I’m happy to report that we’ve been living in our tiny house for a full month now. The house is surprisingly warm (even without our wood stove installed) and we haven’t had any major issues. Living inside of a house that we built with our own hands is such a good feeling! I certainly appreciate its warmth and comfort more than when we were living in apartments elsewhere.
The house isn’t completely finished since still have to install our woodstove, our kitchen sink, and finish the exterior siding (to name a few projects) but to me, it’s perfect just the way it is.
Now that we’re officially living in the house, we can start working toward our ultimate goal of transforming this land into something more:
A self-sustainable homestead with zero waste.
I didn’t know this before I Googled it just now, but the definition of homesteading implies self-sufficiency.
Here is Wikipedia’s definition of homesteading:
Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and may also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale.
Modern homesteaders often use renewable energy options including solar electricity and wind power. Many also choose to plant and grow heirloom vegetables and to raise heritage livestock. Homesteading is not defined by where someone lives, such as the city or the country, but by the lifestyle choices they make.
(Obviously, we won’t raise livestock and we probably won’t sell any of our craftwork but you get the idea.)
We have a long way to go before we can be completely self-sustainable. Right now, we’re on-grid with our electric and water hookups. These have been life-savers while we built the house, especially when it comes to water. We hope to rely on them less and less as we establish other energy sources (like solar panels) and a rainwater collection system down the road. Getting to the point where we are off-grid and self-sustainable seems like an impossible task at times but I don’t let that discourage me. I find it helpful to write down our goals and break them in into smaller more manageable steps.
Here are some of the changes we’ve implemented to help us get there.
We want to create as little waste as possible, especially when it comes to plastic, so we avoid buying anything plastic or anything packaged in plastic. Some plastic items can’t be avoided (like blister packs for medication) but we can do without the rest.
focus on fresh produce
Most of our plastic waste comes from food. For us, the easiest way to avoid it is to focus on fresh produce. We can buy fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and dried fruit in bulk. Our main meal used to focus on pasta but not anymore. We choose steamed potatoes instead since we can buy them without any packaging. Even though plenty of pasta comes packaged in boxes, for some reason the box still comes with a plastic window. I did find lasagna and cannoli noodles in boxes without plastic, however. We might give them a try, at least until I learn to make pasta from scratch. We don’t buy too many processed foods anyway but now we will learn to live without vegan Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Oreos, and lentil chips (some of our former junk food favourites).
We haven’t found a local fresh market yet. In the meantime, we prefer to shop at smaller food shops. Not only can we find more options without packaging but we also like to support the local community. To be honest, my weakness is ordering hard-to-find vegan treats and specialty products online. We didn’t have any difficulty finding these products in Kraków but that isn’t the case now. Our tiny house is in a small village in the Masurian countryside so predictably, we have less choice. I’m saddened by the lack of Asian shops but it really isn’t the end of the world. It just inspires me to be more creative in the kitchen.
We still have lots of plastic-free options even without an Asian shop or a dedicated bulk shop nearby. The village shop sells produce without plastic and they even have bulk bins for dried beans, fruit, and nuts. The local bakery sells bread without packaging so we can have fresh bread every morning if we want.
(We will probably forgo the bananas at some point because they’re transported over vast distances.)
Cook from scratch
Skipping plastic means we won’t buy things like tortillas or tofu anymore. When we were living in our van and tent, our favourite lunch was smoked tofu wraps. We can’t buy tofu in bulk here (unlike in Kraków’s Asia Deli) and I’m not ready to make it myself. Until that day comes, we’ll just eat chickpeas and peas. They’re just as tasty! And since I still wanted wraps in my life, I learned to make my own. Thanks, Tulsi’s Vegan Kitchen!
Technically, I made whole wheat chapati. We eat them with dinner or as a snack. Spread a thin layer of peanut butter or vegan chocolate hazelnut spread and jam onto the chapati and roll it up. Yum!
Paper or glass packaging only
Perhaps at some point, we will aim to avoid all packaged foods but we don’t want to go that far just yet. We don’t have access to bulk shops so buying flour in paper bags can’t be avoided. I also buy sugar, cornmeal, oats, and rice (thank goodness—I need my rice!) in paper bags. Kuba says we can burn these paper bags in our woodstove so for now, we’re okay with buying food packaged in paper. We’re also okay with buying jarred foods since jars can be reused. (I seriously save every single one. I might be a jar hoarder!)
Buy second hand
This is something we already do but we want to do it even more. Most of the furniture in our tiny house comes from OLX, an online marketplace similar to Craigslist. So far we’ve scored a fridge, spice rack, couch, storage bench, dresser, blanket, bathtub, and crates for our bookshelves on OLX. Everything was used apart from the crates which were made locally. These items cost a fraction of what they would cost if we purchased them new. Buying them used also means we can avoid plastic packaging. It’s a win-win!
Kuba set up a compost pile before we started building our house. We compost our food scraps as well as everything from our compost toilet. Even Ajka’s dog poo bags are compostable! She uses Benevo biodegradable poo bags which are made from cornstarch. Benevo’s website says you can add them to your home compost pile but I’m not sure how long they take to biodegrade. We’ll wait and see!
So far, we’ve been able to adapt to these changes without any difficulty since we’re really just breaking habits and establishing a new routine. I try not to dwell on the negative aspects, like going without certain things I deemed essential. One example is soy sauce. We can’t buy it in bulk here and can’t find it bottled without a plastic cap, so I refuse to buy it. Instead of being disappointed that I can’t have my beloved soy sauce every day, I focus on the new opportunities that present themselves. Maybe I’ll try making soy sauce at home or I’ll find a similarly-flavoured alternative at one of the organic shops in town. When it comes to avoiding plastic, there’s always a solution. We just need to find it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
We’re just getting started in our tiny house and can’t wait for next year! Here are some of the projects we have in mind:
We don’t have regular plumbing in our tiny house even though we currently have a water hookup on this property. This is for two reasons: we didn’t want the hassle and we want to use as little water as possible. Next year, we will set up a rainwater collection system. Our goal is to collect enough rainwater to provide water for all of our kitchen, bathroom, and garden needs.
start a garden
I’m most excited about this goal. I don’t have any gardening experience but I’m confident that I can learn. (We also didn’t have any building experience before building our tiny house. YouTube and Google are invaluable research tools!) My ultimate goal is to grow enough produce on this land to feed us year-round. I’ll probably focus on potatoes, squash, onions, carrots, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and herbs at first but I’m open to anything. Basically, if Poland’s climate allows for it, I want to grow it.
build a root cellar
All of this produce means we’ll need somewhere to store it. Kuba’s solution is to build a root cellar so we can stockpile potatoes, pickles, and preserves.
install solar panels
We powered everything we needed through solar panels (200W total) while living in the van. Solar panels aren’t cheap so we’ll need some to save up money to invest in several for our house. We plan on using solar energy to power our tiny house (and Kuba’s future recording studio) instead of using electricity from the city. (Legally, we still need the electricity hookup on this land but that doesn’t mean we have to use it.)
We love our van but don’t want to drive it as much. We’re already looking at used bicycles on OLX but need to wait until spring to purchase them. Then we can rely on bikes for shorter journeys. Hooray for more exercise and clean energy! 🙂