Rocky Bar, Idaho. Home to exactly four people, none of whom came out of their houses to say hello. I’m not actually sure if any of the four residents were around that day. The occupied houses in the town had multiple “no trespassing” and “private property” signs. The town welcome sign warned of old people and guns, sarcastically I hope.
At it’s height, this town had a population of 2,500. At one point, it was considered for the capital city of the Idaho Territory. A fire hit, the gold rush trickled down, and slowly everyone left. It seems that much of the present-day population of small mountain towns like this are part-time residents. People who escape to their cabin in the woods for the summer, or on weekends, and head back down for the rest of the year.
There wasn’t much to explore because there wasn’t much left, but the rusting furniture and mysterious saloon/repair shop was enough to get my creepy-town fix for a while. Meeko was especially interesting in all the animal poop on the floor of these homes and the stuffing falling from the attics. I’d read on another ghost town website that old safes were pretty common to find at these towns, but it was rare to find a safe that hasn’t been cracked open already. I found my first out in the middle of nowhere safe, but its lid was cracked completely open, the inside filled with sand.
Rocky Bar, Idaho is a good one-time trip. I wouldn’t say an entire trip would be worth it just to see that town, but it worked into our route from Atlanta, Idaho back to Boise.
I’ll be the first to admit I have a problem. I feel a strange connection to ghost towns. Abandoned mines, crumbling cabins, and the wild slowly eating a town back into the forest. I’d been to some other ghost towns, mainly in Nevada (gold rushes and similar phenomena tend to leave a trail of abandoned towns in its wake). It turns out Idaho had its own gold rush, silver rush, and gem rush.
Kevin and I headed three hours North of Boise, Idaho to check out two such towns. One Atlanta, Idaho, once home to 17,000 people as a tent city… now home to about 40 residents.
Forest fires have slowed down tourism to Atlanta, ID forcing a lot of local businesses to close. With projects like The Atlanta School and a hot springs nearby, the residents are hoping to draw more people out along the forest service roads.
But of course, “not too many people.”
I was very intrigued by Atlanta, Idaho. I loved the dirt, washboard roads maintained by the Forest Service. From the burned forests, bright wildflowers grew thick on the ground. The rivers following the roads were clear, cold, and without any trace of trash. Everyone in Atlanta was welcoming, encouraging us to explore the town on foot and leave my little car parked. With no cell phone service or internet, it was a place to truly unplug. I’m sure I will be back soon.
In response to the great support I received from my earlier post on the micro living movement and my increasing interest in living small, I thought I would dive into a popular aspect of this movement: repurposing things.
Resourceful is a characteristic I’ve prided myself in, and whether you call it scrappy, creative, or just cheap, it has certainly helped me out in all of my moving adventures. I think there are two sides to being resourceful in terms of physical, material things. The first is seeing potential in an item. The second is seeing how an action from you can change the item.
Seeing what else an item could be, what properties it has, or what changes you can bring to it increases it’s usefulness. Maybe you have a friend who re-paints old furniture pieces, or glues sequins onto T-shirts. I see this as a form of resourcefullness, and repurposing. You have an option to go buy a brand new shirt that reflects a trend, or you have an option to add (or take away) from a shirt you already have. Of course, to do this takes time, which is a privilege, so we all pick and choose what we do ourselves and what we buy from people or companies who can do it faster and cheaper.
With the boom of websites like Etsy and Saturday markets, people are certainly getting their craft on. I remember when my mom bought me a hot glue gun a few years ago, and I laughed, remembering her projects of gluing Ric-Rac onto curtains or googly eyes onto cards. Well the joke was on me because I have used that glue gun for more home projects than I could have ever imagined. In the past few months, two pairs of shoes started “talking” (separating from the sole) and I glued them right back together. I also fixed my glasses case, saving me from a purchase I would have been very unexcited about.
This may all seem quite small scale, or perhaps you are thinking that owning a glue gun is a bit too feminine for your taste. I strongly advise you get over that because a glue gun is as useful as duct tape and a staple gun (my personal favorites for fixing stuff back together. Just ask Kevin, I staple-gunned the fabric falling off the ceiling of his car. Home improvement, car improvement, done.)
In San Francisco I got really into estate sales. The ultimate repurposing from people who generally had high quality things. I found three hard suitcases at one of them, realizing their potential immediately. The guy running the estate sale jokingly asked if I was “late for a train,” when I walked up to pay for them. As in, people haven’t used hard suitcases since the days of waiting at the train station with your parasol and a handkerchief. Well sir, would you be laughing now when one suitcase has become a table, another a foot rest while I write, and the third… Well actually the third is just a hat box, because how could I not have a hat box for $5??
Buried beneath all of these suggestions, I know there is a fear of becoming a hoarder of things that you “might use one day.” The truth is, the ability you have to hang onto potentially useful things is directly tied to how much actual space you have within your home. For me, a smaller space forces me to complete projects quickly, and prevents me from having a build up of projects, which will only cause me more stress. It can be a fine line to walk, but that is something every household has to figure out for themselves. I wouldn’t wish for anyone to turn into the infamous “dumpster divers” from the show Portlandia. Watch what I’m talking about here: Portlandia Dumpster Divers
In integrating my things and Kevin’s things, I reluctantly realized that my large wooden table (a great find on craigslist from a schoolteacher who was moving) could not fit under the loft bed with all of it’s leaves in. I stood in front of that table, hands on my hips and asked, “what am I going to do with you?” Unscrew the rounded extensions of the table and turn them into wall shelves, that’s what.
In my English 102 class that I teach, I encouraged my students to question everything about the world around them. Why does something have to be the way it is, just because that’s the way it’s been? Of course, it’s difficult to question something when you don’t even know there’s an alternative. This was exactly the case for me before I stumbled upon the micro living movement. As a homework assignment, I asked my students to pretend that they had the power to add one required class to the entire University’s curriculum. Something everyone would have to take. I encouraged them to be as selfish in their own interests as they wanted, and not be afraid to have fun. We were all surprised at the amount of of students, men and women, who argued for a survival class, a basic construction class, or something similarly hands-on.
There is so much information out there about using tools, repurposing materials, and even just painting something a different color. Question the things you are used to, especially within your home. The questioning itself will be freeing, but the exhilaration that comes from fixing or changing something is truly special. We should all be less afraid to pick up a tool and do something. Not just for the sake of fighting gender roles, not with the intent of never buying something ‘nice’ again, and not in the hope of feeling like a superior human being to others. Try it because it’s fun, because it’s rewarding, and it challenges the idea that every new issue within your home requires the purchase of a brand new thing.
I’d love to hear what things you have repurposed in your apartment or home– feel free to share in the comments! Thanks for reading.
Micro living. If you haven’t heard this term yet, it is a movement against unnecessarily large homes and unmanageable mortgages and for creating an optimal life/work balance in a teeny tiny space. Or, as one participant in the documentary “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” said, the outside of your living space should draw you in, and the inside should draw you out.
The truth is I hadn’t heard much about this movement until I moved to the West coast. It’s more than just poorer people, like myself, only having small spaces as options. Wealth has nothing to do with it, though in a way it does. People of all backgrounds and financial standing are fighting against a created US ideal: that the size of your house indicates the success of your life.
In high school and part of middle school, I lived in a mansion. A pretty legit mansion in Buffalo, New York, in a planned suburb. It had three different “living rooms,” one for the actual TV and couches, one for an extensive dining table that I don’t ever remember being full, and one for less comfortable furniture that everyone was encouraged to stay out of. What was it all for? I don’t blame my family for getting sucked into the norms of most US families, moving up in life and feeling a desire to display this moving up to the world through increasingly larger square footage. I’m also not saying that micro living or being a tiny house dweller automatically makes one a better person. I am saying that it is a different way of thinking, one totally different from the values I was brought up with, and I find myself increasingly intrigued by the principles behind the movement.
Until about a year ago, I never questioned that someday I would have a mortgage on a cute house with 3-4 bedrooms and a yard. I also never questioned that I would spend most of my life paying off that mortgage to some extent.
Moving to Boise, I had a very strict budget. I was adamant that I would not allow myself to take out any more student loans. I would just have to make it work here. The apartment I eventually found through the help of an awesome friend in my grad school program is 444 square feet total.
I remember when my mom and sister visited for the first time. My mom’s first reaction, “I cannot believe you actually live here.” There are three rooms, all connected like a really long hallway. Moving here I realized I didn’t need any more space, at all. Limited space meant I had to go outside and walk my dog every day. It meant adventuring, hiking, limited grocery “stocks.” All of this worked for my budget. I can’t buy anymore than will fit in my apartment, and it turned out, that’s all I really needed.
With Kevin moving in, I had to rearrange the layout of my place. But once again, I found myself surprised how a few changes created even more space in what was supposed to be this tiny apartment. Kevin and I bought a wooden loft bed from a local builder in Boise (his website is here) which created a whole other writing space for us to share.
There is so much information online about this tiny house movement, and the more I read about it, I know this is right for me. I haven’t decided if I’d want to build a place on wheels, or build a more permanent cabin. In the same documentary mentioned above, there was a family of four with a dog. The couple explained how they originally lived in a tiny house on wheels with their dog. Once they were ready to have kids they built a 500 square foot house on their land, and now use the first tiny home as their work space. My arms felt tingly and my heart jumped. People are really doing this, I thought. By removing the enormous burden of house debt/mortgage from my future, I wonder what other possibilities might open up.
In the meantime, for practice, I plan on continuing to live in tiny rented spaces, and making improvements as needed. Below are some pictures of the small improvements Kevin and I made in order to fit two writers and a dog into 444 square feet.
My sleep schedule has been completely off lately, so Meeko and I decided to take a walk this afternoon near our apartment. With a few hours until my night class (where my new short story will be workshopped for the last time this semester) we stepped outside. I forgot how bright the sun was.
It seems like Boise never has any clouds. The sky is a blue that Buffalo can’t even imagine. The leaves were vibrant yellows, warm oranges, and copper reds. I threw some in Meeko’s face and she thought that was a great game. The leaves are crisp like biting into an apple. Or so I imagine, because I don’t bite into apples. The skin gets stuck in my permanent retainer and it’s no good.
I set outside with no plan of where we’d go. Only after a few blocks did I realize my feet were leading us straight down 6th street. I had no desire to change directions or keep track of where we were going, so we just kept walking.
Kids walked home from school. A mailman delivered mail to painted boxes on wooden fences. A dad with a pink backpack smiled as he watched his daughter walking one foot in front of the other along a cement curb of someone’s sloped front yard. A middle schooler struggled carrying her cello on her back and her Mom just laughed at her from their fence.
You can’t make this stuff up. I walk through these scenes like, “Really Boise? What is this, I don’t even believe you.” People leave windows down in their unlocked cars. Entire yards of crunchy leaves. Strangers smile at me and wave me across the streets, happy to wait and in no hurry.
At one point a boy, maybe seven years old, walked towards me carrying a rock bigger than his head. His dad looked straight out of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video, flannel shirt and long hair walking a dog that looked like a wolf. I imagine this dad was they type to say “radical” with no sign of irony.”You okay with that?” The boy struggled with the rock, locking his arms straight to make up for muscles that just haven’t grown yet. “Yeah, I got it!” As they turn the corner to walk perpendicular to me, the boy gives up with a smile and drops the rock into someone’s front yard. The dad just looks at him like “whatever little dude”.
Meeko and I walked until the end of 6th street, returning home with calm energy. I’m sure we’ll both sleep well tonight.
Some people are already done at twenty five. They’ve done what they wanted to do, travelled to that one country, birthed X amount of babies (I mean that in the nicest way), and now they are just on cruise control until the inevitable mid life crisis. Hint: Don’t go get a silver BMW Z4. They don’t do well in the snow.
Everyone asks, “How does it feel? Do you feel old? Are you sad?” Admittedly, it is a weird age. Everything from 22-24 felt un-defined. Something about the number twenty five feels very definite to me. I can feel it’s sincerity when I walk, standing up tall. At twenty five, I am comfortable with my opinions, and even more comfortable that, if history does indeed repeat itself, many of these opinions will change drastically over the next five years.
Of course, some may not. I still don’t drink. I think this works for me. I’m weird enough, I get depressed enough, and being a writer/artist has enough ups and downs to last me many a Sunday morning. That’s a distant Johnny Cash song reference. I don’t know if it works or not.
My sister thinks I’ve got my life all figured out. I would liken my current state more to the end of my freshman year of college. It’s that moment when you realize all the things you still don’t know. I’m embracing my new identity as a writer. I tell people, “yeah, I’m a writer” and then I do not swish my hair over my eyes. I do not. The next step is figuring out what to say when people ask the follow up question, “So what do you write about?” Characters who make bad decisions? The concept of home? Journey stories? Stories with beginnings that are way too long? I need an elevator speech. It’s on my to-do list.
In my rush to figure myself out, find a way to live with depression/anxiety, AND pursue being a writer, I realized that I often lose days to my many to-do lists. This is a good thing and a bad thing. I’ve only got a set amount of years here on planet earth and I’m trying to make the most of them. At the same time, I don’t want the things I look forward to and enjoy to always be in the near future. I am experimenting with this in Boise. Not living in the moment, but sometimes stopping the racing, planning thoughts.
Today I went on another hike in the foothills and only allowed myself to think about things I saw. I was not allowed to worry about the new short story I’m trying to write. I was not allowed to feel guilty about not getting a new cell phone plan yet. As a result I thought of all kinds of new things I’d like to explore in writing. I also realized I get hyper-aware of the sound peoples shoes make as they crunch over gravel, soil, and asphalt. Shoes, you guys. Shoes.
It’s crazy weird how suddenly a phase of our life can end. I thought I could see my future very clearly, and now, just by being in Idaho, I see other paths like roots stretching out before me. All I have to do is keep going, keep trying, and of course, keep writing. I want to make you all proud out there. I want you to read my fiction or my essays (or my poetry?) and feel something. Even if that something is, “wow this is dumb. She’s actually going to school for this?” As I tell my English 101 students, it is okay to totally disagree with me.
In conclusion, at twenty five one should be full of opinions, but bursting with the curiosity to know oneself even more. Then, figure out what you can do for the world that won’t have you craving reality TV and binge eating at the end of the day. It’s a work in progress.
I’ve spent about a week scrubbing and painting my new little one bedroom apartment. This is the first time I’ve ever lived truly alone…. and I am so excited!! An introvert’s dream come true. The landlord let me choose any colours I want, but I wanted to pick something that the next person to live here would enjoy as well. So, nothing too crazy.
Thursday, Meeko and I drove one last time to our old place in the suburbs. She was super helpful, running up and down the stairs chasing me as I carried heavy shelfs and books. Today I began unpacking, and the place is finally starting to feel like home.
Meeko is settling in great–we don’t have a backyard, but there is a big park right behind our place. There are a lot of squirrels though, so I’ll have to be careful Meeko doesn’t get too into chasing them.
My apartment is one of four units (I think) all in one big blue house. I’ll take some pictures of the outside and our “yard” tomorrow when the sun is back.
I still need to paint the kitchen and do a third (!) coat of paint on my bedroom, but it’s coming along.
Everyone I’ve met has said, “you’ll love it here!” I’m only going on 5 days in my new home, and I can agree, I have a good feeling about this place.
After driving all night Friday, sleeping for two hours in a gas station parking lot with my head resting on Meeko’s bed, the dogs and I rolled up the driveway of our new home. I’m in the suburbs of Boise with a new roommate/landlord and his two german shepherd dogs. I unpacked the extremely stuffed Honda Fit (yes, my car still needs a name) and took a long nap on the floor in a pile of my bedding.
Within a few days I bought all the furniture I would need. In my many moves, I have finally learned my lesson- buy collapsable furniture! Now I have two metal shelving units that come completely apart, a foldable bench so the dogs can look out our window during the day, and two desks whose legs come off. If I had to move again in Boise, I could fit everything in two car trips easily.
Another good lesson for cheap moving: sell your old furniture on craigslist and then buy what you need from craigslist when you arrive. I can honestly say my Boise craigslist experience has been the most pleasant of any city. Everyone I met was extremely kind, helped me carry furniture without me even asking, and were happy to offer me local advice. Everyone also offered for me to keep their numbers and to call or email if I ever needed anything (or if I just wanted to hang out!) Yes, I actually made friends through craigslist.
Boise seems like this hidden gem of extremely nice (though admittedly, not very racially diverse) people. I wonder why more people wouldn’t want to live here. It’s almost like Brigadoon, fog and smoke included. There are occasional wildfires in the mountains. Walking around Boise State’s campus, I realized people passing by were smiling at me. Was there something on my face?? Were my shorts too short? Nope-they were just being friendly!
I’m still winding down from my first day of my teaching orientation. I can’t believe that I’m really here. Me, a graduate student, and a teacher in about a week. Meeting my fellow MFA cohort and the MA students as well made me realize we are all in the same boat. Everyone is a little nervous. Most of us are wondering if this is all a huge mistake. But, we all know by the end of the semester, all this worrying will seem so silly… the novice will become the expert!
In moving to Idaho and realizing how little I (and perhaps most of the world?) know about this area, I’m going to make a big effort to revamp my blog. I hope to capture not only my experiences teaching and being a student, but also what there is to do in Idaho and the Northwest. Thanks for reading!