Are We Minimalists?

Samantha and I were asked to speak and answer questions about our experience living in 204 square feet after a local screening of Minimalism: A documentary about the important things. We agreed and on the way to the screening I was thinking of a few questions we may get asked. Considering the evenings theme, ‘do you consider yourself a minimalist?’ came to mind.

My answer would come to the surprise of the audience I thought; No.

“But didn’t you have to drastically downsize the amount of items you owned?” someone would rebuttal.

Yes. Before we moved across the country 3.5 years ago AND before we moved into our tiny house we had parties where we invited friends to come and take our excess. It was fun to get our friends together and liberating to watch ¾ of our stuff slowly disappear as guests left at the end of the evening, couch, chair and all.

But we still have stuff. We designed a GEAR ROOM into our tiny house and filled it with outdoor equipment. We have under stair storage full of clothes. We have a laptop and we have phones and we have a GoPro camera and an DSLR camera and 4 different camera lenses and 6 pillows and kitchenAid mixer. We have a pasta maker attachment for that KitchenAid and a garlic mincer and more than two dinner plates and more than two pairs of shoes. Hell we have BOOKS, like 20 of them in our house, and what’s worse is there is a small porcelain elephant figurine holding up those books! We have two cars and we use them to get to our careers. CAREERS!? We are basically the antithesis of a minimalist.

So no, we are clearly not minimalists.

Walnut outlet shroud

And then we sat and watched the (very well done) film and by the end of it I had reversed the answer I would give. You see minimalism is less about stuff and more about meaning. There is no one recipe to minimalism. There is no single appearance, living situation or number of items required to be a minimalist, and contrary to how the title sounds, minimalism is not about deprivation, it is not a radical lifestyle, and living in a tiny house is not a prerequisite. Instead it is about taking intentional steps towards the life that you want to live while eliminating excess and shifting your focus from things and possessions to experiences and relationships with those you love.

Minimalism isn’t as hard as it sounds. Our life sort of just evolved into an experiment in minimalism without knowing or trying, by prioritizing the things that add value to our lives and forgoing the things that didn’t. And yea, we got rid of a bunch of stuff too.

There is a lot to be said on this topic and nearly all of it covered in print (blog and books) and audio (podcast) as well as the new Minimalism documentary. If you are interested in learning more about these resources and the self-proclaimed odd couple of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus who make up ‘The Minimalist’ duo with a cliché but true story of leaving behind corporate wealth and cultivating a more meaningful life with less then head over to theminimalist.com.

What’s Next?

This blog has served its function. It was a place for us to share the adventure of building a tiny house with our friends and family and a few others that have found their way here throughout the process. We have taken our FINISHED PHOTOs and we shared them with the world. We just interviewed for NEW ATLAS and explained ‘what it’s really like to build your own tiny house and live in it.’ SHED has been improved upon by people in KOREA,  and our story shared throughout social media and by CURBED, TREEHUGGER, TINY HOUSE SWOON, TINY HOUSE TALK, TINY HOUSE FOR US, TINY HOUSE DESIGN, HOME CRUX, HUMBLE HOMES, TINY HOUSE TOWN and a few others. We have created a YOUTUBE channel to make all of our videos more accessible and set up an INSTAGRAM account to make our photos more accessible. We even packaged up the most pertinent information and photographs from over 50 lengthily blog posts into our very own DOWNLOADABLE E-BOOK to make our content as organized and accessible as possible.

It was a fun adventure and now we are faced with a decision: abandon the SHEDsistence ship or continue to cultivate this little blog project we started 18 months ago.

No one ever did ask if we considered ourselves minimalists after that presentation but if we have taken one thing away from the past few months spent in a sort of tiny house spotlight, it has been that the physical tiny house may pique peoples curiosity, but their true appreciation and interest lies in the simple, intentional and meaningful way that the people who choose these small dwellings tend to live there lives.

To that end, the published content of this blog will be shifting from the design and construction of our tiny house to what it looks like to live full time in 204 square feet and what it means to be an outdoor adventure oriented minimalist couple living in the Pacific North West.

Adventures! (photo gallery below)

What better way than to show you what that has looked like over the past two months! Admittedly, we published our finished photos on August 1st 2016 and kind of disappeared intermittently over the following six weeks on a smattering of unique explorations around the North-West. Most recently we have had a fixation with retired fire lookouts. These minimalist glass rooms in the sky afford 360 degree views of some of the most beautiful portions of the PNW thanks to their historical necessity for unobstructed view. There is something about these places that thoroughly appeals to us. Maybe it is their architecture; stripped of the superfluous and born from function. Their startling placement sits in contrast with the natural surroundings while simultaneously trying to protect it. Certainly it is the mountains on which they sit as well as those of which they afford spectacular views of. But most importantly it is the experience. Whether with friends or just the two of us, every experience in a retired fire lookout is acutely unique with a front row seat to the passing of time as the sun, moon and star’s cycle over top of vast forest and mountain landscapes.

August started by spending the night in a 60 foot tall fire lookout in Idaho after a long drive through the Palouse region of Eastern Washington during wheat harvest. The smoke from some distant fires warped the sunset into magnificent hues and the fire lookout tower sat adjacent to a lush huckleberry patch in a year of early ripening.

Later that week Samantha and I hiked 2500′ up to her 30th birthday dinner reservation at the highest elevation restaurant in the state. Anything that includes hiking to an amazing meal is alright with us and we ate at 6872 feet above sea level with a view of Rainier as it sat stoically amidst dancing clouds. We stopped to enjoy a hammock session on the way up and had the luxury of riding the gondola down after dinner and beverages.

The following weekend we navigated our way 5 hours south and settled in for a night atop a prominent butte in central Oregon. We awoke in another 12’ x 12’ glass room with a spectacular front row seat to Mount Jefferson and the surrounding Willamette National Forest. On the way out of Oregon we stumbled upon a large cave that framed a perfect view of Mount Jefferson and visited an unbelievably transparent cold spring fed sink hole in an Oregon meadow.

The very next weekend we were heading right back down hwy 97 on our way to Northern California to spend a couple nights in a fire lookout that we had booked 6 months prior. Our road literally crossed the path of our friends who had started hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican boarder over 4 months prior. We scooped them up near Ashland, Oregon and continued on the dirt road that circumnavigated the upper reaches of a bare, red, 7,300’+ volcanic cinder cone with a back drop that further informed us of the regions volcanic activity. A 14,000′ snow capped volcano dominated the horizon while a solidified lava field seemingly froze mid ooze, engulfed by the encroaching evergreen forest. It was here that we woke with the sunrise and lingered late with the milky way, eating communal meals and sharing a fire under the Perseid meteor shower. There is a term known as ‘overview effect;’ the cognitive shift in awareness experienced by those fortunate enough to view earth as a “tiny, fragile ball of life hanging in the void.” We may never be in a position to view the entire earth from a removed perspective but I feel a correlation between this ‘overview effect’ and our frequent travels to dark and desolate places where an evening with the stars reminds us of our dizzying and minuscule existence amidst the cosmos; and ideally by result, reminds us to love our fellow earthlings, because this little blue ball and its inhabitants is all we have.

We dropped our friends back off on the trail to add the last 900 miles onto their current tally of 1700 and we were off to meet some more friends and family at a 16’ x 16’ forty foot tall fire tower that kept watch over the surrounding Willamette Forest.

The next day the rising suns oppressive heat chased us down from our tower perch to a hidden emerald body of water. As we emerged from the trail through the surrounding forest we are confronted with multiple flotation options, each composed of logs and scraps of wood cobbled together into lake barges available to anyone that makes this journey. We choose a particular sturdy looking linear barge and used the peculiar homemade oars to paddle out for a Huck Finn inspired afternoon.

On our way out of the forest we set our sights on a local hot spring. The parking turn out was crowded, especially for a Tuesday. The late morning sun was awakening a gathering of rubber tramps that had descended on this location to celebrate the waning days of summer, undeterred by the hefty fine placed on those caught overnight camping here. They began to emerge from an eccentric assortment of vehicles as well as the tall grasses that lined the steep cliffs into a reservoir. The view was quite beautiful, but that is not what brought them here.

We pushed passed the concern of an equally over-occupied hot spring and continued on a dirt path into the forest. The water seeped into the top pool at 110 degrees and cascaded down hill through a series of 6 pools, progressively decreasing in temperature, and largely un-occupied. We choose a pool mid way through this cascading procession and soaked away time in the geothermal waters of the Oregon forest before returning to civilization.

On the weekdays in-between trips our friend Jacob shared a new perspective of our extended backyard from his transportation of choice and I got a tiny taste of why he loves all things aviation. In an aircraft with fabric skin we navigated the foothills leading to Mount Rainier and powered down under 60 miles per hour with doors open for a unique view of Rimrock Lake.

As late August approached it was time for my Mom and Brother to make their way West. It took 2500 miles of flights for them to meet up with us in Washington State followed by a ten hour road trip and an aside into the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area on quads before descending deep into the Umpqua National Forest. It was dark when we arrived at the trail head and we ascended the trail with headlamps while stepping over scorpions along the way. Oregon has scorpions in the mountains!?

We arrived at the glass cabin precariously balanced in the empty void of night above the Oregon wilderness; a non-existent moon allowed the stars to be the focus. A startled yell let out as one of our group members shown their headlamp over the railing to reveal a cliff face falling away into darkness below their very feet; the battery powered light source also swallowed up by the void. The next morning’s grogginess was erased with the realization of our surreal predicament as the sun painted light crossed the landscape and the reality of our exposure became illuminated. Just my wife, my brother, my mother and I soaking in golden hour from a place few know exists.

For years my brother and I said “we should take mom on a trip.” I found great closure in the execution of this family adventure and while I move forward hoping there are many more of these opportunities I am beyond grateful to have breathed life into this idea, at this moment in time because as Wayne Dyer once said, “the future is promised to no one.”

I stole a glance at the black faced log book before leaving the fire lookout for the last time; “I saw the Milky Way for the first time ever…” my mother wrote “…it was so amazing.”  We had accomplished what we set out to do; to gift an experience of a lifetime to a person who truly deserved it. We may never re-visit that incredible place, but it will be talked about for the rest of our lives.

We are out ‘there’ nearly every weekend it seems, yet this spectacular region continues to produce incredible experiences in new locations, time and time again. It has been a quintessential Pacific North West summer, full of friends and family, the boundaries of which become blurred more and more with each adventure.

 

VIDEOS!

We are currently working on two video projects to be released this fall, one of them will be a video tour of our tiny house and the other will feature the entire construction process of our tiny house from start to finish in a 5-10 minute time-lapse film. We have posted the teasers below.

 

 

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