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Tiny Living in a Healthy Town

Debra Redalia

Sebastopol is a small town in Sonoma County California, where citizens prefer a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, including organic food and solar panels.


This post was first published in October 2017 on debralynndadd.com

Last week I wrote about how much I am loving living in Sebastopol California. This week I want to tell you more about how it’s a perfect place to live in a toxic free tiny house.

History of Sebastopol

Sebastopol was founded in the 1850s as a trading center for farmers and a site for a United States Post Office. After the Gold Rush of 1849, more and more settlers came to California and many found a home in the fertile valleys north of San Francisco.

In 1875 botanist Luther Burbank came to Santa Rosa. Every school child in California knows Luther Burbank, who cultivated new varieties of fruits and vegetables through the traditional methods of seed-saving and grafting. No GMOs. With these simple methods, he cultivated many new varieties in common use today, including the Russet potato, the most widely grown potato in the United States. Burbank’s experimental farm in Sebastopol is a wonderful place to visit, as is his home in Santa Rosa.

In the latest 1800s, a local farmer worked with Burbank to develop the Gravenstein apple for commercial use and Sebastopol became an apple boom town. Apples are so ingrained in the life of Sebastopol that even today, when many of the apple orchards have been replaced by vineyards, there is a free community apple press that can process 100 pounds of apples into cider in 20 minutes.

So from the very beginning, Sebastopol has been about food, farming, and health.

Coming Home to Sebastopol

I first came to Sebastopol about 30 years ago to visit the showroom of Shepherd’s Dream. While they are now located in Montague, California, Shepherd’s Dream started here in Sebastopol, and it was here that I worked with them to write the first standard for pure wool. The wool for the wool bed I sleep on came from local sheep near Sebastopol.

Around the same time, Larry’s parents purchased a lot in Sebastopol and built a house on it for their retirement. So I spent a lot of time in Sebastopol before I moved to Florida in 2002.

Today as I come home to Sebastopol after 15 years I see that much has changed and much is still the same. Many of the shops on historic Main Street are just the same, but there is now a vibrant farmer’s market, a wonderful new district called The Barlow that has transformed the site and buildings of an old applesauce factory into a vibrant artisan market district, and it’s just more crowded. Where before Sebastopol was a quiet town off the beaten path, it is now an integral part of the Napa-Sonoma wine industry.

I am here right now on grace. We didn’t choose to come to Sebastopol. We chose to come home and help our family. That our family is in Sebastopol is a gift. And I am thankful to be here every minute of every day. Life here agrees with me and I am loving exploring and experiencing this place.

The Cost of Living in This Healthy Town

Sebastopol is still a farm community, but it’s now much more expensive because of the value of the land for grapes and it's proximity to San Francisco, which I think is now one of the most expensive places to live in America. Many of what used to be small family farms growing the foods of daily life, that same land is now growing gourmet wine. Still, there are many small farms growing specialty foods, but more and more land is going to grapes.

When I last lived in California in 2002. I had been paying a $2000/month mortgage for 12 years to live in a 700 square foot cabin. My whole life revolved around paying that mortgage and it was very difficult. This was part of the draw for me of moving to Florida. For the past 15 years I’ve been living in a 1600 square foot house with a $800/month mortgage. But even though I had a bigger house, I didn’t have quality of life.

Sebastopol clearly has the quality of life I want, but I wouldn’t be able to live here if I didn’t have family to stay with. I looked at the rentals just before writing this post and to rent a 700 square foot house is $3000. Hotel rooms on the weekend are $400/night. If you can find them. I mentioned to a farmer at the farmer’s market last week that I was looking for housing and she said, “Good luck. Any housing is hard o find.” And she was right. I think most people who live here now bought houses years ago.

Which brings me to tiny living.

Our Move Toward Tiny Living

Last week I wrote that Larry and I "have undertaken an enormous task of re-organizing our lives around ideas, abilities, relationships, experiences, adventures, and other such soul-satisfying interests rather than the pursuit of material goods.” With this goal in mind, we are simplifying our lives and reducing our possessions. And that’s why we are here. To reduce the pile of things Larry has collected over the years that are being stored at his parents.

But what has happened is pretty funny. My father used to say, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” Well, we are intending to live more small and simple. We’ve actually been watching all the tiny house shows on TV for months.

And what has happened is…we came here thinking we would have two rooms in Larry’s family house but for the moment we have only one. So we really have to live tiny! I don’t get a separate room for my office. We have one 12x16 room,  That's just under 200 square feet. The size of a smaller-size tiny house.

We can do this. When we first met we lived and worked in one room together.

Two things come to mind...

On tiny house tv shows, people in tiny houses are always talking about the quality of life. That they have exchanged their big houses and piles of belonging for more time and resources available for family, travel, education, and other pursuits of happiness. And we are experiencing that now. I was remembering this morning many years ago when I sold my grand piano because I was tired of moving it and buying or renting places big enough to hold it. If I were a concert pianist that would be one thing. But I hardly played it, so I sold it and fulfilled my lifetime dream of traveling through the British Isles. Today I am feeling the same about needing to carry so much stuff around with me if I want to go from place to place.

I'm also remembering something an architect friend said to me a number of years ago. We were talking about the ideal size for a home. And she said something about physical space versus living space. And how you don't need to have all your living space in your home. Essentially we need a place to sleep, store clothing and other personal items, a place to bathe, a place to cook and eat, and for me, I need a place to do my work. But all of these do not need to be contained in a home. She considered her entire city as her "living space" and I've never forgotten that.

As we are gradually emptying our room to make space for our present needs, an interesting thing has happened. Larry started looking for a used trailer that we could transform into a tiny house space for my office. And as we started thinking about it, we saw we could build our own tiny house while we are living here and then have a tiny house when the time comes to leave. And that day will come. The house will be sold and we will need to live somewhere else. With a tiny house we could live anywhere.

And two weeks ago when the fires broke out and we had to escape the smoke, we could have just taken our tiny house anywhere if we already had one.

Living tiny in a way that's mobile is looking more and more like our future. We'll see what happens next.