The first home I owned cost just at $52,000. For that price I got a 2-bedroom, 1-bath, fixer-upper that was on .35 acre in the middle of a post-war neighborhood in Norfolk, VA. It was built in 1953.
At the time my home was built America was reestablishing itself. Men had returned home from the war and were now firmly rooted in their post-war career. Women were homemakers and mothers, not CEOs and business owners. Homebuyers were encouraged to look to the future and stretch themselves as far as they could to buy a house. It made more sense then.
Fast forward to 2010.
The nation has been in a recession for almost three years and unemployment is at a thirty year high. Real estate has become a risky investment and those who do own homes are seemingly stuck in a vicious cycle of working just to afford the home they currently have; homes that are often larger than needed.
Since that first home of mine was built; never mind. Let’s go back a little further.
Since my parents purchased the home I was raised in (a 1100 sq. ft., post-war, cracker box) much – if not more – has changed.
- Rapidly rising prices in the 70s and 80s meant you could count on hefty annual raises. Today, you simply can’t rely on double-digit income boosts to make your mortgage payment less of a burden year after year.
- A generation ago, single-income families were far more common. If the breadwinner lost a job, the other spouse could go to work in an effort to save the house. With more two-income families needing both paychecks to match the mortgage, there’s no one on the sidelines to possibly take up the slack.
- Thirty years ago, it was tough to get a mortgage for more than you could really afford. And while lenders have recently learned their lesson after the “swinging arm” loans, they still seem to push, knowing that the vast number of borrowers will do whatever it takes to pay their mortgage – even if it means trashing the rest of their financial lives.
- A much bigger portion of the American work force was covered by traditional, benefit pensions thirty years ago than they are today. Social security is becoming more of a myth and most workers have little to no money left at the end of the paycheck to invest in 401k plans and IRAs.
Somewhere along the line the American Dream became defined by owning more stuff than your neighbor and having the best quality money could buy. Many times that meant relying on credit that was unsecured and came with lofty interest rates. But is that the way to go? Is that the new truth? Do we need a bigger house, a better car, or a large salary to find happiness? And just what is this elusive happiness anyway? Does it come about when we sacrifice our dreams for the pursuit of stuff?
I am done believing it does. My family is done believing it does.
From 2009 until the present, my wife, Crystal, and I have worked hard at simplifying our lives. We have minimized the number of clothes we own, the types of food we eat, our dependency on cars and travel in general, the number of square feet we need to exist indoors, the amount of books we surround ourselves with, the number of CDs and DVDs we buy (largely for one-time use), and the overall debt we have amassed.
In this exchange we have maximized our quality of life, our love for each other, our concern for the world around us, our ideas of entertainment, our health (mentally and physically), and our general dispositions.
And so it is that we have decided to alter our own course in life and spend the next few years of our life building our own Tiny Home of up to 300 square feet!
Originally inspired by Jay Shafer and the Tumbleweed Tiny Houses (as well as the nomadic lifestyle of the Janssen family and the design inspiration of both Protohaus and the Katrina Cottage) we are going to build our own home on a heavy-duty trailer that will feature sustainable building supplies and techniques, solar power, a modern bathroom and kitchen, a sleeping loft, passive solar heating/cooling, and our own sense of style. And we’ll do this for less than $10,000 by recycling, up-cycling, repurposing, enlisting the help of family and friends, and doing the work ourselves.
Through our Tiny House and our choice(s) for our life from this day forward we are not trying to create a movement or even enlist in one but rather rethink our perspective on life, love, community, relationship, and consumption.
Editor’s Note: This manifesto was originally written and published on Sept. 15, 2010 before we had even found a trailer to become the foundation of our tiny house. We are now living full-time in our 240 sq.ft. tiny house and have already started planning more ways our house will become a home.