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I’m Tammy Strobel. Welcome to my digital home!

I’m an author, photographer, and cat lover.

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Viva La Tiny Revolution: Why We're Building a Little House

“The more intentional you are in your choices, the more every change makes room for more changes … I just love that there’s this endless potential.” ~Dee Williams

3,000 square feet. 4 bedrooms. 3 bathrooms. A huge kitchen. Two garages. Two people.

I spent New Year's Eve with family friends in Longview, Washington and what I described above is a small snapshot of their very big home. Even though the house was big, we spend most of our time together hanging out in the living room or the kitchen. The rest of the house wasn't being actively used. And that begs the question: Why have such a big house if a majority of the space is empty, most of the time?

During my time in Longview, my friends and I had a lot of conversations about tiny homes. Specifically, they wanted to know why I was so obsessed with these little dwellings.

Building small comes down to two concepts: saving money and freedom.

1. Saving money.

Our little house will cost approximately $35,000 (on the high end). That's about three years of rent. In the long-run we'll be saving a lot of money and we can use those funds for other purposes, like travel and donating to charities.

In addition, I have no desire to spend $300,000 on a "starter house." I don't want to be tied to a traditional mortgage and building a house on a smaller scale suits our needs.

If we built the house ourselves, it would be less expensive. However, I want a professionally build and designed house and that cost will be reflected in the final price. Dee Williams and Katy Anderson have experience designing and building tiny spaces and I value their knowledge. I admire folks who can build little homes themselves, but I don't have the desire to take on that kind of project.

In addition, Dee has lived in her little house for six years and has a wealth of information on what works and what doesn't work for small space living. And if we're going to live in a tiny space, it needs to fit us like a glove.

Creative design and building are important because we don't want to pay for something that's too big. We want just enough space.

2. Freedom.

Owning a little house is one path toward freedom. The freedom from cleaning. The freedom from renewing a lease. The freedom from excessive debt. And the freedom from being committed to one place. Since our little house will be on wheels, we can move it (and us) whenever we want.

What's next?

Last weekend, we spoke with Katy, of Portland Alternative Dwellings, about the building details and the next steps. At the end of March we're going to order our trailer and the windows. Construction will start in May or June. In the meantime, we'll be working with the lovely Dee Williams to map out the design. (You can check out Logan's rough sketch of our design. Just click on the image).

I feel like a little kid a Christmas. I'm so excited about the planning process, but I'm also a little freaked out. Why?

  • I'm scared that we won't be able to fit all of our stuff in the little house.
  • I'm scared of running over our small budget.
  • I'm scared that we won't be happy in the little house.

And then we still have a lot of questions to answer, like:

  • What if we can't park the little house on our friends piece of land?
  • Will we be able to fit our bulk food in the little house?
  • How will our eating habits change?

Thinking about all of this stuff is overwhelming and scary. My concerns are valid and we've got to address these issues. But I'm not going to let my lizard brain stop us. We've been talking about building a little house for the last three years and we are finally at a place where we can afford to make this project a reality.

And it's pretty amazing that two of our good friends will design and build this house for us. I know it will be built with love and that's a beautiful thing.

Join the Revolution

Living small isn't solely about counting up your stuff or living in a little house. It's about making time for family, doing work you love, and building community. Getting active is key because creating any kind of social change requires working with your community.

And the thing is, helping others will make you happy. Positive psychologists (a.k.a. happiness researchers) have labeled this phenomena the "helper's high." Meaning you get more joy out of helping others than solely focusing on yourself.

Micro-action: Answer the following question: How are you making an impact in your community? If you aren't doing anything, what small step can you take today to start helping others?

Now onto the Q & A:

Yesterday, I asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends if they had questions about our little house. Below is a brief Q & A:

Question: How will you have any sense of privacy or personal space, or does that not concern you?

Answer: Honestly, that doesn't concern me. If I need space I go outside or do yoga. As a writer, I already spend a lot of time alone and more time away from Logan than I would like. Logan is my best friend, partner, and I love him like crazy. So when he's home, spending time with him is a joy. Also, we will have a buffer spaces in the house. There will be a loft (our bedroom) and the great room.

Question: How about what is storage space?

Answer: There will be plenty of storage space in the little house. Last weekend, we met with Dee and started hashing out design ideas, which includes storage space.

If you look at the rough sketch of the little house, you'll see a bump out couch. Under the couch will be storage space. In addition, we'll have a small closet, pantry, small kitchen cabinets, and storage space in the loft. And remember, we don't have that much stuff. :)

Question: Will it be close to town so you can commute easily?

Answer: Right now we're planning on parking the little house in North Portland. So the location will be close to town. However, if that falls through we're considering a few other spots. One place is in Milwaukee (just outside Portland) and the other is in the Southeast part of town. Ideally, we'd prefer to stay within the city limits. However, we're flexible.

Question: Where does your poop go?

Answer: Well, that's an awfully personal question. :)

In all seriousness, we will be using a composting toilet. Composting poo is a huge topic. If you want to learn more, listen to The Pee & Poo Show and read the Humanure Handbook.

Question: Will the kitties have dedicated nooks?

Answer: I don't know about dedicated nooks, but we are going to install a few KatWALLKs; that way both cats can get into the loft. Christie is very agile and theoretically could climb the loft latter. However, Elaina is overweight and isn't a ninja kitten like Christie. So she'll need extra help getting up to the loft.

Question: What about multipurpose rooms?

Answer: The whole space is multipurpose. For example, in the "great room" (the lower level of the house), we'll have a fold out desk that will also be a small dinning room table.

Really it's all about how you design a space and what suits your needs. For more design ideas, I highly recommend reading Little House on a Small Planet. The book contains a wealth of information about living and design small spaces. Plus the author profiles families who live in little homes.

If you want specific technical information on building a tiny house, read Go House Go by Dee Williams.

Question: What about water, electricity, and heat?

Answer: We have a few options for water, electricity, and heat.

Water: If we're completely off grid, that means we'll have to bring our own water in and store the water in containers. Or we can plug-into the grid.

Electricity: At this point, we'd like to purchase a small solar panel.

Heat: We are going to buy a tiny fireplace and it's called the Sardine.

Question: Can you give us a cost break-down?

Answer: Yes, but not yet. The cost won't be finalized until we get the design completed. Then our amazing builder, Katy, can give us more detail on the cost of all the materials, plus her labor. Like I said above, our tiny house budget is approximately $35,000 (on the high end).

Question: What about guests?

Answer: Guests can either stay in the loft or we'll put them up at a lovely hotel.

Question: What about the building codes?

Answer: If you want to build a little house, check in with your local city planning department because building codes vary from city to city. Some cities are more flexible than others. Luckily, the City of Portland’s Planning Department has been supportive of building small, sustainable homes.

For more on Portland tiny homes, check out the post I wrote for Kent last year.

Question: Will you have a porch and room for something like a garden?

Answer: Yes, we will have a porch and a garden too! We'd love to have kitchen garden planters outside the windows and hopefully we'll have permission to garden wherever we park. :)

Question: Are you planning on having children?

Answer: No, we aren't having children. But keep in mind, it is possible to have kids and live in small spaces. If you need design ideas read Little House on a Small Planet and check out the resources listed at the bottom of the post.

Question: How many square feet is the little house?

Answer: About 150 square feet.


For more tiny house fun, check out these websites and interviews:

How to Cultivate Vulnerability

The Triple-Win of Simple Living