I remember well those early days of talking “tiny.” They were spent mostly looking at photos of gorgeous, petite, homes on wheels that were crafted by skilled artisans and dispatched to a mobile life of ease. My wife and I would sit for hours in front of the computer talking about how liberating it must be to live in such a small space and to have such few possessions. We dreamed about living debt free and being able to come and go almost at our whim. But as the British novelist Jasper Fford once said, “My mind wanders terribly. I’m not wholly annoyed by my daydreaming as it has been immense use to me as regards imaginative thought, but it doesn’t help when it comes to concentration. And writing needs concentration – lots of it.” To that point we were daydreaming. Our minds were wandering but we lacked much needed concentration.
The library produced no books for us on living the tiny life. Google had very few results and many of those were misnomers, at best. We realized by the second month of our decision that we were on our own. We were going to have to figure out how we were going to transition to a smaller, more deliberate life, than just building a tiny house. Fortunately we did run across a blog that seemed to speak directly to us; RowdyKittens.
Written by Tammy Strobel and online since 2007, RowdyKittens focuses on going small, thinking big, and being happy. Together with her husband Logan they downsized from a two-bedroom apartment to a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in 2005. A few years later they sold their cars in order to reduce their overall debt. They wrote about all of this and it seemed to be a blueprint for what my wife and I wanted. So we began to lay out a plan of action.
The first thing we needed to do was take a realistic look at our debt, our current budget, and our projected budget. I knew immediately that the prognosis wouldn’t be good. I came to our 2008 marriage with about $42,000 in debt to various agencies. She came with $0. Happy Wedding Day, Honey! I also had no savings and was only making $10/hour as THE photojournalist for the local newspaper.
By this time we were already multi-generationally living with my folks in rural, middle Georgia (in a rather spacious 4200 sq.ft. home) so we had little expenses in that department. We only owned one car and it was an almost rusted out Ford Ranger pickup with annual taxes of $11. It enjoyed running only on gasoline fumes so it didn’t get filled up much. We did have to think about health insurance, debt payments, food, cell phone, etc. though. We first took a look at what Dave Ramsey had to say. Not being one for programs though I only gleaned some material from him and reported my findings back to my wife who – by this point – had already begun digging us out. We paid our lowest debt first. Then we dumped that payment into another so we could pay off the next lowest. And so it went. I worked all week and brought home an honest paycheck. Crystal applied it to our expenses and we kept praying for faith in our selves and our system of renewal. I am pleased to report that in three years we had eliminated the $42,000 in debt as well as taking progressive steps forward to building our tiny house, purchasing a newer car to replace our dear ‘Rusty’, and even put a little away for savings. The idea of minimizing your overhead expenses is essential to living in a tiny house. I think it is important to note that the tiny house lifestyle is not just about a small home. It is a mindset and a way of life. It is a path to freedom that focuses on life outside of work and strengthening relationships and life experience rather than possessions and accouterments.
Speaking of possessions. For a poor guy I had really amassed quite a few things. I owned a 36″ flatscreen TV, over 3,000 CDs, over 1,000 DVDs, 2 computers, nearly 100 pair of Nike Flight sneakers, and the list goes on. One day we were talking about marketing and advertising after seeing a rather blatant Target ad on television. It pushed us into an area of consumption. For the next hour or so we talked about how brainwashed consumers were. Little did I know I was actually talking about myself. I had been brainwashed for years thinking I need this or I needed that. Mostly I needed it to impress others so they would think I was doing better than I was. We needed help and so we began a nearly year long process of material downsizing. We had to discover the difference between need and want and we had to apply those findings. Over the course of the year I donated the TV and we began discovering online, streaming television. I sold all of my CDs and DVDs (after ripping quite a few to an external hard drive). I gave away my Nike sneakers to Soles for Souls. I consolidated my two computers leaving me with one really fine machine that I owned up until last year. It was a liberating time and one that drew us closer together as a couple and freed up quite a bit of money. We were able to refocus that on debt and at times we could literally feel the weight being lifted from our shoulders. During this time we also participated in Project 333 created by Courtney Carver. Through that three-month long exercise we were able to really pare down our wardrobes and invest in pieces that would keep our stylishness but be easier on our pocketbooks in the long-run. I strongly suggest this exercise to all hoping to live tiny.
Since 2008 we have done more; lots more. We have taken steps. We have bought and sold. We have gained and lost. I have switched jobs. We have had a baby. Downsizing and preparing to live the tiny life can indeed be stressful. For us though the benefits were both exciting and liberating. Moving into a tiny house has allowed us to have some big adventures and pursue amazing opportunities. The less we owned, we found, the less we had to work and the more we could enjoy our community, our passions, our life as a family. So while there is no book on How-To there are a few steps I would suggest prior even to the build. They are a jumping off point and ones that I think will give you wings to fly and dreams to chase.
STEPS TO THE TINY LIFE
- Visit your personal debt, financial responsibilities, and income. Be realistic. If you owe money, admit it to yourself and start looking at how much you owe. Evaluate the interest rates. Some banks and loan officers will even work with you to negotiate better interest rates so you can service your debt quicker.
- Minimize your monthly overhead. Do you like to go out? Does this involve a $50+ dinner at least once a week? Do you enjoy shopping but don’t know when to say no? In order to prepare for the tiny life you should really get a hold of your miscellaneous expenses and see where you can save a buck. That saved buck can then go towards debt or your future build.
- Learn NEED -vs- WANT. This is fairly self-explanatory but can often be the most difficult step. It takes discipline and honesty with yourself.
- Downsize. It’s a general term, yes. It can range from your automobile situation, to your rental situation, to your personal collections, etc. But it is necessary. The tiny life doesn’t involve packing 2,000 sq.ft. of stuff into a 200 sq.ft. structure. It is about downsizing your material so you can downsize your requirements.
- Repeat. Understand now that you are never done. As human beings we are hard wired, I think, to want more than what we have. Everyone is prone to seeing a display at Target and validating the purchase of a seasonal item or something that has no real purpose in your life. We are all guilty of point-of-sale purchases that add clutter to our lives. And we can all remember those meals we couldn’t afford, put on our credit card, and promised to pay off at the end of the month. That is natural. Just keep pressing forward and know that you will have to remind yourself and repeat yourself regularly to keep your goals and priorities at the forefront of your life.