This past month we’ve been granted a splendid partial reprieve from American politics by having a hell of a lot of work to do.
After six months of “down-sizing,” we recently moved a dozen van loads to our new place (consisting of the 80% of the stuff deemed “non-essential” to our daily life) weeks before our final move–and realized we didn’t really miss anything. Which makes me wonder how it is that we still have so much extraneous stuff. Besides the cozy and aesthetic objects we moved before us that we wouldn’t want to live without long-term (rugs, art, houseplants, full bookshelves), there is little from the mass of things we’ve been living without these past few weeks that we’ve felt deprived without. This unintentional experiment has revealed more about what is really important to us right now: our bed (we’ve scaled down to just one for the two of us), a few sets of work clothes, our computers, a printer, a guitar, stereo, fridge (though we’ve found we could easily manage with a much smaller one), stove, oven, 2 skillets, 3 pots, a large cookie sheet, a casserole dish, a few sets of silverware, a spatula, ladle, can opener, grater, tea kettle, a few tea mugs, 2 tea strainers, some measuring spoons, several Mason jars, a handful of spices (though I’ve missed my fresh potted herbs outside the door), our yoga mats, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, towels, a couple of chairs, shopping bags, a desk, heating pad, 3 lamps, plenty of food and tea and honey, firewood and a woodstove, a coffee table–okay, okay, so not a mere handful of things, but still–that’s pretty much it. The only thing I moved ahead to the new house and missed being without (and eventually brought back) was my personal computer. (I’ve felt overwhelmed by how much progress we’ve made–and neglected to document–on our Tiny House project.)
Aside from attending to our love-hate relationship with electrical work (actually, we’re very grateful for the trade, but it can be physically and mentally excruciating at times), we have spent a lot of time getting our shipping container-cum-shop prepared. A NOTE FOR THOSE CONTEMPLATING RENOVATING A SHIPPING CONTAINER: Do not go with the cheapest one you can have delivered to you without seeing it beforehand. More on this later.
As put forth in our detailed Shipping Container Transformation Implementation Strategy, getting electricity to the Tiny Plot (from which the shipping container shop will serve to build our Tiny House) was first on the agenda. I spent five hours digging the majority of the 6-inch deep, 230-foot-long trench required to run the PVC electrical conduit from an existing panel to a new electrical meter that we installed near the shipping container. It was a gloriously sunny, quiet day on The Farm, and I had birdsong, a friendly horse, and a hungry chicken (who checked my work—for worms and other critters) as companions while I dug. The next day, Donovan and I finished up the trench and, with a hand from our neighbor-friend Scott near the end, we installed the wiring and conduit. Hooray! (Thanks, Scott!) In Donovan’s fifteen years of doing electrical work, this is the first service feed he’s done for himself. It was a very satisfying experience to complete together.
Once we completed the power installation, we hired local welder Adam McCash, who came and did a splendid job cutting the holes for and installing the 2-inch square steel door and window frames that we’d commissioned another local welder, Stephen Marquardt, to construct for us. During the process, we found we needed a long straight-edge to chalk-mark the lines to cut, so another neighbor, Richard, donned his face shield, whipped out his cutting wheel, and cut us a length of straight steel from an old bed frame. Adam was impressed and we were grateful that we had such a resource willing to help right there in the community. (Thanks, Richard!)
Next came the preparation to get the shipping container painted. And here is where we learned the lesson of seeing-before-buying. We thought we’d spend a few hours grinding off the rust with the twisted wire wheels on our grinders, but that turned into about 30 labor hours of some of the most intensive consecutive work either of us had ever done—and we’re both very physically active people! Donovan began by pounding out every large dent with a sledgehammer (a gong that resounded far across to the other side of The Farm, we were shortly thereafter informed) while I geared up for grinding. The exterior walls and roof went fairly quickly, but inside the container, nearly every square inch of the walls and ceiling had to be buffed, they were so marred by rusty scratches. The first day actually felt very meditative for me, as I was somewhat sealed off from the world by my earmuffs, dust mask, full-face shield, and gloves, while contemplating every bit of this container that would be the key to our future. Having only that one day would’ve suited me just fine, but it took the better part of a week to finish the job. It hurt. It also did not serve our community well to listen to the metallic scream of the grinder for days on end. But they were very gracious, and at last, we finished–just in time to get back to work to start a new electrical job and to have an extraordinary painter come and transform the container into its current juicy-melon-like state.
We met our painter, Leon, when he worked on our current house, about a year ago. He happened to be interested in having some electrical work done around the time we were planning to get the container painted. (How wonderful, the trading of trades!) Donovan had designed this whole container in detail in Sketchup, a 3-D modeling system he’s getting quite good at. We were able to play around with colors, and we’d been seeing the container in a cheery orange for so long that it seemed inevitable for it to manifest in that color. Nevertheless, it took us at least two hours and five paint samples to find the exact hues we were happy with. The time we spent was worth it, as we are both delighted with the final look. Side note: For the several folks who wonder why we’re so concerned with making this shop look and feel good–first, doing a good job to protect and beautify the structure just suits our personalities. Second, we see this container becoming a studio/apartment/guesthouse some day, so we are designing it with this future in mind.
And now, with about a week remaining before we move, our focus is geared toward moving into the shop and getting the rest of our personal belongings to our new (significantly smaller) house. Then we can begin the construction of our shed roof off the side of the container and our earnest planning of the Tiny House.
Just one more efficient-design decision we recently made: the main hold-up for our final move has been the lack of a fridge at our new place. (Fresh food is a major priority for us.) After Donovan’s research into efficient fridges, we ordered one through Home Depot. At 11 cubic feet, it is much smaller than our current fridge. Our criteria–to be as low-energy use as possible in order to easily be powered by solar energy in the future–included using less than 365 kilowatt hours per year (this one uses 311) and being no larger than what we need. We realized that our current fridge is very rarely filled to capacity, and its extra depth makes it easy to lose track of what’s in there when it is full. The more slender model we chose will hold us more accountable to what’s in the fridge and also fit better in the narrow kitchen of our future Tiny House.
So there you have it, folks. We are learning so much, and I am feeling quite curious and empowered as a woman to be gaining more electrical and construction skills. The shop and the move are nearing completion, and we are happily, albeit slowly, moving toward a smaller carbon-footprint lifestyle. This slow transformation fills a yearning that is ever more potent in the current political and ecological situation we find ourselves in. Here’s to many more positive solutions, and to having fun getting there!