Interview with Colleen Valles, the author of the blog Slow Simple Life, about her moving into a tiny house. This is the original interview. Check out the version translated to Portuguese in Master of Simplicity Magazine #1!
1) Who is Colleen and how you define yourself?
I define myself in many ways, most importantly as a mother. I’m also a writer, fiancée, friend, daughter and sister, a Latina, an Aries and a California girl. I’m a very creative person, and I think that affects the way I see the world, which can be a little quirky to some. While I don’t necessarily identify myself as an environmentalist, protecting the environment for my children is important to me and is a reason behind much of what I do.
2) What motivated you to create “Slow Simple Life”?
I was struggling to do it all. I was a single mom, working a full-time job with a commute that ate up about two hours of my day. I found that I barely had time to get my daughter home, fix her dinner and get her to bed. We certainly weren’t spending much quality time together, and that really hurt me. I also had absolutely no time to write. As a creative, writing is my outlet, and without it, there’s a hole in my life. I realized I needed to make some changes because as each day passed, I grew more and more frustrated.
I did a lot of research to figure out what I needed to do, where to start and how to craft the life I wanted. I started Slow Simple Life to share my journey with others, to inspire them to make the changes in their own lives and to keep myself accountable: The more I talk about slowing down and simplifying, the more ingrained it becomes in everything I do.
3) What made you choose to live in a tiny house?
There are a number of reasons I decided to move into a tiny house. The first is economic — I live in one of the most expensive places in the United States, and the cost of living keeps rising, while salaries do not rise at the same pace. I will never be able to afford a standard home here, and given my situation with my family and my daughter’s father here, I can’t really leave for a less-expensive place. So living tiny is a great option to cut the cost of rent and to limit other spending — there’s no room, so there won’t be any shopping trips!
Another reason is more whimsical. I’ve loved the idea of being able to take my house with me since I was a child, and I have always loved small, cute homes with character. Some of my inspirations have been the Roma people in Europe, the American pioneers, and the nomads of North Africa. These people move with only what they can take with them in one trip. That’s far less than what will fit in a 3,000-square-foot house!
Other reasons include a desire to spend more time with my children, fiancé and friends and family. If I’m working all the time to pay rent, I have less time to give to my relationships. I also should have more time to write and ultimately support myself and my family through being a self-employed writer.
Another motivation is environmental. Living tiny means using fewer resources: buying fewer things, using less water and electricity and energy. The place where my tiny house will be located is more central, so I’ll also be driving less.
4) How is your experience moving to a tiny house with a baby, an 11-year-old, a dog and a cat? Do you miss space or dimension?
We haven’t moved into the tiny house yet; it still needs to be delivered, and I’m hoping it arrives in January. So I’m not missing the space yet, but I don’t have the best idea of exactly how much space it will be, so I think there will definitely be an adjustment period.
5) Do you have family or friends that disagree with your minimalist options?
My fiancé is definitely not a minimalist, and I think he’s a little unsure about the idea of me living in a tiny house. He understands why I’m doing it, and understands that when we are finally able to live together, we’ll be living somewhere larger, though maybe not as large as the place he lives now.
I think the important thing is to communicate with those who have their doubts. I learned that when I realized that my fiancé wasn’t sure if I meant for him to live in the tiny house with us. I explained that I had designed some elements in the tiny house with him in mind, but that I was looking at this as a way to make ends meet and as something that will work for me and my situation for a few years until we can live together. Of course, we both may end up loving it so much that it becomes our permanent situation, but that might take a huge shift in thinking on his part!
My family tends toward minimalism, so I didn’t need to convince them too much, though they did have questions about how I would make it work with a baby and daughter. I answered those questions and that helped put their concerns to rest. My friends think it’s quirky, but since they already think I’m quirky, they find it fitting. I think most people are just curious about what it’s like. It’s so acceptable now to live in a giant space and so strange to people to live in a very small space. This is a relatively new way to look at things; for most of human history, it has been the opposite. I believe that in time we will go back to looking at things that way because it’s unsustainable to continue providing so much space to so few people. So eventually, I won’t seem so strange to people.
6) What advice would you give to someone that wants to move to a tiny house?
Think it through! It’s important to do your research and if possible to visit a couple of tiny homes to really get a feel for what they’re like. If possible, talk to someone who lives in one and get their honest assessment of what it’s like and ask them what they would do differently.
I would also recommend doing a lot of downsizing and decluttering before you decide to do it. It’s a good way to determine if you really like living with less, or if you just like the idea of it. It’s not wrong either way, but deciding to go tiny is an extremely personal decision. It helps to know yourself well, and to get a good, realistic idea of what living tiny would be like. There are a lot of ways to do this, including living in only a room or two of your current house, or packing everything away and taking out only what you need.
7) I love your quote “Having kids doesn’t mean you have to have clutter.” How do you combine minimalism and a new baby?
Minimalism can be difficult with a new baby not just because a baby requires some specialized equipment like diapers and bottles, but also because people really want to give you lots of things. It’s thoughtful and comes from a place of love, but sometimes it can be overwhelming.
I found that baby registries, those lists of gifts you need and want, are extremely helpful. People want to get you things, but they want to get you something you’ll use, not something you’ll just put in a corner and maybe never even take out of the box. So using a registry can help you control what’s coming into your house and help those giving you gifts to make sure they get you something you’ll love and use.
It’s also helpful to let people know that you’re minimizing. I found that really has kept the baby gifts down. Most people really do want to respect your choices, so once again, communication helps the situation.
What are your goals for 2017?
In 2017, I intend to be living in our tiny house and working with the city to make tiny homes on wheels an acceptable, legal housing option for those who are interested in this way of life.
I also intend to transition out of working full-time for someone else and into working for myself and supporting my family through my writing. I seek to grow the reach of my blog so I can hopefully inspire others to slow down, simplify and enjoy life.
A means to live a better life with better relationships. It’s a way to focus on what’s most important to you and to make time for the things you love, whether that’s family, work, creative endeavors, exercise or anything else. Basically, it’s a way to enjoy life and be happy.
My inspiration(s) is/are…
As I mentioned above, I take inspiration from the world’s nomads. Closer to home, I take inspiration from my older brother. He’s the one who tells me each time I move from one house to another “Dude, you have too much stuff.” He has been a minimalist almost all his life, and having his voice in my ear keeps me on track.
I also find inspiration in my children. I am inspired by them to see the world the way they do, and to make the changes I need to make in order to create the best life for us that I can. I also wish to leave them a healthy world, and must do my part in that.
I would love to…
See people living legally and inexpensively in tiny homes on wheels in backyards across the suburbs. I would love to see a society where living with just two people in a 2,500-square-foot home is considered strange, while living small is considered the norm. I would love to see a world where people aren’t expected to do everything all the time, and where time with your family and friends, and time spent having fun gets more praise than time spent working and being busy.
Living in a tiny house makes me feel…
I don’t know just yet how tiny house living will make me feel, but I’m hoping it helps me feel creative and content.
Find Colleen Valles:
Full Portuguese interview here.