Our Story, Part Two: Designing the Life You Want

Quick recap: 

In part one of our story, Bela and I pushed off into the unknown after we sold all of our worldly possessions, did not renew our lease in Redwood City, and left on a two-week vacation to Spain.  During our time abroad, we realized that Bela was pregnant!  Now on a nine-month clock, we bounced around between at least eight different places to live (difficult to say how many really, lol) and on month eight, we rented a place in Oakland month-to-month while Bela had an unmedicated water birth at Pacifica Maternity in Berkeley.  After two months of intimate newborn gushiness, we packed our bags and left California to spend a month in North Carolina and a month in Puerto Vallarta.

You know how some people debate whether to move before or after the baby is born?  Well, we decided to do both…multiple times!

By the time we returned, we knew that a tiny house was the direction we wanted to take our lives. We set up a house-sitting gig for a couple weeks in Berkeley for when we first got back from Puerto Vallarta (so awesome and so terrible, but that’s a different story entirely, lol), and started trying to design our own tiny house!

There are so many moving parts in this whole story, that it’s very difficult to communicate the variety of simultaneous decisions being made in the background of our lives.  

First, we’d just had a baby…for anyone who’s been there, holy hell what a life-ender *ahem*, I mean, life-changer!  

All of the sudden, we didn’t get to chose when we woke up (or if we slept at all, haha), we embraced the complete astonishment and disarray of realizing that child-raising techniques amount to mostly guesswork and superstitions, and we adapted to the fact that even the smallest decisions now took tremendous amounts of planning (wait, what if I’m watching the baby but I need to go the bathroom? Should I just leave the door open?).

Second, to accommodate for the constant uncertainty in our lives, we decided that I should not return to work after my paternity leave. Since I had plenty of valuable skills at home but low overall employability, it just made sense.  Of course, I’d always dreamed of being a homemaker with a beautiful suga-mama thinking that I was doing her a favor, so I happily suffered through my new vocation 😉

Third, we still had nowhere to live. 

Our car was full of stuff, the rest of our stuff was in a small storage facility, and we were doing a two-week stopover in Berkeley after bouncing around for a year but effectively had no plan after that.

I mean, I know that “homelessness” denotes a sort of poverty that obviously didn’t apply to us, but for real…we were homeless drifters.  For what it’s worth, we called it ‘floating’ (makes it sound a little more idyllic, right?).

But when we decided to design a tiny house, we made that decision despite all of these other radical changes going on in the background.  Since I was at home now, I took charge while we worked on the initial concept design, figured out how to pay for the thing, found someone to build it, and figured out how to actually live in one.  But Bela and I do everything together.  We make all of our decisions in unity and commitment.  So each step along the way we would sit down to filter the bad from the good and together carve out a new life for ourselves.

So far, tiny houses incorporate a minimalist approach — they’re all about down-sizing.  Living in a tiny house always carries the theme that "less is more".  Focus on getting outdoors, remove the things you don’t need, find freedom in having less.

We love the minimalist ideal and have (obviously) already embraced much of it, but we wanted something more from our home.  

Bela and I think that the objects within our lives have the potential of intrinsic value, brought out through the human hand and craftsmanship or the evolution within nature that created them.  When we surround ourselves with these objects, every moment becomes an opportunity to appreciate a deep aesthetic within our lives — an opportunity to savor the now and revel in the good fortune of having awareness in this moment.

So when we considered the concept of our tiny house, we looked for ways to take the format of a tiny house and turn each aspect from a down-size into an upgrade.  

We wanted to be able to host friends for dinner parties at a full-sized table, we wanted to have an incredible lounge space, and most importantly, we wanted to use the small square footage of our home as an opportunity to include top-quality finishings and essential features.  We knew that Escher would need space for her life.  We wanted her to have a place to play and grow.  A home that she would be proud to have grown up in.

The concept was the easy part, I think (the only easy part, haha)!  

The big problem with designing a tiny house is that it’s just as hard as designing a regular house, except all the true essentials are way more complicated.  

How will you power the house?  Solar?  Off-the-grid?  Do you even know how electricity works?  How will you get water?  What will you do with the…human refuse?  Where will you put the house?  Did you know it’s not legal to put it there or practically anywhere else? How are you going to pay for it, because banks don’t give mortgages for tiny houses?  Who’s going to build it?  How will you get it to where you’re going to put it?

And those are just the infrastructure questions…you’re in the same pickle when it comes to the interior design.  What kind of countertops do you want?  Did you know they literally all have problems?  What kind of wood for the walls?  For the floors?  For the tables?  Tiles in the bathroom?  In the kitchen?  Where do you want your light switches?  Where do you want your walls?  Windows?  Doors?  What kind of siding?  Internet?  What kitchen sink basin?  What fixture?  And it goes on, and on, and on...

Any one of these questions seems a bit trivial, but we wanted to get everything right, everything perfect.  We didn’t want floors that didn’t make sense in the longterm.  We wanted beauty, craftsmanship, ingenuity, and the human-hand to be distributed throughout our entire home.  

We were committed to the idea that if we built on a small enough scale, we could build a dream home for less than the cost of a starter home.

If we did it well enough, then we would never even feel like we’d sacrificed a thing by living in a tiny house.  On the contrary, we would have built the quality of home that most don’t even think about until they retire, and we would have done it at thirty on a modest income within a single-earner home while raising a baby.

This all inspired us to pursue the house full-force.  Our generation (like every generation, I’m sure) met a series of difficulties coming into adulthood.  The economic downturn, the psycho-social adjustments to the ubiquity of the Internet, the epidemic student loan debt, climate change… many people within our generation are looking for solutions to these problems.  Bela and I favor an Emerson-style solution of self-reliance — solve the problems in the world by solving the problems in your own life.  But we quickly discovered that we wouldn’t be able to do it by ourselves.  Designing a tiny house is just too difficult right now.  There are too many decisions to be made and not enough business infrastructure.  We had to connect with the history of the movement and the people who had gone before us if we wanted to succeed.

Up next? Bela and I reach out into the tiny house community.  

We find dear friends who help us and after a month of disappointment we finally find the perfect builder for our house!  Everything begins to shift from a jumble of ideas into a new reality, but that reality brings numerous tectonic shifts into the structure of our lives.  

Let us know what you think of the story so far!  If you could improve on your house in every way just by making it smaller, do you think you could switch to a tiny house?  What’s holding you back?!

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