Michelle Jones discovered the tiny house movement well before most of us, struck up a friendship with Dee Williams, and had her 84sf tiny house built by Dee’s company PAD. She’s been quietly living tiny in Portland, OR backyards for 11 years now, and in a lot of ways, tiny living has helped to guide and inspire her unconventional career choices. In this interview, Michelle shares her reflections on living tiny for 11 years and some of the unexpected things she has learned along the way.
In This Episode:
- Living tiny before it was a thing: Michelle's instincts, journey, and “aha” moments
- Is there room for a relationship in a tiny home?
- Getting to know your tiny house and preparing for the different outcomes of difficult situations
- Setting up systems for your environment and the importance of redundancy
- How living tiny helped Michelle realize and pursue her purpose
- Building your house out of materials that are meaningful to you
- Staying tiny for 11 years: how to keep from accumulating too much
- When living tiny helps you connect with and depend on your community
- What the Wayfinding Academy does differently than most institutions of higher learning
- Michelle's tips for finding tiny house parking
Links and Resources:
Michelle is doing her life's work right now, which is exhilarating and terrifying. Her purpose in life is to help others figure out what they want to do with their lives and start doing it. Five years ago, she gathered a group of like-minded friends and colleagues around a vision of what a revolution in higher education could look like. After years of volunteering with groups and non-profits to organize for social impact, (SuperThank, TEDxMtHood, World Domination Summit) Michelle took the leap, and Wayfinding Academy was born. We are still learning as we grow, but we are definitely seeing some ripple effects of change in higher education. When not ruffling the feathers of traditional higher education, Michelle can be found walking the Camino de Santiago with fellow Wayfinders (this summer will be her seventh time!) or relaxing at her tiny home in Portland, Oregon.
This Week's Sponsor:
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84 square feet is enough for the family
Lots of natural light in the morning
A small workspace so Michelle could work from home
Michelle's everyday china was her grandmother's
A painting from an inherited collection
The cat sits on its throne
Michelle and friends on the Camino de Santiago
Michelle's house is made from her parents' dining room table
She's been living in Portland, OR for 11 years
The tiny house hooks up to the main house for power and water
Michelle's house is decorated with important things from her life and her family
Michelle made sure to build in space for childhood journals and photo albums
Michelle Jones 0:00
And the biggest question that I would get from people back then was, "What are you going to do if you want to start dating someone or if you want to get married or like then what are you going to do? Because this is too small of a house." And so that was their main concern back then was what what impact will this have on my love life?
Ethan Waldman 0:19
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build, and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 154 with Michelle Jones. Michelle Jones discovered the tiny house movement well before most of us, struck up a friendship with Dee Williams, and had her 84-square foot tiny house built by Dee's company, Pad. She's been quietly living tiny in Portland, Oregon backyards for 11 years now, and in a lot of ways tiny living has helped to guide and inspire her unconventional career choices. In this interview, Michelle shares her reflections on living tiny for 11 years and some of the unexpected things she has learned along the way. But before we get started, did you know that I personally send a tiny house newsletter every week on Tuesdays? It's called Tiny Tuesdays and it's a weekly email with tiny house news, interviews, photos, and resources. It's free to subscribe and I even share sneak peeks of things that are coming up, ask for feedback about upcoming podcast guests, and more. It's really the best place to keep a pulse on what I'm doing in the tiny house space and also stay informed of what's going on in the tiny house movement. To sign up, go to thetinyhouse.net/newsletter, where you can sign up for the Tiny Tuesday's newsletter. And of course, you can unsubscribe at any time. I will never send you spam. And if you ever don't want to receive emails, it's easy to unsubscribe. So again, that's thetinyhouse.net/newsletter. Thanks and I hope you enjoy next week's Tiny Tuesdays newsletter.
All right, I am here with Michelle Jones. Michelle is doing her life's work right now, which is exhilarating and terrifying. Her purpose in life is to help others figure out what they want to do with their lives and start doing it. Five years ago, she gathered a group of like-minded friends and colleagues around a vision of what a revolution in higher education could look like. After years of volunteering with groups and nonprofits to organize for social impact, Michelle took the leap and Wayfinding Academy was born. They're still learning as they grow, but they are definitely seeing some ripple effects of change in higher education. When not ruffling the feathers of traditional higher education, Michelle can be found walking the Camino de Santiago with fellow Wayfinders (this summer will be her seventh time) or relaxing at her tiny home in Portland, Oregon. Michelle Jones, welcome to the show.
Michelle Jones 3:01
Thank you, Ethan. It's wonderful to be here.
Ethan Waldman 3:03
Yeah, it's wonderful to have you. And I couldn't help but notice the parallels that, you know, you're ruffling the feathers of higher education, but you also 11 years ago, decided that you're going to ruffle the feathers of traditional housing norms.
Michelle Jones 3:18
Yeah, I didn't... Obviously, 11 years ago, when I decided to do the tiny house thing I didn't I did not in any way think of it as preparation for like future professional ruffling of feathers career work. But it was good practice. Because just sort of being in the habit of questioning the norm and saying, "Why does this have to be this way? And is there a better way to do it? And is there a better way for me that personally, if it's me better to do it?" That turns out to be all the same stuff that I later asked about in my professional career that led me to start Wayfinding Academy. So it turned out to be good practice. Unintentional.
Ethan Waldman 3:56
Yeah. Very cool. You never know what what the things you're doing now will lead you to do in the future.
Michelle Jones 4:03
Ethan Waldman 4:04
So I'm curious. What was the the wake up call that kind of led you to go tiny? Was it like the bolt of lightning struck in the middle of the night? Or was it kind of a more slow and gradual process?
Michelle Jones 4:20
Um, I think it was both - a little bit of both. I had, when I chose to do the tiny house thing about three years before that. I guess this is another example of me ruffling feathers and questioning the status quo. But I left like a tenure track professor job on the East Coast for ethical reasons. And I had a big house I had like a 2100-square foot house with five bedrooms and, you know, East Coast style house. And I bought it I owned it, well had a mortgage on it. And when I quit that job, I packed up my car and my pets and traveled across the country to go take a break and live in New Mexico for a little while while I figured out what to do next. And that, to me was sort of the lightning bolt experience, because I only took with me what I could fit in my car along with my pet, which was not very much. And then I lived off of just that live with with just those belongings for a year. And that I think was a transformative moment for me realizing that I don't need a whole lot of stuff I can live really simply, I can be very happy in that. And then, and then it was a three year process of, you know, returning to the East Coast, getting all of my belongings, selling most of them selling the house, and then preparing while I rented a house in the Pacific Northwest while I was teaching again, and preparing to go tiny. I didn't realize though at that, at that moment, when I packed the car drove across the country, that tiny houses were a thing. I don't even think they quite were, just yet. And so it was a couple years after that. But I was on a cross country road trip visiting a bunch of friends that a friend of mine who had lived I had lived with in New Mexico in a shared house. She gave me a magazine and that she had stolen from a doctor's office because she thought I'd like the article. And she gave me a magazine and said, I just heard about this tiny house thing, I think you should check out this article. And it was an article about Dee Williams. And to my surprise, and delight Dee lived just an hour from me in her tiny house. So I struck up a conversation. And that's when I think I'd had my second lightning bolt of awareness and realization that there was another way I could do this. And I'd say those three years in between was maybe me trying to figure out how do I how do I live simply and how do I live in a space like this? Yeah. So it was both, I guess several lightning bolts but also a sort of a slow process.
Ethan Waldman 7:05
Cool. Yeah. Like, like many good processes are. So 11 years ago, as you said, tiny houses really weren't yet a thing. So I'm curious, was there did you experience any pushback from your professional community or your your friends or family.
Michelle Jones 7:31
I was restarting my professional community at that moment. So I didn't have a lot of people who had I had just had taken that year off in New Mexico is a break. And then I'd gone back into teaching and I was looking for jobs, and was sort of was flexible about where I would take a job because I now had a house on wheels and could go literally anywhere. Ironically, I moved around a lot in my life before having a tiny house. And for the past 11 years, I have stayed put in Portland. So I finally get a house on wheels where I can go live anywhere. And I don't I choose not to leave, although I have moved it around town. So surprisingly, I when I took the job at it was at Concordia University in Portland. And when I took that job, I had to find a place to park my house. In Portland, I knew nobody here. And so I made up a little flyer and asked the people at Concordia, if they would circulate it for me and try to help me find a place to park my house. And I held my breath a little on that because these are brand new colleagues, they didn't know me at all, I'd never met them. I was probably the first person they'd ever heard of who lived in a tiny house. So this was all very strange. But they were so friendly and so welcoming, and so excited. And it was a weird first impression for me to make. But it turns out, it was an accurate one. And that's how I found a place to park was through that professional network at work. While my house was being built, I had the design plans. And I was driving around again on a road trip around the country visiting family and friends. And every time I visited somebody and take out the design plans, and I lay them out on the table. And I tell stories about oh, you know, the bathroom is going to be over here. And oh, I'm thinking this for here. And everybody was very excited. By now they've sort of expected me to live in a little bit of a non traditional way. And the biggest question that I would get from people back then was, "What are you going to do if you want to start dating someone or if you want to get married or like then what are you going to do? Because this is too small of a house." And so that was their main concern back then was what what impact will this have on my love life? I don't know if that's pushback or just concern or whatever. But that was the biggest question.
Ethan Waldman 9:59
What did you tell them then and what would you say to them now?
Michelle Jones 10:09
At the time? Well, no, I guess I would probably say the same thing then. And now, at the time, what I said was, "Well, I assume that if I if somebody that I would be wanting to be in a relationship with would think this is great and amazing and wonderful and fun, because otherwise they're probably not a good partner match for me." So that was a vague answer, then now I am in a relationship have been for about six years. And he lives in like a floating home, like a river house. And so it worked out that way. So he's got a unique home, I have a unique home and we get to, we get to enjoy living part time at both houses. Well, I'm
Ethan Waldman 10:55
Well, I'm gonna have
Michelle Jones 10:56
it it is too small for
Ethan Waldman 10:58
it's too small for the two of you. I'm gonna have to invite him to be a guest on the show to talk about his his river home.
Michelle Jones 11:04
Oh, yeah, absolutely. He would love to. Yeah, it is too small for two of us. Although during the pandemic, we have both been living in the tiny house. 84-square feet, two adult people in their 40s. It's been interesting.
Ethan Waldman 11:17
Yeah. And I definitely want to get to that, because like, the tiny house that you built, compared to the tiny houses that are being built now are like, two different animals.
Michelle Jones 11:29
Ethan Waldman 11:30
It's like Yorkshire Terrier versus St. Bernard.
Michelle Jones 11:36
Ethan Waldman 11:40
But you've been living tiny for 11 years. And people tend to figure out the like kinks of tiny living. You know, for me, it took like one or two winters. And you know, I'm in Vermont. And you know, it's very cold here. So that, that puts a lot of stress on the systems of the house, you figure out like, hey, my plumbing freezes in this spot, or like, oh, when I run out of I'm going to run out of propane. When this happens. I'm curious, what are some things that you've learned about tiny living over those 11 years?
Michelle Jones 12:16
Yeah, we just had a winter storm here in Oregon last week. Yep. Which is quite rare, we don't usually get that kind of weather, we had about eight inches of snow and ice and freezing temperatures for four days or so. And most of us lost electricity, they lost power, because our power grid is not used to handling that amount of cold and snow and ice. So last week was an excellent test of all of the things that I had learned over 11 years and whether I was prepared to handle that. I have so so when I started living in my tiny house, there were a number of people who were still including Dee Williams, who still didn't, we're choosing not to have running water or hot water installed in their house. And they would find other solutions for water. And I didn't, I didn't choose that. So I do have an on demand hot water heater that is propane driven and, and running water. So in the very early days of living in my tiny house, one of the things I learned was when my, the garden hose that supplies water to my house when under what conditions that will freeze. And that's usually in my experience, the first thing that goes out for me is water.
Ethan Waldman 13:33
Michelle Jones 13:34
and I have about 100 foot garden hose. And I have most places I've parked my house except for one, a very long garden hose. So it could freeze anywhere along that 100 feet. And I have no water. So I always keep a store of water available. Because you know, you never know when that could happen. And that usually happens first. That part I'm usually pretty well prepared for this last time I also lost propane, which doesn't always happen that only happens under certain circumstances. And I've taken to doing things like wrapping a towel around the propane tank or creating a little cover for it so that no ice and snow if there's precipitation gets onto the tank and then freezes there and then makes it longer that I don't have propane, those sorts of things. And so it's just sort of getting to know your house, I'd say and being prepared for all of the different outcomes. I was prepared for no water I was prepared for no propane. What I wasn't prepared for last week was no electricity. So I just have different backup systems. So I have a gas stove, right so to get hot water. I thought well I have like I took home an electric kettle that I borrowed from work. So I had an electric kettle at home and I had a toaster oven and I have an Instapot so I thought okay, well if I can't cook, and it can't generate hot water Otherwise, this is how I do it. And then when I lost electricity I had to adapt yet again. And thankfully, right shortly after I lost electricity, my propane came back online. So I was able to switch to cooking on my stove using a match to light my stove. But had no electricity and still no running water, but I had stores of water. So it sort of always been this multiple levels of systems of backup. So that no matter which thing, and in this case last week, it wasn't just because I lived in a tiny house, literally everybody was having these issues, to varying degrees. So I actually feel like I was more prepared than most because because I know that my house is especially vulnerable to the elements in those ways. I often want and I live in a pretty temperate environment where you know, maybe this kind of thing happens once every four or five years. I often wonder what it's like for folks who live in Vermont, or really cold places in in tiny houses, and have to have all of those backup systems in place.
Ethan Waldman 16:07
Yeah, I mean, I guess I'll just answer your question right now,
Michelle Jones 16:11
Ethan Waldman 16:14
Hopefully, the house has been designed with that in mind, of course. You know, some things that I figured out was that I just can't use those little propane tanks, you know, the grill size tanks, just because I would run through them so quickly. So figuring out finding a company that would be willing to deliver propane and have slightly larger tanks was was something Luckily, you know, I knew that it was going to be cold. So all of my plumbing is inside of the walls, rather than Well, it's not within the walls, it's on the inside of the wall. So I've never had my interior plumbing freeze, except when the house has run out of propane and frozen. So any any freeze ups have been more user error, then then system failure. But it's - living tiny has its its challenges. But it also has some, you know, major upsides and I'm curious, you know, it's probably hard to ask you like, what are all the upsides, but, you know, do you see like a straight line between your choice to live tiny, and then your choice to kind of leave the education establishment and start your own school?
Michelle Jones 17:39
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things you just reminded me of is that I have a electric space heater, which I typically use for heat. And that helps, but I also have a propane heater. So again, another dual backup system, and I have a dehumidifier that generates just enough heat to make sure that like if I put it in the bathroom and close the door, that the bathroom plumbing will never freeze. I have these little, you know, little tricks that I've learned over the years. That I guess I now just take for granted, because until you just mentioned that I didn't even think of it.
Ethan Waldman 18:13
Michelle Jones 18:16
Yeah, so, gosh, there are there are so many upsides to me, living tiny. The, for me, the main reason I did it initially was the simplification. I wanted to have my own life be as simple as possible, so that I could spend most of my time and energy and resources of all sorts on doing my life's work. 11 years ago, I did not know what my life's work was going to be. But I was already starting to feel a pull towards figuring out what that is and then making a step towards doing it. And I knew that was coming kind of soon. I didn't know what I meant by kind of soon, 11 years ago, but it turned out to be about four years, five years after I started living in a tiny house that I left academia that I left being a professor because it didn't technically leave academia because I am now the president of a college. So technically, I'm still in the same industry. But I definitely left the traditional path that everybody is on. And I would not have been able to do that. Were it not for living? Tiny. Some of that is practical, like the cost. I mean, I've during the 11 years I've lived in Portland, the cost of living here has gone up exponentially, especially in the past six years. And my living expenses have not been insulated from all of that. So right now I pay $450 a month to park my tiny house in a friend's backyard and I and I moved my tiny house to be within walking distance of Wayfinding, the college that I started once I knew where the college would be. So I have very low living expenses, my rent has basically been essentially the same for 11 years. And I don't pay utilities. So even when the cost of utilities go up, I'm insulated from that. And so some of it's a practical, I wouldn't be able to do this, where it not for the living tiny, and some of it is more of the emotional and spiritual and energetic, I wouldn't be able to do this, because starting a college from scratch, and anything big that people are doing, that's their life's work is going to take everything that they have to give. And the more they can conserve that in other areas of their life, the better able they are going to be to dedicate themselves to doing that work. And that's definitely been true for me. And so because I have a simple home life, and it's kind of my sanctuary space, and it's small, so I can come to work, I can give everything I've got, I can work very hard, I can expend all my energy. And then I can retreat to my very tiny cozy simple home and recover and re energize and then come back the next day and do it all again.
Ethan Waldman 21:19
Michelle Jones 21:22
And I think that one thing I'm starting to be more aware of now is I think, I have not historically I've not been strongly connected to my past and my, you know, ancestry and family history and that kind of thing. And I'm starting to think about that a little bit more. And so one of the upsides I'm just starting to tap into is that every single item in my house has meaning. And most of the items either came from things I inherited, you know, I have like my grandmother's china is my everyday china. My My house is physically built out of an old oak dining room table that my parents bought, when, before I was born, that was their very first piece of furniture they ever owned, and it got chopped up and made into my house, my house is literally made out of that.
So I have a lot of that kind of family history stuff that I'm surrounded by, in some way surrounded by my ancestors every day in my home. And then the other stuff comes from my my travels and things that I like to collect along as part of my life story. So it's starting to realize the joy of that more now. And I think I kind of took it for granted a little bit before.
Ethan Waldman 22:44
Yeah, you you spoke to that really nicely. And in the medium article that you wrote, I'd actually written down that as a quote, one of the gifts the tiny home has given me is that most of the things I own are either repurposed mementos from my life or repurposed materials from someone else's.
Michelle Jones 23:01
Yeah. Yeah. And that's been a, just, that article just came out recently. And so it's been, that's been one of my more recent realizations about this choosing this life. And to your point before, when people do tiny house living now. It's quite different than, you know, maybe what I'm doing.
Ethan Waldman 23:22
Michelle Jones 23:22
But I think there's still that opportunity, even if the house is much, much larger, or quite more modern or whatever, there's still that opportunity of making really intentional choices about what you have surrounding you, all day, every day.
Ethan Waldman 23:35
Right. Right. I'm curious about your kind of take or philosophy on downsizing? And the I'm curious if it has, has it had to continue as a process for you, you know, because you, you do this initial downsizing to get into the tiny house, but then, you know, the culture the media never stops bombarding you with the message like to consume and like to have this thing or that thing. How do you how do you think about that? How do you how do you get by for 11 years and like stay in an 84-square foot tiny house? Yeah,
Michelle Jones 24:25
I mean, I have a couple of cheap Dino where like, if I get one new thing, I have to get rid of a thing. You know, that kind of thing? Yeah. I about twice a year I send my sister and my niece a care package of all of the random things that I'm prepared to now get rid of and send over to her to enjoy. Most of the time. That's, that's clothes, or books or trinket type of things that I've accumulated over the past year. So I use tricks like that. But yeah, because my space hasn't expanded in 11 years, and yet my my life in many ways has. And so I do have an office at work. So sometimes I can choose. So for example, about, oh gosh, seven or eight years ago, maybe now, I inherited a collection of paintings from my father, that my family, my parents were in the process of moving, and he was finding new homes for these paintings. And I was able to take four or five of them because I have an office, and I can put them on display and hang them in my office at work. And I have the smallest one is, is hanging in my tiny house. But all the rest of them are at my office. So I have a couple of opportunities like that. But by and large, I've learned to tune out the society's expectations of consumerism, mostly. That took a bit of practice, but I actually much much prefer that. And then some of it was out of necessity, because when I, about six years ago, when I left my teaching career, and started my own college, I took a large pay cut, initially 100% pay cut, I went from making what I was making to making nothing. And then it and now I'm now I do have a salary, but it's about half of what it was before. And so some of it's been out of necessity of you know, and I've used my years of practice of tuning out that consumerism, to make the budget, lifestyle situation work. And at this point, I actually get some, some pride out of being able to do that, which helps. For me the most, the most challenging thing of recent times is that as I've been stepping more and more into like a spokesperson kind of a role and making more public appearances this year, not so hard during the pandemic, because I can just do it all via Zoom or whatever. But in the couple years before this, when I would have to travel around or go to conferences or whatever, needing a wardrobe needing a diverse wardrobe that can cover a lot of different things is not very practical in the tiny house.
Ethan Waldman 27:17
Michelle Jones 27:18
So, I have had to find creative ways around that whether it's borrowing things from people renting things for special events, purchasing a thing that's pretty inexpensive, but and then getting rid of another thing, you know, finding ways, because my closet is about two feet wide. And it has to fit everything. I mean, I it has to fit all of my all of my clothing for all of the seasons and all of the types of events. And so I've That's for me been the harder part is when the external expectation is that I appear in a certain manner, because I'm now president of a college and being a spokesperson, not having the and not really wanting the wardrobe to support that.
Ethan Waldman 28:03
Right, right. It's the kind of thing that you only need to use a couple of times a year, but then when you need it, you need it.
Michelle Jones 28:10
Exactly, exactly. And now, during this past year, having my partner being in the house with me. You know, it's meant giving taking half of my drawers where I kept my clothes, and giving them to him so that he had a place to keep his. And so that that was an interesting experiment. And it worked, I was able successfully to take my clothes and push them down into half this physical space and still have it work. So that's been so I've learned throughout this past year that I actually do have more space, more available space in the house for storage than I would have thought I did.
Ethan Waldman 28:46
Yeah. Interesting to discover new new ways of storing things and opening up maybe an extra, you know, room for an extra jacket or something?
Michelle Jones 28:58
Ethan Waldman 29:00
Has there been any point over the 11 years where you like, considered like, Okay, I'm going to need to, you know, step up mid, you know, build a bigger, tiny house or move in, you know, move back into a traditional house.
Michelle Jones 29:16
The only time that's really started occurring to me was during this past year. I think, as we've all navigated being in this global pandemic, where we live has become even more important, like our physical space of where we live has become even more important for a variety of reasons. Yeah, and I feel a lot of gratefulness and privilege to have a safe, secure, warm, cozy space to be during all of this time because I know a lot of people don't. And this sudden, significant change of going from one person living in 84 Square Feet to two people living in 84 square feet has meant that I have more often than usual thought about maybe it's time to have a little more space. And we've made it now it's been next week will be a year that we've had two of us living in the tiny house. And so I think about that a lot less now we have adjusted and we have adapted, and we've figured out a way that works. And we're fortunate to have extra space to go to so for example, one or both of us can be at Wayfinding Academy, working from here or having extra space here. So were it not for that, I think we would have had to find a different living situation for this. For this time, during the pandemic, we also went when the when that feeling becomes a little too overwhelming for me, I will often ask around to my friends and see if any of them have are traveling or their house is empty or something like that, and borrow a friend's house for a little while. And that really helps to even if it's just like a weekend of staying at someone else's house and having a full size house. And a bathtub is the thing I missed the most. My partner he misses having a couch. So if we can borrow a place house for a weekend and he gets a couch and I get a bathtub, then that usually works. And we can go back to the tiny house afterwards and feel content again.
Ethan Waldman 31:26
Awesome. Well, another thing that you you touched on in your article was the theme of you know, I'll just read the quote, because I like it, "I built my tiny house thinking that it would make me more self reliant, but it's done the opposite. I've had to learn to ask for help for my community in ways I never thought I'd be able to do." Can you? Can you reflect further on that?
Michelle Jones 31:51
Yeah. Yeah, I've always sort of had a little bit of an independent streak and stubborn streak to me. And at the time, when I chose to live in a tiny house, I had been moving, let's see, I was 33. And I'd been moving around the country quite a lot. You know, I went from Texas, where I grew up to California to Massachusetts, to Rhode Island to Mexico to Tacoma. And you know, so I'd been moving around a lot. And I was assuming that this is my life now, right, I'm going to always move and I'm always going to be a bit of a nomad, I'm always going to be constantly in that kind of a pattern. And so I wanted to be as self sufficient and self reliant as possible. And that was part of my decision to build a tiny house because it's like, well, now I have a small house on wheels, I can take it anywhere I want to go. I don't have to depend on you know, renters or landlords or whatever to find home each new place I go. And of course, as I mentioned, I have not left Portland since I got the tiny house on wheels. And what I've learned is that I actually now have to depend on people even more, because from big things like finding someone who is willing to let me live in their backyard, which is a big ask of other people, it benefits them as well in a number of ways. But that's a big ask of somebody to let me bring my home into their yard and take part of that, that what we typically think of in our culture as private space. And then other little things like you know, I get my water by connecting a hose to their main house, I get my electricity by plugging in a long extension cord to their main house, we I don't have my own way of getting internet. And so I have to use their internet. Asking friends to borrow their house. So I can have a bathtub every once in a while, you know. So I've had to get more comfortable leaning on the community that I have around me for basic necessities like water and electricity, but also little luxury items like being able to use a bathtub or an oven. Or if I do run out of my water storage, I sometimes have to go ask my neighbor if I can fill up my water from their house. And last week. Usually this doesn't happen, because it's not this extended here in Oregon. But last week with that winter storm. After about four days, I asked my neighbor if I could come in their house and take a shower. And they said of course. So just little things like that. That is is like the opposite of being completely self reliant and not needing other people. Right. But there's a lot more fulfillment in this too. And it prepared me again, not intentionally, but as an accidental outcome. it prepared me for the work I'm doing now. Because Wayfinding Academy is a community college and we really emphasize the role of community in that, in fact, like close to half of our annual operating budget is donations from our community of supporters to Even in that way we've had to get it's been good practice for me of what it's like to be supported by a community doing the work that you're doing, because they believe that it matters.
Ethan Waldman 35:10
Yeah. Well, that's that's a great segue, because I do want to ask you about about Wayfinding. Academy. What maybe, I mean, I'm sure that our listeners have probably never, never heard of it. I'm familiar because because I know you through a conference that we've both been involved with. Right? But yeah, what's what's Wayfinding Academy and maybe like, if tiny houses are solving the problem that, you know, we're, we're buying houses that are, you know, more than we can afford, and taking up more space than we need? You know, if that's the problem that tiny houses are solving, what what is the problem that Wayfinding Academy is solving in higher education?
Michelle Jones 35:52
Yeah. I, the way I like to think about it is that the reason Wayfinding exists is to help more people figure out what they want to do with their lives and start doing it. I, I taught in the traditional higher education system for 15 years. And when I started that career, I thought that was what the purpose of higher education is, is to help people figure out their life path and their career and their, what they're going to do with their lives, and then give provide all of this the skills and opportunities and internships and practice to do that. And I very quickly realized that that is not the case, didn't matter where I taught, that was not the approach that most colleges were taking. And so after doing that, for a number of years, and listening to a lot of students, expressed those concerns, and the cost of higher education over those 15 years exploded, it just went crazy. Higher education and health care are the only two things that are like off the charts in terms of the increase in cost over the same period of time, as, you know, other cost of living. And so I, after a lot of listening to students, and some of my colleagues complaining about the way the system was, I decided, well, seems like we can do something about this. There's no reason to just complain and complain, and you can just make a change. So that's what led me to start Wayfinding. So we are a, we've been around this is our sixth birthday was last week. So we've been around for six years, we've graduated three cohorts of students. And we have three more cohorts of students enrolled right now with us. And it's a two year private, nonprofit community college. So the whole goal students do get a degree at the end of it and associate's degree, just like any other two year Community College, but they are, more importantly, I think what they get out of it is the opportunity to spend this time in a community of people supporting them and guiding them and helping them answer core questions about who they are, what they value, what do they want to do with their life, identifying things that are going on in the world that they care deeply about and want to have an impact on. And then practicing during those two years, they do internships, they do projects, we don't have any grades or tests. We do everything sort of experiential, and so that at the end of two years, they have actual skills, they have a portfolio, they've done internships, and most of them are already doing their work in the world that they want to be doing. And so then we help them with their next steps after Wayfinding, which is what I thought in my idealized version of things, what what higher education was going to do. But I chose a two year format instead of a four year format. Because I think that two years, if done well, two years is enough to get to get students to take those first steps. And we also made it really affordable. And we meet everybody's financial need, in whatever way we need to. So that none of our students graduate with, with student loan debt.
Ethan Waldman 38:58
Michelle Jones 39:01
Yeah, it sounds. It sounds very simple now, but you know, six years after starting it, but holy moly, it's really a hard thing, you know, to start a college from scratch and to try. And I know, I understand that the tiny house movement was very similar in the early days as well is that you're just you're having a conversation about something that everybody else doesn't even quite know where to where to begin with that conversation. It's not something that is part of our societal discourse. Yeah. And now tiny houses have become that which is fantastic that everybody can now have that conversation about living simply and not taking more space than you need and consumerism and how it connects with all of that. We're not yet there with alternative alternative colleges. It's not part of our standard societal conversation yet.
Ethan Waldman 39:55
Right? It's kind of like okay, this is like an alternative and I'm using air quotes. Like school, and I could see how traditionalists might look down, you know, kind of like, snub their nose and look down upon it.
Michelle Jones 40:10
Much like people in you know, larger houses are like, you know, that seems silly. Yep, exactly. So I think we're still, we're still there. Things are starting to change in terms of the national discourse about this. And some of the things Wayfinding has been doing from the beginning, like, not requiring standardized test scores for as part of our admissions process, or de emphasizing grades or removing grades altogether, and doing more holistic stuff. I think some of that now colleges are starting to talk a lot more about but that's a slow road, probably.
Ethan Waldman 40:48
Yes. Yes. Higher Education. Not not fast to change.
Michelle Jones 40:53
No, maybe if HGTV were to start some shows. Or educate? I don't know how they would do such a thing. But maybe, because that's I think what happened with the tiny house movement was started happening.
Ethan Waldman 41:07
Yes. Although Be careful what you wish for? Because I do. I do think that the I do think that HGTV while it has helped normalize tiny houses, has also fed into the big ification of of tiny houses,
Unknown Speaker 41:25
right, the HGTV application,
Ethan Waldman 41:27
kind of like, "Yo, we heard you love climbing walls. So we put a climbing wall on your tiny house." Which like it's cool, but it's also a little bit kind of getting away from some of the basics maybe?
Michelle Jones 41:41
Ethan Waldman 41:43
And also making them very expensive. I mean, yeah, I'm curious. Of course, like, you know, you had your house built 11 years ago, and the price of both people's time and of materials has gone up significantly. But I'm curious what, you know, if you don't mind sharing, what what did it cost to have your house bill 11 years ago?
Michelle Jones 42:05
Yeah, my cost 11 years ago was in my house was $24,000, half of that was labor, and half of that was materials. Wow. And I didn't build it myself, I don't have those skills. And so I did hire someone to build it. She was an amazing person, Katie, built it. And so one, one woman built my house for me, a different person, Dee Williams actually did the design of it, designed it, Katie built it. And I think, at least here in Oregon, there's a couple of places that will build houses for you for somewhat of an affordable price. And if you provide a lot of the materials, like in my case, I provided a lot of reused materials, which have helped keep the cost down. But I think it'd be really hard to get, of course, I have like only a 14 foot trailer, so 14, smallest house you can do. which also helps keep the costs down labor and materials. But I think it'd be really hard to get a house for $24,000 these days, unless you built it yourself, in which case, it's still possible.
Ethan Waldman 43:14
Right? I mean, I would say that even doing it yourself, you would have to use a majority of reclaimed repurposed materials, it's definitely doable. But it's it's kind of amazing to actually say, Wow, $24,000 that's like, some tiny house trailers costs like eight or $9,000. Now when you're looking at like, these 30, plus foot trailers that can hold 15 or 20,000 pounds. So
Michelle Jones 43:45
Yeah, I think the two most expensive parts of my house were that my trailer, which I think if I remember was about $2200, $2400, a 14 foot trailer. And then my windows, I have a lot of windows in my house, and those were all but two of them were new windows. And that was about $2,000 as well for the windows. Everything else was much smaller expenses. And I did I haven't looked at it in years and years and years, but I did keep a list of you know, every every piece of material in the house and how much that cost and that kind of thing. So but those were by far the two largest single expenses for the house. So I think it definitely depends on on how you approach that and and what you what you want to prioritize. And I think that's the I think that's the one of the overall benefits of choosing to live in a tiny house, even if it's not very tiny, is that you are forced to make informed intentional choices about the way you live in a way that you're not if you're just like, Oh, I'm just gonna get this house and it's gonna be big and it's gonna have plenty of space for everything. And I don't have to make those informed intentional choices because it really forced me to Prioritize how you know what I wanted my life to be like and have a house that match that, because I couldn't have everything. I could only have some things and I had to choose.
Ethan Waldman 45:10
Yeah. Yeah. If you if you were going to design another tiny house, one for you and your partner to live in? Uh huh. How much bigger Do you think you'd go?
Michelle Jones 45:24
Probably not much. I'm friends of mine that had their house built right shortly after mine, they a couple and they lived in it together. And they did an 18-foot trailer. So for just four feet longer. But that gave them a much more counter space for the kitchen, it gave them the ability to have a downstairs bed that folds out. And their upstairs loft bed, which if I think that would be critical, especially when you think about like, as we age, if we were to get injured and not be able to climb a ladder to a loft bed. Having the ability to have a downstairs bed that kind of fold out situation, it also gave them the opportunity to have a like a very small dining room table kind of thing where they can sit together. I have a built in desk that I can work from, but it doesn't provide me a place for two of us to sit and have a meal together. Because I wasn't imagining two people when I had it built. So I think even just four feet more would would give those kinds of things that I think are more conducive to having two people in a house, then one person, so I don't think you have to go much bigger. In my dream world. If I wanted him to be able to have a couch and me to be able to have a bathtub, I'm probably have to go to like 20 feet, I think. Yeah.
Ethan Waldman 46:46
Which is still smaller than most tiny houses being pretty small. So yeah,
Michelle Jones 46:52
That's right. That's right. Nice. But I want to but I, you know, I can move mine around with a normal heavy duty pickup truck. Which, that's a big benefit, right? whereas those much huger ones, you have to, you know, contract an 18 wheeler kind of a rig to move it around. And that's not the same thing. So
Ethan Waldman 47:18
Yeah, two very different ends of the spectrum, I would say, yeah, I'm curious. Any tips on finding parking because it seems like you've been in your tiny house 11 years, you've moved it a few times, anything you've learned along the way?
Michelle Jones 47:36
It's gonna sound so cliche, but it's gonna have to go back to community. Yeah. For one year I was parked. Here in in Portland, we have a an island just north of downtown called Suavi Island, which is like an app primarily at this point, an agricultural Island, it has a lot of Native American history to it, and where it's where a lot of indigenous peoples used to make their homes and make their livelihoods. Yeah. And it is now mostly an agricultural island has, like, you know, berry farms and pumpkin picking patches and those sorts of things. And on the very far end of the island, they have a little bit of like an alternative RV park with a lot of Airstreams and things like that. So for one year, I lived there. And that I found a very normal sort of a way, you know, I found an RV park online, and I went out and looked at it, and I met the manager of the park and I moved my house there. And so a very standard kind of a process. But that was only one year of my 11 years, every other time I've been in three other yards. So over the course of the those 11 years, I've lived in three different backyards. And every time it was through a community that I found it, I know nowadays, there's a lot of like Facebook groups where you can post, "Oh, I'm looking for a spot" or that kind of thing. So I'm in the local, Portland tiny houses Facebook group, and I see a lot of opportunities there for people saying I'm looking for a space or I have a space or what have you. And so that'd be a tip I'd recommend is find, whatever your local way of communicating about that is, which is probably going to be something like a Facebook group, and join that. And then what's worked for me. The first and third time that I found yards, was making that little flyer having pictures of me having pictures of my house having a little bit about who I am, so that the person who's considering letting me share their private space can Google me can learn about me can understand why I live in a tiny house, what my values are what I do with my life outside of my home, so that they can make an informed intentional choice about who I am. And I think you know, creating just like a one page little thing that you can post in those groups or you can circulate among communities is a really good way to do it. The second place the place I was parked for the longest I found through a friend. I was just talking to one of my friends about how I was thinking of moving, I wanted to live a little closer to work. And she said, "I've got this friend who's got this great backyard. And I think she loves something like this. she's obsessed with tiny houses, but she doesn't want one herself. Can I can I introduce you?" And I said, Sure. And I lived there for years, it was the best place I've ever lived. And that friend's daughter is now a student at Wayfinding. So life is an interesting journey. And I think some of it is just being open to that. And really understanding why you want to be parked where you do and what what's the most important to you. So for me, at this moment, I found my current spot through a friend through an acquaintance I met at a neighborhood association meeting who had a friend who had a yard. But for me, my priority was living in community with somebody who I enjoyed their company, and within walking distance to the college. And I've found both of those. And I feel really fortunate.
Ethan Waldman 51:08
Nice. One thing that I like to ask all of my guests is, what are two or three books or resources that you recommend that don't necessarily have to be about tiny houses, but just recommendations to pass along? Yeah.
Michelle Jones 51:27
Well, the first one I'll say is, it's probably common among your audience. But Dee Williams wrote a book called The Big tiny about her journey and experience. And I love it, not because of the tiny house elements of it necessarily, but just about how it weaves in with her whole life. And I found myself on almost every page, both laughing and crying. And so the way she's got her personality in that story is amazing. So I always recommend that one. For anybody who's even remotely interested in tiny houses, or not really, it's just good for anybody. Yeah. But another one that I just read recently, is called The Book of Delights. It's by an author named Ross Gay. And he, he, you know, one year on his birthday, he decided he was going to every day by longhand, written out by hand, write down a short story of something that brought him delight that day. And then he collected it into this book of essays. And I think it fits with the idea of living life on purpose and living life intentionally, and paying attention to our surroundings and being self aware in that way. So that we can find joy everyday, even when things are not on the surface, feeling very joyful. So The Book of Delights would be my other recommendation.
Ethan Waldman 52:57
Awesome. Well, Michelle Jones, thank you so, so much for your time today. I really loved our conversation, and I'm excited to share it on the podcast.
Michelle Jones 53:07
Thank you, Ethan. I am too, thank you so much.
Ethan Waldman 53:12
Thank you so much to Michelle Jones for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes, including links to Michelle's blog and to the Wayfinding Academy, along with some great photos of Michelle's tiny house at thetinyhouse.net/154. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/154. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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