Wishing You a Year of Better, Not More

By Billy Ulmer

As the frenetic holiday shopping season winds down, we often turn to the new year with a sigh of relief.  For me the commercialized holiday season is the perfect prompt to think about what I want to do differently. Traipsing through busy malls and making shopping lists just makes me hyper aware that when I’m pressed on what I really want, my truest answer is always “time.” Time with friends and family, time to read, time to walk or just take a breath in between the demands of the day, or the questions in front of me.

I can’t create more time, but I can use the time I have more wisely. And that’s the case for many of us, no matter what resource we’re short on: time, money, relaxation, square footage…  So often we think the answer is “more” when it’s actually “better.” That’s what tiny houses are about for so many people, in so many ways. And here’s some of what that means to everyone at PAD.

Dee Williams PAD Tiny Houses
Dee Williams, using her time wisely. Photo via Stuart Isett for the New York Times.

When a sudden medical diagnosis made Dee face the prospect of a shorter life, she had to ask herself: what did she want to use it for? Dee’s recent conversation with Forbes.com summed up Dee’s tiny house choice as a way of using her newly-precious time carefully. Elizabeth Harris writes:

“Her secret: Reframing the way she sees her finances, adopting an internal accounting system that equates cuts in things with gaining time, the most precious resource she has. “I’d much rather have more time in the long run than all of our stuff,” she says. “My ticker wasn’t doing that great,” Williams recalls. “I just wanted to be able to have some fun before I got sick and kicked the bucket – it was this weird moment of thinking ‘How do I get everything I want?””

The same principle came up when I spoke with Dee for my Life in a Tiny House ebook. She told me that moving into a tiny house, rare and strange as it seemed at the time, made sense because the time horizon of her life had changed, and paying off a 30 year mortgage, “Didn’t pass the straight face test anymore.” Choosing a tiny house helped Dee free up hours she used to spend paying the mortgage, paying the bills, and doing renovations, so she could work less, get more involved in her community, and be there for family during hard times.

Joan Grimm PAD Tiny Houses ADU Accessory Dwelling Unit Apartment
The apartment Joan built inside her home. Photo via Mike Zacchino at The Oregonian.

While Joan from PAD doesn’t live in a tiny house, she and her wife reduced the square footage they live in by building a tiny apartment inside their small bungalow. Janet Eastman from the Oregonian recently spent the night in the studio apartment they carved out of the main floor of their house in Portland. They remodeled a bedroom, hallway and bathroom into a 220 square foot apartment by adding a new exterior entryway and renovating the space for both short and long term rental.

By more fully occupying their space, which is Ross Chapin’s definition of the right-sized home, Joan and her wife gained a more stable income and greater flexibility and freedom in how they spend their time. For them, “better” is directly connected to having less stuff and making more precious moments.

Billy Ulmer at Joe's homemade futuristic tiny house RV on wheels
Billy on a lucky visit to Joe’s homemade, futuristic home on wheels.

My search for quality over quantity isn’t as squarely focused on the roof over my head. The fascinating people I interviewed for Life in a Tiny House and my continued involvement in the tiny house community have taught me to choose my priorities carefully, no matter where I live.  Each year during the holidays I try to find a focus for the year ahead of me. This year what feels most urgent is to choose what’s meaningful over what’s pleasant. It’s easy and fun to watch reruns of my favorite TV show on Netflix, but when I think hard at times like this about why I wish I had “more” time, it’s for things that are more challenging and more rewarding than sitting on the couch.  Reading a book, playing music, talking with friends, or even just staring out the window so I can hear myself think are all better uses of the time I do have.  These things are always within my reach. They’re what really make memories. And the more I choose activities like these over passive entertainment, the more I feel I’m using my time well.

Whether 2016 is the year you want to focus on home, time, money, health, family and friends, work, travel or anything else you’ve got up your sleeve, everyone at PAD sincerely wishes you a year full of quality over quantity. If you make 2016 the year of better, not more, we think you’ll be a winner.

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