Tiny House Hate and the Future of Shelter

Tiny House Hate and the Future of Shelter

When we moved DFC from the Toronto suburbs to the deep wilderness of the Frontenac Arch, we downsized majorly. At the time, I drew inspiration from philosophies like KonMari (“Sorry, Jill, that chewed up stuffie that used to be shaped like a dolphin no longer sparks joy.”) and minimalism (“Do I really need a kitchen whisk? I could just use three forks!”).

I didn’t go to full extremes, though: While trimmed, our household still boasts all the necessities, including a whisk. And I’m glad — because a backlash against these streamlining trends is a-brewing, and it shows that they could really drive a person mad.

In one such account in Fast Company, Adele Peters writes of life in her “Tiny House”. (The Tiny House movement aims to reduce human consumption, minimize our dependence on private property, and solve the housing crisis by making homes out of structures under 400 square feet.) Peters confesses she’s motivated more by personal economic concerns rather than fears for the fate of the planet: She lives in the Bay Area, where a normal-sized apartment is frankly too expensive for her. But even so, she hates what her tiny house has — pun intended — reduced her to.

“It’s small enough that doing anything — getting the vacuum from a tiny closet or something out of a drawer in the kitchen — often involves a Tetris-like game of moving multiple other things out of the way. Right now, because I have one chair too many, lowering my Murphy bed from the wall means moving the chair, which then blocks something else. […]
My bathroom, a 3-by-6-foot ‘wet room’ with a walk-in shower, is so small that it doesn’t have a sink, and I have to use the nearby kitchen sink to brush my teeth. Though the apartment is fast to clean, it gets messy equally quickly. Invariably, I meet friends elsewhere, since there aren’t enough places to sit. Even as a minimalist who once happily lived with an ex-boyfriend in a space that was only a little larger, I think it’s too small.”

Most importantly, tiny house living distracts from other solutions that directly address the systemic nature of housing shortages. Why else should someone see a 240 sq ft shed as their only option in a city where, say, rents are artificially driven up by folks who own condos but don’t live there — *cough* Toronto *cough*?

There has to be an in-between solution: comically small tiny houses and monster manses that are more conspicuous consumption than the home must not be the future of the market. I’m interested in the debate, as the Tiny House develops from trend to bellwether.

Playing at Sustainability — For Keeps

Lego blocks & sustainability

I have fond memories of gifting Lego sets to my children on early birthdays and watching as they excitedly constructed imaginary worlds with wonderful, wacky kid-logic. Today’s Lego sets may follow trends in terms of content, but the basic units — the classic bricks — haven’t changed since 1958, and still allow for grand gestures of creativity!
Recently, Lego expanded on its product’s creative recyclability and announced a program called Replay. Replay is a partnership with two non-profits, that will collect previously owned Legos, clean them up, sort them, and donate them to classrooms and kids in need.
This is just one facet of Lego’s grand sustainability plan, through which the Danish toy manufacturer hopes to be completely environmentally neutral by 2030. This includes interrogating even the plastics used to make the bricks.
“Last year, the company released its first batch of pieces made using more sustainable bio-based plastics. In 2017, it said that its production process was running on 100 per cent renewable energy. (It’s a little more complicated than that. According to [Lego’s VP of environmental responsibility Tim] Brooks, not every facility is entirely renewable, but Lego’s parent company, Kirkbi, has invested in enough renewable energy production elsewhere to offset the outflow.)

From a sustainability standpoint, Lego has found itself reckoning with a kind of identity crisis. The more we learn about plastic, the worse the material seems. Plastic is found just about everywhere on Earth, it’s ridiculously difficult to clean up, and we’ll be dealing with it for generations to come.”
While Lego grapples with the reduce part of the classic triptych, it seems to have an excellent handle on reuse and recycle, through Replay. Personally, I’m for anything that not only minimizes the human effect on our environment, but spreads joy and creativity to kids who might not otherwise have access to them. Insert appropriate “building”-related pun here!

The Future is Female (and Eye-Strained, and Hunchbacked): How the Typical Office Could Hurt Us

perfect office for male and female

We at DFC strive to make the office of the future a place of work-life balance, where your job can be ported to any location you find comfortable to work from, and there are no soul-destroying commutes or harsh fluorescent lighting to battle! Researchers have recently added fuel to that fire, by sourcing the worst office-related physical complaints from UK workers and distilling them all into a life-sized mannequin. Dubbed “Emma,” the mannequin purports to show what a typical office worker could evolve to in twenty years. And, the future is not bright.
“The doll has a permanently bent back caused by sitting for hours in a bad position, varicose veins from poor blood flow, a rotund stomach caused by a sedentary position, dry and red eyes from long hours staring at a computer screen and other health conditions. […]
William Higham, behavioural expert and author of the study, said: ‘The report shows that employers and workers really need to act now and address the problem of poor workplace health.

‘Unless we make radical changes to our working lives, such as moving more, addressing our posture at our desks, taking regular walking breaks or considering improving our work station set up, our offices are going to make us very sick.’
(It’s worth noting that the study was commissioned by Fellowes, an office solutions company that sells products that it says will help you not turn into Emma.)
I do find Emma’s existence a bit fearmonger-y. Besides that, I also wonder if the researchers’ decision to make Emma female was conscious or not. Women are far more likely to be found in office “grunt” positions than men, like those of data entry specialists, administrative assistants, and financial clerks. They also are (STILL!) paid less than men, which means a comparable living standard requires more hours at work. And, when they do head home, women often find themselves responsible for a “second shift” of housework and emotional labour. All of which takes a physical toll much like Emma’s.
But Emma’s creators don’t seem to mention her context. Instead, problems like stress eczema and varicose veins are sited on a female body purely for — it seems to me — the shock value of how it negatively affects Emma’s appearance. The issue is complicated, but many studies underscore how female bodied persons are required to manage their appearance in the workplace. That this happens in ways that never even occur to their male co-workers, makes me wonder who was making decisions about Emma.
The warning about how are offices are hurting us is universal — but may be more universal for some of us.

Kitchen Technology and the Nature of Work

commercial kitchen made sauces

David & Sons Fine Condiments is at the Royal Winter Fair this week! Cooking vast batches of our sauces in preparation, not to mention filling hundreds of tiny bottles, was only possible through the use of industrial kitchen machinery we have access to at the awesome Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre. Technology is definitely a time and effort saver on the kind of scale our sauces are produced at. But Bustle has an interesting look at technology in the home kitchen, and how gadgets from eggbeaters to raisin seeders to gas stoves have served not to free the (exclusively female) occupant from her drudgery — but ensnare her further, in unimagined ways.
“Due to its coinciding with a radical adjustment in the division of labor between the sexes, the arrival of appliances did not necessarily make life any easier for women. This case was made, with scholarship and wit, by Ruth Schwartz Cowan in her groundbreaking 1983 book More Work for Mother. From around 1860 to 1960, the American household steadily shed its colonial character and became industrialized. That century saw countless new contraptions hit the market, from cheese graters to toaster ovens; electric waffle presses to blenders. But, at the same time, the whole workflow of household cooking changed, and not to the benefit of women. Cowan observed that in the preindustrial rural kitchens of the United States, men and women were forced to collaborate to prepare food. The housewife might stew a simple meal of meat and grains in a kettle, but her husband would have grown the grains, butchered the meat, and constructed the fireplace. He grew corn; she baked cornbread. Children would also have helped out their parents by carrying pails of water. By contrast, the advent of industrially milled flour and cast-iron stoves and running water left women alone in the kitchen, solely responsible for making dinner.

[…] As late as the early 1980s, the author observed that the existence of large numbers of culinary contraptions could make some men feel unburdened of any obligation to help out. ‘In homes where there are garbage disposals, men give up removing the small quantities of garbage that still need to be carried to the curb; and in households where there are dishwashers, men cease providing whatever help with the dishes they had formerly proffered.’”
I take for granted my equality in the industrial kitchen, as I work side-by-side with David and other users of the space to get our products just right. But, the personal remains political, and I try not to forget the lived experiences of those women for whom tech is not the path to freedom. There are countless activities on this planet that bring joy to some and pain to others. Relentlessly interrogating the invisible systems that guide our lives — not the newest, shiniest gadget — is the way out!