Feature Friday: Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens


Twice monthly I run a “Feature Friday” interview with individuals who embody characteristics of The Liberation Artist.   This week I am thrilled to feature author, photographer, and blogger Tammy Strobel.  Tammy also happens to be a minimalist, who lives in a 125sf tiny home, a key element in her ability to create a truly amazing life for herself.   

I discovered Tammy shortly after her refreshingly direct and insightful blog launched.  Everything about it resonated with me – you could feel the Truth in her words.  I found myself holding a ticket to a vicarious ride on Tammy’s journey into a new and simpler life.  Her clear, straightforward writing contained depth, in which I saw reflected much of my own travel through this adventure called life.  I watched, amazed, as Tammy embraced wholeheartedly and courageously so much of the simple living/voluntary simplicity ideas I’d been caught up in since stumbling upon Thoreau in my teen years, and further dizzied by upon coming to know Joe Dominguez as he was writing “Your Money or Your  Life.”

Tammy found a way to share her journey into simple living – and all the values and integrity that shape such a path – in a, well, genuinely simple way.   She brought her story to life, one post at a time, in a voice quite different than any I’d encountered before.  It wasn’t so much that her ideas were new (we all know by now that new ideas may not exist, just re-packaging) – it was that she was clearly writing from the heart.  Simple.  Open.  Candid.   Straightforward, no fuss.  Logic and reason, shot through with heart.  Truth laid bare, Tammy shared her ideas, tips, thoughts, even encouraged and inspired – without the dogmatic preachiness or hints of smugness of so many others.  For Tammy it was clearly never a competition, it was simply her journey, and she shared it in the hope that perhaps it may be of use to someone else.

I cannot recommend Tammy’s work enough – it is simple, pure, and true.   If you have never encountered her before, I am extremely pleased to introduce her to you today, through this interview.  Enjoy – and definitely check out her other work!  


Tammy Strobel is a writer, photographer, and blogs regularly at RowdyKittens.com. Her latest book is called, “You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap).” 


Tammy, you cover a lot of topics in your work, which seem to have become labels commonly tied to your name: minimalism, photography, tiny houses, blogger, and author.   However, I get the sense that these are merely labels, and that there is a bigger, over-arching thread to it all.  
If I had to guess, I would say that what Tammy Strobel is really about is something like, “By focusing on the bigger ideas and questions that count, one can create a perfect-fit life tailor-made for you, through the elimination of all but the essential building blocks designed to meet your needs while allowing the space for you to grow and create so you can bring the positive into your own life and the community at large.”  Can you talk a bit about the interplay between that idea and the manifestation of labels attached to you?  In other words, how do your core goals or philosophy on life impact or shape the work you create in the world, which subsequently become those labels?
Laura, your assessment is right on target! 
I tend to shy away from labels. I’m a lot of things like a friend, daughter, wife and community member. It just so happens I don’t have a lot of stuff in my life. Not having a lot of stuff in my life has enabled me to focus on building strong relationships, instead of hanging out at the mall. It isn’t a bad thing to be labeled. However, I believe it’s important to know that people are more than just a label.
Living in 125sf of space certainly flies in the face of the status quo.   It represents a courageous life experiment, as well as an obvious certain comfort level with risk-taking.   When the idea first came to you, did it instantly resonate, or did you feel an inclination to dismiss it as ‘crazy’?  
About six years ago I took a life changing trip to Mexico. At the time I was volunteering with the Mexico Solidarity Network and was unhappy with my career and huge mound of debt. After visiting Mexico and seeing so much poverty, I realized how trivial my problems were back home with politics at work and feelings of inadequacy in my culture. When I got back, I knew I had to make some serious life changes, but I didn’t know where to start.
A few months later, Logan and I happened to watch a You Tube video featuring Dee Williams and her tiny house. Once we saw Dee’s video, we knew tiny house living would be an iconic way for us to pursue a simpler life. I didn’t see this idea as crazy. Instead, we started taking steps to transform our lives, like paying down our debt, selling our two cars, and giving away a lot of stuff. Seeing the video of Dee and her little house was a big turning point for us. It gave us a whole new perspective on what our lives could be like. I blissfully imagined giving up my two hour work commute and working less with lower expenses. It was empowering to realize I could live life on my own terms.
Along the way, did you experience significant fear or hesitation?  If so, how did you push through it, what helped you stay the course?
I experienced a wide range of emotions as I simplified my life. As we downsized, I felt scared, uncertain, excited, and happy. I believe all of these emotions are normal and come along with any kind of life change. With that being said, being aware of my emotions made simplifying my life a little easier. For example, when I felt scared or anxious I wrote in my journal and took photos. Both photography and journaling help me — and still help me — understand my emotions. 
How does living an alternative kind of life impact the way friends and strangers engage with you?   Can you share some of the positives and negatives?
The biggest negative is dealing with online trolls. However, I don’t give trolls airtime. If someone isn’t willing to engage in a civil discussion, then I don’t engage. As Steve Maraboli said, “I don’t have time, energy, or interest in hating the haters; I’m too busy loving the lovers.” 
I agree with Steve!  
With that being said, my experiences with others have been positive. Most people are good and tend to be curious about our choices. Being open about our story has given me the opportunity to have unique conversations with strangers and more meaningful conversations with close friends and family members. 
How has living this way shifted the way in which you engage with the world?
Feeling such a strong connection to nature was a big change. I notice so much more now, like the birds chirping in the morning, the sound of rain on our little metal roof, and where the sun rises and sets. I love having more time to focus on doing things I love, like writing, talking long walks, and hanging out with friends. I don’t have to clean as much now, so I have more time to do fun things!  
Prior to downsizing to tiny living, did you take other risks that one would say could have predicted this, or at least a counter-culture path?
In college, I was interested in alternative subjects like women’s studies and feminism. Eventually, I ended up working with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. In addition, I did a lot of advocacy focused on violence prevention. My interest in feminism informed my core beliefs and I don’t think that is very typical.
At the Liberation Artist we often discuss the economy of life, the idea that we are born with a treasure chest filled with our one real asset, our life moments, which we are literally ‘spending’ as we shape our lives, and we never know when we are nearing bankruptcy.  As such, we focus on the import of using one’s moments well – not in a ‘type A’ way, but in terms of shaping the story we want to leave behind us in our chapter of the Book of Life, so to speak.   How do you assess or filter the things you bring into your life, both materially and in terms of commitments and activities?  
I filter a lot of things in my life. First, I’ll give you an example of how I filter the Internet. The online world is an amazing place, but it’s also very overwhelming. To maintain my values in the virtual world, I’ve adopted a few rules to simplify how I engage online, including: 
  • I unplug for an hour or more everyday, which means I don’t check my email, blog comments, or social networks. I’ve also taken digital sabbaticals too. 
  • I don’t “follow” or “friend” everyone online.
  • I only use social networks that bring me joy. Right now the social network that I use the most is Instagram.
  • I follow blogs, websites, and radio programs that bring joy to my life. 
  • And last but not least, I don’t try to “keep up” anymore. 
For material stuff and other activities/commitments …
Every time I buy something new, I donate something to charity. Doing so enables me to keep my house clutter free. 
When it comes to commitments and activities, like volunteering, attending meetings, etc., I only say yes to things that I’m really excited about. I believe it’s important to bring positive energy to new commitments and if I don’t have the energy, I politely decline.
If someone were to start upon a minimalist path today, which do you think would be of greater benefit to begin with, minimizing their ‘‘stuff’’ or their ‘‘commitments and activities” – which would provide a more immediate impact on their life?
Choose a small section of your home to tackle first. For example, when I began culling through my stuff I started with my closet. Each day, I took an hour to pull out clothes that I no longer wore and by the end of the week I had five, 30 gallon, black garbage bags filled with clothing that I donated to Goodwill! 
Alternatively, you could give away ten to twenty belongings a week. This strategy isn’t as overwhelming and by slowly culling through your stuff, your clutter will disappear. Remember that this isn’t a race or a competition. If you keep clearing the clutter, you’ll end up with a beautiful home; a sanctuary that’s restful and relaxing, rather than overflowing with stuff. 
You clearly use a different bar by which to measure success.   How would you define success, not just in work, but in life in general? 
For me success is intimately connected to strong relationships and being able to pay my bills. I don’t live extravagantly, but it’s important that I have financial security. If my finances aren’t secure, it’s hard for me to focus on relationships.
You have clearly walked a courageous path, rejecting the ‘safety’ that comes with gently folding into the status quo.  Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for our readers, on pursuing the life uncommon? 
On June 10, 2012 my step-dad, Mahlon, passed away and I’m thankful that I spent as much time with him as I could throughout 2011 and 2012. I had no idea that I would be with him when he took his last breath. If I was still stuck in the work-spend cycle, I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye – to tell him that I loved him, that it was okay to go, and that I would be there to take care of my mom.
As my friend Dee Williams said, “Take a moment and think about what thing you want to hold in your arms as you die. What favorite room in your house or space could accommodate that last breath?”
If we asked these questions more often, I think many of us would stay out of the mall. Remember that stuff is replaceable, people aren’t. Shift your attention toward the people you love and the experiences that make you happy.
Discover more of Tammy’s awesome work at her blog Rowdy Kittens, check out her must-read book, “You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap!),” as well as the fantastic “Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for yourself,” and “Go Small: a Little Book of Essays.”  Tammy also offers writing and photography courses online – definitely check ‘em out if these are areas you are considering exploring.  You can also view a NY Times article featuring Tammy here.