CALLING ALL ARTISTS: Free exhibition time and space at Boneyard Studios

Boneyard Studios isn’t just about tiny houses; it’s about bringing together community, a space for builders and artists to create and construct. We do a bit of that through our popular concert series—featuring local musicians playing sets in, on, or outside of the tiny housesand a bit more with our budding film series (oh, and we also have a big surprise coming this fall). But between these events, we’d like to give youthe artists among or within youanother way to have your work seen and heard.

Roughly once a month, we host a free open house to show folks the tiny house community, and between 10AM and 1PM on those monthly Sundays, over two hundred enthusiasts from DC and beyond descend on the little lot with excitement and curiosity: a (semi-)captive audience. That’s where you come in.

Musician looking to share your songs? Come on by with a tip jar and do your thing while hundreds wander about the lot. Painter? Pull up an easel and get to work, and see if you can’t find someone amongst the visitors who likes your style and wants a commissioned canvas. Sculptor with some outdoor pieces? We’d be more than happy to display your art at the Boneyard during the tour, or leave it around for those who pass by outside of open house hours for however long you’d like. Local coffee, beer, kombucha brewer? People love free samples, and our guests are all yours.

We’re not asking anything in return for a little corner of the lot; just a heads up as early as possible beforehand so we know whom and what to expect. We just, y’know, want to support good art, local ventures, and you.

Click here for upcoming tour dates, and here to let us know if you’d like us to feature you or your work during the next open house.

Fine print: Boneyard Studios is residentially zoned, so we can’t have any open selling of goods or services on the lot. But donations are just fine, as is exchanging contact information with visitors for business later on.

A beginner’s guide to downsizing, part 3: Oh, the utility

“Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things … Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods 

We’ve already discussed two kinds of junk—just-in-case junk and component junk—that we keep around because we think we’ll use it in the future. But what about junk you simply know you’ll never use, yet keep around anyway?

#3: Sunk-cost junk (stuff that hasn’t yet earned its value, and never will)

That sweater you bought that ended up looking better on the mannequin than it does on you. The Vitamix you splurged on when you were committing to a life of kale smoothies for breakfast, before you realized you don’t like kale—liquefied or not—and never leave yourself enough time for breakfast anyway. Or those heels that go so exceptionally well with your favorite summer dress, spare the minor detail that you physically cannot walk in them. Sunk-cost junk is a microeconomic quagmire we all find ourselves in at one point or another: we paid money (often a lot) for something we deemed worth it, before later realizing the purchase wasn’t worth it, and because we spent so much money to begin with, we refuse to give up the good and swallow the sunk cost.

I won’t talk about this variety of junk as much as the others because it’s less pervasive and often more obvious, both in its physical form and in its solution. It’s not difficult to find your sunk-cost goods: just check the closet for anything with a tag still on it, explore the drawers for any items still in their original packaging after way too long. Sunk-cost junk and just-in-case junk may manifest themselves in the very same form depending on the intentions of the owner. Whereas one person may view their untouched skis as just-in-case junk they haven’t yet put to use but hope they someday will, another may be stashing their own set of skis because they spent so very much on them and would hate for that money to go to waste—that they have sworn off snow and never want to hit the slopes again is besides the point.

As for the solution? Sunk-cost junk is just like sunk-cost anything: holding onto it, more often that not, will only increase the cost, whether in the form of fiscally-taxing storage space or mentally-taxing clutter. So swallow the cost once and for all and be done with it.

#4: Filler junk (stuff that is, frankly, entirely useless)

We acquire sunk-cost junk because we misjudge our intentions: we think we’ll use something we’ve decided to buy, and then things change. Yet sometimes, we buy things already knowing that we’ll never use them … because they’re inherently useless.

A ceramic bowl of wicker spheres. Anything non-edible in a bowl, really. A tabletop statue of Buddha purchased at a local Target, or a stack of old Washingtonians, or a little bubbling fountain of superglued pebbles. Filler junk often goes by another name—decor—which makes it sound cultured and necessary and regal, though it’s often anything but.

Because we generally live in dwellings larger than those we need, we inherently have surplus surface area: bare plateaus of oak and pine, an archipelago of coffee tables and endtables and accent tables and mantles, vacant corners and even vacant rooms, all which need “filling,” lest we look like squatters or fugitives.

And so we buy, not for function, but for fill. We need something to go on that table over there—doesn’t really matter what it is. Volume over value. We buy books we’ll never read (“coffee table books”), candles we’ll never light (“show candles”), and wicker balls we’ll never use for anything because, well, they’re wicker balls.

To be fair, decor does serve a function—decoration—these accessories, we think, make our homes look warm and inviting and full of cultured character. Here lies a copy of the latest New Yorker, look how learned I am! Oh, this chessboard with its pieces arranged in a mid-game configuration? Yes, our family is a chess family and we must have just left it just that way, midgame and all. Ah, these wicker balls: yes, I wickered them myself, because I like to work with my hands.

Decor that tells tales of who you really are is good: souvenirs from your travels, your adventures, your life. We keep these by the bedside not because they fill up space but because they fill up us. Decor doesn’t give our homes character, we give our homes character, and our homes are but a reflection of us, character and all. As such, purchased decor, mass-produced decor, is often—not always, but often—not a reflection of who we are, but a deception of what we hope to present to the world, to our house guests, to ourselves.

There’s a beauty in the bare surface, the unshelved wall, the clean hard lines of simplicity. Were your house burning to the ground, this filler junk is likely the last thing you’d think to save from the inferno, valueless as it is, so rather than spend money buying it, time dusting it, energy flipping through catalogs searching for just the perfect thing to go in-that-corner-over-there, let the filler come to you. Accumulate accidentally, possess passively, obtain unintentionally and you’ll find, in time, that those spaces will fill themselves: not with all the latest from Pottery Barn’s spring line, but with all the most cherished from your life’s fondest memories.

This post is the third of a series on living simply. More to come soon.
Cross-posted at Adventures in Simplicity.

A beginner’s guide to downsizing, part 1: Junk in the trunk(s)

“A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods

Living simply means living with less—not less happiness, or less comfort, or less company: just less stuff. For a tiny house dweller, it’s an imperative; for others, it’s still an invaluable journey. Possessions weigh us down—physically, financially, mentally—and for all the good the right device or gadget might do, we all have scores more widgets that are simply junk.

Last week, I gave a talk about living simply that relied on a taxonomy of junk I began creating several years back but never actually got around to posting, but which might present some value to the fledgling minimalist looking to downsize—to downsize perhaps just a little, perhaps a whole lot, perhaps enough to fit comfortably into a tiny house. And the first step to downsizing is recognizing one’s junk, so let’s get started: a (multi-part) categorization of the various species of junk one may find in their closets, drawers, chests, cabinets, and trunks.

The first step to getting rid of junk is recognizing it.

#1: Just-in-case junk (stuff you’re holding onto just in case you ever need it)

That sabre you’ve held onto just in case you ever decide to take up fencing, the denim jacket you’ve been stashing in the back of your closet just in case you get invited to another 80s party, those ice skates you eagerly purchased because they were such a steal at that garage sale that (though you don’t know how to skate) you couldn’t pass up, just in case you one day decided to switch careers and become a professional ice skater. Just-in-case junk is the most pervasive form of clutter, and we hold onto it so dearly due to a psychological trait known as loss aversion: the tendency for humans to feel twice as bad about losing something they might have used than the relative joy they felt in receiving that item in the first place.

Just-in-case junk comes from everywhere—old gifts, act-now deals and discounts, emerging hobbies quickly forgotten. We don’t use this junk often, and typically not ever, but because we have—rather, because we think we have—the space to store it, we don’t mind holding onto itjust in case our circumstances change.

And change they might. For a hundred just-in-case possessions, a good few—maybe a dozen—will be proudly used again some day, not just justifying their existence and earning their storage, but seeming to validate the entire notion of just-in-case junk, the other 88 items that will never be used but just very will might be.

We keep just-in-case junk because we think we have the room for it. Yet we often forget that we chose our present house or condo or apartment because in addition to housing us, it came with all this room for all our stuff!—walk-in closets and under-stair cupboards and overflow storage in the basement. We typically think of our storage space as extra, surplus, more space thrown into an already attractive deal, yet as we shop for our space, our belongings come with us, and hey, they want a room of their own.

And sometimes our (growing) spaces still can’t contain our just-in-case junk. Americans pay $25 billion each year for nearly three billion square feet of self-storage space—indeed, the industry has grown nearly 800 percent in the past two decades—with a tenth of all US families now trekking out to an oversized cinderblock villa, a Public Storage or U-Haul or CubeSmart, to establish a tiny colony of additional just-in-case junk, junk that is so just-in-case that it can be sealed up in a steel container thirty miles from home with anyone yearning for it for the great majority of the year.

Every year, about 25 million Americans spend $25 billion on 2.5 billion square feet of storage space.

The financial, the consumerist, and the environmental arguments for doing away with just-in-case junk (and the storage demands that come with it) are strong, but perhaps not as immediately pertinent as the utilitarian one: for every good we have tucked away under a bed or in a trunk or out in our self-storage container, there’s probably someone who can make much better use of it than we presently are. That sabre? You might need it if you take up fencing, but there’s certainly some aspiring swordsman out there who could do wonders with it right now. That denim jacket? You might get a chance to rock it once more next Halloween, but placed in the right thrift store or donation box, some young retrofashionista can undoubtedly give it more wear than you ever will (perhaps even unironically). And those ice skates? No doubt a nearby skating rink could put them to good use as a trusty rental.

In an age where it’s hard to perceive scarcity—where money buys goods, no questions asked—it’s easy to forget that every object we have is an object someone else doesn’t have, that it creates a need for us to further tax our overtaxed planet and further expend our overexpended resources and further work our overworked selves to create yet another, and that by putting our just-in-case junk in the hands of those who do have a case for it—a case, a use, a need, a real want, right here and right now—we can help not only ourselves on our path to simplicity, but others on their path to pursuing whatever passion or adventure they may be after. As the old saying (sort of) goes: one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

This post is the first part of a series on living simply. More to come soon.
Cross-posted at Adventures in Simplicity.

The Postcard Underground – supporters of the tiny house movement

Unless you’ve built a tiny house, you may not realize that it can often be a very lonely and discouraging process.  Sure, it’s fun and exciting, but there are many things that are challenging and frustrating about the build process as well.  Yet it seems that for every challenge, there is something positive that keeps you going through the build.  For the last two weeks I’ve been struggling with this nasty flu – for a whole week I hardly left the house, and then the second week of it, I only made it into my work twice.  Yet those two days that I did make it in to work last week, I was pleasantly surprised to find postcards waiting for me from an organization called the Postcard Underground.

A google search revealed several organizations who had also been recipients of their postcards.  Through this search I found out that the Postcard Underground sends anonymous postcards with encouraging messages to individuals and organizations who they believe are doing inspiring work.  Even though I don’t know who is behind this effort, I feel so fortunate to have been the recipient of a few of their postcards.  They came at a time when I really needed some encouragement, and they made me remember the joy it is to receive snail mail in this age of emails and texts.  The fact that the postal stamps are from Minnesota, my home, makes me even more appreciative of their effort.  Thank you, Postcard Undergound, for your support of Boneyard Studios and the whole tiny house community!

2013: A year in review

It has been a tremendous first full year for Boneyard Studios since the start of our tiny project. Here’s just a little of what we’re proud to have accomplished in 2013:

Thanks for a great year of support, everyone—happy 2014!

Boneyard Studios: (L-R) Lee's Pera House, Elaine's Lusby, Jay's Matchbox, and Brian's Minim House.

the joy of limits (pt.1: grounded)

‘our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning’  Wendell Berry

Limits are a curious thing. We commonly sense there is a clear line of trespass for a range of goods: food intake, staring at the TV, resource extraction, suburban growth, car speed.  Then there fortunately exist things where generally no constraint is needed: creation of art, appreciation of nature, love, among others.  Yet a third category of things lives in the shadows- those things we often don’t think to limit (often in the name of personal freedom and liberty), but might be better off individually and collectively were some boundaries observed: plane travel, ambition and wealth, our number of offspring, time texting on the iPhone. And yes, perhaps even the size of our homes.  Here I wish to consider this last category, as there may be some unexpected riches laying unobserved in embracing constraint, some added creativity unleashed by a box we willingly place ourselves in.

Certainly many in the micro house movement sense a joy in inhabiting a limited space- a simplicity of existence, the elegant economy of form of a well designed small structure, an added freedom once unshackled from unneeded rooms and unwelcome mortgages. Could this joy found in limited space be a footnote to a larger realm?  It seems a relevant question for this site. To start, I would consider the benefits to limitations on movement, of geographic constraint.

At Carleton College every fall, students living on campus with cars were once required to sign them into ‘dead storage’, a muddy dark parking lot back in the woods. To drive cars during the school year required special permission from college security.  While some suddenly discovered new religions to allow off campus car use to attend ‘services’, most stayed put in this rural Minnesota college town, staying together after class on evenings and weekends. There was drinking, but also a blossoming of creative activity on campus as students found ways to entertain.  At the time, an unpopular policy, and seemingly un-American. Yet years later, few question the fact that this limitation was crucial in forging the surest of bonds among us, and to a small patch of campus in the middle of a cornfield.

There are other periods many of us have been willingly confined in time and place: summer camp, graduate school, long cabin weekends– all of which often lead to a harvest of meaningful memories.  Contained geographically, many find there is a certain freedom that only comes from stability, a blossoming of creativity and friendships, a deepened understanding of the place inhabited.  Xavier de Maistre, sentenced to house arrest after a duel, famously wrote a travelogue titled ‘Journey Around My Bedroom’ that explored the richness of every object and memory in his chamber.  For de Maistre, as for Proust, “the voyage of discovery lay not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes’.  For most, such constraint can be torturous if conditions are forced or unwelcome.  Yet when not, geographic boxes frequently come to be experienced far more as a comfort than as a cell.  And when the box fades, the potential to be able to go anywhere, anytime may become momentarily vertiginous.

Apart from deepened understanding and relationship, geographic constraints may promote efficiency of use, as it often does in tiny dwellings.  Urban garden plots are an apt example.  With DC’s urban gardens oversubscribed, most gardeners make do for years with single 10’x6’ plots. Initially frustrated by the limited area, necessity becomes the mother, and some gardeners come to value every inch, happen upon a long list of more intensive and efficient gardening techniques. These plots easily outproduce plots 2-3x that are less well attended.  In comparison to rural gardeners and farmers, some of these urban gardens are the highest yielding plots around.  For those that start with great amounts of land, like unused extra rooms in suburban mcmansions, a wealth of options leads to inefficiency of use.

There are perhaps more subtle lessons as well from the garden. As I planted, I found it tempting to constantly uproot and rearrange plants to gain just a few more inches of growing space.  But transplanting plants over and over was never good for their health. It was far better to plan carefully, plant deliberately, and keep them put. Certainly for the garden to stay healthy, we gardeners needed to stay in place, steadily, to water and weed. There was no app for that.

We humans are not so much like the vegetable. But after a career in international development, I found the continual movement across time zones presented a challenge to social life, good brain functioning, and a sense of place. There were many good people in this professional world, but it seemed few of us ever were ’grounded’ except on a plane.  I became envious of my tomatoes, which got to stay rooted in one place all season.  It seemed plausible that after generations of tribal living, humans might not be terribly well adapted to constant movement among places and cultures, and perhaps prone to jet set melancholia.  It may not be the case that just staying put directly leads to psychological well being, but constant movement impacts other conditions- a sense of community and personal connections, that certainly do.

So as many of us build and use our tiny houses on wheels, most of the time these wheels do not turn, and perhaps for the better.

(c) 2013 Brian Levy

Tour the Boneyard Studios tiny houses at an upcoming open house: 7/28, 9/29, 10/27

Over the past eight months, we’ve welcomed over 800 tiny house enthusiasts—some curious locals and others from as far as Minnesota and Georgia—to our tiny house showcase at Boneyard Studios. Our monthly open houses afford us a terrific opportunity to share our project with others, and with power tools and construction demands set aside for the morning, to do so in a safe, distraction-free setting.

panorama

Demand to visit Boneyard Studios has been climbing, and we’ve had numerous requests to let individuals know when future open house dates are set. Unfortunately, between tiny house construction, our day jobs, and the other demands of life, we don’t have the capacity to respond to each of those requests personally, so if you’ve left a comment on our Visit page or registration form and we haven’t gotten back to you, sorry about that.

But here’s some good news: we’ve just added another two dates to our fall calendar, giving you three opportunities over the next four months to come tour our tiny houses and marvelous garden.

Upcoming open house dates:

  • Sunday, July 28th, 11AM – noon [RSVP by noon on Wednesday, July 24th]
  • Sunday, September 29th, 11AM – noon
  • Sunday, October 27th, 11AM – noon

During each open house (which are, and will always be, totally free), guests are given a brief overview of the project, time for some lot-wide Q&A, and an opportunity to tour the grounds, enter each of the tiny houses, and ask questions of each tiny house builder.

Interested in joining us at an upcoming open house? RSVP now!

IMG_5514

Tiny House Fair

We just returned from the first tiny house fair at Yestermorrow Design School in Waitsfield, VT.  Elaine Walker, whose tiny house resides on the Boneyard Studios lot, worked with Yestermorrow for over a year to design and organize the fair, and we were delighted and honored to be asked to speak.

After almost ten hours on the road, Brian and I arrived just in time for dinner on Friday night and then kicked off the fair with a presentation on Boneyard Studios.  While we were exhausted, the audience was not and peppered us with many good questions.  Unfortunately, since we were both presenting, I don’t have a photo of that!

What fun it was to meet and reconnect with so many of the tiny house folks I’ve been following and learning from over the past couple of years.  I was especially excited to finally meet Dee Williams of PAD Tiny Houses in person – even more of an inspiring, lively and generous spirit than I had imagined.

Listening to Deek of RelaxShacks present is always a treat – he and his brother kept the audience laughing with their antics and tales of salvaging materials to make creative and whimsical tiny structures for every possible purpose.

Other folks we were fortunate to connect with and learn from at the fair were Mariah Coz of Comet Camper (she’s just as hip as her camper!),  Abel from Zyl Vardos, who designs very unique and beautiful tiny homes out of Olympia, WA, and Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith who are great tiny house and simple living bloggers. Check out Tammy’s beautiful photos from the fair.  Other tiny house bloggers, builders and filmmakers came from around the country.

If this weekend was any indication, there’s no doubt in my mind that the tiny house movement is growing.  Sometimes it’s easy to get a bit discouraged when weighed down with the building process, but we received such wonderful and encouraging feedback about our project that I’m coming back inspired to keep building and doing outreach work.

Boneyard Studios presents a Tiny House Concert

We spend a lot of time building, gardening, and hosting open houses, but it’s also important to have some fun once in a while.  As a live music fan who loves NPR’s tiny desk concerts, I decided to organize a tiny house concert series this summer.  The concerts follow the tiny desk style – just 3 to 4 songs in a small, intimate setting.  The first show was played in Jay’s House – the Matchbox – by a local band Crooks and Crows.  Enjoy!

We have a couple more shows on the calendar for this summer:  

June 23 – the Sweater Set will play a show with all tiny instruments

August 11 – Local band Triage

tiny house open house: visiting boneyard studios

We started Boneyard Studios for a number of reasons, but one of the simplest was that, well, we like tiny houses. Reimagining space is a fun adventure, and it’s been so encouraging to see the support we’ve received over the past year, letting us know that we’re not alone in our passion for simpler living. Beyond getting nationwide coverage in the Washington PostCBS NewsThe Daily, and more, and receiving local acclaim in the Washington City Paper’s “Best of 2013″ edition, we’ve had a tremendous number of visitors actually come out to see our lot since construction kicked off last July.

IMG_5514Recognizing that Boneyard Studios is a construction site—one that must balance busy building days with a desire to answer questions for the inquisitive passerby—we kicked off a (totally free) open house series back in December 2012 allowing us to give Boneyard Studios fans a  tour of the lot that is both safe and informative. To date, we’ve held six open houses with a total of over 450 people in attendance. Our hour-long open houses are generally held on the morning of the first Sunday of the month, and feature the following run-of-show:

  • Casual meet-and-greet: A few minutes upon arrival to chat with other guests and learn more about what draws others to tiny houses.
  • Welcome and Q&A: To kick things off, we generally talk briefly about the history of Boneyard Studios, introduce ourselves and our respective houses, and answer a handful of frequently-asked questions.
  • Tiny house tours: For the bulk of the hour, we retreat to our individual houses and encourage folks to visit each one. While inside, we answer questions about each house’s architectural, sustainable, and functional features, and anything else that may arise.

Beyond being a great way to tour the tiny house showcase, the open houses are a wonderful opportunity to network with other tiny house enthusiasts who may be able to support you in your own tiny house adventure. Interested in joining us for an upcoming open house (the next one is currently scheduled for Saturday, May 11 at 11am)? Register here!

Recent open house on the lot

Recent open house on the lot

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,888 other followers