Everyone has their own reason to minimize and downsize. Mine had to do with creating a lifestyle free of debt and full of the flexibility to do what I want with my day, everyday.
After designing, building and occupying a 196 square foot home, I often find myself explaining that it’s really not about the (tiny) house — its about the life it enables me to live.
It's so easy to get caught up in the rat race and compete with the proverbial Joneses. I know it was for me. After graduating college, I landed my "dream job" in architecture, in my hometown of Boise, Idaho — exchanging 40 to 60 hours weeks for a great paycheck so I could buy my starter home, get married and drive a nice car.
Ultimately, I was strapped with debt and stuck in a loop. Work occupied much of my week, leaving little time to do the things I enjoyed like going out with friends and enjoying a social life with my then husband. What once was a desirable lifestyle had quickly become a very heavy obligation and I realized how unrewarding this path was for me.
I needed a change. My partner and I were not on the same page — the lifestyle I hated was one that he loved and we ultimately decided to part ways. I started a massive downsizing effort that led me to find great satisfaction in living minimally. Three years later, in 2011, my tiny home journey began.
I put aside one year's worth of rent payments to build a house and better learn about construction and various green technologies firsthand. I decided to live in it for two years so that it could pay for itself and I could save some money for my next venture, and hopefully get ahead of all the bills.
Even though I was single at the time I started construction, I knew I did eventually want a family so I kept that in the back of my mind while designing. I made the space flexible enough to adapt to life as needed.
My new home would serve as a tool — its job to provide me shelter and comfort while enabling me the lifestyle I wanted without demanding so much of me in return.
It definitely came with some challenges. There were location issues, legal concerns, and technical construction hiccups. Not to mention, it was difficult explain my choice to others who couldn’t wrap their head around how I could exist in an area roughly the size of the average American's master bathroom.
I was very lucky to have a supportive set of friends and family members who encouraged me anyway. I was given a place to build, friends to bounce ideas off of and eventually, after 18 months of construction, a network to help me find a final location for the home, just across town.
Here's what I know now: creating a tiny house is an act of deep introspection. Not only is it physically demanding, it’s emotionally taxing and socially limiting. The planning and labor really do consume your thoughts and spare time, and many people won't understand it.
But living tiny is not about compromising. It's about examining what you want from life and making THAT happen for yourself. It’s doing without all of the excess so that the important parts of life can become central.
I thought it would be a tough transition from my previous 2,400-square foot home. I have never been so wrong.
It streamlined my life and clarified my path. My important goals (like being debt free) very quickly became realities, and excess complications drifted away. It was heart wrenching to sell all my brand new furniture for pennies compared to what I paid for them, but to be relieved of the burdens they carried was freeing. In reality, most things I owned were never really used — only purchased to fill rooms.
I no longer have that ‘to-do’ maintenance list in the back of my head, because I'm no longer obliged to take care of so much. I no longer own things unless they hold great value to me.
Today — well past my two year goal — my worries are few, my wants are minimal I'm able to enjoy the gifts given to me in life every day. I have a loving partner who I met through the process. I am able to stay home and raise our daughter (and soon to be son), and I take on work because I want to, not because we need the money to pay endless bills. We have no ambitions to ever supersize our house again, though we have renovated recently to adapt the original design to better fit our growing family.
Every tiny house is unique because every individual is unique — there is no one size fits all.
It certainly won’t work for everyone and shouldn’t. But if it's right for you, oh, it’s so worth the journey! To create your own home with your own hands ... there is nothing quite so challenging and empowering.
Sure there are moments, or even days, that it’s not all rainbows. We still have to deal with the outside stresses of the world, but this lifestyle has allowed us to live with less stress and given us the ability to slow down.
Today, I view challenges as something I "get" to do rather than something I "have" to do. That small change in perspective is the difference between a crowded kitchen being a frustration verses a fun dance.
Today, I relish in my family's closeness, both literally and figuratively, and I wish the same happiness and simplicity for everyone.
Photos courtesy of the author