Small Spaces, Big Hearts:
Lessons learned from modern day pioneer life
Kristin Parma, EvoOutdoors Media Coordinator
There has always been a deep yearning in my heart for dirt. I didn’t have a rural upbringing and despite my efforts to shake it, dirt seems to follow me everywhere I go.
I am the coworker that tracked the mud into the office.
I am the girl changing from high heels to snake boots daily.
My own mother calls me her “mud puppy” as a term of endearment.
When 30 acres of dirt and mesquite covered brush became our dream come true, we were more than 2,000 miles away. I had only seen photos of the property and as difficult as it was to leave my hometown, the dirt called. It had been a long time coming and we were both eager to get there. We left our quaint, beautiful, three bedroom home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley for an unpredictable life. The truck acting as our oxen and the fifth wheel our covered wagon, we made the journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Lone Star state. We were modern day pioneers.
My husband, Adam and I have lived that existence and the lifestyle that comes with it for two years on our South Texas property, affectionately called the Czech Out Ranch. We don’t have cable but I am told that numerous reality TV shows currently depict small space living as simple, easy and affordable.
Small space living is not glamorous.
Small space coupled with farm life is not for everyone. It is not always peaceful or kind. In fact, it is downright difficult at times. Despite that, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have learned so many beneficial lessons these past two years as my soul has been tested, friendships stretched, and marriage tried and strengthened. As Adam and I prepare ourselves in the building of our custom home on the property, the lessons that we have learned from our journey have been at the forefront of our minds. These are lessons that we can all learn from and that I hope we will continue to remember throughout our lives.
- Less is more.
People have often told me, “I just couldn’t do it, where would I put all my _____?” Hunting gear, clothes, craft supplies, etc. My response is always the same, “You’d be amazed at what you can fit in less than 400 square feet of living space. What you can live without.”
Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.
Living in a tiny space has taught me so much about the importance of decluttering. Not only is it necessary when living in a small space but it is soul changing and stress relieving. When you go through all your worldly possessions and ask yourself the question, will my quality of life change without this? Two things happen. You are released from the stress that being attached to inanimate objects has on you or you truly cherish the item you decide to keep. It is all about priorities.
- Necessity vs. Comfort
Along the same lines of the “Less is more” concept, on a daily basis we are met with the troubling 21st century consumer question:
Do I want it or do I need it? If I do need it how will I fit it in our tiny space?
To make room for ANY item in our small dwelling means that we value it immensely- from a loaf of bread to a kitchen aid mixer. It also means being inventive with the space you do have.
Many items in our small space have multiple purposes. Adam handmade our cedar chest which acts as our coffee table and opens up for storage purposes. We jokingly call it the wine cellar, because well, that’s where we keep the wine. Adam also made a bird stand for our canary’s cage to sit on. That bird stand has two compartments. The top compartment is used to store animal supplies and the bottom is a hidden litter box for our cats to use. There are also some built in items that make storage easier, such as a pull out pantry and a laundry shoot- yes a laundry shoot.
In addition, living in a small space means saying no to many things because we don’t have the luxury of space to accommodate random decorations or adornments. When it comes to clothes shopping I follow the one in, one out rule. If I purchase something new I have to donate something old. Not only does this save space but it makes me feel good.
Despite not purchasing many material items, we do add items to our lives that bring fulfillment and real joy despite our small space situation. These past two years we have added a dog and a kitten to our menagerie of indoor pets. When we added our collie Jane to our lives almost a month after moving to the Czech Out Ranch it added an even bigger space dilemma. We sacrificed our table and chairs to accommodate a wire kennel for crating purposes. In return, Jane fulfills our heart and home with laughter, purpose and joy.
- Focus on the Outdoors
My absolute favorite thing about small space living is that I spend the majority of my time outside. Whether it’s cooking, playing with the dog, farm chores, walking the property, hunting or gardening, rain or shine- my life happens outdoors.
The time period between moving from Oregon to Texas was a rough two months of harsh, frigid temperatures and snow storms in my parent’s driveway. I remember the propane heater broke and we were without electrical hookups. To combat the stressfulness of life, Adam and I spent every single weekend of that two months hunting. Laying in marshlands looking up at the sky or in a deer blind watching the snow fall. The urge to be outdoors constantly carried over when we reached the Czech Out Ranch where we now spend 75% of our free time outside tending to farm animals, a large garden, hunting the property, trail running and enjoying nature’s splendor.
This is a lifestyle that has molded us into the people we are today. When people complain about the weather, we shrug our shoulders because it doesn’t affect us the same way it affects others. Even as we design our home we are reminded of the outdoors and have a deep yearning to pay homage to nature within it. We want to prioritize having outdoor living space as opposed to indoor space and limit our human footprint on the property we love so dear.
- Lower carbon footprint. Less waste.
Living small also means storing small. Our fridge is small. Our pantry is small. As much as I say I hate the small space, it also means less food waste. Food does not get stuck in the never-ending abyss of the “back of the fridge.” And I often buy fresher produce and groceries, harvesting only what I need from the garden. When something does go bad it goes to the farm animals or the compost pile, limiting landfill waste.
Less water is wasted running long hot showers because it is just not possible in our small space. I have become the queen of the quick shower so much so that when I am staying in a hotel, a long shower just doesn’t seem right anymore. In our small space we have to make decisions about whether to run the washer for laundry, shower, or do the dishes on a weekly basis. We also dry our laundry on the line. A perk of living in South Texas.
In general, being more environmentally aware of our carbon footprint has inspired us to build what most folks might consider a small home with eco-friendly options. So that when we do have the luxuries of a large fridge, a dishwasher and more we still feel good about what the time without them taught us.
- Appreciate the little things.
Overall, I have learned the lesson to appreciate the little things in life that I often took for granted. Most of these “little things” are actually big things – electricity, water, hot water, water pressure, garbage service, a conventional oven, a bathtub, a large closet. These are all things that I have lived without at some point during this time in my life. I have always been an avid camper and outdoors person however, to actually live without some of these luxuries for over two years continues to be life altering.
As much as I am proud of our accomplishments I will admit there have been moments when I felt ashamed of living in an unconventional home. When the hard times were just too much to bare. Those “bad times” have become some of our most shared moments with others. The time the heater broke in a snow storm, blowing out a tire on a major highway in California, breaking the pull cord on the generator at six in the morning before coffee was brewed, digging trenches for electricity, losing electricity, hauling trash & recycling, flooding water from the shower and losing use of the fridge (which meant keeping groceries in the cooler for a week) are just a few of the memorable events. To really appreciate what you have you have to live a little uncomfortably sometimes.
Make no mistake there have been a lot of positive and memorable moments during this time period in our life as well. Enjoying weekday dinners together outside watching the sunset, evening walks around the property discovering new wildflowers, critter tracks and more, dancing in the living room/kitchen/dining room, lying in bed one minute and hunting in the “backyard” the next, sharing the property with friends and introducing others to outdoor activities, innumerable amounts of laughter playing with a hyper puppy in a small space watching as she bounces off the walls, almost literally, and many more cherished good times with my best friend and husband.
In the end the positives out way the negatives. Both make up our unique modern day pioneer story and how we have found deep appreciation for the big and little things in life.