Redefining Change

Dear Tiny Home Seekers and the Tiny-Curious,

Last time we talked about the definition of success and what it looks like to you. This week I’m going to talk about ways that I’ve personally started to make changes in my own life to get to where I want to be.

So, what are the roadblocks keeping you from living the life of success that you’ve re-defined for yourself? Sometimes we hold ourselves back by listening to an old script that has run through our lives forever. “I’m never going to be able to afford my own home.” “I will never be able to exercise enough…” “I will never be able to go back to school…” “I will never…” fill in the blank. 

We all have things we think we can’t do even though we really want to do them. Life gets in the way or we make grandiose goals that seem impossible and way too overwhelming to actually accomplish and we leave with the gnawing sensation of that one thing we wish we could do. Let’s change that, shall we?

A little while ago I listened to a podcast, Hank Presents with Hank Fortener. You’ll find more info on the podcast here. http://hankfortener.com/

In the December 31st episode, Hank talked to expert psychologist, Dr. Robert Maurer, you can find out more about him here http://www.scienceofexcellence.com/index.php, about breaking things down to the smallest accomplishable tasks in the form of a practice called, Kaizen. i.e. I want to exercise more, but I can’t seem to find the time. I really want to learn to play the ukulele, save more money, buy a tiny house and go on the road, or whatever it is that you hold in the back of your mind as a dream. It’s the dream that has always been there, but you’ve never felt you could take a step towards.

Listen, it’s not a matter of some glorious break through where suddenly you have all the time and money available to you to do that fabulous thing. I know, I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for enough time, enough resources etc. and I finally had to face facts. Life is never getting any less busy. I have a 20 month old, it’s never going to get easier to make time for what I want to do. So, instead of huge sweeping all at once changes, shifts can be done in very small, un-glamorous steps. If you want to get more exercise, break it down to very tiny, incremental, accomplishable daily goals. What small exercise do I know I can accomplish every day? I can walk five minutes every day. If five minutes overwhelms you, then walk for three, if three overwhelms you walk for one minute. The task simply cannot stress you out or overwhelm you in any way. The instant the task feels like it’s too much, back it down. Once you get comfortable with three minutes add an increment of time that doesn’t stress you out, thirty seconds or a minute. Then, in continued slow incremental steps you work your way up to where you want to be.

Recently, I wanted more time to work on my writing goals. I had a baby twenty months ago and have been unable to get the time I need to write ever since. Several weeks ago, after a talk with a dear friend, I decided to take baby-steps J towards getting more writing time. My plan was to get up earlier in the morning. Typically, I was getting up at 6:45 or 7:00. I’d been thinking about this for months. “If I could just get up at 6:00 instead of 7:00 I’d have an hour…” The thought of an entire hour less of desperately needed sleep was so daunting to me that I could never do it. I’d think about it, set my alarm and when it would go off in the morning I’d turn it off and go right back to sleep. With this new method, all I had to do the first day was pick an earlier time that worked for me and sit up in bed, anything I did after that was bonus. I could lie back down if I wanted or choose to get up, and get some tea. Just knowing I had the choice to lie back down, made it somehow easier to go ahead and get up and get my morning tea. The first day I got up at 6:30 got my tea and sat in my office for a few minutes before getting the kiddo up for the day. Every day after that, I backed the time up by just a minute or two. Now, I am getting up at 6:05 during the week, getting my tea, and getting into my office to do some writing. So far, so good and I never felt overwhelmed by any of the steps and I get nearly an hour each morning to work on my writing. I look forward to that time like a lifeline now, and all it took was the willingness to take one small step a day.

*Here is an addendum to the previous paragraph. I wrote this originally a few weeks ago (like 2 months ago, if I’m honest) and have since fallen out of the practice. I was, again, sick. I blame my kiddo, whom I affectionately call my little petri dish. He brings home all the germs gets a relatively mild version of them and passes the virus on to me, and I have the tendency to get knocked on my tush. So, after being sick for like twelve days or so I fell out of the 6:00 am practice. I think it’s important to note this. It happens. Life happens! For the past week, I’ve been working my way back up to a wake-up time of 6:00am by following the same steps I originally used. If you fall off the horse, get back on. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Beating yourself up tends to cause a cycle of self-hatred and constant failure. In the words of Jerome Kern who wrote the song “Pick Yourself Up” in 1936 and was sung by the inimitable Nat King Cole and quoted by numerous others“take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!”

What is the thing you want to accomplish? What is that dream or goal that you’ve been holding close to you?

Since this is a blog about the tiny home life, let’s say it’s paring down your possessions in order to be ready for a tiny home. It can be incredibly daunting to think about an entire household full of life’s accumulations. Especially when those accumulations hold memories. Memories of loved ones no longer with us, memories so sweet and so far in the past that the object you hold on to can instantly bring back a powerful flood of emotions. 

When I was a little girl, I was horribly messy. I would get out a toy, play with it and move on to the next toy, never putting anything away until, at the end of the day, my entire room was a telltale treasure map of my day, the play I put on with my stuffed animals, the pictures I painted, the music I listened to, the clothes I changed, the books I read.

On Saturdays my mom would come in to my room with me and say, “Okay let’s clean up!” I would stand in the doorway, sort of transfixed by the whole mess, the entire tile floor littered with the debris from hurricane Jessica, and I would feel a sort of panic set in. I didn’t even know what to do first.  My mom would take me to one corner of the room and we would sit down. She would pick up one thing, usually a book, and hand it to me. She would tell me to close my eyes and not look at any of the rest of the mess. Then she would tell me to open my eyes and find the right spot for that one thing. We would continue on, one thing at a time until the room was clean. My mother was instilling the instincts of the Kaizen method into me without even knowing it. I would love to say that her lessons made me into a very neat and organized person, but I still have to work at it. Very often when I’m faced with an insurmountable task I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and think about that one thing I can start with. I can almost hear my mother’s voice whispering to me, “okay Jess-Jess, what do you do with this one thing?”

It works in a lot of areas of my life. My desk at work is covered and every shelf full of books waiting for my cataloging attention (go team Dewey!) and I will take a deep breath close my eyes and conjure the sound of my mother’s voice. Can’t drown out the noise of competing anxieties? Which one is the loudest? “I close my eyes and hear my mother… ‘just one thing, start with just one thing.’ ”

Paring down to go tiny? Start with one room. I don’t care which room. I’m sure there is some research somewhere that would tell us the optimal room to start with, but I don’t really care about all that. I think you should start wherever you feel the most comfortable. Personally? I wouldn’t start with the emotional objects first. Start with things you think you could easily make decisions about and get your brain in the habit of making those decisions one item at a time. The Kaizen method of making life changes would suggest starting with the smallest imaginable task. It might look like getting rid of one item a day, for a week, then two items a day for a week and so on and so forth until you make it to the end of the first room then start on the next. By the way, you don’t have to go tiny to use these methods. Feel free to try them out if you just want to have a cleaner house.

There is a wealth of information out there on paring down and minimalism. In one of my first few blog entries I included some of those resources. So check those out.

For me, it helps to write down my steps. Sometimes in that process I recognize even smaller steps that will stress me out less. The point in using the Kaizen method is to keep fear from kicking in and thereby shutting down the entire operation. It gets rid of roadblocks that we constantly put in our own way. Like, when I was little and overwhelmed with my impossibly messy room, my instinct was to run away from the daunting task ahead, or ignore it. We do these things as adults too. I know I do! Using Kaizen circumnavigates our fear center in the brain and helps us accomplish what we see as impossible. So, listen to the podcast, read the book, or just dive in.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing and what changes you are making or would like to make! Leave your thoughts in the comments below and I will do my best to respond!

Until next time, take steps, friends, tiny steps!

Love from,

Jessica and the Switchgrass crew

 

 

Redefining Success

Dear Tiny Home Seekers and the Tiny-Curious,

I have to apologize, before we get started with my current blog post. I had the flu last week and barely got out of bed. It was a rough one and I didn’t get this post ready in time to release it. Life happens, right? Anyway, here it is at last, I hope you enjoy it J:

Redefining Success:

“Going Tiny” is very often about the desire to live the life you want to live, free from the financial restraints of owning a traditional home. It can also be about the freedom to pick up and go and explore the world. Either way, “Going Tiny” can be about a different kind of life success.

Let’s start with the word “Success.” What does it mean to you? Think about it for a minute. What images, phrases, thoughts or ideas come to mind?

Now, were you thinking all the trappings of financial success? Ferrari, a mansion, a second home in some exotic locale?

If I’m honest, I used to think that success was all about the money. I saw other people as successful, but I was just a work-a-day laborer with enough coming in for daily life but no exotic vacations and certainly no fancy car. The truth is; I don’t want a Ferrari. I think that dream came from too many episodes of Magnum P.I. while I was growing up. I can’t imagine a scenario in my life where a Ferrari would be a nice addition, gorgeous cars, SO not my speed. As for exotic vacations…Okay, sure it would be nice to go to say, Aruba or something, but I realize more than an exotic locale, I would be just as happy on a North Carolina beach building a sandcastle with my son and husband. They are what matter most in this world to me, my son and my husband, followed closely by the rest of my family and friends. As long as I’m with my family and we’re, healthy and happy, then I’ve succeeded.  

Stop and think about your life again, what are the things you truly value and what do you most hope for?   

Here is my official answer:

Success is living life at my own pace, on my own terms. Success means having my family with me, a home to live in, food to eat and meaningful, enjoyable work to do each day. Success means having time to spend with my family, time to spend on my creative endeavors and time to spend with friends. Success is finding contentment right where I’m at and not in the empty pursuit of more things.

Listen, I know it sounds a bit self-righteous if you are the Ferrari-driving kind of person. I don’t intend it to be. You can have a Ferrari (or whatever expensive thing floats your boat) and search for a deeper success in life too. That is the beauty of it all. We get to define what success looks like for ourselves, no one else.

When we redefine success for ourselves we begin to see what’s truly important. The “Tiny Living” movement is the embodiment of redefining success: paring down to the essentials, lifting the financial burden of a mortgage, loosening the moorings of staying in one place and making it possible to choose the life you truly want.

Spend some time thinking about what is most important to you and try to write your own definition of success.

What did your picture look like? Now compare it with the reality of your life. Do they match? Yay you! Come close? Awesome! Further apart than you realized? No worries.

No matter where you are in your life-journey or how your picture matches or doesn’t match your reality, it’s OKAY. The place to start is simply to “know” what success looks like to you. Once you’ve defined it for yourself, you can start to move towards making that picture a reality.

In my next post I’ll talk about simple, practical ways to make big changes.

Until next time, may you find your own success!

love from,

Jessica and the Switchgrass crew

Redefining Memory Keeping

In this post, I'm continuing to explore our theme of "Redefining Minimalism." When I think about minimizing, it can sometimes feel like loss. I connect memories and emotions to my beloved possessions. Especially when the person I associate with them is gone. I know, they are just possessions, right? Still, minimizing can feel like a loss of its own.

I’m not sure of the psychology of it all, but I know that when I think about getting rid of treasured items, it aches in a way that reminds me of the person I lost, so much, that it's a bit like experiencing that loss again.

So I have this piano. I don’t really play the piano. Not much. I can play at the proficiency level that was my 4th grade self who refused to practice consistently and was finally granted the permission to quit. In essence that means I can play Heart and Soul, Merrily We Roll along, an Elvis song I can’t quite remember the name of, and little else.

The piano takes up a little too much space, and my 18 month old son is constantly trying to climb it and open the cover. I’m sure he’ll smash his fingers one day, but I keep it because this piano is the one my sister and I both practiced on in our youth, the one my mother used to play, the one I dusted every week while doing my chores. It’s the piano that used to sit in my Great Aunt’s home until she gave it to us. It’s the piano that my father gave to me after my mother passed away and it’s the piano that my sister-in-law and brother-in-law carefully moved for me from my childhood home to my current home, for free, because they own a moving company, and their kindness was overwhelming. It’s the piano that my son’s tiny baby fingers played when he was just 6 months old and his eyes lit up with delight. When I think of letting go of this piano…it’s like I am talking about tearing those memories up and scattering them to the wind. Especially the memory of my mother, her fingers curved over the keys, her face concentrating on the music, losing herself in the sound and rhythm.

How do you minimalize a thing like that? We all have objects like this. Objects that hold profound memories. Each memory is a story and story is our lifeblood as humans. Honestly? I’m not sure. I’ve had ideas. An artistic photo, framed and cherished is probably the best one so far. I can’t imagine dismantling the piano to make something else out of it. It’s a decent instrument that deserves to be played. I think about keeping it for my son to play and the history that would continue to build.

For now, we don’t have to get rid of it. For now, we have the space even if it’s a bit cramped. I don’t have to make this heartrending decision, yet. However, for many deciding to go tiny, you are wondering “what do I do?” “How do I let go of all of this history?” These are not easy questions. Part of the issue is that we believe the object itself is the memory, and if we let it go, the memory goes with it.

There is something uniquely human in this experience. When we are little we develop the idea of object permanence by throwing something on the floor and it returns to the table or highchair just like that. Oh! It’s still there! (it also becomes a fun game) so this object permanence follows us throughout our lives. People come and go, emotions come and go, life changes and moves like the flowing of a river you can never set foot in twice, but objects, we see them as permanent, even if they are not. We rub a worry stone, we collect turtles in every place we visit, we get tattoos to mark events and milestones, we create things, build homes, carve relationships in trees, press leaves in books...We keep things, but we don't just keep things, we keep memories. We crave permanence, and solidity in our ever-changing world. It’s comforting knowing some things don’t change. So here we are, in adulthood, looking at that piano and all it encompasses and represents. When my mother’s impermanence became apparent, the piano she loved, sat in her stead.

Sometimes, embracing the idea that everything is impermanent can help us move into a new state of thinking and feeling. Realizing that even the objects of permanence that we've cherished will break down, will falter, will fade, will crumble, makes me cling to the things that we know are the result of sharing life with someone. As long as I'm alive I will have my mother's smile, her hands, her love for eating small spoonfuls of brown sugar when baking cookies, and every little thing that she taught me along the way. How to tie my shoes, brush my hair, have grace in the difficult times, how to love the beauty of a sunset with childlike wonder and most importantly how to be a mother. She left behind more than a piano for me to remember her by. She left behind me and my sister and my father. Each of our lives deeply and profoundly impacted by her life, as well as countless other souls on this earth that her life touched. She may have never met my beautiful son, but he will know her through me, and that is something more permanent and more beautiful than a piano. That is what I will hold on to when I have to make a choice about my mother's piano.

What are your objects of permanence? What are some ways that you can make peace with letting go of them? It’s not easy to let go and that's okay. It means the memories are worth holding onto. Also when you are holding tightly to something, your hand is closed and cannot receive the other good things that are out there. Memories are beautiful. They are the reminders of the life we’ve lived and the people we've lived that life with.

If your fear is that you may forget the memory when you let go of the object, maybe you can tell the story, record it in paint or paper or ink. Keep your memories in a way that honors them, in a way that honors your life experiences and the people that were a part of them, and once you've recorded the story, see if the object is something you can let go of.

The story is yours to tell, not just the one from the past but the one that takes you into the future.

Until next time,

Jessica and the Switchgrass family

Redefining Minimalism

Hello Tiny lifestyle enthusiasts, or the tiny-curious.

Today I feel like talking about what can sometimes be the elephant in the room. In any event, it is quite the buzz-word these days so let’s talk about it.

Minimalism.

What comes to your mind when you think of Minimalism

For me, I think of sparse, scarcity or lack, not enough, doing without…none of these words or phrases are very comforting. Maybe you think of minimalism as depriving yourself of things, but I assure you that’s a very different philosophy. (Asceticism, if you’re wondering)

The official Merriam and Webster definition (from m-w.com):

Minimalism is a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

If you think you have to give up everything and live the life of a hermit with one set of clothing in order to go tiny, you’ve been focusing on the wrong side of minimalism. I’m sure as you read the definition you saw immediately what I saw. “Extreme” and “Spareness.”

Minimalism doesn’t have to be extreme. In fact it can be more about paring down to the essentials of life, not universal essentials, but YOUR essentials.

Listen, for me it is essential that I have a Kitchenaid mixer and a food pro. If you’re not a baker, then you might care less about those items and more about that vintage typewriter you own (Okay I care about that too!) The point is this; you get to define minimalism for yourself when you go tiny. You get to define what is essential to you and what is not. If you need to have an espresso maker, cool, you can have an espresso maker. If you need to have a guitar collection, cool, but it will have to be the guitars that are essential and not the extraneous “I never play that one…” variety.

There is no one way to go tiny. It is as individual and unique an experience as each person is individual and unique.

My vision of minimalism looks more like a different –ism.

Essentialism: Having only what is essential to your lifestyle and standard of living and nothing more, also, nothing less. (my words)

My husband and I have been paring down our lives to essentials for a while now. It is incredibly freeing to let go of things you don’t need, never use, and therefore just clutter up your space and your mind. Getting rid of the extraneous can lead to a clearer head and easier breathing.

Living “essentially” opens doors for you to be more mindful of who you are, how you live and what is important to you. It helps you to think about yourself in new and different ways; it allows you to be creative and intentional with your life.

Maybe going tiny will free you and your finances up to live a bigger life than you thought possible.

You can find a ton of resources to help you on your journey towards “essentializing” your life.

Here are a few that I found useful:

Books:

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The More of Less by Joshua Becker

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Websites:

 http://theeverygirl.com/how-to-create-a-capsule-wardrobe

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/becoming-minimalist-start-here/

'd love to hear your comments as to how you're defining essentialism for yourself.  Until next time, live life large...go tiny!

Jessica

 

 

Who is Switchgrass Tiny Homes, and Why?

Dear Tiny Home Seekers,

Welcome to Switchgrass Tiny Homes first blog post. I'm Jessica, Co-Founder and Creative Director of the company, which is also run by Co-Founder/Chief Designer/Builder, my husband Byron. We have a 17 month old son, Jackson, who we refer to as the CEO of fun, and a 4 year old dog, a cirneco de'll etna named Rosina, who is the COO of squirrel chasing who feels that begging for food is never beneath her. Together we are the Denhart family and Switchgrass Tiny Homes.

A bit about us:

I come from a background in education, and have my masters in creative writing. I’m an artist who works in several different mediums. I work for the University of Illinois Library full-time and help design tiny homes with Byron, the Chief Designer, in my off hours when I'm not consulting with the CEO of fun or the COO of squirrel chasing. Byron comes from a background in Industrial Design and Construction Project management. He has an eye for detail and a modern design aesthetic. He truly enjoys building things, anything really, and has big hobbies like sailing and hot air ballooning. The latter hobby has given him the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world.  Together we have friends and family scattered across the globe.  We lead a busy life!

A Brief History of the Company:

2016 was a crazy year for me and my family. The year began with our gorgeous six month old boy having surgery. Definitely not a fun time, but we made it through. Then my husband was let go from his job. We were so grateful for friends and family during this tough time as we struggled to make ends meet. Over the months I worked hard at my full time job and my husband made job searching his full time job. Wow, was the job market thin. It's honestly the same old story, he was often over-qualified for the jobs that were out there and didn't get them or he would just miss being the first pick for a position. Over and over again, we hoped and were disappointed. We watched both our savings and severance dwindle, and prayed and hoped.

One day my dear husband, holding a napping baby, said, "Honey, I have an idea, but just hear me out before you freak out."

"Okay," I said, giving him the side-eye.

"What if we built tiny homes?"

My side-eye became a full on stare before it slid into a full on "NO." "No, no, no..."

You see, my husband is an entrepreneur at heart. I am not. I don't like risky ventures or scary tests of fortitude. You won’t see me on any show that looks like or resembles Survivor, and to me that’s about as scary as starting a new business. I like the security of knowing how much we have coming in every month and that we have all we need to pay our bills. In that moment, when he asked me about starting a new business, all I saw was flying by the seat of my pants and hoping there was some sort of net below that was going to catch us and I absolutely would have none of it.

Many job searches later, my husband and I were taking a walk with our son. It was a bit chilly that morning if I recall, with early fall breezes and some anemic sun. After a lot of "no, no I don't think so..." he asked me about tiny houses again and this time, I asked him to tell me his plan. I know my husband and he always has a plan, and so he did. We talked about it, and his enthusiasm caught me up and took me along. Somewhere in the middle of our walk with the sun shining just a bit brighter I said, "Okay, run the numbers. If they work, then okay." And the seed of our business was born. Some days later we had a name, a budget, and my husband was drawing up building plans. We set a goal to be ready to show our tiny house at a Tiny House Roadshow, in a little over a month, and got to work. One month later we were on our way to Indianapolis for our first show. 

About Switchgrass Tiny Homes:

Neither my husband nor I lack enthusiasm for the tiny house movement. There is beauty and a refreshing simplicity to the home and the lifestyle which allows for only what you need and is essential to you, and leaves behind the burden of mindless accumulation. Our hope with Switchgrass, is to further embrace the simplicity of less is more and reduce the clutter in our lives and become more family oriented. We are motivated by love of friends and family to create the very best tiny home for each client.

Our Philosophy:

At Switchgrass we design custom tiny homes, with the client’s needs at the forefront. Tell us what you need and we will design it for you, from the inside out, working with you closely to get it exactly right. We believe in clean, simple design, maximizing headroom and natural light whenever possible.  Good design leads to functionality and allows the materials we use to speak for themselves in the overall aesthetic. We love working with reclaimed, recycled and natural materials when possible and we’re always looking for ways to be more eco-minded with each build. We care about the environment and our footprint on it and try to bring a balanced approach to our builds, because not everyone wants a composting toilet.  At Switchgrass Tiny Homes we want to make your tiny home build a unique and fun experience, with a smooth transition to your new life in the tiny home community, and we will always remain a resource for you well after the build. Going tiny isn't just another move, it's a movement that will change your life and we are here to walk you through it.