Posted by: Liz Massey | July 10, 2010

The Artist @ Work: Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens

Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens.

Most of the time when we consider the intersection between making art and making a living, as we do in The Artist @ Work series, the focus is on improving the “making a living” part, especially in terms of money.

But what if increasing income wasn’t the only path to artistic and vocational success? What if simplifying one’s life made for a happier existence as an artist or innovator?

I decided to put these questions to Tammy Strobel, author of a blog about simple living for social change, Rowdy Kittens. (Which is a title that wins points in my book for being both memorable and fun!) Her answers, which are also simple (but not easy or unintelligent), get to the heart of how extreme de-cluttering can make space for non-material goods such as time, energy and ideas.

After reading the interview, you may want to learn more about Tammy’s emerging micro-business or her passion for tiny homes. She’s bursting with creative energy, and it’s hard not to feel refreshed after frolicking on the Rowdy Kittens site!

Tell us about your entry into the world of simple living and how it influenced your career path.

I had no idea that the Small House / Simple Living Movement existed until I stumbled across a YouTube video featuring Dee Williams’ tiny house. It was New Year’s Eve of 2008 and hearing Dee’s story inspired us to go small and downscale.

By purging unnecessary stuff (and debt) from my life, I’ve been able to focus on a career that brings me happiness.

I understand that you were able to quit your day job in January to focus on your business. How did that happen?

For the past 10 years I have been working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. There were a lot of things that I loved about the field and my job. However, I reached the burnout point and knew I needed a break.

So I knew it was time to make a serious career change. Starting a small business is something I’ve always wanted to do. But I never had the confidence to actually follow through. Thanks to the encouragement of mentors (and paying off our debt), I finally stopped talking about my dreams, and started planning to make them a reality.

Why might artists and other creative people choose to embrace a simple lifestyle?

I think there a number of good reasons to embrace a simpler lifestyle, including:

• When you’re bored, you won’t automatically go shopping. Instead, you’ll go volunteer or head outside for a walk, bike ride or run.
• Rather than buying stuff you don’t need, you can pay off your debt. By paying off your debt you can focus on creating beautiful art.
• The concept of “need” will take on a new meaning.

What sorts of reactions do your artist friends have to your choice to live more simply? Have you had to clear up any misconceptions about what that entails?

The most challenging, yet rewarding part of part of downsizing has been dealing with simple-living naysayers. We’ve all dealt with naysayers in our lives. Naysayers might be friends or family members. People who give you odd looks when you tell them about your minimalist lifestyle or alternative career choices.

Most of the time, the naysayers in my life have good intentions. They want me to be happy but don’t understand my choices. When I find myself frustrated and annoyed, I take a step back and ask myself why and how I can explain my viewpoint.

Communication and finding a commonality is key. I usually sit down with the naysayers in my life and tell them my story. The conversations can be difficult and awkward, but the results are often positive. Talking with naysayers about my simple living philosophy has helped me to analyze why I live the way I do. These many conversations have helped distill my beliefs and reaffirmed my resolve for living with less.

What was the easiest step for you to simplify your life? The hardest?

The easiest was purging all my excess clothes. 🙂 The hardest was giving up two cars. However, now that I’m car-free, I’m much healthier and happier.

How has your creative work changed since you simplified your life?

By simplifying my life, I’ve had more time to focus on work that matters. I also don’t feel like I’m rushing from place to place anymore. It’s empowering to get up every morning and focus on projects that excite me.

Plus, I have more time to volunteer in my community. And that makes me incredibly happy! 🙂

If Creative Liberty blog readers are considering walking the path of simplicity, what first steps would you recommend they take?

It’s amazing to think we started the downscaling process only 3 years ago. At that time, we lived in a huge 2 bedroom apartment, with 2 cars, overflowing closets and a kitchen stuffed with 3 sets of dishes and silverware.

It was absolutely ridiculous. Learning to live with less didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a long process.

I think it’s important to start small, say no to recreational shopping, and unplug your TV. For example, if you want to start de-cluttering, give away 10 things a week. Or you could try the 100 Things Challenge. If you’re thinking about going car-free, start taking bike rides, walking or using public transportation for all errands that take you less than 3-5 miles from home. By focusing on one thing a day, you can make drastic changes in your lifestyle over the long term.

Is there anything else relevant you’d like to share?

This year, I released my first e-book, “Simply Car Free.” I wrote it to help people achieve their goals of saving money, improving their health, and living a simpler lifestyle.


  1. […] The Artist @ Work: Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens […]

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