Wednesday 27 October 2021

9 things I learned from building a tiny house

As promised, a brief recap on what's been happening since my last real blog post, back in November 2020 when I was two months into building my tiny house. I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow description of the build - the highs, the lows, the new words I learned! (For that, and LOTS of pics, head to my No Impact Girl page on Facebook.) 

Instead, I thought I'd try to distill the past several months - until I moved into the tiny in March this year - into a few lessons learned. Here goes...

First, DIY building is completely all-consuming. And kinda thrilling for that. I've never experienced anything like it. It challenges you on every level: mental, physical, emotional, logistical, relational, creative... 

Being my first build, everything was new and interesting. The learning curve was so steep it was almost vertical. Every day I was doing something I'd never done before, learning about things I'd never thought about before, learning about myself and, yes, learning new words I'd never even heard before (like "shim" and "round bastard"). 

Another big lesson was that when you finish the exterior of your house, you're not even close to being halfway. It's a common misconception: you build a frame, clad it, put a roof on it and install the windows, then you're on the home stretch, right? Nup. On my build, the externals took about three months; the interior took almost twice as long (and I'm still tinkering!).

Here are 7 more things I learned from building the tiny:

Repetition rests your mind. When you've been making dozens of decisions a day, for months, spending four days on your knees with a belt-sander (sanding the hardwood flooring) is noisy bliss (ear muffs help). I loved being able to focus on this one job, think about one thing for a while. Another job I enjoyed was punching nails: using a hammer, a nail-punch and wood putty to hide hundreds of nails in the plywood panels on the ceiling and internal walls. It was slow, repetitive work and I loved it. 

2. You get to know a lot - for a while. I'm not sure if this is a DIY thing or just because I'm a curious person, but a few months into the build I felt like the Rain Man of tiny houses, or my tiny house anyway. I knew everything about every element of it, every material we used, where it came from, the pros and cons of various cladding, insulation, paint and flooring options. It was all so fascinating to me and I was neck-deep in it all, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else in my life. (I can probably still tell you the dimensions of each one of my 13 windows...).

3. Every house has its own timeline. Professional builders can build a tiny house in three months. That was never going to happen for us, and it didn't have to - we had no deadline, which let the project go at its own pace. And we were lucky; Covid created material shortages at Bunnings and other suppliers, but we started early enough that there were no big delays. 

As for the budget, I'd aimed for about $60,000, but I had no idea what anything cost before we started and I ended up splurging on a few items - such as my gas-strut window ($2300) and the stairs, which we outsourced to a furniture maker (about $6500). So my final spend was just under $80,000, which I was happy with. 

4. I love making things! Two of the lovely things that happened to me during this project were that I learned lots of practical new skills, and I gained the confidence to have a go at making things. 

Towards the end of the build, I started making little things for my little house: wooden buttons and flowers, curtains and cushions, boxes and shelving units, a spotted gum bench seat for my new deck. I'm still a rookie but I love messing about with wood; my favourite part is oiling the finished piece at the end, seeing the grain reveal itself.

5. A tiny house is still a house. This was one of the big lessons of this build. Tiny houses might be small and relatively unregulated - which gives you the rare opportunity to build your own home - but they still have all the bits that any house has: from framing and cladding to windows, lights and plumbing, depending on where you want it to be on the rustic-luxe spectrum.

6. Building is creative! I never realised how much creative problem-solving happens on a building site. Every. Single. Day. Even when you have skills, every build presents unique problems or issues to deal with. And experienced builders are always thinking ahead, so that what they're working on now will fit with what they'll be working on in four days' or weeks' time. 

7. Moving in before completion is a good idea. It sounds counterintuitive, but moving in before my house was finished - when I still had to climb a builder's ladder to my bed loft and I was using milk crates for furniture - was really helpful. I got to see how I used the space, how my body wanted to move between tasks, where I wanted to put things - which informed our last decisions.


And I haven't even touched on the psychological lessons. There were lots of those too. Such as: Learning when to push on, and when to take a break. How to be with anxiety and self-doubt when you don't know what you're doing - and how to self-soothe with things like swimming, writing and unstructured nature-time. 

It's probably possible to build a house by yourself, but why would you want to? So many of the joys of this build came from sharing bits of it with friends - and with Mr No Impact Girl. 

I learned so much from him, on so many levels, while we designed the tiny then worked on it together pretty much every day for eight months, and I'll always feel an immense gratitude for all he's done to make this happen. 

Now the build is finished, I kinda miss it - the focus, the sense of purpose, the physicality of it, the constant learning and the satisfaction of seeing my little house take shape every day. It was without a doubt the biggest adventure of my life. And I'll probably be processing it, and all it taught me, for a while yet. 

Monday 18 October 2021

Talking tiny, candidly

If you've been following my No Impact Girl facebook page - where I've been posting almost-weekly updates of my tiny house build - you'll know that the tiny house is finished! Officially, I moved into the tiny in March and we (Mr No Impact Girl and I) finished all the essential bits in May this year. 

Unofficially, I finished making the last big thing - a pine storage unit for my bed loft - only a few weeks ago. So apart from a few shelves and hooks and cushions, I can pretty safely say, "It's done!" 

I'm planning to write a couple of posts here - including one or two I intended to write during the build but was too busy (and exhausted) to even think about - as well as a book about the tiny build experience (that might take a little longer). 

As a travel writer I couldn't help relating to the whole experience as if it were a (very) long trip to a place I'd never been. Which meant documenting it all. I filled three A4 notebooks, took countless photos and wrote all those Facebook posts... 

In the meantime, here's a snapshot of the build in non-written form: Shannon Schultz, from Fred's Tiny Houses, where I bought my purpose-built tiny house trailer, interviewed me a few months ago for her new podcast, Candid Tiny House. My episode went live a couple of days ago and it's lovely. 

There's a 20-minute video tour of the tiny (including lots of extra pics) and a 30-minute podcast featuring yours truly talking in more detail about the build and about living tiny. Just head to Shannon's Candid Tiny House (that's the link to her website) or search for "Candid Tiny House" on your preferred podcast app.

More soon!