You know, growing up I was always seen as a quitter. I guess I never really thought of it as quitting, there was just always something new and different that I needed to be trying RIGHT NOW. It took me a while to learn to become a finisher. I hadn’t yet found that special satisfaction that comes from seeing your hard work bring a project to fruition – putting the final stitch in a hand knitted jumper or putting away every last object in its rightful place. Probably the only thing I ever finished was a good book – or a good meal.
Sometimes it still strikes me that I’m still so absorbed in this tiny house project more than two years down the track. I worried about losing interest and motivation halfway in, especially if things didn’t go to plan. I worried about the whole thing being a disaster, honestly. But I haven’t. And it hasn’t. Recently I heard a Freakonomics podcast that summed up something that helped me reflect on the reasons why, and what I think anyone embarking on this tiny journey needs to get through. If you don’t yet, find it. You’re gonna need to get some grit.
What is Grit?
Angela Duckworth wrote a book on grit, and defines it as ‘passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals.’
Don’t be fooled as I was, friend. Tiny houses do not mean tiny work loads. We’ve all seen the articles about the ‘couple who built a tiny house with their bare hands for $50 in just 2 days!’. There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic, but reality has its place. Building a house, any kind of house, is a long term goal. That’s why having some grit up your sleeves is so important.
The four traits of gritty people
Duckworth outlines the four common traits of the grittiest people she spoke to when writing her book. These were interest, practice, purpose and hope. All of these stood out to me as stages I have experienced and continue to experience, while building and living in my tiny.
The first common trait is interest. It’s about taking that fleeting thought, the ‘what if?’ and chasing it down the rabbit hole. Duckworth says gritty people ‘cultivate something which grabs their attention initially, but that they become familiar with enough, knowledgeable enough that they wake up the next day and the next day and the next year, and they’re still interested in this thing.’
Cultivating an interest in tiny houses is easy, trust me. The constant discovery of new skills, new friends, new stories and new reasons and ways to go tiny is even enough for an attention delinquent like me. Plus, on the days where you really get stuck, take Duckworth’s advice and ‘substitute nuance for novelty.’ If, and when, electric circuits lose their thrill, move on to something else. Learn about poo for a while! Nothing boring there, I promise.
This one is fairly straight forward but has been so, so true for me. Duckworth talks about practice as ‘the ability to take a large something, and break it up into little tasks, and to fractionate things so that they’re not so overwhelming and that you can do them. It’s about doing things that you can’t yet do.’
I remember plenty of moments while planning, and even building that I nearly gave up. It all felt too big, too hard, too new. The only way forward to was to block everything out except the very next step. This hasn’t always meant the best forethought for future steps, but I also know perfect is the enemy of good. Things get easier, but only if you take a step to move forward. Practice hasn’t made perfect yet, in my case. But it has gotten me a helluva lot further than giving up.
Purpose was never something I struggled for in this project. My own purpose was clear from the outset – to create a home to live in according to my values and with financial freedom. An unexpected bonus purpose has been sharing it with all of you. Purpose doesn’t have to be small, it includes ‘connecting your work, or even your hobby if that’s where your real passion is, to people who are not you.’
We are so lucky to have a growing community of tiny house supporters in Australia, groups of interested, helpful and generous pioneers. If you haven’t found a way to connect with this community yet, get onto it! Being part of something bigger definitely helps support your personal purpose when motivation wanes.
‘Because, of course, no matter where you are in your journey, there are going to be potholes and detours and things that might make you think that it’s not worth staying on this path. So hope, essentially, is the belief that there’s something you can do to come back from these problems or from these challenges.’
The thrill that came from my first success, from seeing my dreams take shape, that was the breeding ground for my hope. Each hurdle that I stumbled over, blindly and messily, made me a little stronger. I still need practice, lots and lots of practice. I still need help and advice and I still get things wrong. But I know that my interest won’t fade, my purpose remains and I don’t doubt that I’ll overcome the barriers anymore. My hope is stronger than my doubt – this is what grit means for me.
So to all the tiny house wannabees, the worriers, the dreamers and those of you who are taking the plunge, go ahead and get gritty. It won’t be easy, but it’s so worth it.
‘The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.’
– Robin Davidson, Tracks.