This is a memoirs of sort, about how my wife and I built a tiny house, and how we live our first year in the Georgia woods without many of the usual comforts of modern life—we only have limited electricity, no plumbing or running water, and no central heating or cooling. It isn’t very glamorous, nor is it a trial to survive. It is life, challenging and sweet, tedious and fun, mundane with hints of glory.
It is almost a do-it-yourself book about how to plan and build your own tiny house, and how to create a smaller and simpler life tailored after your personal needs and desires. How it is possible to carve out a little more freedom—internally, financially, and how you spend your time, without having a big savings account. It is only “almost” a do-it-yourself book—I try not to give too much advice or make lists, I dislike generalizations almost as much as I like them. I can’t claim to have any new insights, answers, or solutions, instead I hope that by simply sharing my experience, it will illuminate some of the many possible questions about building and living in a tiny house. If it will inspire or offend, is entirely subjective.
Before I invite you into my kitchen, I would like to introduce myself. I hadn’t intended to write about myself, to bring an “I” into the story, but my lack of faith in heavy-handed truths, made me think that the subjectivity of the author better be revealed. Who I am—where I come from, where I live, who I love, how I spend my days—is not important in itself, only as indicator of the story’s origin. My eyes are my windows to the world, and the view gets distorted and formed as it pass through the retina and the filter of my personal past. If you know a bit more about me, it might help you decide what to take seriously and what to dismiss, what you relate to and what is not your cup of tea.
The fact that I am from Sweden, for example, might explain why I am such a solitary homebody. Instead of thinking “What a depressive loner,” (which isn’t entirely wrong), you can now nod in understanding: “She is just Swedish.” It might conjure up images of Greta Garbo and not a sociopath. Cultural relativity is something fifteen years abroad have taught me to respect. So let’s begin with that. I’ll be brief.
I left Sweden the day after I finished high school, and spent the following years roaming around Europe’s capitals, sunny islands, and grey suburbs, alternately attempting to study and work, but mostly raked up student loans and created an eclectic job resume. After what felt like a lifetime, but in reality wasn’t much more than a handful of years, I followed my then husband to Tucson, Arizona.
By the time I arrived in Georgia seven years ago, I didn’t think of myself as Swedish anymore. Sure, I still had that Muppet chef accent, and I was glad that our daughter grew up tri-lingual, and I mainly read her Swedish children’s books—their primary colored everyday simplicity was liberatingly free of pink princesses; I thought ribbons and bows belonged on Christmas presents, not baby girls; I occasionally ate pickled herring, gravlax and boiled dill potatoes, enjoyed Bergman movies, shopped at IKEA and H&M, and made saffron rolls for St. Lucia; I thought that walls should be white and floors should be wood, and that society should help its poor and weak, and I would never say that “I am excited” about anything, wear sneakers or other sport related clothes in public, or have writing on my T-shirt, and I talked as fondly of God as I did of Santa, and with the same amount of seriousness. All that was part of the cultural baggage I lugged around with certain amount of pride, but in a quaint, detached way, slung over my shoulder like a fashion scarf that you don’t really need, but like the color.
Flag-toting patriotism and sentimental nationalism are as embarrassing as team jerseys, and arbitrary border lines, drawn by geo-political agencies and dogmatic belief systems, are booby-traps to avoid. That said, no matter if I condone the borders or not, I can’t avoid being influenced by my place within them. I may not agree to being classified as Swedish, but I can’t deny that I come from Sweden. After twelve years in North America, I’m more aware of that than ever.
This is also a book about a cosmopolitan Swede living in rural Georgia, USA.
I’m a fan of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and France Mayes’ “Under the Tuscan Sun,” but unfortunately I can’t lure you with the beauty and charm of southern France or the history drenched Italian countryside, but I’ve got fireflies, ice tea, and y’all.
Small town Georgia definitely has its charm, and the friendly politeness is not all surface. I general, people here are kind, and value kindness, a quality ruthlessly underrated in much of the world’s metropolises. Drivers wave to joggers, joggers wave to drivers; the cashier at the supermarket tried to include me in the conversation with the man being served, so that I shouldn’t feel left out, something that would never have happened in Stockholm or Berlin, and the delightful women at the bank refuse to take my id, and handout lollipops to Ada, (who is now a lovely, but rather glum looking pre-teen with her gray hoodie pulled tight,) and dog biscuits to my half crazed hound, who knows the routine so well that she starts wagging her tail as soon as I pull up to the drive-through window.
So here I am. But I feel like I’ve forgotten something important. Like my right arm. My wife. I had a husband, now I have a wife. That is as much as I’m interested in divulging on the topic of the sex of my loves and partners. I am queer in the same way as I am Swedish: I am from Sweden and I fall in love with people, not genders, but you won’t see me waving any flags. Sexual preferences interest me as little as patriotism. Love, however, is something I can talk about all day. And I do.
I love my wife. I adore her. She is so toe scrounging cute with those giant brown eyes that go from wounded four years old to sparkling intellectual in a heartbeat, and rounded cheekbones that I have to bite my lip not to pinch too hard. She is like a chipmunk or squirrel, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but luckily not as bouncy or busy, despite all the sparkle, she is as soft and comforting as your favorite old sweater. She is my best friend, my family, my home. I love her like a dog, like Shakespeare, like particles of cosmos. She makes my life infinitely much better just by being in it, she makes everything better, like Sriracha Hot Sauce.
A writer friend of mine said that I am…here she carefully searched for the right, not too offending, word…cheesy. She added that I didn’t seem to mind, which is true, I rather embrace my cheesiness, which I hope makes it less painful to witness. My wife says that I’m corny, which is also true, but I prefer seriously absurd and absurdly serious.
This is also a book about love. And it might get cheesy.
One warning: I have read a few books, fiction and non-fiction, and I have intermittently studied philosophy, psychology, English, and art, but I have no university degree and I have a horrible memory, which might explain why I never remember who said what and when. Also, I don’t really care who said what and when, and that irreverent and disinterested relationship to academia is probably the more truthful explanation to why I never know if it was Nietzsche or Tolstoy or Buddha or my wife or Rilke or the taxi driver or Tom Robbins or a professor or Kundera or a dream or Cohen… If I have anything like wisdom, it was probably sung into my subconscious by Leonard Cohen.
What I get to is this: if you within the covers of this book find ideas or linking of words that you suspect someone else originated, you are probably right.
As far as I know, I got the idea of dragons from the dinosaurs via the cosmic energy field, or was it my daughter who first told me about the scaly, winged beasts? I am partly kidding, but to illustrate the futility in the search for the origin of ideas. We do not live in an insulated vacuum, no ideas are simply “ours.” We inhale the world through our senses from the day we are born, and before, while still in the womb. Even if you are not a believer in a shared consciousness where people can simultaneously get the notion to build pyramids at the opposite ends of the world—there is no denying how influenced we are by our situatedness within this time and place with its culture, media, and shared identities, and how we soak up knowledge through osmosis. To me, the author is never the Author, and I, as a separate I, don’t really matter. Ideas, on the other hand, are there to share.
I do not think Jesus would care if we did not remember to paraphrase him correctly when we speak of the values of kindness or mercy, or that Buddha wants to be cited when the topic of suffering and its alleviation is mentioned. I choose to believe that they cared more about the message than the messenger, and would tell me to repeat the following idea: Good ideas cannot be repeated often enough. Even on the back of milk cartoons.
I am not trying to claim ownership to any of the ideas expressed in this book, I have only collected, edited, and shared the ideas I’ve been given. If I fail to correctly give credit to whoever deserves it, blame it on my poor recall ability and lack of sincere effort to do so. I apologize if this offends your sense of justice. I am profoundly grateful for all word-linkers and idea-sharers out there. I thank you for your songs, lectures, books, poems, movies, conversations…you inspire and move me, and the beauty you call forth makes life not only tolerable, but a privilege.
This book is also my penny to the pot to try to make the world a better place. Of course, there was no getting out of it. It is with existential humbleness that I share my agnostic and paradoxical beliefs that stumble toward something like kindness, something like spaciousness. My daughter asked me the other day what my one wisdom or advice to the world would be, and flushed with excitement and gratitude I rambled for half an hour. That is a question that fires me up even more than if she had asked me to list my top 10 songs of all time (Cohen’s Halleluiah, Nick Cave’s Into My Arms, Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby…), and I apologized for my overzealousness. Ada smiled good-humoredly that 20 answers would do. In an attempt to narrow it down, without getting too bland, I came up with: “Life is an awkward yoga pose, you just have to move around until you feel a little less awkward.” Ada seemed pleased, but not very impressed, as she nodded to herself: “That sounds like words of wisdom, I guess.” Dissatisfied, I later texted my ex-husband’s new wife the one thing I wanted my daughter to know if I died in a car accident: “Happiness is closer to poetry than it is to laughter.”
That about sums it up.