Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tumbling For The Tiny, I

I don't know about you, but I'm small. Relatively speaking. Not that I care, or compare myself to others all day, but just in case you were wondering.

Not that I care, or compare myself to others, but I've always been a tad smug about this. Totally without reason. We are what we are and that's it. No reason to feel good or bad about it, but I like being this way all the same. I guess that works for me.

I first had this feeling in a really strong way while in the rafters of a garage. My family was renting a house from someone, and the owner had a bunch of stuff in the garage, up top, on plywood sheets in the rafters. I went up there a few times. Pretty rickety but fun. I felt good to be small enough to wiggle around and snoop in the boxes, and light enough not to bring it all down.

So what the hey. That's just who I am, and as I said, I can't help it.

But somehow, for some reason, I've always been attracted to small things. I don't feel small unless I compare myself to someone else. Usually it's not feeling small but a form of amazement at how big the other people all are. Giant shoes. Basket-sized hats. How do they do it?

OK, 'nuff of that. It ain't the other people that are fascinating, it's the small stuff around me. Hamsters have been on my list for a long time. Cats are smaller than dogs, and maybe that's one reason I've always preferred them too. And when you see a dog smaller than your cat, it's still bigger in another way, the way some people are bigger than their physical size. Dogs are loud and jumpy and intrusive, and cats aren't. Smallness can manifest as silence and sleekness and efficiency and not only as tininess

Tiny-perfect is a phrase I've heard. Maybe it's a bit to precious, but there is a sort of perfection in many small things. Babies are special in a way not only because they're part of you (part of all of us) but because they're so physically tiny and helpless (another form of smallitude) but yet they have a kind of perfection about them that could not be replicated at a greater size.

Find stillness and calm, a quiet moment, and you find smallness and perfection. It all goes together.

So a day or two back I stumbled on a new web site. Now ain't that a revelation. For several years I've been pursuing ultralight backpacking, as in rolling around in the ideal and getting myself covered with its scent, and then backing off a notch or two to find the right blend of practicality and ecstasy. I even built a web site around the idea, and took to making my own backpacks, stoves, and shelters. Some clothing too.

One of my favorite places has been BackpackingLight. Following up on one of the forum threads by a guy who made his own ounce and a half backpack and seven ounce backpacking hammock, I saw a reference to UltraLight Living: "Ultralight: backpacking, clothing, homes, innovation, lifestyles, technology, transportation. Everything ultralight."

The idea is to take backpacking ideas and apply them to the rest of life.

This is right in line with the Green movement, the conservation ethic, and our new fear of the evil Dr. Carbon von Dioxide, Menace to the World.

The most interesting thing to me right off was the "UltraLight Homes" page. I like this stuff. Several years I stumbled on Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, and then a little over a year ago I found a piece in the New York Times on small houses. Some of these things are barely over a hundred square feet. Time to bang your head against the wall and howl, friends.

The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is the one I'm most familiar with. You can get a feel from this quote: "My name is Jay Shafer and since 1997 I have been living in a house smaller than some people's closets. I call the first of my little hand built houses Tumbleweed. My decision to inhabit just 100 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment, and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space. My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury for which I am continually grateful."

The idea: a small house can be thought out thoroughly and built well with good materials, be sturdy enough to stand up to delivery across public roads, and have wiring, plumbing, and appliances built in. Then it can be slid off the trailer, connected, and moved into.

"Most of our houses on wheels include a two-burner stove, an under-counter refrigerator, a bar sink, an RV on demand hot water heater, and a propane boat heater. We can certainly work with you if you have specific needs for built-in appliances."

Sounds good. I've always wanted a sleeping loft. Every kid has. Some lovers too. A place of many fascinations.

These pre-built houses are relatively expensive, relatively speaking, but they are built with good materials, and if you'd rather you can purchase plans and do the building yourself.

There are other outfits too, like Global Portable Buildings, Inc., which makes things from cargo containers (in either 8'x 20' or 8' x 40' sizes). They have 10 year structural warranties and can be delivered by container ship, plane, helicopter, truck or rail. Yow.

There is a lot more at UltraLight Living, and other places too, like the stray reference I bumped into at Nicaragua Living, about converting cargo containers in more of a do-it-yourself sort of way. I'm getting all tingly here.

The expats in Nicaragua tend to think of things in eccentric terms (compared to the rest of us). A lot of them are trying to get by with less, or with smaller things, or with simpler but sometimes more sophisticated things, so this general topic appeals to them too.

Make your life small and it's easier to handle. Check out the "UltraLight Homes" page at Ultralight Living sometime.


Alchemy Architects and the WeeHouse


Global Portable Buildings, Inc.

Nicaragua Living

Cargo container house

Think Small: New York Times on small houses

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

UltraLight Living

Ultralight Living's UltraLight Homes page


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