Keeping (Tiny) House


Shrinking my life into 250 square feet of renovated travel trailer has been a challenge. First of all because of the stuff, almost 15 years of accumulation, things dragged from two apartments and two houses. I’m in my second year of selling off old stuff and the end is finally in sight.

But living tiny is not just an issue of scale; it’s living differently in some very fundamental ways. At least, the way I am doing it. Some tiny houses have all the amenities, from pressurized hot water to dishwashers and microwaves. I am living off-grid, however, to both shrink my ecological footprint and to experiment with mixed technology. I didn’t want to live the same, only smaller; I wanted to change the equation. So while some of my experience may be common to most tiny house folk (the challenge of organizing and maintaining space), other aspects may be totally unique (having to chop wood, empty the composting toilet, etc).


Essential to this new life is the reality that I have to relearn many of the daily tasks that once came second nature. I found that there was even a learning curve to basic things like using the toilet! (The composting toilet, which separates liquids and solids, is best utilized sitting down, regardless of the number of nature’s call).

I have even had to relearn how to do dishes!

And in so doing, I became aware of how much water we use in a typical house. The statistic is shocking: 80-100 gallons per person per day. For comparison, my fresh water supply is 8 gallons; I have five and three gallon water cooler tanks that I fill up at the well-head in the barn. (I also have a 3 gallon camping shower.) According to the US Geological Survey, doing dishes by hand uses from 1-4 gallons of water per minute. Obviously I can’t just open the tap!

Evik's cook stove in Slovakia

Evik’s cook stove in Slovakia

I spent some time recently with my daughter at a farm in a mountain village in Slovakia. Evik, the owner, lives there with five chickens, two goats, a dog and a few cats, and though she has a modern gas stove she mostly uses a wood-fired kitchen range. I learned a lot my few days there about water management in the kitchen, in other words, how to do dishes with no running water, and less water overall. Evik usually fills a few basins with water in the morning and keeps them on the cook stove, one used for washing and the other for rinsing. I use just one basin, and I pour water from that in the sink to wash with, and then either rinse the dishes in the remaining water or pour more out. Sometimes I have to open the spigot on the cooler for fresh water. But I use less than a gallon of water. And my dishes are clean!

Gentle dishwashing soap is a must since I'll be making a gray-water garden in the spring. To the right is my water cooler, which provides fresh and pressurized water, as long as I keep it filled!

Gentle dishwashing soap is a must since I’ll be making a gray-water garden in the spring. To the right is my water cooler, which provides fresh and pressurized water, as long as I keep it filled!

But I also cook differently. I am learning to cook with fewer dishes, and part of that is figuring out meals that require less complicated prep. My life-long favorite food, pasta, represents a particular challenge, requiring a lot of (ultimately-wasted) cooking water and producing a lot of dishes!

Despite the challenges, I like trying to live differently. While it doesn’t exactly make doing dishes fun, it does add a little meaning to the daily chores of life, and I think that is part of the attraction of the smaller, supposedly simpler life.



2 thoughts on “Keeping (Tiny) House

  1. Good concrete examples of how you are changing things 🙂 I was interested that you are using ethnographic methods to learn to adapt to this new life, then sharing an ethnographic description of what you have accomplished! Excellent 🙂


    1. Thanks! I wasn’t even aware of my anthropological leaning…I guess it’s second-nature, developed more from, reading, crossing a lot of cultures and being around anthropologists more than any classes I ever took.


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