What Happens When You Fail?

I’m all too familiar with failure (and even wrote a short book about one of my failures). If you’ve ever reached for your dreams or tried something “different” you’ve probably experienced a difficult failure as well. At the very least, you’ve experienced some kind of failure on some kind of level during your lifetime.

Two of the problems with dreams can be that we set not just unrealistic expectations, but an unrealistic timeline for accomplishing those dreams.

Setting unrealistic expectations isn’t a massive problem if you subscribe to Norman Vincent Peale’s idea of shooting for the moon because even if you miss you’ll be among stars.

But doing that isn’t being intellectually honest. It’s likely one of the reasons so many New Year’s Resolutions fail. Not for lack of want or positive thinking, but for lack of structure and plan. Interestingly, Mr Peale’s ideas were never accepted by the mental health community. (For good reason. But let’s not focus on that today.)

How To Beat Unrealistic Expectations

What can you do instead of setting unrealistic expectations?

Well, break down the unrealistic expectation into chunks of easier-to-reach expectations. You might even go so far as to break them down to daily tasks.

Let’s say you want to build a tiny house and you know it’s going to cost you $36,000. Now let’s say you want to save this money in one year. This is your unrealistic expectation. To break it down means you need to save $3,000 per month. To break it down further it means you need to save just about $100 per day. Now let’s say your earnings, after taxes, are $120 per day. You’ve just learned this goal will end in failure. Even if you “shoot for the moon” and save 50% of your paycheck (difficult, but quite doable) you’ll be only 60% of the way there.

You have three options in this case. Earn more to save more. Cut expenses to save more. Or recognize that the best idea is to reset your expectations. If you save $60/day it will take you 600 days to save $36,000. It sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not even two years. And you’ll feel better about consistently reaching your savings goals (daily, weekly, monthly) instead of consistently failing due to unrealistic expectations.

What About Your Tiny House Build Timeline?

Another goal you need to set with your tiny house is not only how to afford it, but how to build it. If you’re building it yourself you need to find a place to do the build. Will you need to save all of your money, buy materials almost all at once, rent a build space, and spend a few months working hard to get it done? Or can you buy materials over time because you already have a free space to build so you can go as the budget allows? Or maybe you have some combination of both or something else entirely.

There is no right answer.

But there is a right answer for you.

And this is where I failed on my own tiny house build.

How I Failed Our Tiny House Build

I’ve been heading down the path to living tiny for years. All the way back in 2009 I sold almost everything I owned except what fit in a backpack and began traveling the world. I am a big fan of minimalism and I’m mindful of not owning things that end up owning me.

I originally had the plan to begin my own tiny house project after I watched the progress Tammy and Logan made on their tiny. The idea has stuck in my craw since then and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it happen while also balancing a normal life.

Anyway, in 2012 I settled in Poland. If you’ve ever been to Europe — or most big cities in the US — you know that apartments are not large. My biggest apartment in Poland was 50m2 (~540 square feet) and the smallest I had was about 30m2 (~320 square feet).

That’s not quite tiny house size, but it proved to me that living small was not only doable, but preferable. The problem with a lot of small apartments is they are not designed well. A tiny house is designed with every space utilized.

You may know that I got married in Poland. (!!!) The process to moving with my wife back to the US was long and tiring since she is not a US citizen. (US Immigration was slow enough. I’m saddened and scared at how it will be with the new administration.)

Anyway, we finally got to the US in late June of 2016, and we had a few different ideas about how to live tiny right away. We started looking at buying a used RV. (At first I tried to get us an RV sponsorship so we could do a road trip just so we could see how we liked it. That didn’t work out.) After checking out RVs, and prices, and everything that goes into owning one we ultimately decided against it.

My original idea, before we ever moved to the US, was to buy a piece of land with friends and/or family and use that as our build space and home. This ended up being unrealistic for many reasons besides just the costs involved. Was I supposed to force my wife to drive an hour per day to get to work just because it’s cheaper to buy land outside of the city? (Right now she can walk to work and boy is that convenient.) And what about me? I love cities! Am I really going to enjoy living where I have to drive 20-30 minutes just to buy groceries?

Once I stopped lying to myself the answer to this whole dilemma became more clear. We need to live in a city, either in an RV/van or in a more “traditional” tiny house. Each has its own benefits, but for me there is something that I think is non-negotiable: I want to build it myself. (Even if that’s taking a box truck or Sprinter and turning it into a home.)

That presents other challenges. One being the housing code. Which is why I donated $100 when Andrew Morrison and others were working on the International Code Council’s Tiny House Appendix. It passed!

Great! I think the ICC Appendix will be a nice step for those of us who want to live in cities. But it’s only the first step. And it all begs the question …

Are We Still Building A Tiny House?

The short answer is, “yes, definitely!”

The intellectually honest answer is, “one step at a time.” We’re no longer setting unrealistic expectations about this and if it takes X amount of years then so be it. But we are doing two things to make this a reality:

  1. Saving money. I think it may end up that our best bet is to buy a house with a big enough piece of land to put a tiny house and then to rent out the main house. But whatever we eventually do we need to save money, so we’re saving money.
  2. We moved into an apartment (near Raleigh, NC for my wife’s job) and, in an effort to learn some of the skills I’ll need to build a tiny house, I’ve been learning woodworking. So far my work isn’t great, but I’ve built two small side tables, a little bookshelf, and I’m almost finished with our queen sized platform “pallet” bed. Learning to build and design with wood is going to suit me well in the future and it’s also really fun. (Although wood is expensive!) I’m hoping I’ll build up my skills enough to be able to sell the stuff I make. But, again, one step at a time.

There are a lot more details to this story, but I’m at over 1,300 words here so I think it’s best to save it for another day.

What about you? How are you tiny house goals coming along? Have you had to reset expectations?

The Beginner’s Guide To Minimalism (Part 1: The Simple 4-Step Formula)

There is a lot of overlap between the tiny house communities and the minimalism communities. But it’s mostly one way in that tiny housers are forced to become minimalist whereas a minimalist can live in whatever home suits them.

And I think that’s where a lot of trouble arises. I often see future tiny housers complain or worry about being able to fit all their stuff in a space that is about the size of the average bedroom. I’m here to tell you it can be done, unless you’re the type of person who needs every collection of knick knack and kitsch currently occupying your space.

I didn’t discover tiny houses until I was fully into minimalist living. For years I’d gone far in the opposite direction of accumulating stuff, and then made a decision that enough was enough and fairly quickly pared down to just one 32 liter backpack and a computer messenger bag.

That was by choice and by necessity. On September 1, 2009 I set off on an adventure. The life of a nomad. My flight from LAX to Sydney, Australia was long and I was a bit scared at what was coming. But the freedom was unlike anything I’d felt before. No longer burdened by rooms full of stuff I could live with intention and only accumulate what I needed. I could also move at a few minute’s notice and be comfortable wherever I ended up. I proceeded to travel to about 20 countries, mostly slowly, usually staying at least a month in each place. (Favorites: Poland and Thailand. Least favorites: Panama and Costa Rica.)

Today my backpack is 36 liters, my messenger bag is slightly larger than before, and I own more things than I did then, but in general my life fits in a bag. I can pack up in 20 minutes and be off. Though, after a few years of doing that I got a little tired of constantly moving and have had my home base mostly in Wrocław, Poland since 2012.

All that to say, I’ve had a lot of experience with the minimalist lifestyle.

My goal for 2015 has been to find a place to build a tiny house and live in it for at least a year as an experiment in extreme minimalist living. I’ll likely live in it longer, but I can’t see the future. Finding the ideal place to build and live in a tiny house has been much more of a challenge than I anticipated. Luckily, the tiny house community is very helpful. I know if I keep at it I’ll figure it out, just like so many others have before me.

Even though I’m not yet a tiny houser over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to live tiny. More than anything, I learned that minimalism is not difficult — have only what you use and what makes you happy — but, for whatever reason, it gets turned into a big hassle. It doesn’t have to be.

With that I bring you my beginner’s guide to minimalism, part 1.

Step 1: Commit

This is both the simplest and the most difficult step. Nobody ever made any change to their lives without committing. If you don’t commit to a minimalist lifestyle then there is little anybody can do to help you with your tiny house dream. You’re just not going to fit.

The simple part is this: write it down. “I live with only what I need and none of what I don’t.”

The difficult part is, of course, following through. Which brings me to …

Step 2: Keep the following items

Before you know what to get rid of you need to know what to keep. This list is not exhaustive because every situation is different. But this is a great start.

  • 1 week’s worth of clothing. I know you think you need more, but you don’t. For 3 years I lived with 3 shirts and 3 pairs of socks and underwear and used a plastic bag as my washing machine. I promise it’s doable.
  • Any small sentimental items that make you happy. Don’t keep something because you feel bad about getting rid of it. The memory is often more important than the item, in which case a few photos will do the trick just as well as the actual item.
  • Whatever is necessary for your hobby. For example, I’ve been playing guitar for over 20 years and I get quite stressed when I don’t have one. Therefore, a guitar is a necessity for me even if it’s too much for most people. I also love to read, and I love the feel of real books. You know what I did? Bought a Kindle Paperwhite. It changed my life for the better. I used to read a lot, but since 2013 I have averaged more than a book per week thanks to Kindle always having a new book ready for me.
  • A computer and smart phone. This really depends on your situation, but for people like me who work online and travel often it’s a must. For you maybe it’s not. I recommend buying the best you can afford to buy for cash and keeping it until it dies. Use ifixit when things get wonky. If you’re scared about fixing electronics, don’t be. Be patient, it’s just a thing and if someone out there can fix it then you can too. I’m currently on a 4+ year old Macbook Air that probably has at least 2 years of life left in it (after I replaced the battery).
  • Kitchen stuff and toiletries. Or to put another way, your everyday life basics. Unless you’re a professional chef all you need is one good chef’s knife. It’ll do everything for you. Paring knives and all those other things? Nope, you don’t need ’em. (Ask Anthony Bourdain. Or read Kitchen Confidential. He recommends this knife.) If you’re an athlete or drink smoothies often (hello!) a blender or other small kitchen appliance might be necessary for you as well. As for toiletries, I replaced nearly everything with Dr Bronner’s soap, tea tree oil, and vitamin E oil (the best moisturizer I’ve ever found). I brushed my teeth with Dr Bronner’s for about 2 years (no cavities!), but eventually switched back to toothpaste due to taste. You don’t need shampoo or conditioner. Look up the no-poo method. I’ve been doing it for about 7 years. (Though I shaved my head last year so now I’m cheating.)

That doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re honest with yourself that list is all you need to be happy. And you won’t fit much more in your tiny house anyway so you might as well accept it now.

Step 3: Put everything else away

Meaning, take all of the stuff that is not essential to your life — everything left over after Step 2 — and put it in boxes or in closets or out of the way.

You’re not going to get rid of it yet.

You’re simply going to live without all of this stuff for 7 days. Just a simple 7 day commitment. After 7 days you’ll start to see what else is essential to your happiness. Add that back into your “keep it” list and go another 7 days. By this point there shouldn’t be much to add back to the keep it list. If there is, go ahead and add it and move on to …

Step 4: Sell, donate, trash!

Everything — and I mean everything — left over is unnecessary to your happiness. Put it into 3 piles: sell, donate, trash.

Then sell it, donate it, or throw it away. Depending on your lifestyle this might take some time. But Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist make it really easy.

To be honest, you shouldn’t have much trash, because there are always people who will take your stuff for free on Craigslist.

If you have electronics I highly recommend Amazon’s Trade-In Store. I recently got rid of an old iPod and received $76 in Amazon credit. That buys a lot of Kindle books! (I had the iPod for my app development business that failed.)

This is time consuming, but it can be fun. Especially when you see your bank balance rise, which will bring you that much closer to your tiny house dream.

Part 2!

That covers it for Part 1. See? If you break it down to a few steps it’s not as daunting as it seems. Take it as slow as you need to, but get started now.

In the Beginner’s Guide To Minimalism Part 2 I’ll cover exactly how to travel light, including my full packing list. No more checked bags! (Unless you get lazy or tired and don’t feel like carrying your bag.) Learning to travel light before you move into your tiny is a great way to commit to the tiny lifestyle before you move into a tiny house. That’s coming soon. Sign up for updates below so you don’t miss it.


If you enjoyed this article please share on Facebook. Or if you have something to add to the conversation comment below. Happy to chat.

Why Tiny?

If you’re currently living in, or planning on living in, a tiny house the first questions that come up when you talk about it to friends, family, and strangers is likely something like:

  • Why?
  • What?
  • Huh?
  • Under 200 square feet?!

Along with statements like:

  • You’re crazy.
  • I could never do that.
  • I need my [bath, extra space, collection of X, and so on].

Let’s respond to the statements first. Yes, I’m a little crazy. Aren’t we all?

And you say you could never do it? Well, a two-part answer to that:

  1. You’d be surprised what you can do!
  2. Nobody is asking you to. The beauty of living your life is you’re allowed to live however you’d like.

You need your collection of X? No problem. You can probably find a way to make it work in a tiny space if it’s important to you.

Or you can find some way to make your hobby work even if you have to pare down a large collection of stuff. If you really want to live with less there are always options. And again, nobody is asking you to do something you don’t want to do.

24 years old. What was I thinking?

My house and car at 24 years old. What was I thinking?

So why did I decide to go tiny?

Well, I wasn’t always interested in living small. Almost 10 years ago, at the age of 24, I was obsessed with being rich and buying stuff. That stuff included an almost-2500 square foot house (what?!) and a BMW.

I thought this stuff would make me happy. In reality I made a lot of money and I became incredibly depressed. “Oh, so money doesn’t actually buy happiness?” My world view was shattered and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

Finally, enough was enough, and in 2009 I got rid of everything that didn’t fit in a 32L backpack and began traveling the world. I had exactly 3 pairs of socks, 3 underwear, 3 shirts, and 1 pair of pants.

I learned I could be happy with almost nothing. And I learned living small doesn’t mean life has to be boring. I’ve traveled to 20+ countries, staying in many for weeks or months, and have done a lot of things I never would have done before.

Nowadays I’m a little less extreme. I mean, I now have a 36L backpack!

But I also settled in Poland for 2 1/2 years where I accumulated some things that don’t fit in a backpack. A guitar (one near non-negotiable for my life), a blender, some board games, and more than 3 shirts.

I’ve found when speaking with Americans it seems much more difficult to downsize at all, much less to a tiny house. But in most of the world people don’t live in 2,000 square foot homes. That’s about 200 square meters, which is unheard of in Europe (and elsewhere) except for the extraordinarily wealthy.

Although I already made the switch to “tiny living,” being in the company of people who aren’t brought up to own “everything” and constantly go bigger has also helped a lot. It has allowed me to peak into how regular people like you and me live with less, but not without luxuries.

Which brings me to my tiny house. I’m in the planning stages. Not quite into designing floor layouts and structure. But in the, “how do I make this work for my 6’5″ tall body while still having all the luxuries I appreciate” phase. Also in the, “how do I pay for this?” phase. (More on that soon!)

What do I mean by luxuries?

Dishwasher? Check. Drawer dishwashers take only a couple gallons of water, likely less than when I do dishes by hand.

Washing machine? Check. (Possibly a combo unit.)

Refrigerator? Of course.

Blender? How else will I make smoothies?

Air conditioner? Probably. Though I used to keep my house at 79-81F and haven’t had an A/C unit in 5 years. So maybe I’ll pass on this, but it sure is nice on those uniquely hot and muggy days.

Queen sized bed? Yes, please. (Although I might opt for a custom made skinny but long bed.)

Solar, grid, and propane? That’s the general plan, although I’m not convinced on the propane. I don’t plan on living in cold climates that would need a heater and most everything else can be run off solar.

Generally full sized kitchen? Well, let’s not get crazy, but I do want a biggish sink and enough counter space to comfortably chop veggies.

What will I do without?

No oven. I don’t plan on having an oven because I rarely use ovens. And I plan on using two induction burners for the kitchen because, although I cook a lot, I rarely need more than 2 pots/pans. I might get a small convection oven if there is space, but we’ll see.

No loft. I’m simply too tall for lofts. I’ve spent my life hitting my head on things in a world made for short people. The last thing I need is to create my own short people home to suffer in. I might create loft storage of some sort, but the bed will be on the main floor.

I can think of no luxury that I’ll miss in my right-sized home. I’m going to make it the perfect space for me. Not for my Parents. Not for my friends. Not for you. For me. Which is what I hope you’ll do with your home and life as well.

I like living with less. I like trying to build things. (I built a guitar by hand in India 4 years ago.) And I like the idea of having a small space that I can design from the ground up and move around if need be.

So that’s why tiny.