Two hundred square feet makes a pretty spacious bedroom. But have you ever tried cramming everything you own – along with your spouse, two cats and a dog – into a space that size? God help me, that’s what I’m about to do. Voluntarily. You see, I’ve been infected with the Tiny House bug. It may cause some vomiting along the way, but I’m convinced that the benefits are worth the pain.
A few years ago, I happened to catch an NPR story on Jay Shafer and his self-built ‘Tumbleweed Tiny House’ – which is about the size of a shed. I marveled at the way there was a place for everything, and how he was able to fit a kitchen, bathroom, closet and full-sized bed into such an impossibly small space.
Jay’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells crazy cute, ready-made houses (or floor plans to build them yourself) ranging from 65-140 square feet. Built on flatbed trailers, they escape building codes and can go anywhere an RV can go. They typically have RV-size appliances, and can plug into the grid or be completely self-sufficient. Sleeping lofts, quality insulation, gas-powered water heaters, compost toilets and wood or propane stoves make them less like temporary shelters and more like livable abodes.
While you could buy all the materials new and strictly stick to somebody else’s plans, there’s also a lot of room for creativity and customization. Michael Janzen is building his “˜Tiny Free House’ with 100 percent free materials, including a whole lot of shipping pallets. Jenine of Forge Ahead Puppet Productions gave hers a beautiful aged look with salvaged scrap building materials. Zoey of Together We Are One took what she could – including the trailer base – from a junked camper.
It’s all totally fascinating, right? But stretching out in my 850-square-foot home, it never once crossed my mind that someday I would consider building one of these things myself”¦ until my husband and I started asking ourselves some big questions. Where do we want to be five years from now? Is this suburban life in a home that’s bigger than we need, with my husband working an extremely demanding job just to pay the rent, really right for us? What else is there?
We realized that our dream was to buy some land, build a cozy little cob cottage mortgage-free and have a simple life complete with goats, chickens and more organic veggies than you can shake a stick at. But saving enough money to get there seemed impossible without downsizing in a big way – and when we contemplated living in a studio apartment again, those tiny houses kept working their way back into my mind. What if we could build our own little cabin on wheels, mostly with recycled materials, and live there rent-free until we had the money to build our dream home?
The more I looked into it, the more possible it began to seem – especially when I realized that we could customize every detail and expand it by putting the whole thing on a bigger trailer. Before I knew it, I had written out material lists and drawn floor plans and devoured every blog I could find on the subject written by people who actually live this life.
A 24-foot trailer would give us enough space for a sizeable loft, an L-shaped built-in bench couch, two closets, a fold-out dining nook and – unbelievably – a larger bathroom and kitchen than the 1950s-sized ones we have in our current rental home. The eventual addition of a screened porch, fenced yard and shed would give us some more room to breathe. Once our permanent house is built, this tiny house would become my writing studio, a guest house and a seriously sweet traveling camper.
What does all of this mean for us? Financial freedom. A drastically smaller environmental footprint. The pleasure of living in a home we have built with our own two hands. The comfort of owning our own home before we even have our own land to put it on. The potential for my husband to ultimately leave behind grueling 8-hour days in hot kitchens and pursue something more creative. We have a concrete plan, and we’re starting now.
The first step? Shedding unnecessary possessions. We’re holding a garage sale next week, plan to put heirlooms and keepsakes that we’ll want for our future cob house into storage, and have already begun eyeing all of the dilapidated barns in our area for their weathered wood and still-shiny metal roofs. Checking Craigslist for free or cheap building materials is a daily ritual. We’re still considering whether we should move to a place that has space to build, or stay put for now and rent a garage.
We’ll have to say goodbye to our beloved fully-paid-off Honda Fit (thanks, mom-in-law) in favor of a cheaper and more practical all-wheel-drive used Subaru so we have the money to get started, but that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make. There are still a lot of “˜buts’ and “˜what-ifs’ – will my husband ever give up his power-hungry XBox? Will our cats hate us? Will we, crafty yet inexperienced as we are, be able to do this mostly on our own?
We’re still waiting for the inevitable astonished “You’re going to do what?” reactions from friends and family. And don’t get me wrong – I still ask myself daily whether I’ve lost my mind. Living in a space this small, even if it’s not permanent, is admittedly a bit extreme. But it’s also an adventure – and a door to a richer life. To be continued”¦