Hi, all –
I realize it’s kind of a bummer that I haven’t posted in so long. The truth is, I’ve been kind of bummed, myself. I’ve been stuck in a rut on my big plans for Gyrtle, and honestly, I’m not even sure anymore that I’m the right person to watch over her at all.
It was always my mom’s dream to live tiny – long before it was my dream to continue that vision. I love the home she built, as I’ve loved every family home I’ve had the joy to make memories in. It’s the memories I have of my mom’s home (and of my mother living in it) that I cherish, and if circumstances demand I part with the house itself, so be it.
You see, the beautiful property where Gyrtle has been safely sitting since last spring has been sold, so I rapidly have to find her a new home. This change means that I may have to sell my mom’s tiny house – soon – and simply let her next owner shape her future tiny life. Or, she could end up in storage for some time.
I haven’t figured out the next part yet, but I’ll be making a return trip to Colorado soon to keep getting things in order. (You may have guessed, I sadly missed the Tiny House Jamboree this year – my uncle needed emergency surgery and I thought it best to stay put in Phoenix while he recovered.)
As I renew the process of getting Gyrtle’s tiny house registration in order and finding a new place to put her, I do have some more lighthearted news to share!
Big Problems, Tiny Solutions: My #IgnitePhx Experience
On April 1 this year, I was privileged to have 5 minutes on the Ignite Phoenix stage in Scottsdale, AZ to talk about my vision for tiny homes – inspired by my journey with Gyrtle.
Here is a video of my tiny house talk:
Speaking at #IgnitePhx was an incredible experience. It gave me the chance to dive deep into the real potential I see for tiny houses in our over-populated and rapidly warming world. I hope you enjoy the ideas I share, along with the chance to hear more of my and Gyrtle’s story.
Here is the full transcript of my talk:
This is a tiny house. Can you see it? Right there, below beautiful Pikes Peak in Colorado. It’s the view my mom Robin had for the last year of her life, living in the tiny eco-house on wheels that she designed and built – and she absolutely loved it.
My mom always talked about building a “gypsy cart” to carry her on adventures around the world, and starting with a Tumbleweed Tiny House workshop in 2011, she started to realize this dream. Armed with all her savings and a ton of research, she took the plunge to build the Gypsy Turtle – “Gyrtle” for short.
My mom was a classically trained pianist who aimed to live in harmony with the earth and the people on it. She installed solar panels, a composting toilet, and radiant heat floors to go green, then added a spot for her keyboard and room for six to sleep in order to realize her vision.
But it’s a lot harder to build than dream. Not only did she have to prepare to downsize and actually use the composting toilet, problems from weather delays and the wrong parts to shady contractors and a burglary presented constant challenges and added expense.
With hard work and help from friends, in late 2012 Gyrtle stood 13-and-a-half feet tall on a 28-foot flatbed trailer. Building on trailers provides a work around the strict building and zoning codes in certain states, which is why you see so many T-H-O-Dubs, or “tiny homes on wheels.”
But avoiding those codes meant my mom had to be careful. Though Gyrtle was off-grid and cost under 50-grand to build, my mom was out of money and insuring self-built tiny homes is notoriously hard, while living in them is especially risky.
The Black Forest fire broke out a quarter-mile from my mom’s house in June 2013. Emergency teams blocked the road out, so my mom hiked in illegally every day to wet the ground around it. Though Gyrtle survived and many permanent homes didn’t, the fire was a wake-up call to the risks of living small and uninsured.
My mom got back to her tiny life tweaking systems, hosting guests, and planning trips. But in December 2013, Robin succumbed to advanced-stage pancreatic cancer, and along with my grief, I was left with a tiny house built on big dreams.
So it was my turn to dream. It didn’t feel right to sell Gyrtle outright, not only because my mom was still figuring out the systems when she died, but also because she had always intended bigger things for her tiny dream. So I started my own research.
Living small and in sync with nature’s systems is not a new idea. The Uros tribe in Peru and Bolivia still survives on small islands made from living reeds they use to build their homes, boats, outhouses, and even the ground they walk on.
Today’s intentional communities also embrace the idea. The Gobcobatron built by Brian ZIGGY Lil-oy-a at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage was made from cob, a mixture of subsoil, water, and straw – basically mud, but beautiful mud nonetheless.
High schools now build tiny houses to teach construction, and these examples of student housing from the Netherlands, California, and Taliesin West right here in Arizona prove that tiny design can teach innovation, cooperation, and intentionally around how we live – and where.
Today living small has been dismissed as a novelty, joke, or only suitable for vacations. People ask, “how realistic can it be when some building codes won’t even consider a structure habitable if the bedroom is under 120-sq ft. – the size of some tiny houses?”
But it is realistic. I know because my mom did it, and so did the family who started Story Coffee Company in Colorado, a business that operates out of a T-H-O-Dub so the owners can put their profits toward ethically sourced, quality coffee instead of higher rents.
SquareOne Villages in Oregon, Quixote Village in Washington state, and CommunityFirst! in Texas provide housing for the homeless – and with 17 thousand 500 homeless in Maricopa County, finding more models for affordable housing simply makes sense.
In some ways, Phoenix gets it. The Containers on Grand offer eight units made from re-purposed shipping containers. Roosevelt Row’s Hot Box gallery is also a shipping container, and micro-apartments are being planned for downtown – but they’re expensive…
Phoenix has a problem with vacant lots. A growing demand to develop them and still provide affordable, sustainable solutions for our growing population has spurred several community and city initiatives that are thinking big, but starting small.
Downtown Phoenix Inc. opened the Space Between last year on a vacant lot at 1st and Fillmore streets. Space Between responds to the city’s community initiative to fill vacant lots with urban farms, public art, and innovative seating.
Spearheaded by Mayor Greg Stanton, Phoenix Renews is a massive lot activation on Central Ave and Indian School with community gardening plots, public art, and a solar-powered model home. Phoenix Renews teaches sustainable solutions, decreases criminal recidivism, and rejuvenates otherwise dormant spaces.
Witnessing the problems and opportunities in Phoenix and around the globe, I can’t help but imagine the potential of tiny houses for cities today. I know my mom imagined it, too. Today I invite you to join us. Dream big. Think tiny.
Some Big (Tiny) Acknowledgements
There are several people who were especially helpful in my research for this talk or who offered to let me include photos, and I’d like to thank them for their work and inspiration, too.
A very special acknowledgement to:
Tiny Home Builders
Ross Beck, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company
Bruce Melms, Solargon Homes
Monique Wijnands, Wikkelhouse
Organizers & Community Organizations
Greg Johnson, Small House Society
Jaycie Osterberg, Quixote Village
Coles Whalen, Tiny House Jamboree and EcoCabins
Arizona Community Development Projects
Nicole Underwood, Roosevelt Row CDC
Tom Waldeck and Cindy Moss, Phoenix Renews at Keep Phoenix Beautiful
Quinn Whissen, This Could Be Phx
Until next time, TTFN.