The paradox of the fixed income (aka: Should I get a roommate?)

Living smaller is a choice. And being on a fixed income, such as for older people on Social Security with little retirement/savings – it is a necessity.

Many older people are now considering the option of having roommates or homesharing. Our culture has, for decades, encouraged individuals to be independent until starting their own families…so this is a difficult shift for many people and may feel like “going backward”. Especially as they have become used to their solitude, privacy, and routines.

Yet the financial reality is, that if you are in a big home with many bedrooms, it is a burden to care for and pay for. Even if you are lucky enough to have paid off your mortgage – utilities and taxes continue to climb, while your income is fixed.

And if you do not own property, rents continue to rise, as well as healthcare costs. While your income stays the same.

It is a “no-brainer” to look for roommates in your age group when finances are fixed. And there are some applications out there such as Silver Nest at  and Senior Home Shares at But they are not yet well-known.

And of course, sharing a place is not for everyone – there are many considerations – such as:

  • Do you have pets?
  • Does the home-owner or apartment renter have pets?
  • What happens when you want to have visitors?
  • What about family?
  • What happens if there is a medical emergency?
  • What happens if the person you are renting from – dies?
  • What happens in the event of a natural catastrophe (earthquake, fire, etc)?
  • What happens if there is a burglary?

Plus is it truly a “roommate” arrangement with shared responsibilities or are you simply renting a room?

While you answer those questions for yourself, there are upsides to shared living for seniors:  Companionship and Safety.

You may not think you need to have someone to say “good morning” to, but it is good for your health to interact amiably with another human being; and if you have a roommate, and you have a medical emergency – there is someone there who can call for help. And surprisingly for some, having a roommate, ensures a few more years of independence.

So if you are on a fixed income, and thinking of living smaller to help make your dollars stretch a little further, consider a roommate.

Once every couple of years I do an article on (established in 2003)- like this one I did on : – and while I know that not everyone who tries to use this service has had a stellar experience, those bad experiences are the result of other users, not the service itself.

Their mission: “Freecycle aims to keep items out of landfills by providing an internet listings service to help people give unwanted items to someone else for free in their own community. Keeping stuff out of landfills helps build a sustainable future, is good for the environment and builds local and world communities.”

Since researching it again for my Narrative article, I noticed that the City I recently moved to had a post saying they were looking for moderators. I am currently a moderator-in-training for the Moreno Valley group.  If you browse the groups available, you will find that there are groups all over the United States and all over the world from Albania to Zimbabwe.

When you join one (or more) of the groups, the Moderator will send you a welcome email with all the rules and how-to’s. Very simple, and easy to use – if you have something you no longer need that is clean and safe – you can post it as an “Offer” if you need something – you can post it as a “Wanted”.

The rules specify the no-nos and they make perfect sense for safety and liability reasons. And the Moderators job is to make sure that those simple rules are adhered to, and to help publicize the service.

I support anything that keeps usable items out of the trash – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and this is one of the ways we can all do that, while helping others.

A quick suggestion to you, gentle reader: If you know of a non-profit that looks for donations of goods (for example: old towels for animal rescues) – share with them. It is one more way for them to get their message out and ask for the items they need. 


Circle Pond Tiny Home Community

Recently an article in the Tiny House newsletter caught my eye. It was about “A real tiny house community in Florida (not a vacation place)” located in Ruskin, Florida.

When I clicked on the article, I was immediately inspired to find out more about the woman – Debbie Caneen, who created this tiny community and how she did it. I also wanted to find out more about how someone with a tiny home should go about contacting her in order to join her community.

I reached out to Debbie and she immediately got back to me and agreed to let me interview her. We traded a couple more emails – I sent her my questions ahead of the scheduled phone call and we spoke on Saturday morning (June 15, 2019).

The moment you hear her voice you know that this cheerful woman juggles multiple projects and priorities with good grace. She seems to be the epitome of “The more you do, the more you get done”! We wasted no time getting into the nitty gritty of how her tiny home community came to be a reality.

Part 1.

Giving me some background on the area, Debbie told me that three miles east from her property is Sun City Center’s retirement community where it includes about 22,000 retirees; and the particular residential facility that she works for has 400 under one roof on any given day. In addition, in her role as President of the South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging, she sees the growing requirement for services to and for the retiree demographic. The needed services for them, such as: food preparation, housekeeping, general living assistance, and more – are typically lower wage jobs, which presents a problem. Where will these support service people come from if there is no affordable housing available locally?

While pondering that question, serendipity arrived in the guise of a local realtor who made an announcement at a meeting she was attending, about a local investment property – a mobile home park. It sounded like something she should look in to.

The four and a half acre “park” had been on the market for over 3 years, and had six ancient and decrepit, yet occupied, mobile homes on the property. The pond at the center had been fenced in and overgrown – so much so that it was nearly impossible to see the water due to the algae grown covering it. The local offices of the county routinely cited the park for code violations. In short, it took a great deal of imagination to see this land for what it could be, and not walk away from what it was.

But Debbie is no stranger to hard work, or to tiny living. Having worked on 40 acres, farming earlier in life, and an avid lifetime sailor – she knew that the land could sustain determined people and she knew that tiny homes were livable and efficient. In her mind’s eye, she saw a community of tiny homes, with edible landscaping, and a community garden.  A place that would be affordable, and sustainable; a place where people could afford to live. Her vision was strong, and she began the process of due diligence and upon purchasing the property, rolled up her sleeves and dug in.

Part 2.

The hard work turned out to be the easy part. What caused her much soul-searching and many sleepless nights, was what to do about the six families currently living in the dilapidated park. These old structures were not only in disrepair, the costs for electricity to keep them cool in the Florida heat was more than most of these families could afford. Often they paid their utility bills and had nothing left for the rent. If Debbie had been a “run of the mill” developer, she might have simply hired a lawyer to evict these people and sent them on their way. Instead she worked out a way to help them move, speaking with each family and assisting them with their move to a new locale.

Once they were all moved away, then the process of clearing the land, breaking down and removing the old homes and trash, removing the fence around the pond, and cleaning the pond could begin.

The surrounding neighborhood loved seeing the evolution of the area from tired and a bit trash covered to a tidy oasis. With a community college close by, gas station, shopping, the Amazon Fulfillment Center and restaurants also within a couple of blocks, the Circle Pond Tiny Home Community is not only improved greatly, it gives other residents nearby a nice boost of intrinsic and real value.

Part 3.

I asked Debbie what advice she would give to others who might want to do what she has done; what did she wish she had known, or what would she have done differently. After a thoughtful pause to reflect, her answer was that since this whole project was pretty much new – to the county and to the city, she learned a lot just by trying to get things done. “You discover what you need to do as you need to do it.” If there was any one thing she would advise it would be to “Be Proactive! Imagine the worst case scenario and plan for that.” For example, while it isn’t a requirement for RV’s (how tiny homes are viewed on site) to be strapped down for hurricanes, she asks that the tenants strap down their homes for safety. That attention to details translates to a safer community.

She also went on to say, that whenever she hit a problem or a snag, she would let it alone for a while and go do something productive (like planting another fruit tree on the property) and often the answer or inspiration leading to the answer, would come to her. From her list of the fruiting trees that she has planted on the property, including (but not limited to) peaches, plums, avocados, pomegranates, jack fruit – and she named off lots more, I am guessing she had her fair share of obstacles and challenges. She happily mentioned that her belief is that if you are trying to help others, the answers will come. I have to agree, and the proof is there in her accomplishment!

What she has created on her four and a half acres, includes: 12 spaces for tiny homes, edible landscaping in the form of many fruit trees, a stocked pond and a community garden; with plans for 12 more spaces once the local city services pull in water lines and sewage – which should happen soon, since there is a town home development being built nearby.

The current resident’s average age is 34 and they are a true community of people who are helpful to each other and enjoy tiny living and organic gardening.

Each lot is 30 feet by 30 feet leveled crushed gravel, and the space rent is $450 a month which includes the utilities including electricity (except for wifi). You will have to bring your own tiny home, but you can situate it as you please in your space. There is parking for each space, and the community is dog friendly. A fenced dog park area is planned in the near future.

If you are interested in renting a space and joining her tiny community, or just would like to tour it in person, please contact her through her Facebook page at or email her at to make an appointment to visit or have a phone call.


If you have a “Living Smaller” story, or know of one – let me know. I’d love to interview you and share your story with the world.  Contact me Natalia Corres, at: 



Power Outages and You

No matter where you live, or what size house or apartment you live in, you should be prepared in case the power goes out.  Especially if you live in an area prone to extreme weather!

Preparation is the name of the game and can contribute greatly to your survival!

So before the big snowstorm, or the hurricane season, or the tornadoes hit – here are some things to get ready, if you can.

Take into consideration the amount of space you have for storing some of these items, many of them can fit in a large backpack, or plastic storage tub, which would fit into a closet easily enough (and also make it easier to grab and take with you, if you need to evacuate) – so let’s look at the stuff you can pack ahead of time, first:


  • a roll of duct tape
  • pocket knife
  • waterproof matches in a waterproof container and some candles
  • paper and pencil
  • small fire extinguisher
  • two signal flares
  • photocopies of: your pets vaccination and license records; any prescriptions for your family and/or pets; your ids (drivers license, passport)
  • a bit of cash (you decide how much you can set aside – just know if no power, no atm or ability to run a debit/credit machine.
  • a list of shelters/hotels that accept pets
  • emergency phone numbers (if your phone battery dies…)
  • toilet paper, tissues, sanitary napkins or tampons, diapers, if needed. a roll of poop bags for the doggydoo
  • extra leash and collar (if you have dogs)
  • manual can opener
  • utensils
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • 3 or 4 pair of clean socks (they can be used as mittens, in the cold. Or as potholders, in a pinch – if you are heating something up on a camping stove).
  • first-aid kit and antibiotic cream
  • if possible, a radio with batteries or hand-crank for power (something like this – click here)

If you have cats, keep your cat carriers with your emergency kit in same place. That way you can grab everything you need and go.

If you are a regular camper, keep your camping stove and camping gear stored with your emergency kit.

Also – if you are staying at your home, having these emergency supplies in one place makes it easier on you and your family.

Now the perishable items:

  • Try to keep a 3 day supply of water  available. That would be 1 gallon of drinkable water, per person or pet, per day. So 2 adults, 2 children and 1 dog = 5 gallons of water per day, times 3 days = 15 gallons of water. You can buy bottled water, or save plastic gallon containers (washed out of course) and fill when you a preparing for a storm that you know is coming. Another trick to consider is filling those gallon jugs, and setting them outside to freeze (in winter) then using them in your coolers to keep your food cold, if the power is out.
  • Check your pantries to be sure you have at least 3 days of non-salty non-perishable foods.  You can stock up on canned goods, granola and granola bars, dried fruits, protein bars, nuts and also remember things like peanut butter and crackers.  Don’t forget to stock up on baby formula for your baby, and pet food for your pets.
  • Make sure that if any of your family has a special dietary requirements, you have enough food to accommodate that.
  • When ever you have warning of a weather event on its way, double check your family’s prescriptions to see if they need to be refilled, and do so, that way you won’t be stuck without critical medications!

If the power goes out in winter, designate one room for everyone to “hang out in” and “camp out” there. closing the doors and blocking drafts, put blankets on windows, to conserve the heat in the room. You can leave a south facing window unblocked to get natural light and some warmth of the sun from there, but block it after dark.

If you can afford it, and you live somewhere that the power goes out frequently – you might invest in a generator. There are several small ones that recharge through a regular outlet or car battery or a solar panel (usually special for that generator), but on the plus side there is no gasoline required or loud noise or fumes. You can see a sample of one of these generators here, and its associated solar panel is here.

I know that you all cannot always afford to have all of these items ready and sitting in your closet, but this list can give you a head start on gathering what you DO already have into a single “kit” (plastic storage box or backpack) so you have something ready in an emergency.




Away away … a way

We took a vacation in November, my hubby and I. The first actual vacation that wasn’t spurred by someone graduating or getting married. I could have scheduled posts, but I have been wrestling with how to evolve Zen of Living Smaller into something that will actually make a difference.

Not posting showed me that not that many people have been reading or checking out the curated posts – which I have been doing for the last three years non-stop. So it is obviously time to make some changes.

I love responsible living, which means living smaller, and sustainably – making thoughtful choices about the things we consume, and hopefully making good choices for the future (ours, our kids, their kids – the world’s futures). So until I figure out how to make a difference with this blog…I will be on hiatus.

Hopefully it won’t take long…but inspiration is required, and I need to know that this isn’t just an exercise in “mental scrapbooking”.   🙂

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Good Kwanzaa, and the best for the holiday that you celebrate. 🙂 See you (hopefully) in 2018 – with a new zest for smaller living and a focused plan.