Isabel Winson-Sagan is a resident of Santa Fe, NM, and has a degree from the University of New Mexico in religious studies and evolutionary anthropology. She will soon be attending the University of Aberdeen in Scotland for further work in religious studies. She just bought the trailer for her Tiny House, and will be starting her build in the next couple of months.
If I were forced to provide a single,
unqualified answer to the question, “Why are you building a tiny house?” I
would have to say: instantaneous love. I was 8 years old when I first saw the inside
of an RV trailer, while on a road trip with my parents. Afterwards I demanded
of my mother, “Why don’t we live in one of these?” On some level I was wounded.
My parents had always known about these perfect, tiny, ship-like houses on
wheels, and had chosen to abide in our irritatingly stationary home instead.
this instant love of mine was influenced by my fascination with hobos during
the Great Depression. I didn’t understand the economic desperation or the myth
of the West that had created these men. I only saw that they were tough, that
they had what it took to ride the trains. They were free. Somehow the ideas of
homelessness, wheeled vehicles, and the ability to carry your home with you
became crossed in my mind. An RV seemed to embody both that feeling of home and
the ability to leave home to my 8-year-old self.
childhood dream of living in an RV eventually subsided, and I moved on to other
pursuits. Skip forward a decade or so, to the day when I stumbled on the
website for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. And it happened again. I was
instantly, irrevocably in love. And this time it was less impractical. In fact,
it seemed that here was the answer to many of my personal dilemmas: how to live
sustainability in a culture of consumerism that was simultaneously facing a
housing crisis, how to travel the road and feel safe, and how to have my own
home while moving across the country for graduate school. I was in love with the
aesthetic of Tumbleweed, and with the lifestyle it seemed to offer.
after I had made the somewhat wild decision to actually build my own house, I
began to connect the project to my academic interests. My fields are religious
studies and anthropology, and I realized that the tiny house could be studied
as material culture, with my own experience as the basis of anthropological
research. So I’ve started to study sacred architecture as well as building
science, and I hope to one day include my tiny house experience as part of a
graduate thesis proposal.
a woman, a Jew, a woodworker, and the anthropologist conducting a mild field
study on myself, several questions have been raised so far. How significant is
it, in this day and age, for a woman to be working in construction, or even to
be building her own house? What does it mean to be an American Jewish
craftsperson, when almost the entirety of my family’s material culture was lost
in the pogroms and the Holocaust? What does it mean to live in a home purposely
built for wandering, when the anti-Semitic legend of “The Wandering Jew” has
been around since the Middle Ages?
I woke up in the middle of the night a few
months ago, jerked awake with the force of one thought: I am building Baba
Yaga’s house. Baba Yaga (roughly translated to “demon grandmother”) is a
Russian fairytale character, a witch who lives in a house on chicken legs. She
is a symbol of Russia. So why am I building her house? As I build, I’m also
attempting to deconstruct the folk tale of Baba Yaga, in order to shed some
light on my own roots, and my own desire to build a little house in the woods.
It is a house that walks, and is full of either danger or help, for those who
know how to ask for it.
hut, little hut, stand with your back to the woods, and your front to me!”
the hut turns around, and the protagonist enters. This is the beginning of my
tiny house journey. Possibly some of my questions with be answered, or there
may be new questions raised. But in the meantime, I’m building, researching,
and documenting my tiny Baba Yaga house.
Okay everyone, it's up to you to pick the winner of our Tiny Gingerbread House contest. We narrowed it down to the top 5 (they were all amazing, we had a hard time picking only 3!).
Log on to our Facebook
page and select our Tiny Gingerbread House Contest album
. The winner will be chosen by the most "Likes." Voting will be ongoing throughout the weekend. The winner will be selected on Monday, December 24th at 2pm (PST), and will receive a copy of The Small House Book and the Tumbleweed DIY Book.
Thank you everyone for submitting your tiny gingerbread house creations!
"The Gingr,” a modified bite size Fencl in gingerbread form. This tiny house has windows made with delicious melted sugar. If you look close, you can see a tiny Christmas tree in the front window.
This tiny gingerbread house is equipped with a dual axle and solar panels for the Christmas lights. Yum, it even has an exterior rock wainscoting, shutters and a little front porch!
This home sweet home on a trailer comes complete with graham cracker solar panels and peppermint wood pile.
The "Tiny Gingerbread Village,” a frosted winter wonderland, took 3 days to build: 1 day to bake the pieces, another day to assemble and decorate the houses, and a third day to build the village. It even comes equipped with lights underneath, to light up each house at night!
"Tiny Fencl Gingerbread House," comes with a shiny red metal roof made of fruit roll ups, Oreo cookie double axle and brown frosting wood siding. The Christmas lights are already up along with the icicles. The bay window lets lot of natural light in with plenty of pretzel windows. The tiny gingerbread house is currently up on graham cracker jacks because we've found a permanently spot of land to park it.
Recently, I got the chance to talk with Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life
website about his exciting plans for a modified Fencl. Ryan has been blogging
about sustainability for a long time, sharing
information on simple living, tiny houses, and environmentally responsible
lifestyles. And we think he's awesome.
Ready for some holiday building
Now, he's working on a tiny house of his own in Charlotte, North Carolina. He's starting to get well into the
building process, and has been begun blogging about his experiences.
He admits that finding
time is no easy task- in addition to working on his house managing the very informative blog, Ryan
works two other day jobs! He sets a pretty good example for all those professionals that
fear they'd never have the time to build a house, huh?
Ryan has worked out an ideal situation for himself through yet another job
of sorts- he house sits for friends, and they're letting him build the house on
their property- as long as he looks after the land and mows the lawn every so often, he can be there
for free. This is a great arrangement- if you have anyone in your life with a
large piece of property that likes to travel, I'd highly recommend working out
A solid start
Ryan will be checking in with us throughout the process, and will share informative photos and videos of his build on our blog. He's excited to have a winter break from his
day jobs coming up soon for a solid couple weeks of building!
In the meantime, check out Ryan's Tiny House Checklist for a great
introduction to everything that goes into tiny house building.
This spring, Hampshire College Professor Gabriel Arboleda taught an unusual class: Reinventing the Toilet (course description). Addressing the fact that a single flush toilet can contaminate thousands of gallons in just one year of operation, he and his students will attempt to build alternative workable toilet models.
An important class? I think so. Many Tiny House folks would agree, having found that the mobile lifestyle necessitates flexibility when it comes to things like electricity and plumbing. Of course, there's an easy solution already at play, and it's something we don't think twice about doing with cows: composting.
I recently tried my first official composting toilet, and loved it. Our friends Pepper and Dylan built this awesome composting outhouse on their property in Healdsburg, CA, and were kind enough to let me, ahem, try it out.
Who knew an outhouse could be so beautiful?
In addition to the requisite crescent cut out, the outhouse has a light, a nice big bucket of a cedar chips, and a magazine rack!
A pleasure to use
Plenty of open-minded people like Pepper and Dylan are pushing the envelope with practical, conscientious ways to dispose of waste: while we wait for Arboleda and his crew to envision the next big alternative, we can manage pretty comfortably. While making a separate outhouse is a viable option, the bucket and cedar chips method can easily be applied in any tiny house.
In addition to the composting toilet, there's the incinerating toilet. Incinerating toilets are a bit more high-tech than a bucket and some cedar chips (though there are plenty of more advanced composting toilets available). Essentially, they incinerate your waste, converting it to a clean, non-polluting ash. An incinerating toilet can be powered a regular outlet, by gas, propane, or of course, solar panels. However, it uses more electricity than a composting toilet, and doesn't provide rich and useful fertilizer!
No matter your preferred commode, there's a reason colleges like Hampshire are highlighting the urgency of reinventing something most of us take for granted. We are far too distanced the effects from our own, for lack of a better word, crap. With the help of sophisticated indoor plumbing, most people never had to accept that what comes out of their body actually goes somewhere.
We want to live responsibly but we also want to live in a sanitary and safe. When choosing how to outfit our houses, we can think outside the porcelain box and attempt to do both.
Sicily Kolbeck is 12 years old. She builds houses and plays travel softball south of the Mason-Dixon line. She is currently documenting her tiny house project, the Petite Maison. She hopes to live in her tiny house full-time when it is completed, and maybe even take it to college in Washington State (go, Huskies!).
Why do people live tiny? Is it to simplify, or is it an economic decision? Whatever the reason, people have been downsizing their lives for many years. By simplifying their lives they have found inner happiness rather than external happiness in the form of the materialistic ideals.
My decision to build a tiny house was partly economic, partly the desire to be free. Freedom is one of the main reasons I decided to build my tiny house. Everyone at some point in their life wishes to have freedom; my wish started at an early age, and it began with a simple desire to build a fort.
As long as I can remember I have loved tiny spaces. When I was younger my family and I lived in a house that had the most perfect spot for forts: a built-in seating area that was about 2 ½ feet tall; I would take three of my dad’s longest golf clubs, two chairs, blankets, and pillows and make a fort. I would watch movies in there, play games, and play with (or torture) my cat. It was just the right space for me; I never needed anything more. I loved the coziness of it, the fact that I could see all of my things, and that it was all mine. No one could take it away and no one but me was in charge of it. And it cost nothing!
Cut-out side for Sicily's bird house prototype
Building forts was just the tip of the iceberg of frugality and simple living. I learned about money and sensibility at a young age. When I was five my mom and dad decided to give me an allowance. Those four quarters were dear to me every time I got them. My family thought I should learn to budget my money (plus they were tired of me asking for everything), and budget I did. If I wanted something I took hours to decide to buy it; many times I would walk away from a purchase because I thought, “Am I really going to use this?” At five!
I learned to budget my money so well that my parents called me “The Bank of Sicily” because I would loan them money; when I started to joke that I would have to start charging interest, my customer satisfaction rate plummeted. This is just one form of my freedom that I talked about. I am very lucky that my parents trust me enough to give me freedom: financial. Having my own budget raises awareness about what I am buying and bringing into my life.
When I finally got my customers back with the promise of free hugs and kisses with every transaction I decided to tell them my idea for building a tiny house. My parents were accepting and willing to give me the support I needed; after I decided to take on this task, I told everyone. Trust me, when I say, “I told everyone,” I mean everyone. If someone was walking past me in the street I would tap them on the shoulder and say, “I’m building a house!” That was how excited I was.
However, when I told my softball team I got less-than-enthusiastic replies: “Why?” “Oh, cool,” and my personal favorite, “Why don’t you just buy one from Home Depot?” I want to build one that can move and one that is my own. I was first introduced to tiny houses by Deek Diedricksen; his videos showed me that I could build a house with next to no money and still have it be comfortable and inviting and my own.
My biggest supporters have been my mom and dad. My mom is the teacher/principal/founder of HoneyFern. She is the one that has encouraged me to do this as a school project; she has been my impromptu publicist; she has supported me on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media site that she can think of.
My dad has taught me how to use the tools - such as a jigsaw, a table saw, nail gun, and belt sander - that I will need to build my house. To learn how to use the tools, I have already built a vegetable oil heater and a tiny teardrop trailer birdhouse, and now I am working on a composting toilet. I am so grateful for all of my supporters on and offline.
(For more information on supporting Sicily, please visit her website.)
Freedom to me means I can support myself in a sustainable way. Building a tiny house can give me stability, possibly for the rest of my life if I build the house well. Building a house would give me the life skills that really matter, such as using tools for construction. Building the house I can know what labors go into a home and truly appreciate what I am living in.