How our Tiny House became our Enormous Dream

by andrewodom on November 18, 2010 · 7 comments


Originally written for my weekly Thursday post on scissorsanddrumsticks.com.
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Back in 2009 Crystal and I saw a small house in Barnesville, GA that we thought would be perfect for us. It seemed like a bit of a bungalow with 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a lovely back porch. The purchase price was a reduced $89,000 at the time but we knew it would require almost $12k worth of reno almost immediately. The siding was asbestos, the floors were sagging, and the sheetrock had mold in one place. We knew it would require work but at the time we were ready for the challenge.

We were able to secure financing and were one step from making an offer on the property when Crystal realized that if we went through with it we would again be living paycheck to paycheck and then some. We were about to make the biggest mistake Americans make. We were going to “marry” a home and be one of the house poor, over-worked, under-paid, Americans we hear so much about these days. So we did not! We closed our checkbook and walked the other way.

What happened then became a journey of discovery, contemplation, and dreaming. It seemed that every two months or so a living situation would appear to us and we would fall into it. What we failed to realize though is that with each new situation came a smaller footprint, a smaller overhead, and a more minimal lifestyle. It was then that we came across Jay Shafer, Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, and this video on CBS News.

The idea of building our own Tiny House was immediately appealing and unlike the options before it, resonated deep within both of us. It would allow us to live within our means, pay cash on the barrel and not have to secure financing, and homestead on almost any piece of property stateside. We immediately began doing research on tiny homes, financing for American homes, building options, building codes, and real estate trends. We were shocked by what we began to notice.

  • In 1950 the average American home was 983 square feet. By 2004, the average American had risen to 2,349 square feet or 140% larger.
  • Garages account for over 15% of the size of the average house.
  • Appliances, both large and small, account for as much as 10 percent of the increase in house size since 1948.
  • The average homeowner renovates their kitchen every 9 years at a cost of nearly $23,000 each time.
  • A majority of North American homes have refrigerators that are twice the size of European models. And a typical refrigerator uses as much energy as leaving six small television sets on for 10-12 hours a day.

We soon realized that there are some enormous benefits to living in a small home (be it on a trailer or on a foundation). While they typically cost more money per square foot due to the higher quality of materials, they still come in way under a typical build budget because of sheer size. There is also less square feet to clean and keep tidy and less appliances and materials to be fixed or maintained.

What Crystal and I figured out about ourselves during this though is that we still had stuff that we either didn’t use or didn’t want. We were holding on to things for almost no reason. In a tiny house you just don’t have a lot of storage space so you have few options other than to give away, gift, sell, trade, etc. But before we moved forward with designing our tiny house or figuring out our “stuff” situation we felt we needed to answer a few of the questions below.

  1. Make a list of all the activities that you do at home and things you need in your house. Be as detailed as possible.
  2. Over a period of one to two weeks, keep a log of where you go in your house, and what you do there. You might post paper at doorways, and accurately record exactly where you go and how long you spend there, or just take notes from memory, once a day. In larger rooms, be specific about which part of the room you use.
  3. Look around your house for spaces that you never inhabit. Imagine what would change if that space magically disappeared.
  4. Make another list of “activities and needs,” without reviewing the first list. If you have patience, make a new list one a week for a few weeks.
  5. Uncover your first list and compare it with later ones. You may be surprised. More than likely there are probably some areas of your home you don’t use as much as others.

We are asked all the time, “How are you going to go from a pretty large farm/homestead to a tiny house on only an acre of land?” The answer is simple. We are going to do the same thing folks have been doing for a couple of centuries. Yes, an acre is smaller than 47 acres. A homestead we have to start at ground zero with as opposed to a farm nearly 55 years in the making is no easy task. But we want to pioneer the way so many before us have. We want to make a minimal footprint on the Earth and we want to live sustainably all the while being an example and a point of contact for others who may have the same dream.

It is about changing perspective. As always it is about giving up “the American Dream” and start focusing on the personal dream.

So what do you think? How large is your house? How much space do you actually live in? Would you set out and start all over again? If so, what would you change or do differently? And as always, if you like what you have read please consider posting the link on Twitter or sharing it on Facebook!

  • http://www.FabulouslyBroke.com FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com

    I love this post!

    It is so true that living smaller can be just as enriching as living in a large home. I grew up in a pretty standard, “big” home of 2500 square feet. Now, I find that when I observe my own lifestyle, I only use maybe 1000 square feet or less, depending on how big the kitchen can be. I only take up half a bed when I sleep, and half a futon/couch (sleeping bag on the floor) when I am not on the bed. And it turns into my office when I need it.

    One chair and table to sit at to eat, and that’s… all I kind of need.

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you so much for the kudos! I appreciate it. I, too, grew up in a standard home and then finished out the “formative years” in an even larger house. I have owned a couple of houses (prior to marriage) and they were just as big because I thought that is what I was supposed to have. But I was so wrong. You said it best. “….all I kind of need.”

  • http://bettermebetterworld.blogspot.com/ Dmarie

    great post. recently discovered this blog and look forward to reading more! thanks.

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com anotherkindofdrew

      Awesome. Thank you for checking us out Dmarie. I look forward to more comments from you!

  • Shannonroselive

    We are a family of four, living in a 40′ bus we converted so we do know tiny! Hahaha! I’m dying to build a tiny house though, I love Jay’s designs!

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Hey there Shannon. Have you ever thought about designing your own tiny home based on what you like on Jay’s designs as well as your own families needs? I bet you could pump out something pretty awesome!

  • Curious

    My apartment is a little over 700 sq ft, and when I first moved in from a 2-2 house that my previous band had rented a few years ago, I wondered, “What am I going to use all this space for?” All I needed in the Band House was my bedroom, bathroom, the kitchen, and the band room. The rest of the house, I didn’t care about, as my roommates took care of their part. What’s funny is that instead of “acquiring things” like most Americans do, I “acquired” strictly supplies, things I thought I would need if I had no job and needed replacing them without a check or possibly giving them to a family member near my size in need. I also acquired money of a certain kind as my savings in the event I would need it someday, and I hope, like many traditional Hindu Indians (I’m not Indian), I would not have to touch my savings, ever. I’m looking at things I needed back then, but no longer need them (corporate clothes, shoes, boxes I kept for returning certain things in case they needed servicing and I had to ship, etc.).

    I have lived in a travel trailer for over 3 years, so I know what goes with Tiny living. I believe it was a 21 footer (it’s been over 20 years, so I don’t remember exactly), so I had all the things like Mom’s photos and my baby book in storage, along with other things I had picked up in the apartment living years prior to that. I have kept my “acquiring habits” to a minimum, because I figured I was going to try something like this again.

    I’m in talks with a contractor/construction friend to see about the feasibility of building my Tiny home, and I’m looking at whether it’s possible to have it done by Oct. (I’m considering moving out and moving closer to where my friend lives and help him build it, and then move into it), or if I want to instead do it board-by-board, nail-by-nail like most families around the world build their houses; one brick at a time.

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