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Rowdy Kittens: Going Small Can Bring Big Happiness

By Linda Knittel

By her early thirties, Tammy Strobel was what many people would consider a success. She was pulling in a decent salary and, together with her husband, had two cars and a two-bedroom apartment in Davis, California, packed with shiny possessions, and closets filled with stylish clothes. But she wasn’t happy.

“I was commuting two hours per day to work, sitting in a cubicle for eight hours, medicating myself with shopping, and crying into a cocktail when I came home at night,” she says. So, she and her husband, Logan Smith, decided to make changes—big ones.

Strobel first discovered minimalism after watching a YouTube video about Dee Williams, a tiny-house pioneer and author of The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir. After a few months of devouring books and blogs about tiny houses and living more simply, she and Smith began donating many of their belongings to charity. “Eventually I quit my corporate job, went back for a master’s degree in education and women’s studies, and then found work in the nonprofit world.” She also took on the 100 Thing Challenge created by Dave Bruno. “Reducing my personal possessions to only 100 items made me feel more calm, as I saw I no longer needed to hold on to things that don’t serve me,” she says.


Think Big, Go Small

Downsizing happened in waves, all of which you can read about on the blog Strobel started in 2007, as well as in her book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too. After giving away a ton of stuff, the couple moved to a smaller apartment, sold their two cars to pay off all their student loan debt, and eventually commissioned a Portland, Oregon–based company to construct a 128-square-foot tiny house, which they lived in with their two cats. Tiny-house living allowed Strobel to create the kind of calm lifestyle she craved—
devoting more time to outdoor activities, writing, and the important things in her life like friends and family. Less space meant less stuff, less cleaning, fewer expenses and more freedom—the house was built on a mobile 16 x 8 trailer.

Eventually the couple took their tiny house on the road, traveling from Portland back to California. Unfortunately, zoning laws for tiny houses are different from place to place, and after getting settled in Chico, only to find out their tiny house was not legal within city limits, they decided to park it for good on Smith’s family’s cattle ranch in Siskiyou County. “The problem was we never intended to live in our tiny house in a rural area,” Strobel explains. “Our intention was to live in a city so that we could access amenities like the local library, coffee shops, parks, the laundromat and more. When you’re fifteen miles from town, accessing those amenities is challenging, hosting guests is hard, and experiencing feelings of isolation isn’t fun.”

So, in 2015, four years after moving into the tiny house, the couple turned it into a getaway retreat and moved into a small apartment fifteen miles away in Yreka. And even though their living quarters have evolved, and they do now own a car so Smith can drive to and from work, their minimalist lifestyle remains intact.

“We don’t really own much more than we did when we lived in the tiny house,” says Strobel, who spends her days much the same way she has for years now, writing the blog, pursuing photography, and teaching online courses on those things a few times a year.

“Living a life of minimalism has given me the space to be reflective and more mindful. I get to think about what I truly value and where I want to go in life. Stuff never brought me happiness. That feeling comes from spending time by myself and with loved ones.”

Check out the More Calm, More Joy eBook HERE.