Q&A: Tammy Strobel on Life in a Tiny House
This week on the Green Life, we're celebrating the art of downsizing. To learn from a pro, we asked simple-living advocate Tammy Strobel about her 128-square-foot home, avoiding trolls, and what her spirit animal is.
Not a lot of people can say that when they’re cooking a chicken casserole, they can also get dressed and use the potty at the same time. Tell us about your 128-square-foot home.
We live in a super tiny house. It’s really cute. It looks like a miniature cabin. It’s just on wheels. The trailer is 16 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 13 feet tall. It was built according to the international building code standards. You have to make sure it all fits under overpasses when you move it down the road and stuff like that. People are curious about that part. It can literally fit in a car parking space. The thing about our house is that of course it’s small but it’s kind of cool because wherever you are in the house you are looking outside. We have lots of windows, so it makes it feel larger than it actually is and a lot of times when we have friends come over, they remark on that feeling.
Are there any times when you want to run into an open prairie and be one with the Von Trappe family?
I’ve never had the feeling of claustrophobia in our space but no matter what size home I’ve lived in, if I spend too much time inside, I get cabin fever; even if I’m at home with my mom who lives in a 2,000-square-foot house. If I’m inside for a really long time, I get itchy. So for me, it’s really important to go outside everyday to go for a walk or a bike ride and just move my body.
How do you deal with the negative criticism?
You know, it’s funny. I just finished reading a really amazing book by Brene Brown. She’s done a lot of research on shame and vulnerability and in her book she has this great quote by Scott Stratten (I think that is his name) and he says, “Don’t try to win over the haters. You’re not the jackass whisperer.” I just think that’s hilarious and it really encapsulates a lot of the negativity that’s in the online world in general. Overall, most of the comments that I get on my site are very positive, but I do have trolls that hang around once in a while. But honestly, I’m not interested in that kind of criticism. if you’re not out there trying to make a positive change in the world and you’re just coming to the site to be a jerk, then I let it go. I’m more interested in focusing on the positive stuff and cultivating that within my readership base.
What is the greatest lesson of simple living?
By far, it would be that stuff in the long run really isn’t important. It’s really relationships that matter. If you look at the happiness research, positive psychologists talk about how strong relationships are one of the main factors to living a happy and healthy life. I feel like this year in particular has been another kind of transformative year in terms of how I think about how I live, where I live, who I’m with. . . because my dad was really ill for the first six months of this year and he died in June. So it’s kind of reaffirmed why I’ve made all these decisions. I had the time and the money to be with him to take care of him when he was really sick and I got to be with him as he died. And so for me, the stuff, it just doesn’t matter. I can never get my dad back so I’m glad I spent so much time with him. I can always buy a new iPhone if I flush mine down the toilet. Things are replaceable; people aren’t.
How does downsizing help us environmentally?
I didn’t downsize to be green. That was definitely not one of my motivations when I started this process and I found that it’s been more of an awesome secondary effect. You know, if you go smaller and if you’re living in a smaller dwelling, consuming less stuff, going car-free, or car-light, automatically you’re going to reduce your footprint and live greener and in turn you’re going to be happier, which is kind of ironic. I think it’s a by-product in going small and being happy.
I still have an old Twinkie wrapper from my first date with my significant other. How did you feel getting rid of all your stuff?
In the beginning, I didn’t want anything to do with this idea. Logan, my husband, was the one who suggested simplifying in the first place, and I was really, really resistant. I was kind of like, “If I get rid of all this stuff, what are people going to think? Are they going to think I’m poor? Are they going to think I’m crazy?” I think that’s natural because as humans, we want people to like us. We’re hard wired for connection. All those fears are normal, but at some point you have to push through it. So I did a lot of journaling to work through some of my own fears, and that was really helpful because I realized, you know, the people in my life who really love me are going to stick around no matter what kind of crazy life decisions I make. They may not all want to live in a tiny house, but they’re still going to love me without my stuff, in my tiny house.
After downsizing, how do you like being able to quit your day job and work as a full-time e-course teacher as well as writer and photographer?
It’s been amazing. I’m really grateful that I get to do the work that I’m doing. It’s a lot of fun and I’ve connected with some really amazing people. I teach courses focused on living simply and about gratitude with my business partner, Courtney Carver. I teach writing classes once a quarter and then I run my online writing course. I’ll probably release a photography course next year as well. I’m really grateful to have a community of readers that support my work through the e-courses and buying my book because I couldn’t do it without them.
What is your spirit animal and why?
Probably a cat. I love cats. I have two of them. I take a lot of lessons from my cats because they’re really good at napping and resting, but also playing too. And so I try and do that in my own life. Before I made the transition, I didn’t sleep enough so now I’m getting enough sleep and I usually take a nap for a half hour everyday. I definitely have to thank my cats for that because they remind me to take care of myself.
If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you consider moving back into a larger space?
Uh, no, but I would do a couple of things. I would pay off my mom’s house. I would help my stepsister get into a small house of her own as well as my stepbrother. We would stay where we are but I might build another tiny house as something that I could rent out for B&B people or for friends and family that stay with us when they visit. We’re really happy with what we have, and, you know, if all of a sudden I became super wealthy, I can’t really see me changing the lifestyle we’re in. I think I would just feel more fortunate because I could use that money to help my family and donate to causes I believe in.
If you were to be a reptile enthusiast, what would you name your blog?
Tammy's book You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too (New World Library, 2012) is available both online and in bookstores.
--Christine Nguyen is an editorial intern for Sierra Club. She enjoys any type of outdoor activity, spending time with her Yorkshire Terrier Muffin, eating cheesecake, and taking on new adventures with her partner in crime, John Vu.