Developing A Sense of Ownership Community-wide

One of our biggest goals with Osiyo Eco Village Farms is to foster a sense of ownership and pride in it’s citizens through the programs we develop.
We want our people to know that we see them as valuable and productive, no matter what limitations they have faced. We also want to help foster their own sense of self-esteem and accomplishment – something that can be totally depleted after having lived in abject poverty.
To achieve this goal, and our desire to be a completely self-sustaining society, our citizens will be offered the chance to use their own skills and abilities by working in the businesses we plan to develop for our village.

These businesses will include:
• The farm itself including gardening, animal husbandry, butchery and processing of the farms products and byproducts
• A Farm to table restaurant
• A general store featuring products by created by the farm and individual citizens art and handyworks
• A cabinetry and small furniture wood shop
• A small engine repair shop
• A bakery and charcutier (handmade sausages, etc)
• Public classes for learning farm and home skills such as gardening and cooking, butchery, etc.
• An event venue
• A food truck
• Clothing and home goods pantry where members of the community may exchange unused items for new ones

Each citizen who opts to work in one of these facilities will be paid a fair and living wage, 10% of which will be deducted to pay for housing, which will not exceed $150 per month.

We want to offer these positions because we know that there are many in our targeted demographic that have wonderful skills and abilities but have not been given the chance to use them due to their current circumstances, past records or simply a sense of loss of self. It is our belief that by providing these positions and including them as part of our live-work program, our citizens will not only regain their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment, but will be able to have a sense of ownership in their community through the work they do.

The Rules of Building Compassionate Communities

During the past 24 months, we’ve had ample opportunity to observe a community much like the one we want to create – operate on a day-to-day basis and have been privy to some of the decisive conversations that take place to create their operating procedures. What we’ve seen, heard and read has both shocked and appalled us at some points and given us pause to consider our own desires and living standards for Osiyo Eco Village.

What We’ve Learned

People from all walks of life fall on hard times and can become indigent at any moment. All it takes is a single, catastrophic incident, and it is impossible and highly unethical to lump all people who need help into a single category. Not all homeless people are there by choice, not all are drunks, drug addicts, and grifters or scammers and not all are lazy.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest proponents of homelessness is the very system that was set up to prevent it. There are so many rules and regulations in place to qualify for help, that are actually stumbling blocks for large populations that need the help most. Those who’ve been incarcerated for a period of time and are either still on paper (parole, probation, etc) can have extreme difficulty in finding stable, decent housing due to rules against providing low-income rental property to individuals with certain offenses or who are still on paper. Most public housing communities do not allow any resident who has a felony record, and many privatized property management companies will not allow anyone who has a drug or theft charge within the past 7 years.  When a basic tenet of human existence is made unreachable by those who are genuinely trying to change their life’s path, it is almost inevitable that past behaviors will be repeated.

One of the reasons we’ve observed these patterns is because Osiyo will be a community filled with people who are starting over, and many of those will have records, or be on parole or probation, and will have a drug history.

Through our observations we’ve learned one very important lesson: If you treat people as they are worthless, they soon begin to believe and act as if they are worthless.

CASE IN POINT

In our current community situation, the owner – who shall remain nameless for the sake of liable – refuses to invest any actual maintenance or development into the property. The property its self-was built in 1955 and has been added on to, broken apart, and partly removed since then. What remains is a small motor lodge with 42 rooms that were at one time considered “travel lodge suites” with a small kitchenette. They were never intended to be long-term homes, however, some members of the community have been here as long as 17 years. We have been here 2.

In this facility, you cannot rent a room for more than 2 weeks at a time, therefore your status remains “homeless” even though you live in the same place. While it is understandable from a landlord or owner’s perspective to not want to change the rental terms due to tax and city codes, for those who rent, it can be very detrimental.

Because the properties are run down and neglected, the type of people who move in is often those who are actively dealing or using narcotics such as meth or heroin.  This brings with it other elements – theft, destruction of property, fighting and prostitution – as well as the possibility of meth psychosis or overdose. The police are on the property at least three times a week, and people being evicted for domestic violence, or other crimes, is not uncommon.

Studies have shown that in order to create a community that is peaceful, productive and proud, the actual housing and neighborhood structure needs to be maintained so that those who live there feel they have reason to maintain the property and mind the rules.

When rules are loosely, or disproportionately enforced, those who are good, law-abiding, hard-working community members, begin to fill as if their efforts to maintain and create a good life are being thwarted, while those who continue to do wrong, are rewarded.

Another area of concern is the fact that according to Missouri Law and Federal Law, many of the rules enforced by management are not legal. Yet the people that rent here are in a position of not being able to argue this point for fear of being evicted with nowhere to go.

  • Deposits are not returned or refunded, even if you clean the room to a cleaner status than it was when you moved in
  • Some people are allowed to have “service animals” even though those animals do not have tags or vests, and are considered “emotional support animals” while others are told they cannot have an ESA, even with proper registration, chips, and training.
  • Residents are not allowed to change their rooms in any way or fix anything wrong in the rooms.
  • Many of the rooms do not have windows that open or open with no screens allowing disease-carrying insects inside. Hood vents do not work over ranges and there is not proper ventilation nor egress in case of fire or emergency.
  • The wiring is the original 1955 wiring with very few changes
  • The entire facility is serviced by 3 hot water tanks and depending on your location on the property you may wait up to 45 minutes to have enough hot water to take a shower, wash dishes or clean
  • The laundry facility on the property, while very reasonably priced at first glance, actually costs more than a laundry matt by the time you factor in the 3 trips through the dryer it takes to dry a single load of clothes.
  • Complaints filed with the office for maintenance are taken care of by a single maintenance man who also handles more than 22 other properties, so having anything repaired in an emergency or timely manner is not possible
  • Certain members of the management staff are rude, and cocky with residents, and often feel they are “above” others. This has caused animosity within the community on more than one occasion.

While these issues are serious in themselves, this article is not to denigrate the property or its owners or managers. It is what it is – a temporary living facility that, unfortunately, for many, has become a long-term residence.

And while these issues are disheartening, there are some encouraging benefits. For under $600 per month you are provided a room that is:

  • Within easy access to shopping (Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, two convenience stores and a gas station)
  • The bus stop is just across the street
  • Rooms are furnished and even include a shower curtain, a roll of toilet paper, pillows, sheets, and covers
  • Except for the two-day rooms, there are mini-fridges, stoves, sinks and a place to prepare food
  • Internet and cable are provided, as is a “room” phone that makes free long-distance calls
  • The longer-term residents have cook-outs and parties and tend to watch out for one another

Still, because of the way things are run, people who live here feel they have very little reason to actually “invest” their skills, their concern, their compassion or their loyalty into the community and what results are a community of shady characters who have no qualms about destroying property or breaking laws. Its the “If no one else cares why should I?” mentality at work. And those who do remain, tend to pull away from the community as a whole, denying newcomers the benefit of their experiences, guidance, and friendship.

OUR DIRECTION

In using the data we’ve collected for the past two years, as well as other research by such entities as HUD, we’ve come to believe that by giving the residents of OSIYO well-maintained homes, a voice in the communities standards and practices, and genuine compassion, we can improve the odds for a better future.

One study provides evidence from major metropolitan areas with nationally known crime and homelessness issues showing the direct correlation between community improvement efforts and the reduction in crime, safety concerns, and drug and gang-related activity, while strengthening relationships not only between the residents themselves, but also between the residents and those put in place to govern them.

At Osiyo, this is our desired goal. We want every person who comes to us for help to find a compassionate, knowledgeable and helpful place to call home, where real solutions to sometimes overwhelming problems can be found and implemented. Our goal is to move people from temporary shelters and housing situations to long-term residency in a healthy, safe, and invested community by giving them not only reasons to invest their time with us but also to invest more in themselves and the world around them.

CONCLUSION

As we close the research phase of our project and move into the beginning phases of development, we will use the data we’ve gathered to develop a sustainable and forward-moving program of residency, a series of community guidelines and by-laws by which our community will operate. Of course, as we grow and expand, we will have to revisit these programs, however, we will have the input of residents who are experiencing life at Osiyo on a daily basis to help us make things better for those coming in next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Year After Going Tiny Part 2

There are no greater lessons I’ve found in living mindfully than going tiny. When you live in 120 square feet, every inch is prime real estate and understanding how you live in that space is crucial to maintaining sanity.

Rob and I were typical consumer Americans when we moved into the tiny house we occupy. We both grew up with the old adage “He who dies with the most toys wins” and we both equated more stuff with greater success. After living in this small space for a year now though, we can both see how wrong – and damaging – that concept is.

I heard it said in a movie once that eventually, the “stuff” you own, ends up owning you and now, I firmly believe this. It was only after we were forced to downsize and re-evaluate our consumerism and our way of life that we both realized just how “owned” we’d been. We both worked hard to pay a $1500 – a – month mortgage that took time away from the most important things in our lives – our children. What’s worse is that we were also teaching our children crass consumerism by going out of our way, and often in debt to make sure they had the “best and first” of everything from clothes to shoes to lessons. I distinctly remember that at one point in time, our son had a collection of one of every type of gaming system on the market! Now that I look back on the fact that he could only play one at a time, it seems so irresponsible and ridiculous to me.

Once we moved into our current tiny abode, Rob and I both realized that our way of living – and thinking – needed to change. These changes weren’t just because of our economic status, but because if we didn’t change, we’d crowd ourselves out of our already tight living quarters!

So, how did we start developing the rules of mindful living that we currently practice? It took a lot of trial and error.

  1. DO WE NEED THIS? – Once your bills are consolidated to a single monthly payment, a little wiggle room in the budget can seem like a God-send. We’ve both learned, however, that this can be very deceiving. Having money left over at the end of the month isn’t a reason to splurge. Its a cause for questioning. Rob and I question every purchase we make – from groceries to household items to cleaning products and more. We ask ourselves:

    1. Do we need this? Is it something we can do without or do we already have something that will serve the same purpose.
    2. When it comes to food, are there going to be leftovers? If there are, will they be eaten before they spoil or will we have room in our dorm-sized refrigerator/freezer to store them until we can use them? We then shop based on our answers and try to prepare meals that don’t warrant a lot of storage of left-overs or freezer space. Americans are notorious for throwing away more than 133 billion pounds of food every year.  When we looked at this number and the area we live in where poverty, homelessness, and hunger are prominent, we realized we did not want to be a part of contributing to such an atrocity.

  2. WHAT PURPOSE DOES IT SERVE – Being a firm believer in the KonMari method of tidying up, and being an avid collector, I would never presume to tell anyone not to keep the things that bring them joy. The lesson comes when you ask yourself, however, what true joy is to you.

    Fortunately, for us, the majority of the things that we thought gave us joy were no longer an issue. The gaming systems were gone, the collection of records and cd’s – many of which we hadn’t listened to in years – were gone.

    Still, we needed to do some paring down. We began to ask ourselves for every item “What purpose does this serve?” Of course, there are certain things that will always be necessities that will only serve one purpose – deodorant for instance – but we don’t need ten containers of deodorant and while not smelling bad is a joyful thing – we decided that having one at a time will suffice.We did this for everything from toiletries to clothing to shoes to kitchen items, bedding and more.

      Since storage is an issue, we rented a small (12 ft. X 5 ft.) storage unit and keep seasonal items that we need, but that takes up valuable real estate, in the storage unit. When season’s change or we really need something, we go to the storage unit and get it.

    An interesting side note – Our storage unit was burglarized last year and almost everything in it was either destroyed or stolen. What’s left no longer warrants the amount of money the storage unit costs. We’ve been given the opportunity to move “up” to a bigger room (130 square feet). The bigger room would cost us an extra $40 per month and the storage unit costs $50 per month. With a larger space, we could take the few things that are left in our storage unit, store them creatively in our dwelling and still come out $10 to the good each month.

  3. Do I Already Have Something That Does This or Serves That? – Dual purpose has become a central theme in our house simply because we do not have the luxury of space or the luxury of an economy to afford things that do not serve more than one purpose. Even our food containers that we purchase at the grocery store are evaluated to see if they can be reused to store things in. I use my coconut oil containers as canisters, old coffee cans hold beans, and rice and other items. Nothing goes to waste because we cannot afford that luxury but – and this is a big one – since we’ve moved into our tiny house we’ve surprised ourselves with how resourceful we can be in creating our home and just how much that resourcefulness saves us in both money and time. Which brings me to my next point – time.

  4. Time Is More Than Money – There’s an old saying in business that “Time is money”, but time is so much more. If you really think about it, time is the only thing we all have in the end. Have you ever sat down and just asked yourself “How am I spending my time?” Going tiny gave us back some of the time we’d been wasting chasing the things we didn’t need and more often, couldn’t afford.Before we went tiny, our time was spent chasing a dream that really wasn’t ours, to begin with. We were chasing the bigger house, the fancy car, the closet full of clothes, the piles of cosmetics and jewelry and fast-food meals so we could run here and there and spend more and more. Seriously, crass consumerism is a trap that you almost cannot escape from. All of that time could have been better spent as a couple, with our children and serving our community.

    Now, we have time to spend together – something we’ve dreamed of doing because I had children when we started our relationship and alone time was a very rare thing indeed.  We have time to help people whether it’s taking them to an appointment or repair something or just giving the gift of friendship and time to listen. We aren’t always exhausted and rushed from working 12 hour days, followed by 6 hours of evening activities like cleaning the house or rushing to this event or that appointment to spend more money that is going to require more time to make back.

  5. KEEPING IT CLEAN – I can remember days upon days of looking around our big house and just not wanting to clean it because it seemed like there was always so much to do, and space itself was like smoke and mirrors. It was so big that even really messy areas didn’t seem so messy because space helped hide them. In this place, however, every little thing that is dirty or out of place blares like a siren. We are by no means OCD about keeping everything done to a T. Messes are made every day, but we do clean up everything once we’re done with what we’re doing. Dishes aren’t left sitting in the skink overnight, clothes aren’t left laying on floors, or sofas or beds and the floor gets swept every day. I still take my Saturday’s to do the “big cleans” like scrubbing the bathroom or cleaning out the fridge, but for the most part, now that we’re so aware of our space and how unkempt and even cramped it can be when it’s not clean or things are not in their place, keeps us on our toes about being tidy.

    Keeping things clean and put away also helps us save money because should we think we need something, it’s easier to check and see if we already have it and because things are kept clean, they are better taken care of and don’t have to be replaced as often. We also avoid buying duplicates simply by being tidy and knowing what we’ve got at any given time.

In the end, the lessons’ we’ve learned over the past year of going tiny have been some of the most valuable lessons we’ve learned in life to date. We’re happier, a bit healthier, a lot calmer and more in tune with our lives and ourselves and each other. And I, for one, cannot imagine living in a full-sized house again. In fact, I find the idea a bit frightening – the fear being that we could so easily slip back into the way we lived before and risk losing all that we’ve gained for our selves.

 

One Year After Going Tiny – Part 1

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year (actually, over a year) since going tiny and moving from our 520 square foot luxury studio apartment into a 120 square foot motel kitchenette and our lives changed forever.

We’ve learned a great deal about living tiny in this past year, so I wanted to do an article that touches on the most important lessons.

In this article, I’ll discuss storage – both food and stuff – cooking, cleaning, saving or not saving money because well, we’ve done a bit of both, and building a community around you for support, which is incredibly important.

One Year After Going Tiny and What We've Learned
Its been a complete year, and then some since we moved into our 120 square foot home. What have we learned? Read on and find out.

DOWNSIZING

  1. Clearing Out The Clutter – Even though the studio we lived in before this was only 520 sq. feet, we’d still managed to accumulate a lot of stuff that we just didn’t use for whatever reason. We were so in the habit of just spending for the sake of “just having just in case” that when we moved, we ended up donating about six large boxes and bags full of clothing, extra computer components that were either broken, obsolete or just extras.Doing this was not easy.As I look back now, there are things that I miss having because they were fun, or convenient, but they weren’t necessary and more importantly, just wouldn’t fit into our new space.If you’re thinking of going tiny, I strongly suggest taking a full month to really examine your belongings and do a complete “needs based” evaluation. I’m not saying get rid of all of the things you enjoy, but I am saying make sure you have them and keep them because you really love them, and not just because you like having them. There is a difference.
  2. Quality VS Quantity -When you’re living tiny, having a lot of anything is difficult because of space, so choosing the things you do have and their quality, is very important. We actually did not have a lot of dishes or pots and pans, but of the few we did have, we chose to keep the ones that served more than one purpose – for instance, cast iron skillets that can be fried or baked in. We do have two very valuable Cephalon non-stick pans that were gifts to us. One is a 5-quart stock pot and the other is a 10-inch skillet. Other than that, our pots and pans consist of 1 large boiling pot, one medium boiling pot, and another non-stick skillet that is older than I care to admit but still serves it’s purpose. We have a glass 9-inch square casserole dish, a cookie sheet, and a muffin tin as well.Our dishware collection is small as well, consisting of only two cereal bowls, four plates and a small collection (fewer than 5) of coffee cups. Coffee is an important part of community living and I wanted to make sure I had at least enough that guests could come and have coffee. I’ve also been given a couple of mugs since we moved in. For drinking glasses, we keep Mason jars that we use. These were a gift from my mother to my son several years ago, so I did not want to get rid of those.Believe it or not, even with so few utensils and implements, and such small space, we cook every day. In fact, we’ve only eaten out three times in the past year – and one of those was for our 26th wedding anniversary.
  3. How Many Shoes Can You Really Wear? – I love shoes, and in particular, boots, but seriously, how many pairs can I wear at once? When we started going through all of our clothes and shoes, I did a drastic downsize and got rid of about 10 pairs of shoes and boots, and a couple of large lawn leaf bags of clothing that I just never wore, or didn’t wear often. I asked myself “How many months has it been since I wore this?” and if the answer was for more than two months, I didn’t keep it.For our winter items (this was during the heat of June and July), we got a small,  5 X 12-foot storage unit less than a mile from our new place, and put our winter items – coats, blankets, etc – there because there is literally no place here to store them. We don’t like the additional $50 a month bill, but we can justify the expense because we do use it both monthly and seasonally.

COOKING & FOOD STORAGE

I truly believe that had we designed our own tiny space, cooking and food storage would not be an issue. But the complex we currently live in was built to be a roadside lodge in 1955. It wasn’t designed for permanent dwelling, so the food and cooking situation isn’t really a normal one.Each room has a small kitchenette consisting of a 24-inch stove, a single, small sink, and a dorm-sized refrigerator. Cabinets and counter space are extremely limited, so finding a method of storing and preparing food has been a bit of a challenge and we’ve had to get creative.

  1. Plastic Bins – I’m not a fan of those plastic chest-of-drawer type bins. I’ve found in the past that they are poorly designed and come apart easily. They also cannot bear a lot of weight, however, they do come in handy in our space. We currently use two in the “kitchen” of our tiny home. One is a larger sized drawer unit that consists of three drawers. We use this one for storing things like aluminum foil, plastic wrap, baggies, and dry goods that are lighter in weight like tea bags, ramen noodles, crackers, etc. These have not held up well at all and we’ve had to creatively repair them several times. Once we get started with our own tiny house on Bliss Farm Ecovillage, we will be designing our own kitchen and this won’t be an issue. For now, however, we make do.A second plastic storage unit consists of four smaller, but taller drawers. In this one we keep our plastic bowls and lids, sorting the bowls by size from bottom to top, with the largest being on the bottom. We use the top drawer for lids only as their weight isn’t enough to cause the unit to collapse. The top of this unit serves as a place for our cooking utensil bucket, our salt, and pepper shaker, and our sweetener container.
  2. Make-shift Counter Space -Some years ago we purchased a used writing desk, with a drawer whose front folds down, at a thrift store for $5. It was originally used in my garage workshop as a place for me to craft and create. Now the desk sits opposite our sink and stove area and serves as both silverware and utensil storage and a prep and serving station and holds our microwave, toaster, can opener and vintage Oster Blender. It looks ratty even though we’ve tried to clean it up, but it serves its purpose for now. We keep one set of storage bins tucked underneath (the larger set) as well as a milk crate where we store cooking oil, a canister of sugar, and occasionally bags of potatoes or other heavy, bulky items.
  3. The Smallest Fridge -When we first moved into this unit, our refrigerator was very old, having a small freezer inside the refrigerator compartment that just didn’t work. It would frost over every other day so deep that we couldn’t even fit an ice-tray inside! When it finally died, it was replaced with a Haier 3.2 Cubic Foot refrigerator. This unit is a bit better, and having the freezer compartment separate from the main compartment is nice. Still, you cannot store much food in it and we’ve learned, through trial and error to shop small – as in small containers – and minimize leftovers because they will end up spoiling before we can use them.  Another downside is the fact that there really isn’t room to store larger containers of water or tea to keep cold. We do upcycle our plastic milk jugs and use those as tea storage for Rob (the man loves his tea!). It would be nice to be able to have ice on hot days, or store larger jugs of milk, or leftovers so food isn’t wasted.
  4. Going Up – Since we do so much cooking, it’s important for us to have our spices, but the small jars were getting lost in the valuable cabinet real estate they were occupying. We found a very affordable, easy solution when we came across this Dollar Tree spice wrack tutorial and created a set of three racks to hold our spices, and placed them on the wall between the stove and the prep table. Then we followed this tutorial for hanging baskets and created a set that hangs directly over our microwave – toaster area. These hold things like bread, onions, and fruits that don’t require refrigeration (read as Bananas and Apples).We also use vertical space to store our crock-pot (a definite essential in a tiny house) and larger items by using the tops of our cabinets to store them up and out of the way. Since we don’t use these items as frequently as others, not having them at our fingers isn’t a big deal. I keep a step-ladder tucked under our bed and can use it to reach them when I need them.

In part two of this series we’ll discuss what going tiny has meant for our goal to be more mindful and live a life of purpose and intent.