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Living Large or Living Tiny: the Choice is Ours.
I used to dream of living in an industrial loft apartment.
One big, open space of over 1,000 square feet. Exposed bricks and beams, metal pipes, and concrete floor. Large windows wrapping around the space, showing off the gorgeous panorama of the neighbourhood. A tan-coloured leather couch. A black SMEG fridge. Books and magazines stacked into columns on the floor. Large antique paintings of unknown artists leaning against the chipping wall.
I imagined myself working remotely on my laptop in different cafés and sipping pour-over coffee every day. The younger me just wanted to look cool, hip, and impressive (well, to other people).
Fast forward a decade or two, my dream home has shrunk and become tiny.
Gone were the days I glued to the TV screen watching Kevin McCloud’s “Grand Design.” These days I’d rather be watching “Tiny House Nations,” “How to Live Mortgage Free with Sarah Beeny,” and “Renovation Australia.”
I am particularly intrigued by tiny houses that are built out of shipping containers, minivans, airstreams, school buses, and barges, and transformed into cosy mobile homes. I am mesmerised by stories of people who choose to live tiny and frugal. I admired them for their determination and resilience to build their humble abode by hands, often with a tight budget, using free, second-hand, or reclaimed materials.
Recently, I gotten curious and booked a two-night staycation at the Tiny Home in the Mary Valley, located about 150 km north of Brisbane, Australia.
The Tiny Home looked like a tiny black match box, sitting on top of a valley, surrounded by fresh green forest and grassland. The inside was built with beech wooden panels from the floor to the ceiling. At one end, there was a cosy sleeping nook with a double bed. Next to the end of the bed, a bar counter where the giant glass panel that could be lifted up completely, letting natural light and fresh air in.
On the other side, a little grey cushioned bench tucked between the sleeping nook and kitchen. At the other end, some built-in storage cabinets and a wooden ladder that leads to a small attic that might be used as a chill zone or extra storage. The Tiny Home was fitted with solar power, a rainwater tank, and a dry compost toilet—all off-the-grid and environmentally friendly.
This staycation has made me realise that my dream life is not really about the tiny house, but more so about living minimally, mindfully, and meaningfully.
And I would like to share with you three things I took away from this experience.
1. Give a damn about our environment.
On arrival, I received a guest manual explaining how everything worked in the Tiny Home, including ways to conserve electricity and water. What I was most struck by was the sign on the kitchen window, reminding guests if they used up all the battery power during the day, they would be left with no light or water for use at night.
These reminders prompted me not only to pay attention to how I used electricity and water during my stay but also reflected on my “wasteful,” daily habits—like letting water run in the shower until it gets to the right temperature, using plastic bags and cling wrap for convenience, or forgetting my travel mug when I get my takeaway coffee.
Carrying on the old way would only accelerate the impacts of climate change, putting the earth, our collective home, in peril. It is more important than ever to prioritise collective benefits over personal convenience. We must pay attention to how we use our time, energy, and resources with good conscience and intention. Never take anything for granted—because nothing lasts forever.
2. Let’s do nothing more.
After I settled in the Tiny Home, I had a brief moment of disorientation. As if I did not know why I was there. I felt kind of lost and did not know what to do for a moment. All my usual distractions—Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook Marketplace—were not available. All I could sense was simmering bubbles of restlessness in my gut.
Should I read? Should I take a nap? Should I go for a walk?
Thanks to Ruby, one of the owner’s two border collies, came by to check on me. She stood outside the glass door, wagging her tail with so much enthusiasm. So, I went outside and sat down with Ruby on the patio, giving her some head scratches and pets aimlessly. After a minute or two, Ruby turned around, jumped up, and put her two muddy paws on my chest. Her big brown eyes stared right at me, as if she was trying to tell me to be present and enjoy that moment with my full heart.
Taking a few mindful, deep breaths in, I started to take notice of little things in my surrounding.
Rays of soft orange beams touching my face at sunset. Gentle waves of cool breeze caressing my arms in the morning. Tapping sound of raindrops hitting the corrugated tin roof overnight. Loud and proud crowing from the family black rooster. Funny laughter of the Kookaburra hopping from one eucalyptus tree to another. Miniature Shetland ponies grazing underneath the tree peacefully. Herd of cows making their way slowly back to the paddock in the evening.
Life’s memorable moments always come from the simplest things. When we allow ourselves to do nothing, our senses and our perception start to change. Time seems to slow down and linger for longer. We start to see, hear, smell, and feel more of the world around us and within us—everything can be a source of wonder and intrigue.
3. Don’t worry and get dirty.
The next day, Ruby ushered me into in the Fairy Forest near the end of the property. I put on my runners quickly and followed her.
In my mind, I painted a beautiful picture of Ruby and I enjoying the bushwalk, feeling refreshed and invigorated afterward. But instead, I was overcome by worries and uneasiness for the entire time.
Walking into the forest, the first thing I noticed was how soft and unsteady the track was after weeks of heavy rain. Looking around, I saw muddy ponds and fallen branches blocking the track everywhere. My eyes were fixed on the ground, and my mind was focused on trying to avoid stepping into sludges or fall over into the dirty mud. My body shivered each time I “accidentally” stepped into the soft mud. I paid no attention to the scenery around me. I was stuck in my head with this crazy determination to stay clean and vain.
On the contrary, Ruby was enjoying herself, sniffing everything, chasing birds, and eating grass. She ran back and forth to me every couple of seconds, giving me the encouragement with her wiggly tail.
When we reached the higher ground, I stopped to look around. The forest was so dense that blocked off most of the midday sunlight. I was surrounded by so many different shades of green—emerald, jade, peppermint, sage, olive, and so on. There were wild fungi of all sizes, shapes, and colours sprouting on the ground. Patches of lime green moss added some much-needed colour to freshen up the dirt track and flaky tree trunks.
For a moment, I forgot about the dirt, mud, and bugs. I was just in awe of the glorious beauty of nature. Suddenly, Ruby gave me a few wet, muddy nudges on my leg. Like she was trying to say, “Do you like my backyard? How pretty is this? Can we keep walking now?”
(Bonus: Dogs are the best.)
Am I ready to leave my 900 square feet apartment and move into a tiny house? Not really. (Laugh.)
To me, tiny houses represent many things: abundance, compassion, freedom, and simplicity. The Tiny Home staycation has made me realise that I actually don’t need a lot of stuff or activities to feel content and happy. It is time to pare down my belongings, reduce distractions, avoid multitasking, and work less.
By letting go, it creates new opportunities and free up time, space, and energy to do things that not only make my heart rejoice but can also benefit others.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu