Tiny Homes: “An Icon of Freedom”

by Tammy Strobel on June 24, 2010

An interview with Michael Janzen

Over the last few months, I’ve been interviewing amazing individuals about simple living, location independence, financial freedom and more. Every Thursday, a feature interview is posted on RowdyKittens. Last week I spoke with Juliet Schor, a best selling author and Professor of Sociology at Boston College.

This week the feature interview is with Michael Janzen, author of Tiny House Design. We talked about blogging, tiny homes, and the power of living a simpler lifestyle.

Enjoy the interview peeps!

***

Tammy: Tell us about your blog, Tiny House Design.

Michael: When I was a kid I always wanted to be an architect. In college I studied architecture, but ended up following my bliss back into the ceramics studio. When the internet happened I jumped on and have been riding it ever since. Tiny House Design is my way of getting back to exploring architecture, while leveraging everything I’ve learned as a pro web guy over the last 15 years.

I post design concepts of my own and stories of other people making their simple living dreams come true. There is also a strong emphasis on DIY.

Tammy: What inspired you to start writing about tiny homes? And why do you think they’re so popular?

Michael: A few things came to a head in 2008 for me. The economy was taking a dump, my home’s value was dropping like a stone, and job security didn’t feel like a guarantee anymore… so I went looking for answers and backup plans. Tiny houses and simple living seemed like the ideal low-risk sustainable lifestyle.

I think other people are seeing this too, which is why they are quickly becoming an icon of freedom. I suspect we’re all in search of answers to questions we don’t know how to ask. Tiny houses are a captivating illustration of how wonderful a simple life can be.

Tammy: You’re written two ebooks, Tiny Prefab and Tiny Solar Saltbox. Tell us about your books and why you decided to write them.

Michael: Some content is blog-size. Some content is book-size. It also made financial sense to begin providing detailed plans that are focused on teaching people how to put together their own houses. I keep the prices low to make the content more accessible.

Tammy: Can you describe your Tiny Free House project?

Michael: The Tiny Free House is an experiment in exploring an extreme, in this case the financial cost of a home. Extreme examples, of anything, often have the most to teach us. So far I’ve learned a lot about the value of my time compared to the cost of materials. It’s slow going building with shipping pallets but I wouldn’t want to do it any other way for this project.

Another extreme house I will build is Nine Tiny Feet which is a nine square foot micro house. This exploration will be about building a house with the least amount of space. I’ve posted several designs online but have not settled on one or carved out the time to build it.

Tammy: Who is your tiny house hero?

Michael: There are many people and stories that inspire me. The first that comes to mind is Henry David Thoreau for obvious reasons. But there’s another fellow that stands our more for me as a ‘hero’, Dick Proenneke.

Proenneke went off into the Alaskan wilderness, build a log cabin, and lived in the wild for many years. His story is really about living simply and sustainably in balance with his surroundings. He also took a camera with him and filmed a lot of his adventures.

Tammy: In prior posts you’ve talked about moving to the Mendocino coast and building a small house. What would your ideal home look like?

Michael: Julia and I have always been drawn to Mendocino County. I was actually born there and had a Grandmother who lived there for decades. I lived there as a young adult and tried carving out a living as a starving artist, living in my Grandma’s tiny cabin Redwood Valley after she passed away.

I’m not sure how the cards will play out, but we are shooting for a future on the coast. We both dream of a small home, fairly close to town, but with enough land to setup a little homestead.  I think this house look like it belongs in the area, and may in fact turn out to be an existing old house that we fix up.

But I also see building some additional small buildings, like a little village, to serve whatever functions we need them too. For example, I’m certain one of them will be a pottery studio.

Tammy: Books have changed my life for the better and I’m a big book geek. I’m always curious about what other folks are currently reading. What books have you read recently and do you have any recommendations?

Michael:

The Quinn stuff is interesting but a long winded way of saying “live sustainably!”. The Godin and Pressfield stuff is good but also simple messages about trusting yourself and getting past weaknesses. Kunstler is dark stuff and makes good fiction, but I don’t think the future is going to play out like he describes.

Tammy: Everyone has unique skills; skills that I call superpowers. What is your superpowers?

Michael: I don’t put a lot of weight on labels, but if I had to choose a one, I’d have to choose divergent thinker.

I’m really good at figuring out complicated stuff, and picking up skills fast. The downside is that I also get bored fast. I wasn’t ever a top academic student and I had a long list of stupid jobs up until my first pro web design job. I lucked out to find a boss who understood and appreciated what I could do. For about seven years I was responsible for a whole lot of stuff like: establishing group user interface standards, running web design & development teams, managing a web usability research team, and finally the design and coding of major mobile web portal. The main benefit of all this corporate experience was that I learned how to better focus myself on the task at hand.

Entrepreneurial efforts require a high level of prey drive coupled with the ability to stay professional. I never hope to completely harness my creativity but instead find a way to focus it just enough to take me where I want to go. Not an easy balancing act, but it makes the trip more interesting.

1 Luke @ simplifi.de June 24, 2010

Just so you know, I look forward to these interviews every week. I love that you’re interviewing people in the tiny house movement, because that’s one of the first ways I got started thinking about simplicity, back in my early teen years. Plus my wife and I will hopefully be building one in the not-too-distant future.

And, Michael, I’m planning on buying Tiny Prefab when we closer to the time to build!

2 Tiny House Talk June 24, 2010

I’ll have to check out one of Seth Godin’s books, have never read any. I’ve recently become a big book geek, too…and I’m loving it. :)

Luke, I’m hooked on these interviews, too.

3 Chris - ZTF June 24, 2010

I love the list of books, I have read a few Seth Godin books but never Linchpin. The idea of living such a simple life is hugely appealing and makes me want to minimalise and downsize at home……. Guess its time to hit eBay and do a summer yard sale.
The last paragraph is great about harnessing creativity just enough……

4 Bankruptcy Ben June 24, 2010

His super powers sound remarkably like mine including the short attension span:) I always wondered how i’d find a use for them

Previous post:

Next post: