Moving is often an overwhelming process. In addition to all the planning and the temporary inconvenience, packing up and then unfurling belongings in a space one has yet to become acquainted with is always a tad discombobulating. Moving interrupts the groove and flow of daily life to which one’s become accustomed, and recreating logical spatial layouts and rhythm that support day to day needs can take some time and a little assistance.
It was overwhelm that led a couple of friends to reach out and ask if I had time and interest to lend my organizing expertise to help a client of theirs with her new space. When they told me they were members of the client’s neighborhood-integration support team and that the client had recently moved into a tiny house in our Mission District neighborhood, I was intrigued. This was not just any tiny house but a Transitional Sleep and Storage Shelter that is part of a pilot program of Saint Francis Homeless Challenge.
The client was a homeless woman, a disabled firefighter, who had timed out of one of the City’s Navigation Centers. Rather than going back to the street while she awaits more permanent housing, she is residing in an all volunteer-built abode with the dignity of a solid roof over her head and what a tent on the sidewalk or street doesn’t offer: a lock on her door. They sensed she was bit overwhelmed trying to figure out how to fit her belongings into her new home and thought a little input from a neutral third party would help.
After saying yes, I immediately reached out to my organizing colleague, Amanda Kovattana, tiny house dweller herself, to see if she would be willing to join me and lend some firsthand insight and experience to this unique pro bono opportunity.
The morning we were set to meet, my friends were on hand for initial introductions. Our client was amazed to learn that Amanda and I make our living helping people with their stuff, and that the people we serve are at all socioeconomic levels and house sizes – from low income seniors and studio apartment dwellers to millionaires with multiple residences. They, too, experience situational spatial and organizing challenges she was struggling with.
Amanda posted quite a bit on Facebook during her process of building and outfitting her tiny house, and I was thrilled that she brought along an album of photos documenting her journey to share with the client. Things got real when she and the client sat on the house’s exterior storage unit and flipped page-by-page through the book exchanging reflections on the experience of prioritizing and downsizing life. Moving from a tent where things could be spread out to a walled space with rules per the agreement with SFHC was a challenging exercise in temporary rightsizing.
The tiny home includes a built-in sleeping platform, a bench seat at the foot of the bed, and a series of deep shelves at the head of the bed. In addition to a variety of safety features, it also has a solar powered charger that keeps a phone and other small electronics operational. There is no plumbing. Impact Hub SF, the property owner that is hosting her, provides 24/7 access to bathroom facilities and a kitchen in their building.
When it came time to step inside the cozy 5 x 8 x 8′ interior our creative organizer minds went to work. We talked about the importance prioritizing the placement of essential items for day-to-day living in the most prime real estate as opposed to less frequently used items that could be housed in the either the locker or the client’s offsite storage unit. We were pleased to see there was adequate space beneath the sleeping platform to accommodate storage bins or crates. At the time of our visit, the bins in this space were underutilized, and we recommended they be used in a drawer-like fashion for clothes, packaged food items, and other frequently used belongings. The shelves were covered with an array of personal items, but they were far from optimized. (Note: Due to privacy issues, photographs of the interior are not being shared in a public forum.)
The shelves were extraordinarily deep with lots of space between them, and one would have to stretch very far to reach items on the back of a shelf, likely knocking over things in the front along the way. Amanda and I recommended the client’s team add a couple of shallower shelves to increase storage possibilities, but also make the shelves more useful and efficient. Plastic bins with drawers would be super helpful on the deeper shelves, too. Ways to maximize the limited vertical wall spaces in the tiny house were also discussed. A hook added high above the bench would provide safe bicycle storage. Installing a row of hooks above the bed platform for hanging clothes, towels, or bags of essentials would be mighty handy. The addition of a plexiglass panel affixed to the inside of the door would create transparent side organizer pockets using the door studs as partitions for stowing small items. These little modifications and adjustments may be integrated as standard features for future tiny homes. They are inexpensive, easy to implement, and provide increased functionality to a very small space.
As far as those plastic drawer organizers, I sent a request for donations to the local NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) chapter of which Amanda and I are long-time members. Any and all Sterilite-like plastic drawers and an array of basic small, medium, and large lidded plastic storage bins would help outfit this client’s tiny home and future tiny homes. In the course of our work, clients routinely divest themselves of excess or de-commissioned containers, and they can be utilized in a move from a tiny home to an SRO and help individuals maintain a sense of order and control when they transition. The friends who got me involved in this awesome endeavor have offered to store such donations in their work studio until they can be distributed. (If you live in or near San Francisco and have some bins to donate, drop me a line and I will be happy to pick them up!)
And then there’s the issue of this woman going from unhoused to tiny housed to housed in what could be a proper room of her own. The tiny house is not meant to be a permanent solution. It’s a step toward greater security and independence. Since we met her, our client has created a fundraising page through HandUp for a security deposit for actual housing. On this Giving Tuesday (and in the weeks to come), perhaps you’ll be inspired by her story as much as we were. I dare you to visit her fundraising campaign, become acquainted, and make a contribution toward her next big goal.
Amanda and I plan to stay involved with SFHC as needs for our skills and expertise arise. Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places, including these words of wisdom our client found on the street and has since installed on the outside of her tiny home:
Interested in helping more broadly? Donations can also be made to Saint Francis Homeless Challenge, a member of Intersection for the Arts.