From Large to Little: My Tiny House Saga
It was a cold, windy New Years evening. Logan and I were wrapped up in the covers; he was surfing the internet and I was reading a book. It was a perfect and cozy night to be at home. Suddenly, Logan looked over at me and said: "Tammy, you've got to see this!"
"Dude. I'm reading. Is it that important?"
"Yes! You're going to love this little video."
Logan was right. The video featured Dee Williams and her little house. The house was adorable. It looked like a miniature Victorian or Carpenter Gothic home on wheels.
I looked at Logan and said: "I want one of those homes! They are so cute. And think of all the money we'd save. We could pay for the house up front. Then we wouldn't have to worry about paying rent anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. And maybe, just maybe we could park the little house in someone's backyard."
My mind started racing while thinking of all the possibilities this tiny living idea presented. Logan had no idea he'd unleashed a monster. For the next few months all I could talk about were tiny homes, decluttering, and how we could finance a little house.
The idea of buying a tiny house was appealing. So, I started doing research on little homes and was shocked by some of the statistics I stumbled across. For instance:
In 1950 the average American home was 983 square feet. By 2004, the average American home swelled to 2,349 square feet; that's about a 140% increase in size.
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.
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.
While I was doing my research, I discovered that there are many benefits to living in a smaller dwelling. On average little homes cost more per square foot, but that's typically because they are made with higher quality materials. Plus, you don't have to spend so much time on home maintenance or cleaning. :)
At this point, we had just moved into a large one-bedroom apartment. We loved the new place, but we still had a lot of stuff. And after watching Dee's video we decided to move to Sacramento into a smaller one-bedroom apartment.
As we slowly downsized our space, we started tracking the types of things we did in our apartment. If you're thinking of moving into a smaller place, I highly recommend doing the same. Teachers and designers, from Natural Building Movement, created the following exercise to help people figure out where they really live.
Where do you really live?
1. Before you get started, 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.
Even if you don't want to live in a tiny house, you can start living better right where you are. Here are a few ideas: start decluttering, stop buying stuff you don't need, and consider sharing your home with others. For example, my friend Victoria recently cut her living space in half. She is using her 375 square foot living room as her primary living space and renting out the other two bedrooms in her home!
From Large to Little
I've received a lot of emails from readers asking questions like:
"What was the tipping point? How did you go from living so large to living in such a small apartment?"
I think the tipping point was watching Dee's video. It changed my perspective. Before I watched the video, I was still unsure if we should move into a smaller place and I was still feeling stuck. Dee's video lead me to a number of resources like the Small House Society, the Tiny House Blog, and Tiny House Design. The stories featured on those sites inspired us to keep chasing our dreams and focus on paying off our debt.
I also have to give credit to my grandparents. They taught me many valuable life lessons. I just wish I had started listening to them sooner.
Complete the exercise above.
Read Little House on a Small Planet. The book contains a wealth of information about living in small spaces and profiles a number of families who live in little homes.
Finally check out Dee's new book: Go House Go! And watch the video that inspired us to go small and think big: