By Carrie Caverly. October 30, 2014
(an article I wrote for Tiny House Magazine…)
When we built our Tiny House in 2012 we wanted it to be temporary – a stepping stone toward owning our own self-sufficient home, mortgage free. And even though I struggled with living in 200 SF for a year and a half, I feel so much gratitude for our tiny house because (two years later) it actually did enable us to buy land and start building a modest home of our own, without borrowing money.
Our first rental lot in Prescott, AZ. Set up for an RV, this site was tucked into a residential neighborhood and I cropped them out of this photo, but there are neighbors 50 feet away on both sides.
Living in our Tiny House near Santa Fe, NM. Next to our parents on their 5 acres of land, the freeway was just north of us and visible from the front deck. The Harleys were the loudest.
In theory, I think tiny homes are the cure for what ails us – a lack of home. Mortgages can feel like indentured servitude and when the economy fluctuates and our income declines we see how fragile our ownership really was. Or decades of rental homes where we can never truly settle into our surroundings, never invest in our environment.
One of my favorite design books, ‘A Pattern Language’, lists home ownership as a mandatory requirement. Pattern 79: Your Own Home – “People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs. … Give every household its own home, with space enough for a garden. … In all cases give people the … physical opportunity to modify and repair their own places … each family can build, and change, and add on to their house as they wish.”
Pattern 79: Your Own Home from ‘A Pattern Language’
A tiny house is a means to fulfilling this requirement: the need to nest. And without Daddy Warbucks giving us all a house… it’s up to us. Being small, tiny houses are within the financial grasp of most people. You can build one yourself, with the help of a few professionals, for $15,000-$20,000 – or buy one new for $40,000-$50,000. In our area, a normal modest sized house (1,000-1,400sf) would cost around $200,000, not including land. Being mobile, tiny houses allow the freedom to move with work as the economy ebbs and flows. We’ve moved twice with our Tiny House to find better work.
Moving the house from Prescott to Santa Fe when work slowed to a trickle.
In reality, Tiny Houses fall short in a few necessary categories of home. Be prepared to wrestle your demons when living in a tiny house. I dealt with feelings of poverty, scarcity, instability, claustrophobia, and lack of personal space. At a minimum, a home should provide privacy and a room of one’s own for all occupants, which is nearly impossible in 140-200sf.
To live Tiny or not is perhaps a question of whether home ownership and mobility trumps all other needs in a home. That will be up to each individual resident to discover. I was reluctant to go Tiny and was only convinced after an extensive pros and cons list.
I really disliked living in the Tiny House at times, but looking back, I am so glad we did it. Nothing else could have freed us up financially to take a huge leap forward into independent self-sufficient living. I am starting to see the value of taking a step forward – any step – when life seems stagnant. Sometimes moving in a different direction, even if it doesn’t feel like the right direction, can free up the flow of more possibilities.
Almost a year ago we were finding more work up in Colorado and decided to move again, but this time without the Tiny House. We left it on our parents’ land in Santa Fe and went up to Colorado where we rented a house – a large cathedral-like space that made us miss our low ceilings and tiny space that was so easy to keep warm. The ceilings were actually as high as our Tiny House is long: 24’-0. We burned 4 cords of wood in one winter.
In March of 2014 we found a piece of land in Colorado and started building our own house, 1,000 SF with designs for the Tiny House to function as a guest house, enabling us to keep the house small and within our budget. We’ve been working on our main house on the weekends and are finishing out the interior with hopes to be finished by Christmas.
In October 2014 we moved out of the rental and back into the tiny house again, next to our new house. And this time it feels fine – great even – cozy but not cramped – stylish and truly ours. By living in the Tiny House we’re saving $1200 a month that we would have paid for rent and utilities at the rental house.
Setting up the Tiny House again.
Living in the Tiny House on our land in Colorado while we finish building our house.
So what’s different this time around? Have I changed? Have I transcended into some higher level of minimalist contented enlightenment? I’d like to think so! But honestly, it’s probably because:
- We are on our own land. Privacy is always important to feel at home but when your house is tiny it’s crucial to have privacy outside. Privacy could be found in a friend’s backyard alley lot, surrounded by garden walls; it doesn’t have to be big, you just need to feel sheltered; observing the world around you from the safety of your own nook.
- We have an office set up in our house next door. I think a lot of my struggle with living tiny could have been alleviated by going to work at an office (preferably Google, where they have great food, slides, and napping pods). It feels so good to go to work next door and I’m glad to go home to the tiny house after a productive work day.
- We have a flushing toilet now! I was initially a huge proponent of an alternative toilet in our tiny house – Shane wanted to install an RV toilet with a blackwater tank that we would empty periodically. That sounded disgusting to me. But burning poop?! Bring it on! Our first toilet was an Incinolet, and maybe the problems stemmed from its secondhand acquisition… but I cannot imagine burning fecal matter ever smelling tolerable. It did not. Next, after a brief foray into cat litter, we used a low-tech sawdust bucket toilet (outside) and that worked fine, better than the incinerator, though we used a trash can full of sawdust every month and had to discard the bags of waste at the dump, which is unsanitary at best, possibly illegal. Now the tiny house is connected directly to our septic system. Happy, sanitary flushing. I have so much respect and appreciation for modern sewer systems. And with a septic system the flushed water is returned to the ground it came from.
The new flushing toilet installed in our Tiny House bathroom.
There are many ways to achieve financial independence and find a home of one’s own. The definition of home is different for everyone. A Tiny House was a key step in our journey home. And because Tiny Homes are mobile, who knows, maybe we’ll hitch up again someday.
(originally published in Tiny House Magazine Issue 23)