Tiny Tricia

My journey to a tinier me.

Practicing Tiny: Pantry

My KonMari tidying process slowed a few months ago because, well, a boy. Don't worry, I'm not going to gush about that here—but suffice it to say I wasn't spending as much time left to my own devices in my apartment.

In fact, we spend most of our time at his place—and that means I've started cooking in someone else's kitchen. At first, it was real rough: I could never remember which spices he had at home or what cooking tools I had to use when I went to buy groceries for the week. 

Feminist side note: I like to cook. He doesn't know how to cook. I hit the jackpot with a man who will do all my dishes and take me out to dinner when I don't have the energy to make something. That's all I have to say about that.

Eventually, I learned how to make lots of my old standbys by adding just a few things to his kitchen arsenal—and it made me realize I probably have more than I need at home. I've already downsized a lot of my kitchen tools, but I found myself cooking just fine with one drawer full of supplies compared to the much larger stash of stuff at home.

I finally had some time totally on my own with nothing better to do than, well, finally get around to cleaning out my pantry. And y'all, it was depressing.

I knew I'd have a few expired things but I didn't expect to throw out more than I kept. But yeah, that's what happened. After filling a big ol' trashbag, I'd reclaimed a serious amount of tupperware.

Invest in good plastic storage. It will transform your cooking life.

Invest in good plastic storage. It will transform your cooking life.

I had items with expirations dates for every year going back all the way to 2010. Yikes.

In the process of purging my pantry, I did learn a few things:

  • Transferring to plastic containers makes storage easier—but freshness questionable. I really like buying in bulk or just moving things from bags and boxes to sturdier, stackable plastic containers. I labeled things—but failed to put any date information on the label as well. I did a lot of Googling and sniffing to guess if things were good, but I could've saved myself this work by labeling to start with.
  • Nuts don't last very long. Like a month. Sniff test them (bad ones apparently smell like paint), but I had some that I knew were at least 2-3 years old (most shelled nuts are good for about 6 months). Since nuts are so damn expensive, I'll be a lot more careful in the future.
  • Spices last up to 4 year and tea lasts under a year. In both cases, this was actually longer than I thought, but in both cases, the fresher the better. I've started buying Spicely brand since they sell small portions instead of big jars. In general, it's still better to use your spices within 2 years.

My pantry is a little non-normative in that I decided to use simple boxes to keep things looking neat on the outside and dark on the inside (generally helpful in preventing things from going bad quickly).

I started with 8 completely full boxes of foodstuffs plus an open shelf of canned goods—I ended up with 6 of these boxes loosely filled (I definitely could've condensed more but part of the beauty of this method is being able to pull out related items easily).

As depressing as it was to get rid of so much wasted food, it did remind me about things I forgot I had and could enjoy—like coconut to add to my pancakes or a can of pears for a refreshing snack. Here's to creative cooking before I buy a bunch of new stuff!

7 Things I Enjoy About Living in a Small Space

For a year and a half now, I've lived in a 350SF apartment. I've lived in small spaces in the past as well—here's why I actually prefer them to larger spaces!

  • Wireless headphones work. My bluetooth headphones work anywhere in my home while my phone stays in one spot to charge.
  • Cleaning is minimal. I basically vacuum a 5'x7' rug once a month and dust a few surfaces with a Swiffer wipe. Boom.
  • Galley kitchens rule. I love cooking and have found galley kitchens to be way more efficient than kitchens with a lot of square footage. Just turn around and keep working.
  • Decluttering is manageable. When all your stuff is... stuffed... into a small space, you have extra incentive to declutter ASAP. And you also feel the benefit of it right away!
  • Decorating is simple. I have one room to pull together. Since I don't particularly excel at interior decorating, I like that I don't have to figure out more furniture and window treatments.
  • Feeling alone (in a good way). This is ridiculous but big empty houses make me run replays of daytime murder investigation features. So I like being able to see that there aren't any strangers hiding in my hallway. Cuz I don't have one.
  • Finding stuff is easy. There are only so many places I can leave my phone in my small home. But if I somehow lose it, I will hear it anywhere, even on vibrate.

Ultimately a lot of what I like about living in a smaller space has to do with being relentless about only keeping things I really like. It's a way of living that requires more thoughtfulness, and owning less has honestly brought a lot more contentment into my life.

My Commitment to Financial Sanity

One of my major motivators to live tiny is money.

It started with the realization that buying a home in the Bay Area is likely out of my reach, at least on my own. Fixer-uppers can start at a million dollars, which means I'd need $200,000 just for the down payment. Yikes.

Recently, I've been spending more time understanding my financial life. I'm finally at a point where things are stable—I haven't moved or changed jobs in over a year, I haven't traveled too much, and no emergencies have happened. Here's what I've been committed to:

  • I use one credit card and I pay that balance every month. I have a backup card and they both have limits I hope to never ever reach. There have been months I haven't been able to pay the entire balance from my checking account (like when I went on a cruise with my Mom), which meant taking away from my savings—but in most cases, that was planned.
  • I have a budget and I actually abide by it. Most months I'm not under-budget—but I am close to being on-budget. Some months I overspend in certain areas, like when I replaced all my bras at once and destroyed my clothing budget. But I use Mint and the rollover feature for budgeting keeps me honest—I haven't spent money on any clothes as I wait for my budget to catch up with what I spent.
  • I plan for big purchases. I put away the money I needed for my laptop when my 2009 machine started limping, and I've saved up the chunk of change I'll need to visit my Mom for Christmas. That makes those purchases much easier to handle when they come around.
  • I save 20% of my take-home pay automatically. If I don't see the money, I can't miss it. I'm finally building a comfortable emergency fund this way, and it's really exciting and comforting to have.
  • I'm contributing 5% to my 401(k). I don't have company matching and the market is shit so this is just about starting to build the retirement savings habit.

It's a privilege to live this way. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a financially stable home (that part with my Dad losing his job excepted), and I was able to graduate from college without any student loans because I worked my ass off for scholarships. I'm now fortunate enough to have a job that pays me well enough to have a reasonable budget and save at the same time. I've worked hard to be where I am, but I also acknowledge the advantages I have.

It can be hard living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, where a big portion of my age demographic is paid ridiculous amounts of money. I see friends post breathtaking photos from vacations around the world, not knowing if it's something they had to save 5 years to afford or if this is maxing out all their credit cards.

It's none of my business, really, but that impulse to "keep up with the Joneses" is real—I don't care about owning a high-end sound system or wardrobe, but I can't deny that I'd like to have a 3-week European adventure, too. 

Comparison is, of course, the killer of joy. So instead, I'm finding satisfaction knowing that I can comfortably pay all my bills each month. I can take a nice vacation every once in a while and not worry about how it will affect my credit. I think about taking on good debt instead of worrying about bad debt. I'm starting to understand what kind of investing makes sense for me (tl;dr: 70% low-cost index funds, 30% bonds), and I'm excited that I'll have taken some baby steps in this area before I'm 30.

At the end of the day, my financial sanity is about balancing security and comfort with enjoyment. I refuse to sacrifice either entirely. My tiny life is about figuring out what gives me the most happiness and doubling down on those things rather than continuing to add, and I think it's working out well.


Practicing Tiny: Oven

My kitchen is arguably the most important room in my home, but it's also one of the most expensive (both in money and space) when it comes to a tiny house. I want to be able to do full-fledged cooking in a tiny space.

ZOMG teeny tiny donut miracles cooked by a tea-light!

In my current studio apartment, the oven is quite small by modern standards—the internal dimensions are about 20" deep x 16" wide x 14" high. Despite the size, I use my oven about every day, partly because I use it to heat up food a lot since I don't own a microwave. Besides heating, I also bake somewhat regularly and do plenty of roasting and whatnot.

But so far, the only problem I've encountered is my pizza stone won't fit inside (and I haven't seen the need to buy a smaller one). The objection I hear most often concerns a turkey, but let's get real: unless I have kiddos (not happening any time soon), I'm not going to be the one hosting my family's Thanksgiving gatherings. So we're good!

When my current baking sheet had just become uncleanable, I decided to replace it with a $9 quarter-sheet that's just 13" x 9.5". My theory is I'll use this for all my cooking needs—and if everything fits, I don't need actually oven space bigger than what would fit that tray.

If that's the case, I might decide to get a badass toaster oven like this one instead of a full-sized oven (saving myself hundreds of dollars in the process). Never thought I'd say that, but if it meets my needs, why not?

I've had the small baking sheet over a month now and so far so good! I'll report back with an update if anything changes, but this has been a great test so far. Maybe the next step is getting the toaster oven and locking up my normal oven for a while?

Practicing Tiny is my series of experiments with tiny living—it's my "try before you buy" way of testing out what my needs are before committing to a build. It's fun.

What My Family Thinks About My Tiny House Plans

Most people who have some level of “unconventionality” in their lives have to reconcile their reality with family opinions. It’s different from friendships since those people are in your life because they like who you are. With family, they’re in your life because you’re related—and how much you like one another is variable.

I have a good relationship with my parents, but one of our major areas of tension has been around my finances. To make a long story short, I have different values when it comes to spending money. Fortunately, I’ve been financially independent since I went to college, so I’m only accountable to myself in this regard and therefore have given them limited insight into my income and budgeting. It's just easier for everyone that way.

But since one of my primary motivators to build a tiny house is financial freedom, it’s inevitably going to come up when I talk about my life. Disclosing my plan was a challenge—but one I learned from.


How I Hoped They’d React

For my mother, I wanted her to be happy I was cleaning up my clutter, but I knew she’d find the whole thing kind of weird. 

I 100% knew she’d never live like this and that she enjoys larger spaces with relative sparseness at home. Our interior decorating styles have never aligned. 

I also knew she worries about my financial stability and would be worried about such a large upfront investment (she originally thought it would cost me $100,000+ to do this).

With my Dad, my best case scenario was he’d value my commitment to autonomy and find the challenges of small living interesting. 

My Dad’s an actual prepper, so I thought he’d be excited about things like going off grid and not having my financial cojones in the vice of a banking institution.

He’s always enjoyed “moving Tetris” and both he and his Dad have carpentry experience—my grandfather designed and built the family home! I hoped talking about construction and unique solutions would be a fun topic of conversation between us.

My brother has spent months at a time on a Navy ship so I didn’t expect him to think the idea was palatable. And while I’ve always been quirkier than him in my life choices, we share a deep value of financial independence and stability.


How They Actually Reacted

My Mom’s questions about tiny houses were pretty standard, and she truly hated the idea of a composting toilet. None of that shocked me, and I knew worst case scenario was she’d insist in staying in a hotel when she came to visit me. 

I set her straight on the budget and while I know she isn’t thrilled with the idea, she doesn’t shoot it down when we talk about it. She asks questions, and I really appreciate that.

My Dad was another story, and in retrospect I probably set myself up for a fight. I told him about wanting to build a tiny house a few months before I booked one for the two of us to stay in when he visited me on a business trip to Nashville.

He wasn’t shy about voicing his two major areas of opposition: quality of life and return on investment.

He currently lives in a 3BR, 1,600-foot home with a basement that doubles his overall living space. He truly considers this a struggle.

This a significant downsize from more recent homes: my 4-person family lived in a 5BR, 4,000SF home in Houston because he wanted a 3-car garage (I’m not proud). 

The house I've lived in the longest—in Houston, space is cheap. My room was the top right trio of windows.

The house I've lived in the longest—in Houston, space is cheap. My room was the top right trio of windows.

Empathy is not my Dad’s strength; he just cannot put himself in someone else’s shoes to understand their motivations and way of looking at the world. He kept saying, “I don’t understand why you would want to live like this,” and didn’t seem to register when I explained some of the things I’d learned about what’s important to me. 

For example, the house we were in had a half-galley style kitchen without an oven. As we were arguing he said: “But you love cooking and you’d have no kitchen!” I tried to explain that because I love cooking, I’d been examining what setups worked best for me. I learned I enjoy the efficiency of galley-style kitchens, and I know how much counter space is ideal for me. Knowing those things, I’m excited to design my own custom kitchen to fit my particular style.

I tried to explain to my Dad that it’s simply not possible for me to independently qualify for a home loan in the Bay Area, where fixer-uppers easily sell for at least half a million dollars. And since my industry (not to mention preferred lifestyle) is based in tax-heavy, insane-cost-of-living California, moving somewhere else to own a bigger, cheaper home also isn’t a realistic or even desirable option for me now.

Oh, and my brother? He's always been a minimalist but enjoys his space like my mom does. He just thinks I’m weird so I don’t think the whole idea phased him.


How I Feel About All That

My family rarely reacts to any accomplishment in my life with unabashed enthusiasm—it’s just not their way. They’re not particularly excitable people, and they are so deeply thorough that they immediately jump to the complicating details of any scenario (e.g., I get a promotion and they want to know if all the paperwork is final).

Knowing all that, it’s pretty obvious that I need to accept that my parents will probably never think tiny living is cool. In their boomer minds, I think it’s a step backwards since it’s not a material improvement from what they owned.

Fortunately, I’m surrounded by lots of people who do think this way of life is interesting and admirable. I know why I’m doing this, and I have people who can understand my motivations. And what’s more, I’m happy about it all and proud of myself—if that’s not what matters to me, what’s the point?