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eBook Review – Coming Home: Letters from a Tiny House

By: Everett S

Coming Home - Book Cover I read Coming Home: Letters from a Tiny House by Hari Berzins in two sittings. The first was about a month ago, and the second was tonight. It was an enjoyable read, but I think the book would have been better suited for bite-sized sessions. I would have liked reading a little each day with my morning coffee, as was probably intended.

Almost anyone with enough experience can put down some simple facts, like what to consider when planning a tiny house. Few, however, will be so willing to print their heart on the page as Hari Berzins. The practical tips are all here, as one would expect, but the real treat is learning about the joys, heartaches, fears, triumphs and moments of grace experienced by a family trying to live life on their own terms in a society where uniformity is not just encouraged, but damned-near enforced by law.

Non of Your BiznizRight away I was drawn in by a sense of shared experience when reading about how a few negative comments online can trump hundreds of positive ones. Anyone with a blog knows the feeling of having the smile wiped off your face as self-doubt settles in after reading the barbed comments of trolls. It must be so easy for someone who shares nothing with the world other than cynicism to sit anonymously in front of their laptop and splash vitriol all over the web. If Thoreau had been a blogger Walden probably would have never seen the light of day.

At times the book reads almost like a diary, which is what sets it apart from other “tiny house” books I’ve read:

“When I finally sit down to write, it feels like I have nothing to say. I’ve been struggling with emptiness. It makes me want to cure it with a glass of wine or another cup of coffee or another check on Facebook.”

Sound familiar?

It was also good to read about how Karl, Hari’s husband and partner in every sense, thought about buying a new car when he landed a job over in the next county. Hari writes, “Karl laughed at himself as he realized how much the media’s drive to consume had invaded his brain. He knows he doesn’t need a new car, but he did think about it. It happens to all of us.” Indeed, it does. I succumbed recently to the purchase of a fancy new front-loading washing machine and the dryer to match. I could have found used ones for half the price (and dried on the line) but reasoned my way into the purchase since I had piles of laundry and a new house with no washer or dryer. The desire to spend money we don’t need to spend creeps up on everyone from time to time. All we can do is be vigilant, and not too hard on ourselves when we slip (that last bit being the trickiest).

Again and again I find Hari’s confessional style endearing and familiar. When she writes about waking up feeling self-conscious about being extra garrulous at a big farm party the night before, I thought about all of the times that has happened to me (usually I blame beer or rum), and wonder how many more times it will happen before I learn my lesson. It’s funny – I’ve never been embarrassed for listening too much.

Sometimes the book even brings up painful thoughts, like when she shares the story of a friend who holds herself to such high standards that it causes her much pain and distress (physically and mentally). This friend is homesteading on her own and was upset that she wasn’t keeping up with the scything and the goat fence had to be moved. Choosing between two jobs that seem equally important when you only have time for one is a tough decision, and one that I have to make at least daily. Hari writes, “She’s hurting because she isn’t measuring up to some mark that’s out there, some impossible mark of perfection,” and I think about my marriage with Missy, and how many times the stress of trying to live up to my own impossible standards put another hairline fracture in our relationship. Indeed, we are our own worst critics.

There are useful tips scattered throughout the book as well, such as this advice on keeping a tiny house uncluttered with growing kids around:

“Every week, I go through the house and get rid of anything we don’t use. I try to only keep items that serve at least two purposes: ex. canning jars are also drinking glasses–though this isn’t always possible. We have a shed for storing out of season clothing, our washing machine and camping gear, etc. Our big deck helps too; it serves as an outdoor room.”

There are bigger lessons that apply to anyone who is simplifying their life, such as the one about time. The more clutter we remove from our lives the more of our time we free up, which is really one of the primary goals for me. The problem with freeing up time is, like nature, time abhors a vacuum. It seems as fast as I take my time back I am giving it away to something else. The trick, I think, is to give it away to the things you enjoy doing most. I can be upset that I have no time to cut up the fallen trees from last year’s big derecho storm, or I can be happy that I decided (my own choice) to spend more time learning to “blow glass”. As Hari put it, the real currency of our lives is time. We have a finite amount of it in this lifetime, and every moment we have a little less than we did before. The “big lesson” from Coming Home: Letters from a Tiny House regarding the ubiquitous phenomenon of there being no “free” time no matter how much time you “make” is this: Be deliberate with your time. Guard it like the precious resource that it is, and spend it doing the things you love. Be conscious of how you are spending your time, and what you commit to.

“Coming Home” is written in the format of a blog with daily posts about living a simple lifestyle in a tiny home on a hillside in a little country town. Hari Berzins is relentlessly candid and vulnerable throughout the book, which allows the reader to identify with the Berzins family on a deeper level than if she had stuck with tips, facts and figures. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a mini-memoir or blog-style book about living in a tiny house and simplifying one’s life. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for straight-forward advice, building plans, budgeting examples, beautiful photos of tiny house designs and the like… this book might not be a good fit for you. Try some of these instead.

More About Hari Berzins and the Tiny House Family:

Category: Reviews, The Transplants

Comments (2)

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  1. EcoCatLady says:

    What a fabulous book review! And such a nugget of truth: the real currency of our lives is time.

    Hmmm… almost makes me want to figure out how to read an e-book! Almost… :-)

  2. EcoCatLady says:

    p.s. Don’t feel bad about the washer/dryer. I’m about as frugal as they come, but I still shelled out over $700 for my super high capacity high efficiency washing machine.

    I actually did all the laundry by hand for about 6 months, and it wasn’t THAT bad… and I’m sure I could have gotten by with a used machine for a fraction of the cost, but it wouldn’t have been big enough to wash the bedding… so I still would have had to haul things to the laundromat… which wouldn’t be so bad except that generally when the bedding needs to be washed it’s because some cat puked all over it in the middle of the night. Plus… used appliances are such a crapshoot reliability-wise.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you take Hari’s comment about time to heart, then there are some time and labor saving devices that are worth spending money on.

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