Guest Post by Derek Diedricksen
She doesn’t like being labeled, but I still can’t help but dub her a “Maven of Minimalism”, (and hopefully she won’t get mad at me for it!), and for good reason, as Tammy Strobel has moved from what most would already consider a small living arrangement (a 400 square foot apartment), into a new, even smaller, 128 square foot home! Her story, I feel, is not only gutsy, but fun, and enlightening at the same time….oh yeah, I should mention that she also lives in this very same house with another person- Logan Smith- so at 64 square feet a piece, I felt they might have quite a bit of light to shine on the world of living with little.
Interview by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen of relaxshacks.com. The “Tammy” sketch below is from his tiny house design book “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks“- in a brand new “Tricks Of The Trade” chapter with input from Lloyd Kahn, Gregory Paul Johnson, Dee Williams, Jay Shafer, Alex Pino, Duo Dickinson, Mimi Zeiger, Colin Beavan, Alex Johnson, Cathy Johnson, and some guy named “Kent Griswold”!?
Deek: What was the turning point in your life where you decided that the run of the mill, status quo lifestyle, and one usually surrounded by “stuff’”, wasn’t for you?
Tammy: About six years ago I took a life changing trip to Mexico. At the time I was volunteering with the Mexico Solidarity Network and was unhappy with my career and huge mound of debt. After visiting Mexico and seeing so much poverty, I realized how trivial my problems were. When I got back, I knew I had to make some serious life changes. And a few months later, Logan and I happened to watch a You Tube video featuring Dee Williams and her tiny house.
Once we saw Dee’s video, we knew tiny house living was a good fit for us. So we started taking steps to transform our lives, like paying down our debt, selling the cars, and giving away a lot of stuff. Seeing the video of Dee and her little house was a big turning point for us. It gave us a whole new perspective on what our life could be like; that I didn’t have to drive two hours to and from work everyday or live in a big house either. It was empowering to realize I could live life on my own terms.
Deek: Have you always been a minimalist, or what was the catalyst for this mindset? Any books that moved you towards this direction? I ask because I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting reading, and love when authors, bloggers, and creative people overall, share their roots and inspirations….
Tammy: I don’t consider myself a “minimalist” because I shy away from labels. I’m a lot of things like a friend, daughter, wife and community member. It just so happens I don’t have a lot of stuff in my life. Not having a lot of stuff in my life has enabled me to focus on building strong relationships, instead of hanging out at the mall.
Other books and sources inspiration? There are so many! Derrick Jensen’s books were pivotal reads. I remember sitting in front of Jamba Juice in downtown Sacramento, reading “The Culture of Make Believe” and thinking to myself: “What the F-ck am I doing with my life?”
I also love Your Money or Your Life and The Overworked American.
Deek: In your quest to clear out your life, what items were the very hardest to part with?
Tammy: The cars. I loved my blue Honda Fit and Logan was in love with his little Ford truck. However, once we crunched the numbers we knew the cars had to go. I was really hesitant to let go of the cars, but I’m glad I did! I’m happier without those hunks of metal. I love biking and walking everywhere. I have a new appreciation for my body and neighborhood.
Deek: Its amazing the things that you do miss while flying by everything at high speeds in a car! Anything you tossed or parted with, that you regret losing?
Tammy: Nope. It’s been really nice to shed excess stuff and focus on doing things I love, like yoga, writing, taking long walks and hanging out with friends.
Deek: Now in terms of your brand new home- and a huge congratulations on that- how has the transformation been from your apartment to this micro-home- and tell us a little about it. Has it been harder, or easier than you imagined- and in what ways?
Tammy: The transition has been easier than I expected. I thought moving from a 400 sq ft house into a little 128 sq ft home on wheels might be more difficult, but it’s been a blast.
I also feel extremely lucky to live where I do. We’re in the backyard of a friendly couple and I feel really comfortable and safe here. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you have neighbors that actually care about you.
And as an added bonus, I get to spend time with two of the cutest dogs on the planet. Our neighbors have an older dog and a puppy. In the mornings they come over and literally run around the house and briefly come inside for a treat. It’s a lot of fun.
It’s funny, Logan and I had a lot of fights about whether or not our stuff would fit in the little house. I didn’t think we’d be able to squeeze everything in and Logan thought I was crazy because we didn’t have much after giving so much crap, I mean stuff, away. Well, everything fit and we even have room to expand if needed.
I was telling a friend yesterday that the hardest thing is being without a full shower. Sometimes I just want to hop in the shower at home and not worry about doing yoga. Typically, I shower after yoga class and that’s great because every time I go to yoga I feel wonderful afterwards. So not having a full shower is actually a benefit for me. I don’t have to clean the damn thing and it motivates me to get out and exercise, which never hurts.
(Deek- I wonder if an on-demand, propane, outdoor shower, would work down the road, if the cravings don’t subside?)
Deek: You dropped some tiny living and organization tips a ways back for a new chapter that is in the new version of my book “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks“- one part of which was a solid piece of simple advice “Take a minute or two each day to just look around and put away ten things”- something along those lines. Anyway, what other organizational tips could you offer, in terms of downsizing one’s life, especially now that you and Logan have drastically reduced your living space?
Tammy: A piece of advice I learned from my grandparents would be to imagine doing more with less. If you are faced with a problem try and think how you could use your current tools in a new and creative way. This perspective has helped us identify durable, multipurpose items and then remove poor-quality, single-purpose items from our life. For example, we don’t have any electric kitchen appliances anymore because they are typically designed for a single task, made from cheap plastic, and designed for a disposable obsolescence. If you simply have fewer tools that have more applications its easy to organize.
Deek: And with the holidays here, a real important one….How do you handle receiving gifts when you have little or no space for them? How do you put the word out to control and/or manage the influx, lets say, of unneeded Chia Pets, Snuggies, or knick knacks in general? Just curious. My brother and I have an out-loud agreement where, for the most part, gifts must be small, very useful (ie. tools), or edible so that they don’t need to be stored or kept for a prolonged period of time. I myself have a small home, nowher near as small as yours, but often feel almost a prisoner to “stuff” and finding proper space for it- especially after the holidays.
Tammy: Everyone we know already has too much stuff and adding to that is not a consideration. Plus, I don’t want or need more stuff. So we encourage friends and family members to donate (time or money) to a charity or give educational savings bonds to the kids. And if they have to give us something, we request cookies, wine, or a dinner date in the new year.
In the end, people aren’t going to remember the new set of pajamas they got on Christmas morning. But they will remember a wonderful experience (like sharing a holiday feast or the amazing batch of cookies you made). Similarly with children, they likely won’t remember a single toy you give them, but when they pursue higher education they will always remember your lifetime devotion to supporting their goals.
Deek: So I gotta ask, what’s on Tammy Strobel’s wish list to Santa? (Interview was done in December)
Tammy: I actually want to fly down to California and see my parents. I’m also in the market for a few good sweaters. I went a little crazy with purging stuff last year and I’m down to one sweater!
Deek: Damn, I’ll have to return that Ron Popeil Rotisserie Chicken Cooker I was going to mail you two! Before I forget, tell us about the “100 thing challenge”- in particular what is included and how it works/worked. For example, would things like a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, and hairbrush all count as things towards this list. I’ve never been sure on that….I mean, I’d cut deodorant from my life, but those close to me might have qualms with this….
Tammy: First off, read Dave Bruno’s book The 100 Thing Challenge. Dave started the 100 Thing Challenge a few years ago to decrease his consumerist tendencies. The book is a quick and inspiring read. For me The 100 Thing Challenge is an exercise in mindfulness and not a practice of austerity or asceticism.
It doesn’t matter if you count your tooth brush or each pair of socks.
The idea is to do an inventory of your personal stuff to get an awareness of what comes into and out of your life. Then ask yourself: Do I really need 50 sweaters? Or a whole library of books? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But I guarantee this challenge will change your view of stuff and your buying patterns too.
When I read this question to Logan laughed and said, “Don’t cut deodorant out of your life, instead try using something you already have around the house like baking soda as a multipurpose alternative. Baking soda is an awesome deodorant but can also be used as shampoo, a non-toxic household cleaner, and a leavening agent in baking. To quote Mors Kochanski “The more you know, the less you carry”. Try out new things, question “conventional wisdom”, and organize your life to meet your needs.”
Deek: Thanks Tammy, for more on her and Logan’s life, advice, and work, check out www.rowdykittens.com