Aldo Lavaggi: Count Your Blessings, Whatever Your Square Footage
Will a tiny house make you happy? Not that life in a tiny house would fix every little problem, but surely with more money in your pocket or more time on your hands, life would feel a little easier…wouldn’t it? Many people feel a tiny home would help them live a simpler life, one where they can slow down and focus on what’s important. But what does that really mean, and what does it feel like?
I had a feeling Aldo Lavaggi would be willing to share his thoughts on meaty, messy questions like that. The landing page to his thoughtful blog frames his tiny house experience as “An experiment with voluntary simplicity in American culture.” True to his word, Aldo has treated life in his tiny home as an experiment – keeping a watchful eye on why it interested him, how he went about building it, and how it has promoted or challenged his habits, thoughts, and general well-being. He was particularly eloquent on that last subject, presenting measured reflections on the complex subject of tiny houses and happiness.
The Tiny Home: A Tool For Inner Work
I visited Aldo at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley – a pretty, pastoral area dotted with small towns and large vacation properties. While I thought his location would feel rural and remote, I instead found myself eating lunch at a biodynamic farm and natural food store that rivaled most city co-operative groceries, just minutes down the winding road from his home of the last year and a half. My visit with him continued that trend of unexpected bounty. I asked about what looked like unused hooks in his ceiling, and he quickly assembled a previously-hidden hammock chair that satisfies his need for “squishy comfort” in the house.
Later, during what could have been a ho-hum discussion about tiny homes and clutter, Aldo paused, sought out his copy of Thoreau’s Walden, and recited the following passage: “I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, and when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still. And I threw them out the window in disgust.” The quote illustrated Aldo’s feeling that while a tiny home won’t make him more or less happy, it does put fewer obstacles in the way of what he sees as the real work to be done: appreciating all that we have in life.
This is an abridged and edited introduction to my visit with Aldo, but there’s much more in my ebook, Life in a Tiny House.
Aldo: A tiny house, it’s not some silver bullet, like all of a sudden your life gets great. If anything, it can exacerbate certain tendencies. If you’re in a lousy mood, the mood is more in-your-face. There are fewer things to separate you from your emotional, psychological state.
Billy: Because there’s less distraction?
Aldo: Yeah. There’s less space to move away to change your context, to change your environment. You can’t walk away from things. You kinda gotta deal with them. It makes some things easier, and it makes some things harder, and the two are really intertwined.
I have plenty of friends who own large houses who are always like, “The squirrels have gotten into my so and so,” and, “These double hung windows are stuck, and I’ve got to get storm windows for 25 windows.” And I’m like, “God, it’s nice not to have to do that.”
But here’s the trick, for all of us, right? It’s, can we be aware of our good situation? The truth is, the common man in America is wealthier today than at any other time in history, by monetary standards. But our levels of anxiety and of expressed dissatisfaction with our lives are also higher than ever. The two are not in correlation. So I might be having a hard day, whether I’m in a tiny house or a large house. But to really see my blessings for what they are, and have an appreciation for my good fortune? That’s going to be a challenge whether I’m in a large house or a small house.
However, I will say this: My appreciation of public spaces and larger houses has really bloomed, because I’m living without them. Society has gotten wealthier around me, even though it hasn’t changed at all, because my lifestyle has stepped down. So on the one hand, life can be harder in a tiny space. But then you go to the library, you know? And you use their state-of-the-art bathroom. And you turn on their faucet and hot water comes out. And you go to this giant room and sit in their chair and read literature, it’s like, “Yeah! How much does this cost? Free!? Right on!” [Both laugh]
No outer situation is going to ultimately make us happy, whatever the outer situation is. So long as that [outer situation] is the perceived cause of our happiness, we’re going to wake up one day and realize, “I’m not happy. I want something different. I want the thing I left two years ago, that’s what’s going to make me happy.” And we start to realize: Tiny house, large house – none of it is going to make me happy. It’s dependent on my inner activity, and my inner ability to wake up and perceive the blessing in my current situation.
So this tiny house has not made me happy. Nor has it made me sad. But it was a conscious choice which has intensified some of the hard things, and also intensified some of the joys and appreciation of what’s in my community, and what’s in my life.