Digitally Deliberate

asdfI’m just coming off a one-month abstinence from social media. A month ago, I marked my phone calendar for yesterday- the one-month mark. I haven’t tweeted or looked at a single Facebook notification or message in all that time- something I haven’t done in about ten years. Honestly, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I originally feared.

Sure, it was hard at first. The process of pulling your phone out and clicking on the Facebook icon (Twitter/Instagram/Reddit/whatever your poison) when you aren’t doing much else has become a subconscious thing. It’s total habit for a lot of us. It was a complete habit for me, anyway. I didn’t even think about doing it. I put more thought into lighting up a cigarette than I did into pulling out my phone and spending ten minutes scrolling through my feed. I was addicted. It was time to break myself of the habit and reevaluate.

First, I deleted the apps from my phone. I found myself pulling my phone out when I was bored, standing in a line, laying in bed, etc. I’d pull it out and find that there was no app there anymore, then put the phone away almost immediately and do something else (maybe try being in the moment for a change? writing? doing something that drives your life forward?). I also had this habit of opening up my web browser on my desktop computer and immediately typing “Facebook.com” before my brain had even decided what I wanted to do on the browser in the first place. That was just my default destination. I definitely needed a reboot.

As I said, I deleted all the relevant apps from my phone. I also installed an app in Google Chrome that blocked websites I specified and redirected me to my own blog when I entered the blacklisted URL’s. That helped me realize when I was absent-mindedly falling into the social media trap. Facebook (and other similar services) can be as useful or addictive as any drug, much like debt. There’s a lot of information and several studies out there talking about social media addiction, and it’s pretty astounding. I won’t link anything specific here, but it’s not hard to find if you want to fall down that google rabbit hole for a while (just be sure to check your sources).

Once I got the habit broken- I’d say that took about two weeks- it wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t itch for it or pull my phone out all the time. I didn’t sit at the computer and zombie-out over my notifications for half an hour, then waste another hour scrolling the feed. I’m not saying it was all good, because it was a little inconvenient at times. I use Facebook for groups- they’ve basically replaced internet forums for me. I had a question about civil war history for the book I’m writing, but couldn’t get to my civil war history Facebook group to ask. I almost made an exception there, but decided against it for the sake of my personal experiment. There were several instances of things like that happening- things that were totally justifiable uses of the platform (like advertising blog posts or doing project research) and not just idle time-wasting. Maybe you wanted to sell something. Maybe a nice church lady gave you a ride when you ran out of gas and you wanted to share the information for the rummage sale she was setting up for at her church as a way of saying “thank you” (That one really happened. I almost used Facebook to share that flyer to say thanks. Maybe I should have.).

That was the whole point, though, and it worked. I found out what I truly got value from in my usage of social media and was able to separate it from what was just an idle waste of my time. I didn’t even enjoy scrolling through all the bullshit or checking 20 notifications- it was just a chore that I needed to do every day and that was fine.

I’m not saying to abstain from social media or that you necessarily have a problem with how you use it. All I’m saying is to be sure you’re using it in a way that positively affects your life. Sometimes I have something I need to communicate to a large group of my friends/family/acquaintances all at once. Sometimes I need to access a group of people with a specific body of knowledge. Sometimes I need to reconnect with family I don’t see in person all that often. That’s fine. That’s what social media is for. My break wasn’t permanent, and I’m going back in a couple days, but now I’m going in with bad habits removed and a clear view of what matters to me and how to avoid the pitfalls in the future.

If you live a life of minimalism, then live in the digital world just as you would in the physical world. It’s a separate reality, but one that has the same general rules for happiness that the physical world does because it affects your physical life. Think about what actions and activities push you in the right direction. Think about the precious time you spend on things- even when there is no blatant monetary impact. Be conscious. Be deliberate. Every tool has its use, but every tool can be misused.

 

Multitasking (not living in the moment)

A couple years ago I habitually listened to a podcast recorded at a Buddhist temple. I listened to a lot of lessons and got some good stuff from it. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Buddhism, or know it from top to bottom, if I’m honest, but they are on to a few things. One thing that has stuck with me is the absolute emphasis on being “in this moment” the lessons always had.

That’s something I totally agree with. We live in a time where our lives may not be as difficult as they once were, but they are very complicated and can be even more stressful and mentally damaging. We are constantly thinking of some other (or twelve other) obligations or appointments, some other hobby, something we want, going into more debt for a new toy, some change or plan we want to make, someone besides who we’re with at the time, or any other of a hundred things. Maybe just cat pictures on your cell phone. Maybe it’s even something good, like reading constructive content on a good blog you follow or listening to a Buddhist podcast to ease that wicked-ass temper of yours. The point remains: you aren’t in the moment.

Buddhists, or at least the particular Buddhist monk who recorded those podcasts, emphasized the utility of meditation. What he meant by meditation, or how he explained it, was just sitting there and trying very hard not to think of anything at all. Turn off your stupid brain for a few moments and just exist. I use my head a lot, and that’s very difficult for me, and probably is for many of you as well. That’s okay, but it was interesting and did tend to put me in a better mood and relieve some stress.

I don’t really do it anymore, but I do still think regularly of the main point he was trying to make, which is to try to live in the moment you are currently existing in. It can be harder than you’d think, but helped me even out some of my anger, boredom, and depression issues to one degree or another. It’s obviously not a magic bullet- just another tool to try out in your life. You don’t have to go all hippy with it (if you do, that’s totally cool too), just give it a shot. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Sit down and tell your brain to shut up.

Another thing I like to do when I remember is somewhere in-between that sort of meditation and “normal.” I like to try to make myself became sort-of “hyper aware” of everything around me. I study my environment. It feels weird, almost like being on some sort of drug. It’s sad that we (well, ME anyway) spend so much time not noticing things that it feels strange when we DO. Next time you’re a passenger in a car or waiting in line or doing something boring and menial, try focusing on small details around you. Notice how the paint doesn’t match on that one ceiling vent- must have been replaced. Look at that house hiding behind the bushes over there that you’ve never noticed before. See that the grass on the side of the road is mostly fescue, but there are patches of Kentucky bluegrass in there, too.

It might sound silly, but it’s something that we don’t do often enough. You might be surprised what sort of things exist right under your nose because it’s always blocked from view by your cellphone or pushed out of mind by thoughts of what’s on your eBay wishlist. Humans don’t multitask well the way people pretend we do. We divert our attention from one thing and put it into another area. It’s less noticeable when you’re doing something you do often, but it’s still happening. Stop trying to multitask. You’re cheapening every experience you have when you multitask. Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing. You’ll be happier.

Freedom

 

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Freedom is one of the values I’ve identified and work toward for myself (I mention and link to a great article on values in my post about minimalism). That is to say, freedom is one of the five different areas that I try to steer toward with my actions at any given time- “Does this action or activity direct me toward v, w, x, y, or z?” Obviously, I’m not without my flaws and habits, and this doesn’t always happen, but I do make a conscious effort.

Holli and I have put our plan together to achieve financial independence and a life without debt in three years. I’ve started taking Chantix to finally stop smoking (as of July 2017) and I very much intend to do so this time. We don’t spend a ton of money on useless things anymore, we have things carefully budgeted, and I’m doing productive things with my free time. That said, these two remaining things are, currently, the biggest obstacle to my freedom- especially the debt. Debt is slavery.

Holli and I plan to pay our debt off and then reevaluate our lives and decide our next move. One of the paths we are seriously considering is a mobile one- at least for a while, probably not forever. We won’t know until the time comes, but we want to leave that option open to us while we’re still young and without children. Once the debt is gone (Holli will be done with her second Master’s by then- she’s got a school addiction, in my opinion…), we will be able to live on a fraction of what we currently make. I plan to leave my current job and write for a living, if that looks like a practical option for me at that time. Holli is researching possible careers that align with her values, educational achievements, and that allow mobility.

Ideally, we would either move around constantly and experience different countries all the time, or we would build a second small house further north in the U.S. and move there to escape the miserable Oklahoma summers (and move south to avoid the northern winters) and take a long vacation every year. We aren’t sure which way we might go yet, as that’s several years out, but both are intriguing options and securing real freedom is an important step toward allowing either into our lives.

The specific kind of freedom I have in mind (everytime I say “freedom” in this article) is the ability to wake up at least ALMOST every day and decide what I want to do or where I want to go. Obviously, everyone will have some responsibilities that can’t be dodged, but with planning and prioritizing they can be minimized. My goal is to train myself to think about every decision and acquisition carefully with regards to my values- in this example, “freedom.”

“Does this decision/action/thing/etc restrict or possibly-restrict my current or future freedom?”

“Is the value it provides worth the restriction to me?”

Most things you own or commit to have the potential to be an anchor that weighs you down and restricts your freedom. Before you bring any anchors into your life, be sure to think about it carefully. Does the anchor you are considering add commensurate value to your life to offset the weight it may add? Obviously, anchors become even more important if, like me, you value freedom- or want to move towards that possibility (newsflash, that means you value it, too).

Maybe you are considering children, a puppy, joining a club, buying a new car, buying a home, going to school, or just about anything else. That may be perfectly fine, but it may not. Make sure the commitment you are making is worth all the potential weight that it brings along. Sleep on it. Take a MONTH on it, even, if that’s an option. Don’t take anything important lightly. This is all pretty common sense, but I’ve had trouble thinking this sort of thing through before. Being careless or flippant one time, even for just a few seconds, can drastically alter your life for years. Remember to think it through. Weigh that anchor (ha!). Be honest with yourself.

Debt is a drug

Once, when I was younger, I asked my father a question: “If you could only give me one piece of advice for the rest of my life, what would it be?”

You know what he said? “Don’t go into debt.”

I remember it well, though I only remember it, it seems, after I’ve put it through the shredder, thrown it on the ground, stomped on it, and set it ablaze. Why is that so common an occurrence for me? I must think I know better than everyone else. Damn kids.

Today, I’d whole-heartedly (and often do) puppet my father’s advice to anyone who asks or will listen. If you can help it, it’s probably best if you don’t go into debt. When in doubt, don’t do it. As I said, though, I screwed that up a long time ago. I had a (then-current-generation) corvette well before I was 25. I had a Shelby GT500. I sold both at a loss. I even (to this day) have a signature loan in my name that I took out JUST TO COVER THE NEGATIVE EQUITY when I sold the car for nothing.

I’ve always been a fairly-intelligent person- or at least “book-smart.” I’m not trying to brag or anything, it’s just the way it is. I’m fat and can’t skateboard, if that makes you feel better. There’s usually a trade off somewhere. Anyway, let’s assume I’m a smart guy. I coasted through high school and got A’s, not paying a lot of attention. I was bored. I never really figured out what I wanted to do with my life because I hadn’t been challenged or bothered to think about it (plus I was an 18 year old kid). I read car magazines in class and, eventually, modified and street raced my cars (Remember: book-smart. No common sense). I signed up for votech in my junior year because I was bored- and because votech kids only had three hours of class in the morning and then got to go work on cars or weld or do nails or whatever it is they’re into. I was pretty good working on cars. I got sent to a state-wide auto diagnostic competition my senior year. My partner and I took 3rd place. Wyotech automotive school gave me a full-tuition scholarship. I didn’t have anything better to do after high school, so I went with it. All I’d have to do is get a loan to pay for my living expenses in Pennsylvania for a year.

Let’s put aside the fact that I just sort-of stumbled into a career (one that I stayed in for an unhappy decade thereafter) without giving it any thought or consideration, or the fact that I kneecapped my college potential (turns out I don’t really mind that as much as I thought I would). I took a loan. I took a loan that I was responsible for and would have to pay back. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was 18 years old. I didn’t even know who I was or what I wanted to do. I just went with it. I won the scholarship, right? That’s a cool thing. It would be stupid not to go. That was the beginning of a decade-long downward slide for me- and for my future wife, who I was to drag down the hole with me.

Debt is like a drug and, as is the nature of drugs, it can be used for good or evil, depending on the type of drug and the way you utilize it- think Advil to fix a headache versus shooting up behind a 7-11. Debt can be used for (subjectively) good things like buying a house for less than you might pay in monthly rent while also building equity in said house. You could theoretically make money, or at least break even, when you’re done with the place- barring some huge housing market crash, but when does that ever happen?

except for that time when it happened.

So, debt can be good. Hell, we went into significantly more debt last year to make the move to our tiny house, but we considered it carefully and had a solid plan in place to deal with it and pay it off ASAP. Debt can move you forward in life much faster than you could have done so without it. Just remember that debt is indentured servitude at best, slavery at worst, and a drug at all times. It can be addictive. It can be dangerousLet’s make up a simple/silly example scenario:

Let’s say you’re a young guy who likes cars. Maybe you went to Wyotech, who knows. You take a loan out to get a new car and suddenly you’re locked into paying for that car until you either pay it off or build enough equity in it to sell it and break even. You’ve got a bill. Now you’re an adult with responsibilities. You have to have a steady job that pays well so you can afford this car. So, you go to work every day in the new car. At first it’s fine because the job is new and the car is new and everything is novel. Cool beans. That won’t last. Eventually, the “new toy high” wears off and your mood drops back to the baseline, but now you have to go to this job you don’t necessarily like very much to pay for a car you sort-of like, but could honestly take or leave.

Your level of “happiness” (pleasure is NOT the same thing as happiness) is right back where it started before you got that car, but now you’ve stacked TWO items on the side of the scale weighing AGAINST your happiness- your real happiness: the job you don’t really like but you have to go to (Just an example here. We know you love your job.) and the car payment you’re stuck with for a car you no longer get the high from. You can’t sell the car, it’s worth less than you owe on it. You can’t quit the job, you need it to pay that car payment. You’re less happy than ever. What to do?

Well, you’re already gonna have to go to work because you have obligations, but you do have this extra money. Might as well buy something else. Maybe that motorcycle will boost you back into the happy spectrum. You buy it. The toy is fun for a while. The mood returns to baseline. You now have a motorcycle payment AND a car payment.

This is a pretty nasty cycle. People get unhappy with their lives for any number of reasons. They sometimes medicate their mood with things instead of digging down to fix the real problem. It’s like taking morphine every day for a nagging pain instead of fixing what’s causing the pain.

Eventually, you end up with so many toys or hobbies or habits or whatever that you have no disposable income remaining. You get credit cards so you can still live the lifestyle you’re used to. Eventually, those cards max out because, like we already established, you have very little disposable income after your bills are paid, so can’t pay down the cards. You’re still unhappy, but now you’re married to the job you don’t like, you’re married to that car, that bike, that jet ski, that swimming pool, that Rolex watch, all those credit cards or whatever it is you used to try to pull yourself out of the unhappy-hole (trademark).

You’re working all the time. You can’t quit because you’re a slave to all the stupid crap you bought. Only when you’ve fallen all the way down this hole- and can’t dive any further down because you’re broke- do you realize that things don’t make you happy. You dig around and figure this out, but now you have very little money to use to dig yourself out. You’re expending most of your energy treading water and have nothing left to swim to shore. Forgive me for switching metaphors.

This isn’t exactly the way my life went over the last decade, but it’s uncomfortably familiar. It’s uncomfortably familiar to a LOT of Americans. We live in a culture that thrives on this sort of self-feeding cycle. Advertisers make a living figuring out ways to convince you that the next thing will make you happy. People are unhappy with their lives so they buy more crap that’s supposed to make them happy and then the economy grows 1 percent. Economists declare it a success.

Obviously, this isn’t always the way people get where they are. There are a lot of unfair things that can force you into debt. Medical problems. Legal problems. Kids are always a variable in the equation. Some other obligation thrust on you out of nowhere. Drug addiction. The route to crushing debt is paved with many paths. This example isn’t meant to be all-encompassing or put you in a box, it’s just an example.

All that said, the most important thing is realizing you are in the quicksand. That’s the first- and most important- step. Step one is realizing you have a problem. Sound familiar? Once you realize this, you can start to consciously do something about it. Stop eating out all the time. Stop going to the gas station for food and snacks. Stop paying for twelve different monthly subscription services. Quit smoking. Stop the compulsive shopping. Sell all the excess crap you don’t need on ebay (you might be shocked how much you can recoup from the crap you don’t even care about anymore). Go over your budget and required expenses/bills exactly. See where it might be possible to cut back. Find out what areas you are bleeding the most unallocated money to each month by checking your bank statement- for me, it was cigarettes, restaurants, and gas stations. Stop all the bleeding you can and find out what you have left over. Apply that leftover money, however much it is, toward your debt- smallest to largest.

My wife and I are using something similar to the snowball method. I also created some spreadsheets with a log of all incoming and outgoing funds for each category of the budget we are trying to control- after the required bills are paid. I attached an envelope to the back of each sheet. Each pay period (or once a month), we pull out the amount of money we’ve allocated for each budget category and put it in the envelope. Say, 100 for eating out, 80 for gas, 300 for groceries and animal feed, etc. I really recommend implementing something like this because spending cash is harder than swiping a card. It’s more real and more deliberate. You notice it more and hesitate more. Do it if you can.

Most importantly, don’t despair. I suffered with that a lot. Falling into despair over the situation does nothing but hurt you and make you even MORE prone to making destructive decisions. There are options and plans out there that can help you. Look around and read all you can. You CAN do it. You just have to figure out what’s stopping you and start to make changes. A little at a time adds up to a lot over time. With our current budget plan and cut-backs, our previously-insurmountable debt (including our two fairly-new cars and our new tiny house) will be paid off in three years. Putting a solid plan in place to pay off the debt and being able to see, plainly, where the road ends has made me happier than any sports car or gadget or gun I’ve ever purchased. Cut out the excess and buy your freedom. Do it today.

“Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.” – Henry David Thoreau

The Tiny House

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‘Scuse the mess. People live here.

I became aware of the concept of minimalism in 2012. It took several years for things to build up to the point of making this dramatic switch in our lives, but I won’t delve into those details here as that’s a subject for another, or multiple other, discussions. In 2016, we made the transition from our house in town to a sort-of tiny house in the country. As we learned more about who we were and what actually mattered to us, we removed things from our lives and found ourselves with a lot of extra space and extra expense we didn’t really need or want.

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The “big” house in town after we fixed it up several years ago

We started to actively realize that we only used less than half of our house more than half of the time, and our house was hardly large by average standards at around 1200 square feet. At least half of the things filling our home were only there because the space was there. That wall looks bare so we’d better find something to fill it. We need some chairs and an end table here, even if we will barely use them. We better have a dining table and chairs for the dining room, even though we eat at the desk or in bed or just about anywhere else in the house. Look at this huge closet. I bet we can fill this with hundreds of articles of clothing we won’t wear so we have to dig through it to find the things we do wear. That second bedroom needs a use- maybe I’ll make it a hobby room (My fleeting hobbies/obsessions have sapped untold thousands of dollars from our pockets. Probably another thing best left for a separate discussion).

Eventually, you start to accept that you’d be better off cutting out the extra space instead of trying to fill it with crap so it feels normal. We don’t have to spend extra time cleaning those areas. The electricity bill is way down because we don’t have to heat/cool/light those areas. We save money on decoration and furnishings for those extra areas. All these time, money, and energy savings allow us to invest those assets in a more-productive, deliberate, and meaningful way. That could be profound, or it could be as simple as using the money you saved to put better-quality items in the areas of your house or life you do use often. When you think about it, it’s perfectly congruent with basic minimalism. Who knew.

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The new “tiny” house on the day it was delivered

I only reluctantly refer to our house as a “tiny house,” because, like the word “minimalism,”  it is subject to so many preconceptions and pre-formed opinions. When you think of a tiny house, most people imagine a 150 square foot construction on top of a trailer with wheels under it. They think of hitting their head on the ceiling when they crawl out of bed, going to the composting toilet to do their business, turning on the propane stove to cook their breakfast, and folding up the table so they can use the couch to read the paper. That’s definitely one option, and it’s a very impressive use of space- if that’s what you truly prefer and wish for. I’m here to tell you that there is an in-between. A big turn-off for people who would otherwise consider this route is that you really do give up so much space and function- well, some people do. Some people really DON’T use that much space at all, but we are a little more average, I think.

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The finished “tiny house” interior, looking in from the front door. Living room area to the right with a love seat. Full size appliances in the galley kitchen. The door in the hallway leads to the bathrom. Across the hall from the bathroom, you can just see our stacked washer and dryer. Beyond that is the bedroom.

Our house is built out of a pre-fab portable shed in the style of a cabin. You know, the kind you see advertised on the side of highways in every rural area in the country. Extra storage solutions. “Why RENT storage when you can BUY IT!?” Maybe you need a lake cabin for a weekend getaway from the troubles of life. Maybe you want a “glamping” shelter. Perhaps a hunting cabin is in order for your new lease out in the woods. Whatever the application, they offer a mold. We decided the 14’x32′ cabin-style shed would work for our purposes, which comes to about 350 square feet if you don’t count the porch. This is obviously way smaller than most any house in this country, but it was really all the space we needed, if we were honest with ourselves. This floorplan and size gives us the space we need for a separate sitting area and television, a nice galley kitchen with full-size appliances, a bathroom with a full size shower and a flushing toilet, and a good size separate bedroom area that easily fits our queen bed and my work desk, among other things.

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Ye Olde Slumber Chamber

We took the cabin on a rent-to-own plan at 400 dollars, or thereabouts, per month, with no credit check, to be paid off in 36 months. If you’ve got 9,500 dollars cash laying around, they will also accept that. We didn’t have 9,500 dollars cash laying around. Disclaimer: Read this post on DebtConsider any debt you take wisely, and don’t do it unless you don’t have a better alternative. Debt is a tool, but a dangerous one, so plan well and utilize it carefully. End disclaimer.

If you’re a person who absolutely abhors debt, you’re smart (I wish I’d been that way a lot sooner than now). That payment plan on our shell of a house probably horrifies you. Well, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t end there. The house came finished externally (I’ve heard people who know more about construction than I do refer to this as “in the dry”), but the interior was just bare subfloor and stud walls. We had our basic shelter, but the interior was a blank slate. We took a “project loan” out from Home Depot in the amount of 10,000 dollars. Yikes. We also had to buy some land, which cost us 5,000 dollars for a 2 acre plot (owner-financed). I sold my motorcycle to pay for a septic system. The drilling of the water well we paid off in two installments over the course of a month. If you’re wondering about the price for septic and a well, it varies a lot by area. I’d say to expect to pay at least 8 grand combined.

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Drilling the well


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Saved a lot of money by buying and installing the pump and line myself. I had to figure out all the pieces I needed by googling and researching, install the components down into the well casing and above the hole (pressure tank, wiring, etc), build a pump house out of plywood to protect it from cold, and then rent a trencher (not expensive) to run the water line to the house.

So, to summarize our new monthly expenses: we’ve now got a 400 dollar bill for the cabin, 150 bucks a month for the Home Depot loan, and 200 bucks a month for the land. That comes to about 750 dollars monthly. Yikes, but fret-not, friends, for we offset that cost a bit. We “own” our house in town still (you know, own with a 30 year mortgage). We payed about 600 dollars a month on that home after insurance (really not bad). We were able to rent that out to a mature and reliable tenant (Holli’s brother and his young son) for about what we pay for it, maybe a hair over. That means we’re really not out much more than than what we were paying to live in town, but we now have a house accruing equity in town without costing us a dime, as well as a complete, separate property outside of town that will be paid off in-full within three years. Subtract from that extra 100 dollars the water bill (we now have a well), gas bill (we’re now all-electric), and comparably-huge electricity bill (our bill is around 75 dollars a month now) and we are seeing a net positive financial impact on this move of a couple hundred dollars per month. It’s definitely a risky thing to do, since you depend on that tenant maintaining residence to make the whole equation work, so think twice before pulling a stunt like this. I’m just being honest about what we did and how. Glean from it what you will. Now, on to the house project.

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Our 2 acres isn’t huge, but it sits on a 40 acre tract that we have written permission to play on from the owner.

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I’ve always been a handy person. My father and my father-in-law are likewise handy people, and they’ve taught me a lot of things. My wife’s father helped me with the breaker box and meter box installation, as well as answering a lot of questions regarding the wiring when I first started. My father was on-site with me for nearly the entire second half of the project. I couldn’t have done it nearly as neatly or as quickly without his help (and his table saw), so I’m very grateful to him. All that said, you can do it. I promise. If you aren’t trying to be as fancy as we went, you don’t even need much in the way of special saws and tools. With YouTube and all the blogs and forums we have access to today, almost anyone can do almost anything, to at least an acceptable level- if you have the time and patience.

Interior construction is fully underway.

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I wired the house. I installed the toilet. My father and I created a simple pvc drain system under the house and connected it to the septic tank. I plumbed the water lines with pex tubing and Sharkbite connectors (it doesn’t leak, I promise). I restored an old clawfoot tub I got for free. My wife and I insulated the house. My father and I hung the drywall, mudded/textured the walls and ceilings, and cut trim boards for the doorways and windows (I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have two sets of hands for this. Drywall sucks, especially on the ceiling, without special tools). I made two storage lofts- one over the front door and one over the bathroom.

Bathroom in-progress, Bathroom complete.

We cut and hung shiplap wood over the western interior walls, and cut and hung corrugated metal over the eastern walls of the house (using a circular saw with the blade turned backwards). Snazzy. Our budget of 10,000 dollars included the purchase of brand new (but bargain hunted and price-matched) stainless appliances, including a dishwasher (A tiny house with a dishwasher. Is that even legal?) and LG front-loading laundry machines that we got on sale.

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Holli putting up Reflectix

I built the center island in the kitchen with plywood and 2×4 framing. The two cabinets to the left are cheap pre-built cabinets from Home Depot that we painted, but so far they are worth the small amount of money they cost and look just fine. I cut plain 3/4 inch plywood and measured it out for countertops, then sent them to my father-in-law, who is a carpenter by trade. He used some hardwood he had laying around at work and laminated the plywood with 1/4 inch hardwood- it turned out freaking beautifully (THANKS RANDY). Obviously, not everyone has a father-in-law who plays wood like a violin, but you can make something nice without special skills or a ton of money if you need to. Hell, some people even make countertops out of pallet wood– and they look great.

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Measuring the hole for the apron sink before sending the countertop to Holli’s dad for laminating.


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It’s coming along

When all was said and done, we are looking at a total cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 33,000 dollars- including the cost of the building, the finishing of the interior, the appliances, the 2 acres of land, the septic system, the well drilling, the well components, etc. It seems like a lot, but it should all be payable within a few years, which beats the hell out of a 30 year mortgage.

Most people tell us the house looks great, and we agree- the small space allowed us to double-down on quality instead of spreading our resources thin. That isn’t the real point, though.

Holli has the space she needs for her animals.

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She has a place to garden and grow food.

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I have a place to shoot.

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And woods to explore.

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We get to experience nature at will, without driving anywhere. We save a ton on utility bills. We don’t spend much time cleaning or doing unnecessary chores. We aren’t preoccupied and distracted by a million different things. We’re more inclined to get out and have an experience. We may live in a small house now, but we finally have the room, time, and inclination to just live.

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What Is Minimalism

I don’t particularly like the word “minimalism.” I prefer to say “live deliberately.”

You know, like Henry D. Thoreau. I don’t care how much you dislike the man, he’s quotable as hell and you know it.

The word “minimalism” carries a lot of weight- sort of like the phrase “tiny house.” People tend to have a lot of preconceptions about it. The word invites critics who cite any apparent-irony in the lives of those calling themselves minimalists. Cynics moan about it being a rich-privilege. Patriots harp on about it being damaging to the economy. Not helping the matter is the fact that people who identify as minimalists tend to live in wildly-varying ways. Some minimalists live out of a backpack and travel the globe. Some minimalists have four-bedroom houses in the suburbs and six kids. Most land in the middle- that’s where Holli and I fall. It might seem confusing if you’re new to the idea, but bear with me.

Minimalism doesn’t mean owning very few items. Most people jump to that conclusion. That’s all they fixate on, but it’s not necessarily true. I know, that seems counterintuitive, but I promise I’m telling you the truth. Minimalism gets its name from the art movement of the twentieth century, characterized by finding beauty in simplicity.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exuper

We can find beauty in simplicity, but a person’s life is not a sculpture or a painting. It’s a life. People’s lives aren’t all the same, and some people may need more or less than others to live and be fulfilled than a painting requires to visually “pop.”

There’s a dark side to minimalism, as well. This movement is no more immune to corruption or hypocrisy than anything else in the world that involves human beings. Some people get so caught up in the decluttering or minimalist aesthetic that they lose sight of the point. “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” so to speak. If you obsess over owning as little as possible, you are still being controlled by your possessions instead of the other way around.

Minimalism must always remain an implement to be utilized, never the end-goal or lifestyle in itself. “Aesthetic minimalism” is not the same thing as minimalism. A person may be aesthetically-minimalistic and still completely materialistic. They may be both, simultaneously. They may think they are both, but be misguided. People aren’t perfect- I’m not, anyway.

That looks totally different for different people, which is why we see such variation in the “minimalist lifestyle.” Not everyone values the same things, so the items or activities they busy themselves with aren’t going to look the same. Having children is extremely fulfilling to some people, while others would see it as the end of the world. You can still apply the minimalist mindset to your life, no matter where your personal values fall or what your life looks like (Minimal Wellness has a great article and worksheet on finding your values).

Minimalism is a tool used to prioritize the things that matter most in our lives. Minimalism is about identifying what adds real value to your life, doubling-down on that, and having the self-discipline to clear out the things that get in the way. Remember, that doesn’t mean only physical things, and it doesn’t mean only physical clutter. Clear your schedule of the things you can control that don’t add value. Silence the noise- the better to hear the music. Extinguish the lights- the better to see the stars. Clear the clutter, the better to locate the damn jacket I’ve been trying to find for over a year holy crap Holli get in here and look what I finally found–