According to the EPA in 2013, Americans generated about 508,000,000,000 lbs of trash. Of this staggering amount Americans recycled and composted only about 87 million tons (174 trillion lbs) of this material, or at a 34.3 percent recycling rate on average recycling and composting 1.51 lbs of the 4.40 lbs generated per person per day. The current throw away culture allows Americans to set things out at the curb and just discard things without further thought or consequence. It is often easier and cheaper to toss things aside and replace them instead of fixing and repairing them.
The idea of simply discarding the things in life that become bothersome directly effects how humans live amongst one another, looking at others as those who can easily be discarded or replaced on a whim, desensitizing ourselves to the hurt or mistreatment of those around us while disregarding the respect of others’ personhoods. This type of attitude is not sustainable towards our environment, destroys community, forbids us from living in harmony with one another, and it prevents an inner peace that comes from being a contributor to the betterment of society. It becomes burdensome on the limited natural resources that the planet has to offer. Instead of the consumerism and consumption that tax the soul, many of those within the Tiny House community are trying to take a stand for simplicity instead of consumerism.
What if a tiny house could not only facilitate a simpler lifestyle, but also be a direct protest against the common practice of discarding useful, viable materials, while trying to also inspire a sense of community?
The United States wastes large amounts of perfectly good building materials every year. What if it was possible to keep these out of the landfills, giving them an extended life in a tiny house? What if this could also honor the craftsmanship and artisanship of the past instead of some of the poorer-quality, mass-produced products designed to be replaced? And what if this could also connect people to one another at the same time?
There are ways to build a tiny house that encompass all of these benefits, with the added bonus of significantly reducing costs. Here are some examples:
1) Ask people. Ask them for help finding materials. Sometimes just letting others know about the plans to build a house using reclaimed, salvaged materials will lead to them offering a wide variety of materials for free, especially if they are doing remodeling projects. Not only are the people themselves great resources, but also those doing the work are sometimes better people to ask. Sometimes contractors have huge sets of matching windows and doors, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, cabinets, flooring, or just about anything else that is needed. Asking others, not only for materials, but for advice, or offering others a chance to share in the experience can be a great way to build community. This is one of the hardest for people to do. Society ingrains within its members that self-reliance and self-sufficiency are the proper goals to achieve, and asking others for help can be seen as weakness. It leads to vulnerability. It can be incredibly liberating and rewarding- not only for the person who needs the help, but also for those who help.
2) View things differently. A pile of trash is more than just something sitting by the curb. Sometimes these are treasures hidden in plain sight. Old hinges, knobs, furniture, trim, windows, etc… might all have a reuse or even a new purpose. These are all things that are destined for a landfill. Rescuing these useful items from a fate of rusting a rotting in the elements seems almost noble. This isn’t just seeing the beauty in the discarded things, but also seeing things differently. An old dresser, with a little modification might make a great, one-of-a-kind kitchen counter. The old bowl might make a great bathroom sink. The broken pieces of the plates might make the start of a beautiful mosaic. Start looking at a pile of pallets as a potential floor or wall covering. Finding treasures out of the discarded things of life doesn’t change the items. Instead, what actually changes is how those discarded things are viewed. .
3) Go to the hidden places. The places where we often not dare tread are also the places where the discarded things end up, often merely tossed aside into a pile not worthy of the dignity that these items deserve. Hand-crafted fixtures and handles are removed and thrown out for the sleeker, cleaner lines of a more modern look. Backs of buildings, alleys, old abandoned buildings, and old houses are all places that have the potential to find some of the beautiful treasures that others just left there (get permission first, and truly make sure things are abandoned). Some people know that these might have some potential value to someone else, and therefore they might advertise the items on Craigslist, attempt to sell them at yard sales, or even donate them to be resold at Habitat for Humanity RE-Stores, thrift shops, or consignment shops. These people have made it easier to find these things and at least still recognize the intrinsic value. Although some of these sources might cost a little more, too, but it’s still much less than if they were brand new.
There is something about being surrounded by older, repurposed items that inspires a connection to the lives of others. The beauty is in the history where every piece tells a story. The previous lives touched by those pieces imprint upon them a connectedness to others, even though neither may have actually met in life. At a time when society is increasingly disconnecting from itself, connecting with the previous owners of these materials directly confronts the throw away culture. The Tiny House community is a great way to connect with others. It comprises people of all walks, faiths, genders, races, and can be a great source of the connectedness that society lacks. People are coming into the Tiny House lifestyle by different routes, and the community can be a rich source of connecting some of those people on the fringes with one another. Tiny Houses don’t solve everything, but they can be a step in the right direction to preserve the beautiful things of the world that get thrown away or discarded.
~Brian Kennedy, The Giant’s Little RE-Fort
Brian Kennedy is a DIYer, creating his own tiny house on wheels out of as many REclaimed, REcyclced, REpurposed and salvaged materials as possible, including a floor made of artwork on pallets collected and gifted from all over the Tiny House community. He’s a tall man with a big heart. He’s a Veteran who grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, lived on the South Side of the city of Chicago and has lived in other countries. Brian is also a Tiny House Trailblazers Partner and will occasionally be featured as a guest writer; be sure to follow his build at www.facebook.com/giantslittlerefort.