After reading “The Small House Book,” I wanted to learn more about Tiny Houses and simple living, and the environmental impact of the American lifestyle. I took an online class led by Mariah Coz about Tiny House living called “Tiny Transition and Downsizing.” I made some new friends online who are trying to accomplish the same goals as I am. I also learned A LOT from a book Mariah assigned us to read called “Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth” by Jim Merkel.
Here are some of the important lessons I learned from the book:
- Each of us has an “Ecological Footprint” which is a measure how much land and sea space is used to supply what we consume, and absorb the waste we produce. Americans have the highest Ecological Footprints in the world. In America we are trained all our lives to want more of everything: bigger and newer houses, cars, TVs, stereos, etc.
- Currently the world’s wealthiest 1 billion people consume the equivalent of the Earth’s entire “Sustainable Yield.” Together all 6 billion people are consuming 20 percent over the Earth’s Sustainable Yield.
- If we continue to live, consume, and waste like there is no tomorrow, there will BE no tomorrow.
- “Renewable Resources” or the Earth’s Bio-productivity, takes time to regenerate. Resources are only renewable if they are consumed at a slower rate than their annual growth or yield.
- “Sustainability” means not causing harm to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.
- “Global Living” is an equitable and harmonious lifestyle not only among humans and their future generations, but all the species living on Earth.
- “Radical Simplicity” means changing the way we do things. Our personal choices do add up. We can help by consuming less, buying locally, living simply, and making wiser choices in all aspects of our lives. It is a life less centered on things, and intentionally shrinking our environmental footprint.
- We can learn from Nature, reconnect to the Earth, and expand our compassion for all of Life. In his book Jim Merkel states, “By holding the Earth to your ear and listening for its secrets, you just may feel inspired to walk the path to a wild Earth shared by all people and all species.”
We were all brought up to know what the American Dream is. You own a big house with a yard, and a nice car, and everyone knows how successful you are. You work 5 days a week to pay your 30 year mortgage, then on the weekends you do yard work, home improvement projects, clean your big house, do laundry and go grocery shopping. But when do you relax and enjoy nature, your children, and your hobbies? And what is the true cost to the environment?
A book that had a big impact on my thinking was “The Small House Book” by Jay Schaefer. Here are some important things I learned from this book:
- The average American home uses ¾ of an acre of forest to build, and produces approximately 7 tons of construction waste. Each year this average American home emits 18 tons of greenhouse gases. The average American house gives off more carbon dioxide than the average American car!
- Most Americans live a life of drudgery to pay for their large houses. These homes are often just a false show of success.
- Minimum size housing standards were implemented for the purpose of preserving a “high quality of living.” The actual effect of these laws has been to eliminate housing options for low income Americans. Countless attempts to design and build shelter for the homeless have been thwarted by these building codes.
- There is a housing crisis in the USA. The Bureau of the Census states that more than 40 % of families in the USA cannot afford to buy a house.
- Zoning laws have been determining the size of houses, yards and streets for decades. After World War II, the suburbs were invented as a means of dispersing the urban population. During the Cold War, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials pushed hard for streets wide enough evacuate and clean-up after a nuclear crisis. Also Fire Departments demanded wider streets for larger trucks. The result was suburban sprawl.
- The large distances between home and offices, shopping, and restaurants means that now car ownership is required. This results in more gasoline usage and automobile pollution.
- Lawsuits over the constitutionality of minimum size standards have forced some cities to drop these restrictions. Where this has happened little houses have begun to pop up, and they are selling quickly.
- In our society which is obsessed with over-consumption, embracing less and living simply is countercultural. Magazines, TV, and billboards claim that the cure for what ails us is earning and spending more money, and increasing square footage. Simplification means that we stop following the herd, and have the courage to take the road less traveled.
Unfortunately, I just read a news article that says, “After shrinking for a few years during the housing downturn, home size has surged in this recovery, with the average house built in 2013 weighing in at 2,598 square feet…. Of the new houses built last year, one-third had at least three bathrooms, and 44 percent had four or more bedrooms, both all-time highs….. It doesn’t look like their appetite for housing cars went away, either. Of the new houses built last year, 85 percent included a garage to fit at least two cars, an all-time high.”
Spring has come to my new property with tiny wild flowers and baby ferns!!! Nature is amazing! The logging operation on my property left it looking dead and barren like the surface of the moon. It reminds me of what happened after the devastating eruption of Mount Saint Helens, a volcano in Washington State.
On the morning of May 18, 1980 Mount Saint Helens erupted. The largest terrestrial landslide in recorded history reduced the summit by 1,300 feet and triggered a lateral blast. Within 3 minutes, the lateral blast, traveling at more than 300 miles per hour, blew down and scorched 230 square miles of forest. But small plants and trees beneath winter snow, and roots protected by soil, survived the eruption and now thrive. Scientists originally predicted it would take over 20 years for life to begin to return to the scorched forest land. However, within just three years, 90% of the original plant species were found to be growing within the blast zone. The landscape devastated by the eruption has evolved into a rich and diverse habitat for plants and animals.
I was a bit skeptical about the success of planting seedling trees in the middle of winter. But the tiny baby trees planted on my 5 acre property are showing new spring growth!!! Whoo, Hoo!!!!
Since the seller had been kind enough to forget a load of logs when he left, I had a handyman build me a simple firewood shed to store cut firewood. Here is a photo of the (empty) firewood shed.
I found a nice well driller who would take monthly payments. Here are photos of the well being drilled on my new property.
Whoo, Hoo! The well driller finally hit water at 410 feet deep!!! My well is finished. Now I just have to pay the well man…… Sigh. This whole process is definitely going to develop my patience.
In accordance with the conditions of his logging permit, the seller of my property had a crew come out and plant hundreds of seedling trees. I will not forget the excitement I felt when I came out to my property and saw my new babies! Each seedling tree was about one foot tall, and they were planted all around the tree stumps and giant piles of cut branches. Each one looked like a little stick with pine needles on it. They were so small I really had to look for them. I was so happy as I cried out, “There is one!” and “Oh, there is another one!”