materialism

How Big Does a House Need to be?

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As many of you know, I have two homes, one in High Level and one in Fort Simpson — actually, three places to call “home” if you count the farm I grew up on, which I think of often. Over the last year and a half, I have been shuttling myself and various stuff back and forth from northern Alberta to the NWT. In Simpson, I have a great little room in the attic of an old log house, and in High Level, my honey and I have a small, bungalow-style house.

When in my house, I’m often amazed how much I walk from room to room. Because all 1400-ish square feet of the house is on one level, it makes for a bit of back and forthing. It’s kind of annoying — a huge first-world problem, having to take fifteen or twenty steps to get from the kitchen to the bedroom. I know, it’s silly to even mention, when there are people who have no roof at all over their heads at night.

school-bus-cabin-1And then I discovered tiny houses. You see, I was looking for an option for my living arrangement in Fort Simpson — I know I won’t be able to rent the attic room forever. So, I started researching tiny houses, and by “researching,” I mean reading blogs, making drawings of possible floor plans, learning about construction methods, insulation options, heating solutions, and considering storage efficiency, appliance needs and alternative energy sources. It’s been a blast thinking about an adorable little living space I could create, perfect for me and perfect for my environment. I’ve asked myself how big a kitchen really needs to be. How much counter space does it take to make a batch of cinnamon buns? How much room would I need for clothes? Books? Hobby stuff? These are real challenges, since I love reading and knitting, and I have quite a selection of winter clothes for various outdoor activities. How many turtlenecks do you have, because I have 6. How would I pare it down to only the essentials? Why do I own so many bras, anyway? How on Earth would I ever decide what books to keep and which to give away?

As a result, my relationships with stuff is changing. I have started going through old stuff — all sorts of momentos, photos and other schtuff — and I am having fun turfing some of it. Until now, I’ve been a bit of a hanger-on — I’ve had a hard time throwing things out. I thought I needed momentos in order to have good memories; I thought I’d forget the best stuff if I threw out the trinkets, maps and old papers. I am starting to realize that I don’t have to keep stuff to keep memories, and that I am more interested in making some awesome memories in the future than reliving every nice memory from the past.

Merlin gameWhen I was growing up, I could ask my mom where anything in the house was — “Mom, have you seen my Merlin game?” — and even if the item hadn’t been seen or used in years, she knew where it was — “On the shelf in the basement, beside the box of Tinkertoys.” I think I may have inherited my mother’s ability — I usually just know where stuff is. Lately, however, with all my travel between two homes, I am losing track of things. I spend more than a little brain power trying to remember where stuff is. “Didn’t I used to have a blue toque? Where is it? Didn’t it used to be in the box of winter stuff? Maybe it’s in Fort Simpson…” Maybe for other people this isn’t a big deal, but it can get pretty frustrating for me.

I am definitely realizing I don’t need as much stuff as I think to be happy; in fact, I feel lighter and happier owning less stuff. Over the last year or so, I have been gradually getting rid of clothes I don’t enjoy. You thought I was going to say “clothes I don’t need,” didn’t you? Well, those too. For me, clothes used to just be something to cover me up (or to keep warm). Sure, I gave some thought to being dressed right for meetings or whatever, but it was never about fashion for me (I guess I’m a tom boy that way). I like eclectic stuff from second hand stores, but that’s mostly about not dressing like everyone else. As my relationship with stuff changes, I find I want to keep only the clothes that I truly enjoy and appreciate — only my favourites, things that make me say “yay! I going to wear THIS today!” The clothes-purging process is going to take some time, but since I’ve started, I really like having a little empty space in my dresser and closet.

Which, of course, won’t last if I move into a tiny house! Most houses I’ve seen — the ones that are being lived in 24/7, not just used as RV’s — are filled to the gills with stuff, tucked into every nook and cranny. And I’m okay with that too! As I think about layouts and storage, I am reminded about how, as a teenager, I used to design houses. I considered going to school to become an architect, but pure science called to me instead.

So, I leave you with a few images, scribbly drawings and such! Is it crazy to think of living in a space 200 square feet or less? Maybe… Do you think you could do it?

A school bus turned into a cabin!
A school bus turned into a cabin!

This one is made in an old fire truck.
This one is made in an old fire truck.

An adorable houseboat
An adorable houseboat

Great design on a 5th wheel!
Great design on a 5th wheel!

A sweet design!
A sweet design!

Tiny house community in Washington, DC

My Designs

(click for larger versions)
(Yes, they are rather scribbly… sorry!)

Tiny house layout on a 15' trailer
Tiny house layout on a 15′ trailer

Layout similar to the one above, but with a hip roof
Layout similar to the one above, but with a hip roof
My own take on a gooseneck trailer design
My own take on a gooseneck trailer design
Tiny house layout in a 27' long bus
Tiny house layout in a 27′ long bus
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The Curse of the Purse

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love my dad. Although he doesn’t have my strong optimistic streak, he is generally pretty content. The last time we chatted, however, he was a little upset about something, and that something was money. He had recently found out what some oil rig workers made per hour, and was amazed, flabbergasted, and frankly, a little jealous that someone could make so much money. He is a farmer — mostly chickens, a few beef cows — and hasn’t made an hourly wage since he did a little work as a welder, repairing broken cargo carts that they use at the airport to load airplanes. He also worked for many years as a bulk milk truck driver (class 1 license, part-time work), and before buying the farm, he did road construction. He said he made $3.60/hour back in the day, which was a really good wage! These days, though, he sells eggs at the farmer’s market and hay at the auction mart (and privately) and both are prized for their excellent quality. He gets top dollar! But it ain’t no oil worker’s wage. Mind you, he is supposed to be getting ready to retire — it can be a multi-year process for farmers. In any case, he tends to get upset when he hears what some guys are making these days. Big numbers!

I have two friends that have been working 7 days a week, 12-hour days, and their employer is six weeks behind in their pay. Six weeks! That’s quite a while to go without any income; most of us couldn’t even do it. Needless to say, they are getting pretty grumpy about it, and are starting to catch the rarely-spoken-about Northern disease of greed. Okay, so it isn’t just a Northern disease, but it’s getting to the point where they aren’t going to do anything without being paid in advance. I can’t say I exactly blame them… but it does make me revisit the idea I occasionally entertain about how a moneyless society would work.

Money. Why does it matter so much? Why do we use it to define our worth? It absolutely shouldn’t be associated with our worth, but it often is. I see it as simply a more convenient way of exchanging resources than carrying around chickens to trade. So why not go back to chickens? If we did, my dad would be one of the richest guys around! Plus, he also has hay, grain, and all sorts of other very practical, tradeable (and edible) items. But most of us don’t have such things — we are stuck exchanging our talents, skills and/or time (abstract things) for numbers on a piece of paper (or computer screen).

It’s the curse of the purse: we need to work, but it doesn’t go smoothly and we don’t enjoy it. We do it all because we are too wrapped up in the numbers: the money we will make.

dollar signs in eyesWork 18 hours straight? Sure, great overtime! Work 25 days in a row? Awesome, bring it on! Work a job we don’t believe in? Sure, if it pays well! We don’t agree to do these things because we actually want to do them — we do it because we have dollar signs in our eyes. We forget our principles, and what’s important to us. In my personal philosophy, money should enable us to do things we want to do — that’s why we work. But too often, we work to make bigger numbers, to pay off bills or debts for things that we don’t even enjoy. We live beyond our means, and then try to make the means bigger, and as a result, we get grumpy, angry and greedy. It’s the curse of the purse.

Can you believe how much money Bill made last year? It’s insane! Comparing ourselves with others — be they famous, coworkers or friends — is a surefire way to feel dissatisfied. We work harder than Bill. We work longer hours than Bill. We know the job better than he does and have better skills. We should be making more money than Bill! Thinking this way is so unproductive. It would be better if we never knew how much money others made, ’cause when we do, and it can frustrate us to no end. It’s curse of the purse again.

As much as we might like to, we can’t go back to trading chickens. So many of us are stuck in very sedentary, impractical jobs where immaterial things are traded for money. Clicks equal dollars. Information, cents. Trading our days for numbers. Wish we had more. We’re all trying to live with the curse of the purse hanging over us. All we can do is stop being driven by the numbers, and start living life again — doing things we enjoy, both as work and as play. Spending time with ones we love. Appreciating the little things. Spending time in nature. Reconnecting with ourselves.

Wherever or however you do it, if you stop paying so much attention to the numbers on the piece of paper, you won’t be the only one. I’ll be right there with ya.

Materialism in the World

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Boxing Day. The most materialistic day of the year. I am still coming to terms with modern society after my sabbatical-of-sorts in Wrigley. As we drive around Edmonton, I just can not get over how many stores there are! And new developments — whole new neighbourhoods have sprung up since I last noticed. But I think it’s the stores that bother me the most. I even said out loud on the way home after supper, “do we really need this many stores?” My family agreed that no, we didn’t.

Costco

Yet I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I need stuff too sometimes. I have to remember that there are thousands of people that need stuff, so of course there are going to have to be stores to serve them. There are students, freshly moved out from their parents’ places who need to furnish whole new apartments. There are people who have moved from across Canada to take advantage of Albertan opportunities. These people I understand. They make sense to me. But I have a feeling a lot of people who really don’t need new stuff spend a lot of resources (time and money) buying stuff they don’t need. More candles. New curtains. Just stuff.

This bothers me. I don’t know why. But, when something bothers me, I try to understand why it bothers me so much. It must be a mirror to me — showing me something about myself. It’s an opportunity to learn something new about how I tick.

It could be because I see how people are trying to fill a void in their lives with material things. It could be because I think people are being programmed by commercials on TV until they believe they need things they don’t. It could be because I lived without stores and was totally happy! It could be because I lived without new things of any kind for so long when I was a university student — I joke that I was food bank girl — that I know it can be done. It could be because I feel that the world’s resources are so limited, we shouldn’t be wasting them on more scented candles and unnecessary curtains.

boreal forest near WrigleyYet I know that the world is far more abundant than we think. I have seen abundance in the trees, snow, and the immense size of the Mackenzie River. I know that the world is healing itself faster than we can hurt it. Little old mankind has less effect than we think — it’s egotistical to think that we can “destroy” the whole planet. We make significant marks on the surface, to be sure, but Gaia is not in danger. But I digress.

I think what bothers me the most is this: I perceive that people are very materialistic. This isn’t actually true, so as a result, I feel unsettled. That is all. If I can adjust my thinking to see stores as a good thing, or a sign of a prospering economy, rather than a sign of social disease, I know I will feel better. Edmontonians are actually kind, generous people.

Could it be universally true that when we feel bothered by something, it is only because we are thinking, or believing, something that is fundamentally untrue? I think so…

Or maybe I’m just a little freaked out by the $99 long johns at Cabella’s. I’m still buying everything at second hand stores if I can. 🙂