Together with her husband Karl and their two kids, Ella and Archer, Hari Berzins has been living for about two years in a cozy 8′ x 21′ tiny house in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. She has been documenting their adventure over at tinyhousefamily.com.
The tiny house family is currently building a slightly bigger house as part of their plan to build a mortgage-free-micro-homestead on their three acres of property.
Although Hari is a noted blogger having written her families stories onto the audiences of Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show, Yahoo! Finance, AOL, Huffington Post, CNN.com, HouseLogic.com, and more, she had recently put all focus on her first book entitled Coming Home.
I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy and to talk with Hari about the transition from blogger to author and what her families adventure has done to shape her as a writer. Below is the dialogue we shared.
Tiny r(E)volution: You live in a tiny house? What does that mean literally?
Hari Berzins: Literally, our tiny house is 8’ x 21’ with two sleeping lofts. That means we have 168 sq. ft. of living space “downstairs” and as much space in our lofts, though there is only 3 feet of head room up there.
Tr: But do you feel like your house is “tiny?”
HB: That depends on the season. In winter our house is beyond tiny. Sometimes I feel like an animal at the zoo, caged up. Other times the tiny house feels like a cocoon. Tiny, yes, but unbelievably cozy and comfortable. In summer time I hardly notice the tiny part of my house, unless it’s raining. We spend most of our waking hours outside, tending to the chicks, ducks, dog, cat, garden and our building projects. When the weather is nice, my house is huge! It includes gorgeous woods, a creek and lots of sky.
Tr: And now you are publishing a book. Why not just continue with your blog and post there regularly?
HB: Yes! Now I’m publishing a book. I will continue with the blog, and I plan to post even more regularly there, but publishing a book gives me an opportunity take readers deeper than a 500-word blog post. This intimate collection of letters gives the reader a sense of the passing of time, and the personal growth that living tiny inspired in me. Readers who imagine living tiny can get a perspective on the experience. I offer questions at the end of each essay to encourage personal reflection.
Publishing an e-book also gives me the opportunity to open an income stream with my writing. As I’m sure you know, maintaining a blog takes a lot of time, and I do need to earn a living, so I’m working on making our blog a micro-business. My first income stream was the weekly letter, and it’s been a wonderful first step, now adding an e-book gives readers more insight into our tiny, mortgage-free life, and proof that it’s possible, and also gives folks the opportunity to support the work I do so that I can spend more time documenting this journey. I hope to really map it out, so that others can take similar steps to freedom.
Tr: What was the ePub process like? It has been said that anyone can be an author now.
HB: The process was super easy, since I hired Chris O’Byrne. I don’t know enough about the technical stuff to produce a well-functioning e-book, and Chris has really impressed me with his talents. It was enough for me to focus on the writing and face the vulnerability of opening myself in this way.
Yes! Anyone can be an author now, which is very exciting. We have a real opportunity to support positive work all over the world. It’s the “buy local” mentality going global—because in a few seconds’ time, we can buy directly from the artist next door as well as the artist on another continent. The whole idea still astounds me. I imagine more and more people living the life they love, helping others by sharing what they learn and supporting themselves that way. The power of the internet is truly awesome. We are connected globally and can work together to build our collective communities for the good of all.
Tr: How does living in a tiny house affect your creativity though?
HB: Living in a tiny house affects my creativity quite a bit.
Within the confines of a small space, I am forced to be creative. Artists throughout time have used constraints to force their best work. The simple constraint of limited space forces me to be creative about finding the space I need. Something in this act gets my creative juices flowing. For example, I can’t focus with the rest of the family up and about during my writing time, so I’ve started getting up at 5:00am, so that I can have the house to myself—this constraint of time has given me a regular writing practice. To add to that, when we have overnight guests, they sleep on the couch which is where I write every morning at 5:00am. Last time my mom visited, I dried out the shower stall and filled it with pillows and blankets. It made a cozy and productive writing studio. When my brain switches over to this resourceful mode, it comes through in my writing. So, in this way the tiny house has really helped my creativity.
I do look forward to having an office in the big house where I can hang my bulletin board and leave my desk set up. Currently, my “desk” is my backpack. I also miss having wall space to hang a large bulletin board where I keep track of my projects. I feel a little scattered every time I pull my “office” out of my backpack.
Tr: What is one universal message you hope readers get from your book?
HB: That home is with you no matter where you go. If you know your heart and your courage, you are already home. Your house doesn’t define you, your heart does.
Tr: Is there anything you left out or had to omit that you now wish were in the book?
HB: I have written several essays in the last few months about the darkest time of the year and the intense struggle that was. We were already editing at that point and I wanted to send Chris another essay, and say can we add this? But at some point, the book has to be finished. Of course the book of our lives is always being written, so maybe I’ll collect those essays into another little e-book. There are a few essays that touch on the struggle I faced during winter, but some didn’t make it in. I feel passionate about being fully honest about how this lifestyle impacts my psyche. Be prepared for winter in a tiny house—or fly south with the birds!
Tr: Was your family supportive in your publishing?
HB: Yes! Ella especially since she’s a little writer herself. She thinks it’s so cool that mommy wrote a book. She often gives me titles or sayings and she keeps her own various journals. The whole family’s been incredibly supportive. There are times that I’m not finished writing when everyone gets up, and I’m on a deadline. I have nowhere to write but on the couch (okay, I can sit in the shower) where everyone else sits, and that makes it hard for them. Especially when I say, “Please be quiet for a few more minutes.” It’s not easy, but they ultimately understand and are excited to see me reach the finish line with this book. Karl is even considering writing his own book. He’s so methodical and clear; I know he’d write an awesome book explaining the process of building our big house—I’m hoping he’ll be inspired and share his amazingness with you all.
Tr: Do you think the book appeals more to tiny house folk or does it have a potentially broader audience?
HB: I think it appeals to tiny house people because it is written within the “container” of a tiny house, but the themes have universal appeal. The book holds the valuable lessons I’ve learned in the last year from really settling into living this lifestyle. When we strip away the excess of mass culture and come home to ourselves, there’s a real sense of being alive. So, while this is a book about my life in a tiny house, it’s not a how-to-live-in-a-tiny-house book, it’s a how-to-accept-yourself-enough-to-be-happy-living-in-a-tiny-space-with-your-family-and-love-your-life book. That’s pretty universal.
Tr: You talk quite a bit about acceptance – of life, of circumstance, and even of weather. How big of a role does acceptance play in your day-to-day life?
HB: Acceptance plays a role in my second-to-second life. With every breath, I breathe in acceptance. Sometimes the breaths are more of a sigh or a grunt, but I’m always trying to see through the eyes of acceptance. Resistance to unwanted circumstances has the power to keep those circumstances alive and well for a very long time. I find that when there is snow and ice all over the deck and nothing to do in the tiny house, I get pretty mad because I’m resisting. But if I bundle up and take a walk, the world opens up to me and I realize how much beauty is waiting everywhere I go. This is acceptance. If we accept and live each moment of our lives, then we will have lived.