandemic is the metaphorical butterfly.

This uncertainty though, has made me certain about at least one thing: a major life change is in order. Taking responsibility for my future basic needs has never made more sense than it does now.

a remote digital worker with laptop outdoors at night under a starry sky

The Future of Work is Remote, and the Future is Now

What do you value most in a job? If you replied “flexibility” or “work-life balance,” you’re among the majority of individuals who also place these values ahead of the nature of work, career advancement opportunities and even salary.

Below are the most interesting insights from reports examining the increasing trend in remote work.

Remote work is increasing. An analysis done by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics showed a significant upward trend in the number of people working remotely in the U.S. In the last five years, remote work increased 44%.

FlexJobs: Trends in Remote Work Growth

Those who currently work remotely want to continue doing so, citing flexibility as their top reason. In a three-year survey conducted by Buffer.com, 98% of remote workers said they want to continue working remotely.

Buffer: Remote Longevity Buffer: Remote Work Benefits

Meanwhile, in Canada, individuals are similarly interested in remote work. In a survey conducted by the Government of Canada, most Canadians responded that, if they had the right to request a flexible work arrangement, they would be very likely to use that right.

Government of Canada: Flexible Work Arrangement

Not only is the ability to work remotely one of the most sought after work perks, individuals are increasingly demanding more flexible work. A study conducted by Regus Canada identified that workers demanding to work closer to home and remotely are the second and third biggest drivers of flexible working (following businesses’ desire to decrease office costs)..

Regus: Main Drivers of Flexible Working

Here are some other interesting stats:

  • Upwork’s May 2019 Future Workforce Report shows that 73% of all departments will have remote workers by 2028.
  • In a study by Softchoice, 85% of North American office workers expect their employers to provide technology that enables them to work remotely, while 74% of workers would change jobs based on a work-from-home policy.
  • In 2016, the Oxford Internet Institute created an Online Labour Index (OLI) that provides an online job economy equivalent of conventional labour market statistics. Here’s the 28-day moving average OLI for Canada showing a 50% increase since July 2016 (check out the site for overall OLI; and OLI by country and occupation).

Oxford Internet Institute: Online Labour Index

Bottom line: the remote work revolution is happening. It’s a great opportunity for both companies and workers (and reduced commuting means it’s also environmentally friendly!), and in most cases, it’s the employees driving the trend.

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash