Tag Archives: downsizing

I Moved!

I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been busy because…I MOVED! I’m now living on the grounds of a local resort that’s been closed for years. Some of the buildings are beautiful and up to date, but many are dilapidated and decaying, giving it a crazy awesome air of mystery. There’s also miles of hiking trails and lots of gardens, some of which I’m going to be taking care of. I’m basically doing a work exchange in return for staying there. I’m helping with the veggie and flower gardens, doing a little night security, and occasionally testing the pool. The owner is hoping to fully refurbish the resort as a center for workshops on Eastern philosophy, qi gong, yoga, and meditation; my friends who work there convinced her to let me stay on the property in my trailer. She was interested in my goal of a low-impact life. I’m still a little in disbelief this is finally happening, and I’m really grateful to my friends who convinced the property owner. Here’s a day of my routine there:

Wake up, turn on my little stove, fry a couple eggs, and brew up a pot of coffee. Sit in my canvas chair drinking coffee and eating eggs on bread, still half asleep. Fill my water bucket and my solar shower from the outdoor tap on a cabin 10 feet away from my trailer. Stumble down to the tree where I’ve rigged my aerial silks, stretch and do a few tricks-I might have to take it easy, as my hands are pretty sore. Walk to the garden, passing a giant raspberry bush and pausing to eat a few berries…spend about an hour yanking weeds  from between the herbs. It’s slow going, the sun is hot, and I’m getting a blister from weeding; still, it’s satisfying  to see the herbs freed up from their weedy tanglement. As I walk back to the trailer, I cross a field of thyme, its aromatic purple flowers visited by numerous bees. It’s good to be back in the shade under the tree where I’ve parked; I do my dishes from breakfast, only using a little water. I spend a lazy few hours reading, including a book on bike repair. I think I’ve finally figured out the brake problem on my bike. I tinker with the brakes until they’re properly aligned, slapping away bugs the whole time. Before I know it, it’s time to grab a quick avocado sandwich before heading off to work, which turns out to be 6 hours of grinding boredom; not too busy, but not slow either. After work, I’m drained. I’m also jonesing for a pizza and some mindless Netflix, but it’s too late at night for one, and I don’t have electric or internet for the other. On the other hand, I’m getting a fair tradeoff, I think, looking around at the property under the light of the quarter moon that hangs in the sky like a flake of gold. I splash myself off with tepid water from the solar shower, brush my teeth, and head off to the mansion to retrieve the keys from the key safe. My first stop is the back of the mansion, where I lock up an open door and turn off some errant lights in the beautiful wood-paneled library. Then, I slip quietly through the dark to the pool building, and check up there; the pool is beautiful but spooky in my lantern light. I make sure the sauna and lights are off, then lock up. I walk across the property to the presentation hall, AKA the Tally Ho, passing the tree where our resident owl roosts. I check for its eyeglow in my lantern light, but don’t spot it. One door of the Tally Ho is open to the night air (and marauding bugs) so I close it, suppressing a little shiver as I walk under the creepy horse head sculpture mounted above the fireplace. After finishing my rounds, I put the keys back in the key safe. My exhaustion begins to settle in for good now. I walk past one of the most extraordinary view s I’ve ever seen, the mountains to the north framed by trees and lit by the moon and stars. I wish Tim was here, but I have to leave that thought be for now, and I’m just too tired to deal; back in my trailer, I sink into bed and fall asleep ignoring the buzzing of a mosquito in my ear.

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The trailer by the numbers: living in the Mothership

I was introduced to “tiny living” when I worked for an Americorps trail crew in Vermont. We lived in tents at a remote campsite where we had to canoe in with all our gear. Personal belongings were limited to what could fit in 2 backpacks, and sleeping space was a 3 person tent shared with a co-worker and her gear. We all cooked and ate communally, and most evenings were spent sitting around a campfire. Definitely a different arrangement than living alone in a trailer, but it introduced me to living on less, in a small space, with the trees as my walls and the stars as my roof. I had to be more conscious about water use, and washing, and not leaving leftovers when I ate-among many other things. In some ways it was harder to live on less, but in other ways it was very freeing: not constantly worrying about paying bills and rent (and having great hiking and swimming less than 50 feet from where I slept) made up for bug bites and occasional wet feet. I’ve decided to take that philosophy a step further and live in my own more permanent dwelling, a 6×12” cargo trailer converted into a living space.

 

WHAT IS THE MOTHERSHIP?

The Mothership is a completely self-contained, off-grid tiny house built in a converted 6×12 cargo trailer. That’s the short answer. The long answer is-it’s been a long, crazy adventure of almost  4 months, an  extensive construction project, and a journey of self-discovery and learning.

 

WHAT MAKES IT SUSTAINABLE?

 

Off-Grid: The Mothership needs no utility hookups. Light is provided by solar-powered LED lanterns and natural daylight, water can be filtered on-site, and heat is provided by a tiny stove that burns scrap wood and small branches. I’m also planning to install solar panels for another source of electricity.

Reused materials: An estimated 25-40% of solid waste generated in the US comes from construction debris; much of this can be re-used. About 80% of the materials in the Mothership are scrap or reclaimed. I’ve sourced materials from barns, attics, secondhand stores, junkyards, dumpsters and abandoned buildings. I also tried to plan the construction based on the materials at hand, rather than making a rigid plan and buying materials to fit that. This construction method minimized the amount of waste/scrap material the project generated.  

Small Size: the house’s tiny dimensions mean it’s less resource-intensive even without trying! It takes less wood to heat, less electricity to light, less water for cleaning and other tasks…

Can be parked anywhere with a decent view (or not!): No need to clear land to build a house; the tiny footprint of the trailer means it can fit in just about any corner of the world, and it’s fully mobile. That also means I can park it somewhere that will minimize my commute to work, friends’ houses, stores, etc.

Less Stuff: The lack of space in the house means I have to be very conscious about owning and acquiring possessions, and not own any more than the minimum of what I need.

 

WHERE CAN IT BE PARKED?

Any flat area with enough room for a 6×12’ trailer, truck, and room to turn the truck around. Preferably somewhere with sunlight, as the solar water heater needs it to make hot water for showers.

 

WHAT ARE ITS NEEDS FOR WATER, TRASH DISPOSAL, ETC?

Water: I don’t anticipate using more than 10 gallons of water on any given day. The solar water heater has a capacity of 7.5 gallons, and daily cooking, cleaning, washing and drinking needs shouldn’t exceed 2.5-3 gallons. The sink has a water storage tank with a 5-gallon capacity and a grey water storage tank with the same capacity, so unless I’m showering a lot, I shouldn’t have to get water a lot, so it’s OK if I’m not immediately next to a water source. My grey water should be safe to dump in a sump hole or even use to water plants, as I plan to use only nontoxic and biodegradable cleaners and not dump anything down my sink like paint, glues, solvents, etc.

Electricity: I don’t need an electric hookup; my lighting is provided by natural daylight and solar-powered LED lights. Eventually I plan to install a rooftop solar array with battery storage for other electricity needs, which will be minimal-maybe a power source for my laptop and a small fan for ventilation. I don’t have refrigeration, and any foods I need to keep cool will be stored in a small cooler with ice. However I’ve found it’s surprisingly easy to live without refrigeration if you are careful about food preparation and consumption. Eating mostly vegetarian food helps. Produce can be stored at room temperature for 5-7 days, eggs and cultured dairy products for 3-4 days, and butter and many condiments for even longer.

Laundry: I plan to use whatever local laundromat is closest, and I’ll try to air-dry my clothes when weather and space allow. 

Toilet and shower facilities: I have a solar water heater on top of the camper with a shower attachment; the black plastic pipe soaks up heat from the sun, warms the water, and gives me a way to enjoy a nice warm low-flow gravity fed shower outdoors (so it would probably be best that I parked a little out of the way…) If the weather gets cold, I can also use the shower at the gym where  I’m a member. As for toilet facilities, I didn’t have room to put a composting toilet in the trailer, so I figured I would just use the bathroom at work or any other nearby facility, and in an emergency, I’d resort to the old strategy of peeing behind an out-of-the-way tree.

Cooking: I have a 2-burner camp stove to do my cooking on, and a small sink with gravity-fed running water from a tank. Grey water storage is below the sink.

Trash, recycle, and compost: I compost food scraps, and would be happy to contribute my compost to any gardening going on wherever I park, especially if it’s something like pumpkins, which love compost. I have 2 bins for recycles (plastic/metal and paper/cardboard) and would not produce more than a few pounds of each type of recycle per week; I also generate very little trash (due to re-using plastic bags and avoiding packaged food or any item with lots of packaging). My total output of trash and recycles would be about 5 lbs/week, probably less. Compost might be a little more due to high water content.

Heating: For heat, I’m installing a small tent stove designed to heat an 80 square foot space with minimal insulation. This stove is made by the Three Dog Stove company and is a clean-burn, airtight stove. It can burn wood from downed trees, brush, or unfinished, untreated scrap wood. I don’t think it would get cold enough in summer to need it, but I would want access to a supply of scrap wood/firewood just in case.

Storage: Everything I own is going in the trailer, no exceptions! (except maybe a lawn chair and a couple potted plants.)

I loved, I lost, I insulated some walls

In March, the love of my life went AWOL, and I insulated some walls.

Don’t talk to me, don’t ever come in my workplace again and sit there staring at me while you drink your coffee, I told you I wanted to be left alone, I told you to respect my boundaries, but you continue to ignore them, I want to remain friends with you but understand that nothing can ever happen between us again. Fine. I can live with that, because I know this has happened before, and with worse fighting, and we’ll just end up in bed together inside of 2 months when he gets lonely. I try to put away my concerns and focus on the trailer.

It’s finally starting to come together; the trailer looks more…real with the floor in place, like it could be a place to live, not a dingy mobile equipment shed. My stepdad comes over with his Sawzall to cut a hole in the side and top of the trailer to install a window and skylight. Since I can’t cut through the metal ribs that form the trailer’s frame, I chose a small window specifically designed for use in a trailer. There’s also trailer skylights available-try looking for an “RV skylight”, it’s just a specially shaped plastic bubble that can be installed on the roof of a trailer. I installed the window and skylight, sealing them against the weather with a healthy bead of caulk.

Then I started in on the insulation.

My father suffers from the after-effects of chronic Lyme disease, which he waged war against on various fronts for many years; one of these fronts, eventually, was IV antibiotics. They came packed in giant cardboard boxes, cushioned by gel refrigerant packs and squares of styrofoam. It was the foam squares I was after; we had a huge sack of this spent ordnance from the Lyme wars lying around the attic. With a little inventive measuring and cutting, the foam squares fit between the ribs of the trailer’s frame perfectly. Basically, I was following the pattern of a traditional frame wall, with a frame inside, insulation in the gaps, covered inside by paneling and outside by the trailer’s aluminum skin-an insulated, weathertight “sandwich”. I chose foam board for insulation over fiberglass or spray foam for several reasons, the most important being that it’s super easy to install and takes up very little space (important in my trailer.) I couldn’t have it sticking out past the metal ribs, because then I couldn’t attach my wall panels, so I went for the thickest piece that would work, which was about 1″. I also bought 3/4″ foam  board insulation to use on the roof, as it would bend to accommodate the slight bow in the roof. All in all, it took 1 bag of foam board squares and 3 large sheets of foam board insulation to insulate the ceiling and 3 walls (I left the back door uninsulated, planning to hang an insulating curtain in front of it so I could still use the door.)  Meanwhile, things seemed to be warming up a little between me and my angry lover. I even thought I might get to see him soon.

Motivated by foolish hope and happiness, I began to put my walls up. Most of the original paneling was in good condition, marred only by a few easily fillable dents, cheap trim, and ugly paint. I pried off the cheap plastic trim with a flat-bar and reinstalled the panels in their original locations, even using the original fasteners and pre-drilled holes (this was convenient, because the panels had to be attached to the metal frame, and drilling pilot holes into the metal was a pain. i went through many drill bits.) To fasten anything to the trailer’s frame, I had to use self-tapping screws, a type of screw that cuts threads into metal or plastic when screwed in. They’re identifiable by the small notch cut into the tip.

For the ceiling, which had previously been bare, I used sheets of 1/4″ plywood. I had to cut it into sections to be able to bend it enough. I cut it into thin strips that just spanned the gap between each set of metal ribs. Then, I covered every other section of the roof with the plywood, attaching it on both sides to the roof-ribs with 3/4″ self-tapping screws. To cover the spaces in between, I cut the 1/4″ plywood wide enough to slightly overlap the plywood I’d already attached. Obviously this didn’t look super finished and professional, but I liked the shingled look it gave my roof. Unfortunately, the wall panels didn’t reach all the way up to the ceiling, so I was left with a gap in the paneling where the top edge of the wall met the ceiling; it was at an odd angle, with nothing really to screw into. This would prove to be quite a pain later.

Then I made the worst mistake of my life: thinking he was about to come back to me. I was convinced that beyond all odds I had managed to be patient enough to merit a final chance at redeeming myself, but this was my downfall. Almost a month after he had first gone missing, he told me he was reunited with a previous girlfriend, who he had been seeing before me. He described her as the love of his life, and told me not to feel replaced because “what I have with her is nothing like what I had with you”. He reminded me that he had lived with her before moving to the area, a privilege I had never enjoyed. Every time I closed my eyes I imagined them together. It was torture, despite my daily reminders to myself that other people were far worse-off and had more difficult things to bear than I. So I tried to concentrate on building the trailer, so I could move on, away from a town where everything reminded me of him. But the construction was delayed for weeks while I flailed around helplessly in a soup of ugly feelings. Finally I managed to pull it together enough to salvage some trim from a trash pile behind a notoriously snooty local dance studio, and paint the walls with 2 coats of linen white left over from my mom’s house. Installing the trim was difficult; the trim nails were hard to drive in because the paneling behind the trim was really thin and absorbed the force of the hammer blows by bending or bouncing back. It was easy to bend a nail or smash a thumb; I did both many times. If you’re doing a trailer conversion like me, remember to nail into something solid, or consider using small screws, or use very thin trim and just attach with construction adhesive.

Anyway, I made it, and the hurt is a little less every day-even less now that I’m busier and know that I’m getting out of here soon.

 

And my walls still stand, and protect me from rain and wind just fine.

The 24-Day Minimalist Challenge

As someone who hates to sound self-righteous, this post sounds a bit self-righteous. Please know it’s not intended to come off like that-I have plenty of problems with unnecessary hoarding of crap, and I do a slightly less structured version of this bout once a year.

Before you begin: Identify the most cluttered parts of your living space; if you have things in a storage unit, garage, or at friends’ or relatives’ houses, include these too. Identify how minimal you want to go, and why. Your minimalist challenge will play out differently depending on how much and why you want to get rid of stuff.

Day 1: Where will stuff go when you need to get rid of it? Clear out a designated area of your house for things waiting to be donated, sold, or tossed. Research locations to donate items-you can start with Goodwill, but there’s lots of places looking for specific donations of specific items-for example, the library might light your old book collection, or some shelter dogs could sleep on your old towels. Also, sometimes you can re-sell your old books and clothes to a consignment store or used book store; just be sure they’re in good condition. Get plenty of empty trash bags and have a couple recycle bins handy.

Day 2-8: Identify the worst-offender cluttered areas. These don’t even have to be messy, just anywhere stuff has been sitting collecting dust. Sort that stuff into what you use every day (like your favorite coffee mug, your laptop, and-hopefully-your toothbrush), what you use maybe once a month (that weight bench in the garage) and things you only use once a year or less (does anyone in the family even like enforced snowshoe outings?) Put the daily stuff back in its place, but keep out the once-a-month/once-a-year things aside-you’ll be doing a little more sorting with these.

Day 9-10: What’s most important to you among the things you only use once a year or once a month? Decide your priorities-you would probably rather ditch a shirt you don’t really like and wear little, but not equipment for a hobby you can only practice seasonally. Also, for things you use this infrequently, see if you can’t do without some of them. Look into the options of renting or borrowing tools or equipment, or getting a gym membership rather than constantly stubbing your toes on workout equipment. You’re aiming to get rid of most of the “monthly” items and all but a few of the “yearly” items.

Day 11-15: Now it’s time to sort the stuff you decided to get rid of. Refer back to the list of donation places you made on day 1. Sort out donations, box them up, and designate a day for donation drop-off. Sort out items to be sold, too. You can sell collectible stuff, electronics, etc. on a site like Ebay or Craigslist, or through the classifieds. Less valuable stuff, like stuffed animals or old furniture, can be sold at a tag sale. Anything that’s just beyond the pale gets recycled or thrown out. Recycle metal, glass, plastic and paper; old ragged clothing can be cut up for cleaning/shop rags, and unfinished wood scraps and wood items can be burned in a nice bonfire!

Day 16: Have a tag sale! (you can skip this step if you live in an area that doesn’t permit it-instead, resell or donate as much as possible.) If you have kids who are reluctant to part with their old stuff, encourage them to sell old unused items by giving them the profits from the sale of their old clothing, toys, etc.

Day 17-23: Identify the paths through which excessive crap finds its way into your house. (Trash counts too!) Weigh out all the trash you make in this week and figure out where it’s all coming from. Is it your to-go coffee habit (I know I have that problem!) or is it excessive junk mail? Are plastic bags choking your trash can? Figure out a strategy to combat trash generation, whether it’s buying a shiny new travel mug to keep in the car or unsubscribing yourself from the junk mailing list. Also, look at your shopping habits-are you tempted by the lure of sales? Ironically enough, window shopping can break your bad habits. Often, it’s enough to just admire the items you like in a shop; you’ll discover that you can enjoy looking at whatever you lust after (whether it’s chocolate-covered Oreos, a new chainsaw, or anime figurines) without NEEDING to buy it. Unless it’s the chocolate-covered Oreos. Don’t fall into the trap of buying stuff on sale because “you might need it later!” Stuff is still going to be on sale in the future. And besides, by the time you really do need the thing, you’ll probably have forgot about the sale. (The only exception here is winter clothes and swimming suits; end of season sales are great for these, and you know you’ll need them eventually.)

Day 24: Pat yourself on the back. You made it! Now you actually have space to walk through your garage/basement/efficiency apartment/wherever! Congratulations! Go out for pizza or whatever floats your boat.

 

Go tiny or go home: a virtual house tour

 

Welcome to my virtual house tour, now with crummy cell phone quality photos! Enjoy all 72 glorious square feet of my humble dwelling.  Highly recommended: listening to this while viewing. I got the keys to the highway!

 

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Just inside the front door-kitchen area, waiting for the second countertop. You can see my woodstove on the left side of the picture (still have to set that up too!)

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My countertop, finished with 6 coats of tung oil. I hang napkins and towels from the hooks in the wall, and stores knives in the block in the corner.

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The shower caddy by the door holds toiletries. The cabinet has hooks on the side for hanging stuff like grocery bags up. (Don’t tell my friend Justin I still have the book he loaned me…)

 

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The kitchen cabinets and shelves are built from recycled pallets and plywood scraps, plus some flooring samples I found in a dumpster.

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I found this sink in a junkyard. It cost $12, versus $80 to buy a similar sink brand new. I’m going to hook it up to a waste water tank.

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This bedside table was constructed from a scrap of siding I dumpster-dived. The legs are laurel branches.
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This rolling shelf slides out from under my bed. I use it to store clothes and books (in the cabinet).

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Detail of bed. This decorative piece was made by drilling holes of various sizes in a piece of 1/2″ thick stock, then sanding and coating with 3 coats of tung oil. (This  was a really nice piece, found in my grandma’s garage…think it’s maple?)

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I papered the shelves with recycled gift wrap to prevent delicate fabrics from snagging on splinters or rough areas in the wood.

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There was a vent over my bed, but it was basically just a hole in the ceiling; this louvered vent cover makes it possible to open the vent or close it while driving to keep out dust and debris.

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This decorative bracket is supposed to hold a potted plant, but makes a good holder for my LED lamp or a candle.

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The view out my window: the house I grew up in. This will change soon I hope…

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Over my door. The paper cranes were a birthday gift from my sister, the dream catcher was made by my aunt.

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The view with the back ramp door down. yup, this is it!

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From the outside-with the best little car ever.

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Wish the Civic could pull it. 😦

An Inventory Of Everyfreakingthing In My Trailer

I’m dead serious. You will be amazed at how much stuff I’ve crammed in a 72-square-foot space. If I can do it, so can you! Fear not, for the tiny life is totally attainable. And this isn’t even all my stuff.

NOTE: I didn’t list consumables like food and laundry detergent.

KITCHEN SUPPLIES

Large cast iron skillet, small cast iron skillet, medium saucepan, small saucepan, mixing bowl, plates (2), spoons (2), forks (3), mugs (3), chef knife, paring knife, knife block, kitchen towels (4), cloth napkins (4), wooden spoon, soup bowls (3), set of measuring spoons, dish scrubby, dish soap, plastic bin for drying dishes in, plastic storage containers (3), glass jars (too many to count), teapot, tea kettle, french press, pasta strainer, wooden cutting board, pot holders

BLANKETS/BEDDING

1 twin-size 2″ thick foam mattress pad, fuzzy blanket, quilt, flannel sheet, comforter, wool blanket, pillow, towel

TOILETRIES/MISC

toothbrush, nail clippers, tweezers, band-aids, necklaces (2), hairbrush, bracelets (3), handkerchiefs (3), hair ties (innumerable), earrings (4 pairs), LED lantern, LED solar powered light, solar powered radio, several family photographs, candles, reusable shopping bags (2), water bottle, bicycle, beads, thread and beading needles, scissors (1 pair), pocket knife, tiny bag and rolling papers for uh…herbal supplements….sewing kit (includes pins, needles, measuring tape), paintbrushes (3), bottle of India ink, watercolor set, notebooks (2), pocket knife, clothes pins, rope for clothes line, sponge mop, broom, rags for cleaning, old film camera & related equipment (this was a hand-me-down from a relative, and I still want to learn to use it.)

CLOTHING & SHOES

Hiking boots, Dr. Martens, cheapo crummy gardening/work sneakers, winter boots, sandals, 1 singular pair of “nice” shoes, dresses (6), shirts (12), fake fur vest (1, don’t judge), socks (~10 pairs), wool socks (~6 pairs, can never have too many socks), panties (12 pairs, I think?), blue jeans (2 pairs), cargo pants (1 pair), shorts (2 pairs), shredded work pants (2 pairs), coats (3), sweaters (2), sweatshirt (technically belongs to my friend), skirts (2), winter gloves (2 pair), bras (2), winter scarf, scarf for wrapping my hair at work so it doesn’t go in the food, pair of overalls

TOOLS

Hammers (2, not sure why), adjustable wrench, ratchet set, screwdrivers (5, different sizes), battery-powered drill and bits, staple gun, chisel set, pliers (not sure what kind), aviation snips (used for cutting wire or thin metal), clamps (5, different types), 1-foot level, tape measure, file set, oil can wrench (you should get one too, it makes changing oil in your car super easy), assortment of fasteners from IKEA (don’t ask), paintbrush, bottle of tung oil finish, hex wrench set

BOOKS (i have a few I keep around in a permanent collection, the rest I get from the library. I’m just listing mine)

Shelter Publications’ Tiny Homes On-The-Move -an awesomely inspirational book of people’s tiny home designs and builds (most much less crooked and gappy than mine…)

Sugar Baby  by Gesine Bullock-Prado contains recipes for the most amazingly tooth-destroying candy confections you could dream of.

the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, the book that has helped generations of my family to turn home-repair emergencies into even worse home repair emergencies.

The official CIA Baking & Pastry textbook. Even though I have no oven, I can live out my baking dreams vicariously.

A book on building shelves, cabinets, and cupboards-there’s a lot of similar titles out there, check your local library if you’re interested in this topic. It helped a lot when I was building stuff for my trailer.

Back To Basics, A Complete Guide To Traditional Skills: not only does this book offer comprehensive advice in an easy-to-understand format, it provides a pretty clear picture for prospective homesteaders like me how much hard work we’re going to encounter!

World Changing, A User’s Guide To The 21st Century: Actual solutions to real problems. It’s a good read when you’re feeling down about the state of the world, and might inspire you to get involved in one of the efforts mentioned in the book! Awesome!

 

FURNITURE: Kind of all part of my house. 4-person tent, small bedside table, bed, folding camp chair, cabinet, shelves, sink, 2-burner camping stove, wood stove, rolling shelf for clothes, laundry basket, storage boxes (2), milk crate (1), wicker laundry basket (1), plastic bucket for cleaning supplies, plastic buckets for water (3)

That’s pretty much everything. I’ve probably left out a few things, but this pretty much maxes out what you can fit comfortably in a 70-square-foot space. Still, relatively speaking, it’s a lot of stuff. Hope you enjoyed my post!