A Tiny House for Teaching Sustainability

When I met Melissa Matarese in the summer of 2017, I felt an immediate bond. We both view sustainable living as the key to a healthy and meaningful future. And we both hope to share our inspiration and experience with others. While my medium is words – this blog and my book, Choosing Sustainability – Melissa’s is her eco-conscious tiny home and the lifestyle it is allowing her to embrace personally and share with members of her community.

Like so many of us, Melissa can’t pinpoint the exact moment when she became a convert to sustainable living. As a yoga instructor, artist and graphic designer with a love of plants, animals and the outdoors, Melissa says she’s always cared deeply about the environment. But it wasn’t until a trip to New Zealand to study art a number of years ago that she began to see the possibilities for helping the planet just by making different choices about how she lived.  In a place where sustainability was the norm, rather than a “subculture,” Melissa embraced both the word and the mission. “From organic farming and permaculture to renewable energy, intentional communities and a low-consumption lifestyle, the New Zealanders I met lived and breathed sustainability,” she recalls. Back at home in Bucks County, Pa, Melissa considered how to emulate the New Zealand lifestyle while also realizing the life-long dream of building her own home. The result: Minimus, A Community Tiny House Project.

In the fall of 2017, Melissa began building the off-grid, mobile, eco-friendly tiny house that would become both her home and a traveling educational tool for inspiring Earth-centered living. With the construction help of family and friends, generous donation of construction materials from local businesses and a temporary building site at Delaware Valley University, Melissa managed to complete the build by year end. Wanting the project to be transparent and helpful to the community right from the beginning, Melissa held Sustainable Saturdays throughout the build, inviting the public to stop by to ask questions and engage in lively conversations about sustainable living.

Every aspect of the tiny house has a sustainable element. The insulation is soybean; the siding is cedar, a particularly sustainable wood; other lumber used in the project is repurposed; and the paints and finishes are low-VOC. The home also incorporates Energy Star-rated windows, small-scale appliances, a composting toilet and a photo voltaic system comprising six solar panels and four storage batteries.  Melissa planned to capture and filter rainwater and use recycled greywater to water plants, including the organic veggies and herbs she grows in her rooftop garden.  While she sometimes became frustrated during the build when a sustainable option either wasn’t available in the marketplace or proved impractical for a home on wheels, Melissa cautions us all against letting “the perfect become the enemy of the good.” It’s the small, incremental steps, however imperfect, that add up to big changes.

And Melissa’s tiny house truly is accomplishing something big, ticking the three boxes of environmental, economic and social sustainability. She loves that it  allows her to live simply, close to nature and free of the clutter, expense and environmental impact typical of a more traditional lifestyle.  The home also enables her to give something back to her cherished community through her educational programming.

Melissa says her motto is “be as green as you can be within your means.” That’s the lesson she began taking on the road last spring as she traveled to schools, parks and other locations to help community members discover their own paths to sustainable living. “The point isn’t for everyone to live in a tiny house,” says Melissa. “But I’d like to help others realize that we can all make a difference simply by choosing sustainable alternatives in our day-to-day lives.”

Melissa is the owner of Mesa Lifestyle, which focuses on eco-education, art and yoga instruction. For more information about Mesa Lifestyle, Minimus and Melissa’s upcoming educational events, visit mesalifestyle.com and watch this space for future posts.

For more ideas, insights and inspiring stories on sustainable living, follow sustainablechoices.net.