New website – same blog

This post is for all of you who follow this blog or signed up for email notifications.

Firstly, thank you! I love hearing your comments and questions and getting to know you all through your own blogs.

Since moving into the tiny house and moving from full time to part time work, I hope to have more opportunities to post and share my stories and experiences. I would love to continue sharing these with you. To stay updated, please head to http://tinygolightly.com/ and sign up so you don’t miss any posts.

This site will stay active, but the new posts will be published at Tiny go Lightly instead. All of the old posts are still there though, promise! I’ve also started a Facebook page to share more pictures and links along the way: https://www.facebook.com/tinygolightly/

Thanks again, and please keep in touch! 🙂

Sarah

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Moving in!

Well folks, this is it.

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked recently is, ‘So when do you move in?’

I finally have an answer.

In just four short weeks I’ll be moving into my tiny, ready or not! (Most likely not, let’s be honest). Each weekend as I finish work on the house I pack up and try to change gears back into full time work mode. It’s been getting harder.

As the house gets closer to being habitable it feels more and more like the home that I dreamt for myself. It’s a home that I want to be living in and learning from. A home that still has so much work to be done, work that my hands are still itching to do even while my body is aching and tired at the end of the day. I’ve been moving closer to the life I want to be leading since March last year, when I started this project. While I know there were one or two big decisions that got me this far, it feels far more like a series of tiny opportunities that have snowballed. Each step creating new pathways for the next step down the track. Suddenly I find myself here, on the cusp of changing my whole lifestyle to commit to this project fully.

I don’t have running water, a kitchen or shower, a fridge or any real furniture. Well, not yet anyway. I’ve got two more working weekends before the big move date though – definitely possible, right?

Stay tuned for the countdown.

Stairway to tiny heaven

After climbing up and down my ladder for the past five months, I am gloriously happy to announce that my tiny house has STAIRS! And darn good looking ones too, I might add.

I would offer to give you a step-by-step explanation of how I did it, but that pun just seems far too obvious. Plus this guy does a better job of it – I stole most of his ideas. Probably all for the best, given I had no idea what I was doing.

I was pretty anxious about building these stairs, to be honest. I thought it was going to one of the harder parts of the project to tackle, and I was pleasantly surprised with how relatively straight forward they turned out to be. I used 19mm ply for the whole thing and overall they feel pretty stable!

Nailers

The secret key to this project for me are the nailers that attach the stairs to the wall. A nailer (no idea if this term is used in Australia, but it’s what my American online stair guru called them) is mounted onto the wall and helps support the tread of your stairs. More on these below.

Getting around the wheel well

As you can see here I was far too busy celebrating mild carpentry success to take any useful photos of the process as we went, sorry. But as I said, the technique is relatively straight forward. Firstly, we mounted a nailer to the wall of the house the same length as the stairs for the base level to sit on. This was done with lots of liquid nails and a few screws to secure the lot. I kinda wish I’d realised earlier that the 25mm screws I was using were only a few mms longer than my nailers were thick, meaning only a few mms would’ve penetrated into the wall. Oops. They seemed to hold well enough and there are plenty of other supports, but it’s something to make note of.

NOTE: Check the length of your nails/screws vs the thickness of whatever you’re screwing

 

To get around my wheel well we cut supports to the height of the first step and the depth of the stairs minus the wheel well. These supported the rest of the weight of the base level, covered the wheel well and gave me my first step. Winning! Boogey time.

To stabilise the supports I attached angle brackets to each piece and screwed them to the floor. We glued, then nailed the base down into each support, as well as the nailer running the horizontal length of the base. So far, so good! Not to mention super sweaty.

NOTE: Human weights do well to counteract any bow in your ply and ensure good connection with supports

Process

From there it was mostly more of the same! Nailers on the wall and on the back of the previous step to support the horizontal length of each tread, vertical supports underneath to take the rest of the weight. Obviously, be sure to check that your nailers are level with the vertical supports. And that your supports are level and the tops are level and that anything else you can think of to level is level too. No-one likes a wonky step.

NOTE: Buy lots of liquid nails. LOTS and lots. You’ll need it.
Well, at least 3 tubes of the stuff. You’ll also probably scrape lots of it off as it oozes out from the joins so then you’ll need even more and will end up with it stuck all over you in various places. Fair warning.

The idea was to make three big boxes on top of the base and add little steps in between that would double as drawers for extra storage.

Adaptation is key

Of course, this wouldn’t be a useful building blog if I didn’t accurately represent everything that went wrong, including having to change the height and length of my steps right off the bat. At least forty minutes of careful maths (supervised by Dad of course, thanks Dad) had gone into working out the measurements earlier that morning. Upon closer inspection, I realised that most of the maths was redundant given my power switches and transformers for the lights were right at my calculated step height. This also made attaching the nailers for the tallest box a bit tricky as the last thing I wanted was to put a nail through the wall and short circuit my functioning lights. Sooo, for now one nailer is attached only using liquid nails. I wonder how accurate that name really is? I’ll probably add an extra support in that biggest box for security, just in case. At the moment the ply it supports gives just a tiiiiiny bit underneath my weight and I tell ya, that tiny bit is more than enough for my liking.

NOTE: Don’t put nails through your wiring in the walls. This isn’t a stairs specific note, just good advice in general.

The end result of the changes wasn’t tragic. As you can see I have spectacular, functional stairs. They’re just slightly steeper and slightly one less step than I drawn on my plan.

Nevertheless, she persisted!

Storage steps

As it happens, the changes were meant to be. With the steeper steps, my Mum’s old vintage fruit and veggie boxes were the perfect height to act as my drawer-steps. They were of course totally unstable and unsuitable for using as anything other than decorations at a rustic fairy garden themed wedding. I had to get a bit DIY-makeovery on them and this time Google was not much help. Urgh. Seriously internet, get your act together. Turns out, my new-found stair building geniusness translated into gluing three bits of ply into a box quite nicely – taadaa!

Obviously there’s no drawers in there yet, but they already function as excellent hidey holes for bits and bobs. Drawer updates to come.

Overall, a total success!

I realise by this stage that most of you are fearing for my mortal life, based on my flippant confidence and carefree attitude towards building a relatively important structural component of my house. Fret not, dear friends, one doesn’t get to this stage in a tiny house build without a certain amount of know-how.

Obviously, I made my nephew test them first.

 

 

As always, a massive shout out to my number one Tiny House buddy, Brodie Rob. Couldn’t have done it with you and my wonderful friend Siang, thank you both so much! Many hands make level stairs.

Dumpster diving

I saw Just Eat It at the Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago, a documentary about two Canadians who take on dumpster diving and rescuing otherwise ‘wasted’ food as their primary means of feeding themselves. The epic scale of food waste exposed in the movie is staggering and sadly not uncommon. Since then, I’ve been busting to try dumpster diving for myself.

I finally got the chance when I met someone who has been diving on a regular basis and agreed to take me along. We tried three different dumpsters – two supermarket dumpsters and one from a shopping centre. The supermarket bins were sadly empty when we got there – but had apparently been full of good quality foodstuff just days before when my friend last checked. The last one we stopped at was packed to the brim. Partly with rubbish, but mostly with items that were either perfectly fine, or had tiny faults that meant they’d been returned by customers and turfed straight in the bin.

The stash was varied and surprising, including: an inflatable pool toy, child’s dress up costume, a set of lanterns, a set of fairy lights, an electric toothbrush, women’s bathers, women’s shorts, two romance novels, a coffee machine and a puzzle.

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What a haul! Turns out it’s not just food going to waste (although, no surprise there).

Diving is such a grey area when it comes to legality and it’s hard to find a straight answer to the most common question: ‘What if you get caught?’ Well, maybe that’s the second most common question. (The first one being, ‘You mean, you get stuff out of a bin?? Not food, surely…’)

It seems that diving itself isn’t illegal, much like tiny houses it falls somewhere between laws. It’s illegal to trespass on private property and it’s illegal to steal property that doesn’t belong to you. But what about goods that have been discarded by their owners in publicly accessible places? There are some interesting articles around that discuss the different perspectives on this, please don’t take my word for it. I certainly am not qualified to give legal advice!

The other question is, does the risk of a fine or reprimand from authority put you off doing something that is right for ethical and environmental reasons? At what point does the law exist contrary to common sense, only to mitigate potential risk? Well, in lots of cases probably. But that’s a whole different can of worms there.

I’m so keen to try more diving, to explore more ways to reduce waste and to alter the way we consume. It does make me a bit nervous though!

Even when things make sense and feel right, breaking rules can take some unlearning and discomfort. I’m finding plenty of good reasons to keep practising.

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Solar Power

Knowing where to start with the solar stuff can be a bit overwhelming. As I mentioned in my last post, the first thing I would recommend without hesitation is speaking to a solar expert – I happened to luck out and find a total gem, if he’s in your area don’t hesitate to call Geoff at Sustainable Impact. He’s a wealth of knowledge and I even got to be solar apprentice on installation day!

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The other place to start is by doing some research and a bit of energy use mapping. There are some pretty simple templates out there and the internet has all sorts of magical information on it these days, including calculators that can tell you how much energy certain appliances use. At this point in the tiny house planning I’ve got a pretty clear idea of what appliances I intend to use and how much power I’ll need. I don’t have any laundry facilities and thanks to my beautiful Nectre Baker’s Oven I also knew I wouldn’t need any kind of electric oven or cooktop. I haven’t factored in many conveniences – no microwave, TV, dishwasher or washing machine. I don’t know how much of this going old school slow living will drive me crazy in the long run, but as an upside, this made planning the electrics a bit easier.

 

I went with second hand batteries and two solar panels, hopefully enough to run all appliances in my house and last a few days without full sun. It’s a bit of an experiment at this stage, to figure out how much I’ll use and how quickly the panels will recharge my batteries.

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But there’s definitely power coming in and as a bonus, they look fantastic!

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There’s a control panel that mounts all the electrics for the system, including a power point tracker, inverter and the safety isolators. The electrics needed to be close to the batteries, out of the weather and accessible for power readings, so we put them inside on the front wall. Some people have suggested the board isn’t pretty enough to be featured on the wall the way it is, but I kinda love that it represents an important characteristic of the whole house. It might end up being covered later on, but for now I’m still trying to figure out what all the readings mean and how it works. Next step will be getting the electrician back to set up my power points and lights. So close to full power now! Very exciting.

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All fired up

The last couple of posts have been more life related than build related. I have a bit to catch up on now, so here goes!

After the lining was finished, I could get the plumber and electrician back in, ready for fit out. First up was installing the flue for my Baker’s oven. Another pricey part of the build – over $500 for the flue alone! Youch. Having the elbow bends added in didn’t help with the price, but they look phenomenal (and are hard to photograph in a small space). And better yet, it all works!

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I lit the fire a few times before it was inside my house and the smoke was suffocating the whole fire box. I would’ve thought having no flue meant plenty of access to air but I was wrooong. The drawing thing that flues seem to do worked like magic and my fire was lit in seconds and burnt for ages and was beyond exciting and whoop! What a treat.

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Noel dug out some old cast iron pans he had in the shed and donated them to the cause, not to mention a Weber BBQ to boot! We had a tiny house slow cooked dinner to celebrate, it was all just terribly romantic.

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Once I’ve got my kitchen bench set up I’ll also source a little two gas burner cooktop that can run on an LPG gas bottle for the warmer weather. The evening I lit this baby up it it was cool enough to have a small fire going for an hour with the door open, letting a fresh breeze in. I ducked under my cold camp shower and dressed in front of the oven, enjoying the thrill of my very own fire – the little wins are big wins when you can indulge in them properly. Overall I was pretty chuffed. What a perfect way to moderate the temperature of the house slightly and also be able to cook on the top! Excellent decision making, Sarah.

It wasn’t till I climbed up to the loft that I felt the full force of my designed-to-heat-90m2-and-currently-heating-18m2 oven. Fair to say that the little loft nest will be a toasty warm retreat on the coolest of winter days when the oven is lit. And by toasty warm I mean there’s a fair chance I could charge sauna rates for visiting guests if I got the set up right.

Anyone got spare towels?

A lesson in asking

Occasionally throughout this project, when people have asked me where I’m living, I’ve joked that ‘I’m homeless’. That’s really just not true, in fact the opposite is. I’ve been in abundance of homes for a while now, and I certainly don’t take that for granted.

Tonight, walking into my local supermarket, I saw a woman sitting out the front asking for change. Maybe homelessness was on my mind after chatting with co-workers about the change in local Melbourne laws that are making sleeping rough an offence. Maybe it’s just always a little bit on my mind, knowing that family violence is one of the top reasons people end up on the street.

Usually, I would give a few coins in passing and tell myself that I do enough, I give to charities regularly and work for a service that tries to improve the system overall. Stopping to talk to someone can sometimes feel daunting, and although I admire those people you see chatting with people on the street, I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve never been one of them. At least, not until tonight. After I’d walked into the supermarket with only a quick smile for this woman, I turned around and walked back out.

‘Hey’, I said. ‘Is there anything in there I could get for you?’

The woman’s response surprised me. She looked down into the bag by her side.
‘Thanks, but I’ve got heaps of food. Hey! Do you want these bananas?’ She took some ripe bananas out of her bag and handed them to me. I accepted them gratefully (do you know how hard it is to find ripe bananas in a supermarket these days?) before realising I still had to go in and do my shopping. I told her I’d come and stop on my way back out.

When I finished my shopping I had some cash for her. She had sorted through her bag and managed to fill a whole plastic bag with food she wanted to give me.
‘Do you want any of this?’ She asked me. ‘I just hate waste and I’m not going to be able to eat it all.’ I commented on how much she had put in the bag to give me – fruit, biscuits, bread. ‘Yeah’, she said. ‘It’ll just go bad if I can’t use it. Someone came out earlier and offered me bananas. When I told her I already had some she got offended and stormed off in a rush. I thought, well it was a nice offer but there’s no reason to get upset! There’s only so many bananas you can eat in a day.’

We ended up chatting. She asked to use my phone to check the weather and the radar and then wished me a nice evening. In the end, I walked away with more than I’d given her. And it was a surprising reminder of something so obvious that we often forget it:
Sometimes we like to think we’re helping and that we know how best to do that. Don’t assume you’re helping just because it feels good to you. You might be able to help someone or even give them a way to help themselves, but ask them what that looks like and if they even want it. Choice is a powerful tool that many people have taken away from them, especially in times of hardship. Respecting someone’s ability to choose for themselves is important and empowering, even if it doesn’t sit as nicely as our usual go-to options.

I gave her the money and let go of any judgements around the ‘right things to spend it on’. Cos if I was ever sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness, you can better my bottom dollar I’d like to be choosing what gets me by.

And I’m just not sure it’d be bananas.

 

On a related note, this is a very interesting read for anyone looking to learn a little about economics and human behaviour without having to study it or read textbooks. Think, Freakonomics meets global poverty.
It will make more sense why this note is related if you read the book.

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011)
Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Tiny Christmas

I always loved Christmas growing up, and still do. I love time with my family, I love relaxing and having nothing better to do all day than kick back and share great food in the summer heat. It’s just that now as an adult, sometimes I find it hard to look past the excess in what I feel should instead be more of a celebration of what we already have. Tiny Christmas was an attempt to get back to basics and focus on what I love most about this holiday – connection, friendship and gratitude.

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For Tiny Christmas, I posted out invites and with each invite went a packet of seeds out to grow. Anyone who has had the joy of nurturing something from seed and reaping the rewards at the end can appreciate the deep satisfaction of growing your own food. The connection with the earth, with the simple and yet incredibly complex processes that take place along the way, the appreciation that comes for something you’ve invested your time and attention in. These elements in all things form the basics of what tiny living is about for me.

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Although, sadly, none of the seeds had quite enough time to produce enough food to eat, everyone got creative and brought gifts to share. The meals that were created were not just filled with connection and thought but were delicious and down right beautiful in some cases – Tessa’s tiny house pie was a work of art, filled with home grown treasures. The generosity and engagement that has come from all angles in this project has constantly staggered me. Sometimes all we need is to create a space and some time for our actions to catch up with our values and our beliefs. I think this tiny does just that – not just for me but for so many people who have been involved up until this point.

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Earlier in the year, I heard a talk about new year’s resolutions and the benefits of instead practising gratitude for all the things you’ve achieved and experienced in the year gone by. I collected jars from the op shop to make ‘joy jars’ for Christmas – a way to collect memories and moments of joy throughout the year. The jars can then be opened at the end of the year to relive those moments and reflect on all the little things we often forget to savour as the days, then weeks, then months disappear each year. Slow living is so much about enjoying those little moments of bliss and contentedness, the juicy splashes of satisfaction that come from getting back to basics and earning your wins, from having time to connect with nature, friends and family, yourself.

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I must admit, in the lead up there were moments where the days had gotten away from me and I came close to panicking a little. Two days before, I still hadn’t organised anything at all for Tiny Christmas since sending the invites out. Originally, I had grand plans for growing my own contribution or at least finding another waste free way to share ethical food – dumpster diving perhaps? Unfortunately, the plans didn’t quite materialise this year. I did end up shopping for some food and came close to falling in a flap and buying a whole bunch of everything we might need, just to make sure everything was right and everyone happy and the fridge and pantry stocked for the apocalypse ready for when everyone arrived! Cos, well that’s how Christmas works, right?

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With some helpful grounding from the very people I invited to Tiny Christmas, I thankfully managed to avoid the flap. The day before, I literally had nothing suitable for a lunch with fifteen people. The two on-loan camp chairs and my two old camping mugs I’ve been managing with for the past couple of months weren’t quite going to cut the chaff this time around.

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BUT, as I have been lucky enough to discover time and time again, there is always enough stuff in the world and more than enough people willing to share. My parents lent me a table and chairs (and wine glasses and salad bowls and let’s be honest, the list goes on), Sean and Brodie helped dust them off and decorate them with flowers from Mum’s garden. Duncan brought his entire cutlery drawer, Tessa and Jim brought plates and a drinks dispenser, Noel whipped out a garden umbrella when we all started to fry in the sun and everyone brought food and drinks and joy to spare. It was all an incredible, and amazingly stress free, Tiny Christmas Miracle.

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We sat, we chatted, we ate, made new friends and reconnected with old ones. It was just time spent together and it’s all that matters in the end.

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I know sometimes this gratitude and intention stuff sounds corny, but it’s hard to care about sounding cliche when it’s so true for me. There have been many days that I just can’t wipe the smile off my face lately and this was definitely one of them. So, happy Tiny Christmas and new year to you all! Thank you so much to everyone who helped make it happen, I can’t wait to share it with you all again next year.

For now at least though, I hope you fill your joy jars with love and satisfaction, and all the tiny miracles that surround you. You’re all in my jar. xx

Life in between

Another incredible year of adventures, tiny house related and otherwise, done and dusted. It’s amazing to look back and see what snuck in between the building weekends, the research and the progress on the house. Wonderful times with so many wonderful people, here’s to plenty more in 2017!

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Freycinet National Park, Jan 2016

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Sheepyard Flats, Jan 2016

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Mt Bogong, Feb 2016

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Swim training in Melbourne at sunset, April 2016

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Californian Redwood Forest, Warbuton, May 2016

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Rottnest Island, August 2016

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Maleny, September 2016

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Sunset from my tiny bed! October 2016

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Wilsons Prom, November 2016

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Early morning balloons, November 2016

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Pre-triathlon sunrise, December 2016

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Wilsons Prom, December 2016

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Bunyip, December 2016

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Linings: silver and ply

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I used up any leftovers from my outside cladding in the parts that won’t be visible – like here under my stairs and inside my cupboards

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Internal walls are covered

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Insulated

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Look Dad, I cut a hole. Such skillz

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Lining boards – doubling as an excellent picnic table

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The crew hard at work

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A dodgy game of tetris

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Nicole’s impressive attention to detail plugging my dodgy tetris gaps

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James’s pièce de résistance