It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Creative Life interview here so we’re back with a bang with Ms Tammy Strobel. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Tammy while I was in Portland in July and she really is such a sweetheart! You might have heard of Tammy thanks to the amazing tiny house she lives in with her husband, Logan. They’ve downsized their life to the absolute essentials and now live in a purpose-built house that’s just 128 square feet. Her first book, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap), launches this week and it’s a pleasure to be able to introduce her to you all…
SC: How did this path begin for you?
TS: About seven years ago I took a life changing trip to Mexico. At the time I was volunteering with the Mexico Solidarity Network and I was unhappy with my career and huge mound of debt. After visiting Mexico and seeing so much poverty, I realized how trivial my problems were back home with drama at work and feelings of inadequacy in my culture. When I got back, I knew I had to make some serious life changes, but I didn’t know where to start.
Logan was the one who suggested that we downsize our lives by moving into a smaller apartment. He thought it would be a great way to save money and simplify our lives. Initially, when Logan suggested the idea of scaling back I didn’t want anything to do with it! After many bargaining conversations, I finally agreed to downsize to a smaller apartment. Once I jumped on the simplicity bandwagon I had more time, less stress in my life, and I became hooked on this lifestyle.
You and your husband live in your amazing tiny house — what convinced you that this was where and how you wanted to live?
I remember the moment very precisely because it left such an impression on me. It was December 31st, 2006, New Years eve, and it was a cold, windy evening in Davis, California. Logan and I were snuggled up and warm, wrapped up in the covers of our bed; he was surfing the Internet and I was reading a vampire novel (I’m a huge fan of young adult fiction).
Logan was reading about a naturalist named Dick Proenneke and his cabin in the woods when he stumbled across a related You Tube video featuring Dee Williams and her little house. Dee and her little house seemed to symbolize an ideal that was simple, free, and happy. As soon as I watched the video, I knew that I wanted to buy a little house because they were so cute and affordable!
“Living with less is a life philosophy; it’s not about the number of things you own.” I love this! For someone reading this interview who’d like to downsize their possessions but might be feeling daunted, where would you advise them to start?
Choose a small section of your home to tackle first. For example, when I began culling through my stuff I started with my closet. Each day, I took an hour to pull out clothes that I no longer wore and by the end of the week I had five, 30 gallon, black garbage bags filled with clothing that I donated to Goodwill!
Alternatively, you could give away ten to twenty belongings a week. This strategy isn’t as overwhelming and by slowly culling through your stuff, your clutter will disappear. Remember that this isn’t a race or a competition. If you keep clearing the clutter, you’ll end up with a beautiful home; a sanctuary that’s restful and relaxing, rather than overflowing with stuff.
Could you describe a typical day for you in (and out!) of the tiny house?
My husband, Logan, and I typically get up at 6.30 or 7a.m., make coffee and play with our kittens. Then we’ll make a small breakfast and Logan will pedal off to work. I usually stay home in the morning and write and spend my afternoons in a cafe drinking drinking coffee and writing in my journal. Other days, I spend my afternoons walking around taking photos. I try to keep my days open because I enjoy spontaneous get-togethers with friends and I need large blocks of time for writing. If I don’t have the time and space to write and think, nothing gets done. In between writing and taking photos, I check my email and make time for reading too.
Typically, Logan gets home from the lab around 6.30 and we’ll make a yummy dinner together. I’ve been off sugar for a few months and it’s renewed my interest in cooking real food. Lately, we’ve been going to bed early and reading. I love snuggling in our little loft. It makes me happy.
As I write these words, we’re still living in Portland, Oregon. We’re moving back to Northern, California soon. So I’m sure our daily routine will change. I’m looking forward to the new adventure and change.
“Money can buy happiness, but it depends on how you spend it” — I’d love you to elaborate a bit more on this, Tammy.
After your basic needs are meet, money can buy happiness. Researchers have shown that spending money on experiences, like vacations, a lovely dinner with your partner, or a coffee date will make you happier than buying a new shirt, a brand new car or even a big new house. In short, humans adapt very quickly to new things in their lives, so happiness from buying new stuff wears off quickly.
However, spending money on experiences typically produces more — and longer lasting — satisfaction because joyful memories continue to nourish our feelings of well-being. Instead of buying new stuff, happiness research shows that you can be happier by helping others, donating to charities, and buying a few small pleasures that make for a memorable experience.
Your first book is about to be born into the world — could you share with us your experience of writing a book?
Writing my book was an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. There were times when my words seemed to flow out of my pen and into my journal and other times when I wanted to delete my entire manuscript.
The book writing process taught me that I’m a non-linear writer. I write content in small segments in my journal and then transcribe my words onto the computer screen. I discovered that writing in my journal first is the way to go, otherwise I edit myself too much, forget my subject, and I end up totally frustrated.
Finally, writing this book reminded me that we all have stories to tell. During the writing process, I constantly questioned my value a writer and there were times when my inner critic made me cry. But, I kept reminding myself that we all have stories to tell. Sharing my experiences — and writing from the my heart — is one way that I’ve helped readers and myself too.
What and who inspires you – could you share some links with us?
Last week, I rediscovered a fun app for my iPhone called FlipBoard. I’m loving all the photography articles that it’s led me to. It’s so much fun and it’s been feeding my Friday link round-up with all kinds of goodies.
I’m also an avid reader. Lately, I’ve been into young adult fiction and memoirs. Right now I’m reading Torch, a novel by Cheryl Strayed. Her writing on love and loss is inspiring, authentic, and thought provoking. You can check out my book list here.
Finally, I adore Instagram. I love photography and I’m fascinated by how people see the world through their camera lens.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a couple of projects. My fall writing course starts on October 1st and I’m super excited about teaching it again. I’m also developing a photography ecourse and working with my business partner Courtney on Your Lovely Life. We’re planning on releasing another ecourse in November!
I’ve been working on a new book idea too. But the concept isn’t flushed out yet. My dad recently passed away and I think the book will be about grief. But the more I write about the topic, it’s turning into something a book that’s focused on love, loss, and hope. If all goes well, I’ll send my book proposal off to my agent by the end of the year.
You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?
1. Logan, my husband, because a party wouldn’t be the same without him. And he needs to be present so that I don’t make an ass of myself.
2. Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild and Torch. Her thoughts on love and loss are powerful. I’d love to talk with her one on one.
3. Maya Angelou’s writing has touched me so deeply and I love her voice. It’s so soothing.
4. Angela Davis’s book, Women, Race, and Class, was assigned reading in a college course. I devoured the book and was blown away by her words and perspective on life.
5. I had the opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak in Portland last year and I loved her talk. She is hilarious and her book Bird by Bird is something that I re-read at least once a year.
6. Dee Williams is an obvious choice on this list for me. Dee is a constant source of inspiration, she’s a talented writer, and good friend. Dee would ease the awkwardness of strangers at a dinner party and I think she and Anne would spend the whole evening making jokes.
Tammy Strobel is a writer, photographer, and tiny house enthusiast. She created her blog, RowdyKittens.com, to share her story of embracing simplicity. Since then, her story has been featured in the New York Times, The Today Show, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and in a variety of other media outlets. Tammy’s new book is called, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap).
Thank you so much, Tammy! Are you guys feeling inspired to downsize? I know I am :)
We have THREE copies of Tammy’s book to giveaway! To be in with a chance to win one, simply leave a comment on this post sharing something that brings you happiness. The giveaway closes on Friday 21st and I’ll announce the winners in my SFTW post
Lots more Creative Life interviews over here