Zen And The Art of Tiny House Maintenance

posted in: DIY, Simple Living | 0

After recently listening to Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I was struck by how Heather and I have experienced many of the phenomena that the book details. Beyond providing an intriguing adventure, the book hit a few ideas that Heather and I try to live by. The two things that stuck out to me are the never ending search for quality, and the practice of understanding machines and technology so that they can easily be fixed at home.

For me, the “do it once, do it right” attitude, which my parents instilled in me from a young age, seems entirely fitting.  When working on something, this is my philosophy. Take a bit of extra time in the beginning, so that the finished product comes out the way it should.  That was the theory when Heather and I remodeled our trailer.  We spent the time and money to do the projects we tackled the right way, so that we wouldn’t have to tackle them again in the future. 

We continued this philosophy in furnishing our tiny space as well. Living in such a small space makes quality in the things we buy all the more important. Less space means that everything we own must be of the highest quality. There simply is no room for low quality items. That toaster that burns half the bread you put in it, or the flimsy chef’s knife which barely cuts a potato aren’t worth the space they take up. We have approximately 200 square feet of total living space, so even small items make up calculable percentages of our space.

Tiny House Wall

If we buy/make only the finest quality of things, we know that we are living as efficiently as possible. Another great thing about quality things is that they generally tend to be repairable. When something breaks, or isn’t quite working right, we fix it.

And this brings me to the second of Pirsig’s points that resonated with me;  understanding and bringing scientific method to maintenance of technology. We intimately know about all the details of our house, so that when something goes wrong, we are able to make it right. Tiny houses have their quirks. Our microwave and our coffee grinder can’t be run at the same time, or else we trip a breaker.  The 100 foot hose we get our water through is very prone to freezing.  By paying attention to all of the intricacies in our tiny house, we know it better than any licensed electrician or plumber would at first glancel. If we brought our trailer to an RV mechanic saying that we can’t run two appliances at once, he would try to install a higher amperage circuit breaker. In fact, this might help in the short run, but we know that our power source actually can’t support that much current, and we might damage the supply. We only know this because we have spent time learning the system, and being aware of why the technology we use works the way it does.

Pirsig argues that working on your own machine in the search of building higher quality will create a sense of motivation and resourcefulness, called gumption. This gumption is built through overcoming hurdles in the process, and picking oneself up after failure. Once a solid base of gumption is created, its wielder will find other tasks in life easier and possibly more fulfilling.  While this all may seem like a philosophical notion, I sincerely believe we have built up  stores of gumption in the process of remodeling our tiny home, and rebuilding our lives around it. I also believe that this gumption has carried into other parts of our life.

While struggling through a challenge at work, or pushing to the top of a strenuous hike, I find myself thinking back to some of the challenges we’ve faced in building simpler lives. I think back to spending hours figuring out how to include storage, a desk, a bench, a table, and two beds, and a front door all along one 14 foot wall.  I remember how we came up with hundreds of ideas before picking the best way to make everything work. When I remind myself of just how hard I worked on certain projects it makes me realize how hard work does pay off.  I think that is one of the main messages that Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance makes, and it’s just as applicable now as it was when it was published(after being rejected by 121 publishers) over 40 years ago.