Composting Toilets - DIY Bucket


As a newbie tiny house builder - currently building a Tumbleweed Cypress - I eventually found myself stuck at the crossroads, looking down two narrow paths and forced to make the “big decision”: compost or flush?

First I plugged into cyberspace and watched a variety of informational videos on human waste (yep, that's my life now). I learned that by choosing a composting toilet, I would be picking the greener alternative while decreasing my utility costs and eliminating my need for a black water tank. All good things! So the choice was made - compost - but I feared that this decision was perhaps my gutsiest thus far in the build.

I turned left at the crossroads, onto Humanure Boulevard. It was then that I realized my decision wasn't complete; there are countless composting toilet options including manufactured and build-it-yourself units. 

Which head was to be my maiden throne? How do I take care of the waste? And, perhaps the most important question of all, will it stink? I needed an education in composting. 

Compost 101: my first homework assignment was to research the “build-it-yourself” compost toilet option. I had heard good things at the Tumbleweed Workshop from the presenter, Ella Jenkins. She’s a young, hip chick that built her own tiny house. If she can do it, well maybe I could too...

Photo courtesy of Ella Jenkins

Photo by Wolfgang Berger via

Bucket & Sawdust “Do-It-Yourself” Unit

- $25 - $50 to construct using a 5 gallon bucket from any hardware store.

- Usage requires placing a scoop of sawdust or peat moss in the bottom of the bucket and in between each use. Empty as needed.

PROS: I could toss out my plunger! It’s small, simple, inexpensive, self-contained, and very manageable. No sewage. No water usage.

CONS: Unlike many manufactured compost toilets, this simple bucket unit would not include luxurious perks such as: 1) a ventilating fan, 2) a concealing screen (to block the sight of any.. unmentionables), and 3) a urine diverter.  I never thought that urine would play the role of “stench culprit” in this performance, but some believe that mixing the liquids and solids is the source of all-that-is-smelly in a compost toilet.

So, like any rational person without composting experience, I feared my tiny home would reek like a cattle pasture after a fresh rain... that is, until I found a few solutions to the dreaded liquid/solid conundrum. One is to have two toilets: one for liquids and one for solids. Another is to purchase a urine diverter from a manufacturer. 

But what about the other perks you get with a manufactured compost toilet? Watch out for my follow up post, as my education continues and I make a final decision! 

Compost toilet photo (open) by Wolfgang Berger 


Jenna Spesard is a tiny house builder and writer by trade. She is currently building a Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop Host. After the build is complete, they plan to travel around North America in their tiny house blogging and photographing their adventure. More on their tiny house and giant journey here

Written by Jenna Spesard — April 30, 2014

Filed under: Compost Toilet   Composting   Jenna Spesard   Tiny Bathroom   Tiny Home   Tiny Homes   Toilet  

No Power - No Problem

 photo by Magnus Bråth

Nicole is completely off grid in British Columbia

I dropped off the power grid fifteen years ago and have never plugged back into it. It didn't happen out of personal disgust with the utilities company, nor because of a violent urge to “go green”--the cabin I rented in northwestern Canada was simply past the reach of power lines. Having to choose between creating my own miniature power grid with solar panels, batteries, and a generator at the expense of a couple thousand bucks or keeping my money and doing without, I chose to do without. And what I discovered wasn't a life of hardship—I found out that living without electricity is not only incredibly cheap, it also instills a great sense of freedom.

Appliances and electronic gadgets not only suck power out of the socket, they have the same effect on my wallet. First they have to be bought, then they break down and need to be replaced, and the whole time, I need to cater to their electricity addiction. Being able to unplug, period, freed me from that cycle. My home wasn't filled with the constant noise of the radio and hum of a fridge, the glow of my laptop, lights being switched on and off, and the phone ringing (there were no phone lines or cell phone signals at the place). My home was filled with peace and quiet.

Having no source of electricity at home didn't turn me into a stone age hermit. Since I worked in town, I had access to phones and the internet there. It dawned on me that it's possible to make use of even more things. So I bought a little AAA and AA battery recharger to plug in at work—this enabled me to keep my headlamp supplied with power throughout the winter. Not only that, I could even indulge in listening to the odd music CD at home now (remember personal disc players?). Because the batteries didn't last very long, listening to music became a real occasion. I now knew and savored the luxury of having music.

There was obviously no washer and dryer at my place, but doing laundry was easily done at the laundromat in town. Making do without a fridge and freezer was a more tricky issue. I was able to share freezer space with plugged-in friends, and a camping cooler underneath my floorboards did an okay job at keeping groceries fresh. When it was really hot, I simply bought groceries more often. And substituting kerosene lamps for light bulbs was a no-brainer. More luxury crept into my home in the form of a wind-up radio, but since it requires physical effort, my radio program consumption went the way of music: it became a conscious choice, and I would actually listen.

And so it went for seven years, until I dropped even further off the grid by moving to a fly-in location. Check back here for tried and true tips for living the good life, unplugged.

Written by Guest Blogger — April 24, 2014

The Simple, Organized Life: Mindful Consumption

Why not ask a professional?  Guest Author Crystal Eakle is a licensed professional organizer who brings extensive experience to helping businesses and consumers organize their priorities, processes and possessions. In this post, Crystal offers advice to start de-cluttering your stuff.

In our earlier posts, we addressed mental de-cluttering and physical de-cluttering before moving into a tiny house. If you have made progress and successfully downsized, then our last step will resonate: keeping things downsized!

How to maintain mindful consumption

1. Practice the "catch and release" plan.

For every purchase coming into the household, an item has to leave. Ask yourself if you really need the new item and always ask yourself where the new item will be located in your tiny house.

2. Don't shop when you don't need something.

Your new life is all about the purposes, principals and priorities that you identified earlier. Does this item fit in with your new lifestyle?

3. De-clutter 15 minutes every day.

  • Start with a drawer or shelf and empty everything out.
  • Sort through the items and group the essential items and items you like, need or love into one pile. These are the items that can go back into the space.
  • Clean the space and return the keep items grouping like with like. An example would be kitchen utensils: the serving utensils should be with serving utensils and the cooking utensils with cooking utensils.
  • Donate or toss the remaining items that didn’t make the cut.
  • Repeat this process for every drawer, shelf, table top, closet, or any other area that you are de-cluttering. 


Crystal Eakle is licensed, bonded and insured and a member of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers), based in Beaufort, SC. She brings extensive experience to helping businesses and consumers organize their priorities, processes and possessions.

Reach Eakle:  crystaleakle-at-gmail-dot-com.
Connect with Crystal Eakle's on LinkedIn

See Posts:  Mental De-cluttering - Physical De-cluttering  


Written by Guest Blogger — April 14, 2014

Filed under: Creating Priorities   Crystal Eakle   Downsizing   Less Stuff   Physical Clutter  

The Big Tiny Memoir: Dee Williams Shares Realities

Over the years, Dee Williams has acquired many fans. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company folks may try to push everyone aside and say "we are the MOST die-hard fans."

What really gets us going are the stories and insights Dee shares, because she has lived tiny for many years. If you are even thinking about going tiny, we hope you have already watched Dee or read about her. If not, then please visit Portland Alternative Dwellings and catch up.

Dee writes and publishes her story

Dee has written her story, The Big Tiny, which will be officially released by Penguin Press in April 2014. She shares all her clear-headed thinking, including her hopes and fears in abundance. Whether contending with the weather, her concerns about flames in the house or what grade-schoolers experience while stuffing into her house, there's a silver lining: 

"I thought I’d find something in all of this, and I got more than I bargained for. I discovered a new way of looking at the sky, the winter rain, the neighbors, and myself; and a different way of spending my time. Most important, I stumbled into a new sort of “happiness,” one that didn’t hinge on always getting what I want but rather, on wanting what I have. It’s the kind of happiness that isn’t tied so tightly to being comfortable (or having money and property), but instead is linked to a deeper sense of satisfaction—to a sense of humility and gratitude, and a better understanding of who I am in my heart.

I know this sounds cheesy, and in fact, it sounds fairly similar to the gobbledygook that friends have thrown at me just after having their first baby. But the facts are the facts: I found a certain bigness in my little house—a sense of largeness, freedom, and happiness that comes when you see there’s no place else you’d rather be."

Watch Dee in action

One of our favorite "day in the life" videos shows Dee Williams going about her daily business, from inside and outside her tiny house. It was filmed as part of a National Building Museum exhibition, and shows Dee living in her home built with Tumbleweed plans.

What's next for Dee

When a book gets published, the author typically travels cross-country to local book store events. Dee Williams may be showing up in your neck of the woods soon:

Washington, DC (4/22) - Brooklyn, NY, PowerHouse Arena (4/23) - St. Louis, MO, Left Bank Books (4/24) - Little Rock, AR, Arkansas Literary Festival (4/23-24) - Denver, CO, Tattered Cover  (4/28) - Boulder, CO, Boulder Book Store (4/29) - Seattle, WA Third Place Books  (5/1) - Portland, OR, Powell's Books (5/2) - Corte Madera, CA, Book Passage (5/4) - Santa Cruz, CA, Bookshop Santa Cruz (5/6) - Los Angeles, CA, Vroman's Bookstore (5/8) - Bellingham, WA, Village Books (5/11)

If you're luck to live near one of these appearances, then put it on your calendar. You will meet Dee, listen to excerpts, and likely mingle with other local tiny housers.

Written by Debby Richman — April 03, 2014

Filed under: Build it yourself   Dee Williams   Portland Alternative Dwellings   The Big Tiny  

The Simple, Organized Life: Physical De-cluttering

Why not ask a professional?  Guest Author Crystal Eakle is a licensed professional organizer who brings extensive experience to helping businesses and consumers organize their priorities, processes and possessions. In this post, Crystal offers advice to start de-cluttering your stuff.

Mindful versus mindless consumption

Now that your mind is clear and focused on a new tiny life, it's time to dive into mindful consumption. I’m talking about all the stuff.

Believe it or not mindless consumption is becoming a thing of the past. Consumers are now giving more consideration to what they are buying and the practices and people behind the products they are buying. Living smaller is the new way to live fuller.

Enter mindful consumption: that place where you have everything you need and nothing you don’t. Mindful consumption restores balance in everyday life leading to less stress and better overall health.

Benefits of less stuff

One of the benefits of mindful consumption is less stuff. Less stuff results in less stress because clutter is a distraction. Less distraction can result in better focus. Better focus allows you to be more efficient. Being more efficient creates a peaceful outlook, allowing you to relax. (It's okay to re-read this again.)

Having less stuff frees up space, allowing for more living and less looking for items, re-arranging items, storing items and trying to remember where things are.

Less stuff can also save money. People purchase storage units for items they don’t need any longer, resulting in hundreds of dollars spent on things that aren’t adding anything to their lives!

If living in a smaller space or tiny house is a priority, you’ll need to practice and maintain mindful consumption.

Mindful consumption guidelines

Here are the guidelines on how to get to mindful consumption that will lead you to a new life in a smaller space.

1. Watch less TV. Watching television exposes you to advertising which can lead to more consumption. If you are still adding items into your already full life, then ask yourself if living smaller is really a priority or just something fun to think about.

2. Pause before you buy something. Make a decision to wait 48 hours and re-evaluate before purchasing non-essential items. This pertains to online shopping as well. Visualize where the item will be located in your tiny house.

3. Consider repairing items as opposed to replacing them or, better yet, ask yourself if you really need the item at all.

4. Borrow items when practical, and especially for limited use.

5. Donate or recycle things. If you don’t use it, need it, or love it - let it go!


Crystal Eakle is licensed, bonded and insured and a member of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers), based in Beaufort, SC. She brings extensive experience to helping businesses and consumers organize their priorities, processes and possessions.

Reach Eakle:  crystaleakle-at-gmail-dot-com.
Connect with Crystal Eakle's on LinkedIn

Other Posts:  Mental De-cluttering - Mindful Consumption 


Written by Guest Blogger — March 31, 2014

Filed under: Creating Priorities   Crystal Eakle   Downsizing   Less Stuff   Physical Clutter  
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