36 Square Feet Is All You Need

 

16278989_0a7403bd05_zLook. If some kooky prof wants to live in a Dumpster, that’s fine by me. You know those crazy eggheads: if they’re not holing themselves up in a lab to invent Flubber, they’re porin’ through Shakespeare’s sonnets to prove the Dark Lady was actually an albino man. Crrazy!

But when they start tellin’ me I could be happy camped out in some bin the size of the trunk of my old man’s DeSoto I gotta laugh — maybe my brother, Frank, he could sleep anywhere, guy sawed some Zs at Anzio, swear to God — but when they say hey, it’s a chance to think about what we really need, about whether we shouldn’t want anything more, I get itchy. I mean, so’s you know, it’s not like I’m livin’ in a mansion or nothin’, but if lovin’ my house here in the burbs is wrong, I don’t wanna be Frank Lloyd Wright.

But then, all of a sudden, it turns out to be about Environmental Justice, and that’s when I know we have a problem. They’re always on about what you shouldn’t want. Turns out I’m bad for wanting a hot shower. On account of it’s not sustainable. I guess moistening my angles with a damp sponge — sustainably harvested, natch — is the way to go. Anyhow, no one involved in this thing seems to have a job where they make anything but speeches and policy, so I got to hand it to the guy who figured out a way to make college students bring him water, even if he had to boil it so he didn’t get the cramps.

It’s called the Dumpster Project. This guy has some questions.

Image Credit: Flickr user Caterina Fake.

There are 25 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. A Beleaguered Conservative Member
    A Beleaguered Conservative
    @

    Good points, all, but we should at least move away from electric shavers to Harry’s.

    Screen-Shot-2014-07-18-at-10.49.08-AM

    • #1
  2. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    James Lileks: …but if lovin’ my house here in the burbs is wrong, I don’t wanna be Frank Lloyd Wright.

    That killed me.

    • #2
  3. Andy S Inactive
    Andy S
    @AndyS

    Hell, my bed is 36sqft

    • #3
  4. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    The poorest people I’ve ever seen were living in the desert near Pachacamac, Peru, just off the Trans-American Highway. They had…hovels, I reckon (“shack” implies some kind of solid material, in my mind), made out of four loosely-woven reed mats. Three for the sides and one for a kind of roof (and perhaps a fourth for the floor, but I couldn’t tell).

    Each mat was around 6′ on a side, so that gave them 36 sq. ft., just like the perfesser here. But tell me: who is living more sustainably, really? The perfesser has got mined steel for his walls and roof, and have you seen what chemicals they use in steel furnaces? But the locals outside of Pachacamac have locally-grown and harvested natural (not to mention organic) reeds. I think we know who’s doing it better!

    • #4
  5. Belt Inactive
    Belt
    @Belt

    Always remember:  Whenever you qualify ‘Justice,’ as in ‘Social Justice’ or ‘Environmental Justice,’ you always wind up with the opposite of ‘Justice.’

    • #5
  6. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Belt:Always remember: Whenever you qualify ‘Justice,’ as in ‘Social Justice’ or ‘Environmental Justice,’ you always wind up with the opposite of ‘Justice.’

    You end up with squalor.

    • #6
  7. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    More thoughts: Pachacamac itself was surprisingly poor, too. I ate at a modest but nice-looking restaurant right on the ocean. They cut the napkins into quarters. You know how the paper napkins fold? They’d cut them so you got a square that size, one sheet thick. What does a cheap napkin cost here? Get a back of 500 for two bucks, maybe? So about half a cent per napkin? Let me repeat: they were so poor, they cut the napkins into quarters!

    The perfesser living in a refurbished dumpster isn’t living “sustainably”; his way of living depends on having a society around him rich enough to have expensive steel dumpsters to spare. This idea of showing what extremes you can go to and still survive isn’t teaching us (or me, anyway) a lesson about how we have to change. For tens of thousands of years, Man got by in caves or shelters of palm branches. But the fact that you could survive that way doesn’t mean that we should.

    What is needed is to raise the poorest, scraping by like that, out of their dire poverty and to have a better standard of living. [cont’d]

    • #7
  8. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    …And to answer the cries of “Sustainability!” and “The environment!”, I’ll note that if and when massive numbers of the world’s poor get to be better off and can afford houses like ours, the cost of building materials will reflect the demand. We’ve already seen that with the price of copper for pipes, as India and China had their economic growth over the last 15 years, and with the price of gas as they started buying more cars. When that happens, the market reacts in ways to let people allocate resources that take care of the problem of “sustaining.”

    Finally(?), I’ll note that every time I see some “professor” pull a self-serving publicity stunt like this, I cringe for my profession. I’m a professor of physics and astronomy, and I really hope my students come out of my classes having learned more how the universe works and being able to master the forces of nature in useful and practical ways, rather than having been turned into smug activists for the money they’re paying me.

    • #8
  9. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Like most “movements”, it can be a great idea as long as it’s voluntary.

    I personally love reading stories about the “tiny house” movement.  I look at some of the designs and think that some of them would work really well for a lakeside vacation property, and I totally support the entrepreneurial folk who are trying to get their municipal government to change the zoning laws to allow them to build these kinds of houses.

    But then, some yahoo (let’s say, from Oregon, for argument’s sake), steps forward and says that ALL new houses should be built according to this philosophy.  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Dude.  Don’t be “that guy”.

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    A Beleaguered Conservative:Good points, all, but we should at least move away from electric shavers to Harry’s.

    I bought an old-fashioned safety razor offa eBay for next-to-nothing. I loves it.

    I gotta admit though, I do pay extra for the fancy shaving soap imported from Italy…

    • #10
  11. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    James Lileks: Turns out I’m bad for wanting a hot shower. On account of it’s not sustainable.

    That’s water that could be diverted to flood California rice fields for migrating shorebirds.

    That’s migrating shorebirds you 1,200 square foot body washing hack!

    • #11
  12. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    I know how to stop this: let’s start a movement against BIG DUMPSTER.

    • #12
  13. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Just another dude trying to ride the “Keep Austin Weird” movement. As you look down the page, however, you see potential modifications, including an additional “utility room,” with city services connected washer, toilet and shower – as well as a 3-story version covered in heavy-industry intensive solar panels.

    Once you get to this point, he’s just another participant in the movement long cataloged at the Tiny House Blog. Albeit in his case, there is a near-unlimited coterie of idolatrous students, many much younger and more attractive than his ex-wife, which may help with a life he now describes as much “happier.” (Just sayin’)

    • #13
  14. Foxfier Inactive
    Foxfier
    @Foxfier

    James Lileks: They’re always on about what you shouldn’t want.

    Bingo!

    Not only should you not want it, you should not want it in the right way– heaven forbid you do something like, say, have several folks living in a mobile home.  That’s tacky!  Hm… wonder if one could accuse of racism, since they’re named for Mobile Alabama….

    Here’s one, 1100 square feet.  Won’t be getting down to 36^2 feet a person, but– zoning laws allowing– a family of six could be comfortable.  Heck, with some Japanese styling you could make the Master Bedroom a mother-in-law apartment and have the kids in the livingroom.  I say laws allowing, because when the Princess was born we became unable to renew our lease on the 700sq ft apartment we were living in, even though we fit comfortably.  Another ‘helpful” law.

    In that case, they’d probably object to the part where one has a family, rather than being a single widget.

    I know I laughed a few years ago when some of the “living tiny” folks ran into Seattle’s minimum square feet laws.

    • #14
  15. Foxfier Inactive
    Foxfier
    @Foxfier

    Another, cheaper option than a lot of the “little house” things: go to Home Depot and buy a shed of your preferred material and upgrade as needed.

    But that would be wanting what they want you to want in the wrong way. :D

    • #15
  16. MikeHs Inactive
    MikeHs
    @MikeHs

    “but if lovin’ my house here in the burbs is wrong, I don’t wanna be Frank Lloyd Wright.”

    From what I’ve read, ol’ Frank made out pretty well, house-wise outside the city, kind of in the ‘burbs of the day (well, except when the crazy guy was burning it down and murdering his family).

    • #16
  17. NancyB Member
    NancyB
    @NancyB

    Thoreau wrote a book about how wonderful life was in his tiny house on Walden pond, but he only stayed two years.  Why didn’t he live there for the rest of his life?  By the way, I understand he carried his laundry to town for his mom to wash.

    • #17
  18. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    If dumpster prof really wants to discover how beneficial it is to live in a dumpster he shouldn’t rely on college students to bring him water.

    • #18
  19. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    NancyB:Thoreau wrote a book about..life…on Walden Pond. By the way, I understand he carried his laundry to town for his mom to wash.

    From someone who grew up in Concord, I understand he also walked into town every day to have lunch with his friends at the local hotel. Now there’s a life of simplicity.

    • #19
  20. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    NancyB:Thoreau wrote a book about how wonderful life was in his tiny house on Walden pond, but he only stayed two years. Why didn’t he live there for the rest of his life? By the way, I understand he carried his laundry to town for his mom to wash.

    I think his mother also brought cookies out to the shack for him.

    • #20
  21. Wylee Coyote Member
    Wylee Coyote
    @WyleeCoyote

    First day off of the week, and a good old-school Lileks Screed.  Life is good.  Sustainable, even.

    I especially loved this bit:

    I don’t trust any sort of Justice that needs to be modified, because it is arbitrary, subjective, not codified or subject to appeal, and assumes a prima facie good that trumps objections. If you object to a goal of Environmental Justice you are doubly damned, once for hating the Environment, and once for being Unjust.

    Damn, that’s good.

    • #21
  22. user_512412 Inactive
    user_512412
    @RichardFinlay

    Foxfier: … heaven forbid you do something like, say, have several folks living in a mobile home. That’s tacky….

    To be fair, we have to consider the ill-effects, what with mobile-home parks springing up everywhere, of all the additional tornadoes they would generate/attract.

    • #22
  23. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Never use the name of De Soto in vain!

    1955 DeSoto in the rain

    • #23
  24. The Fradgan Inactive
    The Fradgan
    @TheFradgan

    Randy Weivoda:

    NancyB:Thoreau wrote a book about how wonderful life was in his tiny house on Walden pond, but he only stayed two years. Why didn’t he live there for the rest of his life? By the way, I understand he carried his laundry to town for his mom to wash.

    I think his mother also brought cookies out to the shack for him.

    NancyB, to be fair, the dumpsters of Thoreau’s day were little more than porous pine crates. He was a living example of his advice to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” Having Mom wrangle his soiled skivvies was certainly simpler.

    • #24
  25. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Wylee Coyote:First day off of the week, and a good old-school Lileks Screed. Life is good. Sustainable, even.

    Thanks, Wylee!

    • #25
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.