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Top 10 Tiny House Questions

I realized the other day when I speak about Tiny Houses I almost always get these questions and figured people coming to the site might find useful.  So here we go:

1. What is a Tiny House?

A Tiny House doesn’t really have a definition, which is one of its strengths, it is a creative and flexible concept.  The general gist is that we are looking to design and construct a dwelling for one or more people that is proportional to the number of people who live in it, but is smaller than the typical American Home.  I generally classify a Tiny House as under 200 square feet and a small house 200-400 square feet for a single person.

2. Why the hell would you live in a Tiny House?

There a are a whole slew of reasons why we want to live in smaller spaces.  Most people will point to three motivations: Environmental impact, financial reasons and life simplification.  I am not going to argue about environmental issues, but the fact is we need to live smaller in all meanings of the word.  We have to reduce our impact, our waste, our inputs, our outputs, our footprint and shift to a resilient and sustainable future and that isn’t a “sustainable” future like the commercial interests want to sell you.  There are also many who look at the current true cost of homes today and question the wisdom in purchasing such a large investment that is seen as a debtors prison.    Finally, living in a Tiny House allows you to bring focus and intentionality to your life, allowing you to focus on what is important in your life.  When you aren’t tied to a home that you owe on, when you don’t have heaps of clutter you can focus on things like relationships, yourself, learning, etc.

3. How much does a Tiny House cost?

I have seen people who have went through great lengths to recover materials from dumps/Craig’s list/etc and already had the tools, they built it for under $3000.  On the upper end, using top shelf materials and paying for someone to build it for you, $50,000.  The average Tiny House person spends around $20,000 and does the work themselves.

4. Isn’t a Tiny House on a trailer really just a trailer home?

I would say no, but other disagree.  Trailer homes often are much more expensive, the ones coming out of the factories have next to no appreciation for aesthetics, they often don’t focus on minimizing environmental impacts and often are made of low quality materials.  There are a whole host of social consciousness issues surrounding Tiny Houses.

5. I have a family, you’re crazy to think that it is a practical option!

The Tiny Houses I typically talk about are around 150 square feet, but what people seemed to have selective hearing on is when I talk about the definition of a Tiny Houses is that a Tiny or Small House is respective to the number of occupants.  A small house for a family of 5 might be 1000 square feet.  I also write from the perspective of a single male who doesn’t wish to have kids, but would probably build a bigger house when I get married.

6. Aren’t they dangerous, what about tornadoes or hurricanes?

We work to make our houses to be as safe as possible, there are codes which promote safety, but sometimes codes lag behind and out of date.  Building Tiny House can adhere to most of the same codes or even exceed them.  Since many Tiny Houses are built on trailers, they have to be road worthy, which means it can tolerate stresses far beyond those of a traditional housing.  For high winds, we use hurricane strapping which anchors the house to the ground more strongly than most houses are built today.  The use of higher quality materials and better construction means you are better protected.  Finally, in the event of serious danger, you are able to hitch your house to your car and drive out of harms way, which is pretty useful for flooding, just drive to the high point.

7. Are they legal?

In many cases they operate in gray areas.  There are some municipalities that will work with you and I encourage you to do so, but sometimes they simply won’t.  Having good relationships with your neighbors, large enough land to hide it, use loopholes, and flying under the radar is sufficient for most.   Often it comes down to semantics:  it is not a dwelling, it is a storage shed; it is a trailer, not a home.

8. Where do I put all of my stuff?

When you move to a smaller home you need to weed through your possessions, many of us find that there are many things that we haven’t used or needed in years!  It really starts with an understanding of consumer culture, the problems it brings and the benefits you gain by at least partially removing yourself from it.  We are always going to need things, we will always need to purchase things, but the differentiation between needs and wants is a difficult thing to start doing.  We also need to be cognizant about how our culture influences us in this aspect, because it has a strong hold over many of us.  I am still in this process of myself, getting rid of what is not truly needed and reducing my possessions to the basics. There are those who try to do the 100 thing or 300 thing challenge, I don’t necessarily do that, but I have been able to shift my mind set to really question my stuff and my purchases.

9. Do they have running water, flushing toilets and lights?

Yes and no.  It depends on the house, there are many people who live in Tiny Houses who have all the creature comforts of modern society.  At the same time, there are those who bring in their own water, use composting toilets, and capture their power from the sun.  Many call this “off the grid”, my hope is to design my home to be able to tie into the grid fully, but can also operate off the grid.

10. Awesome!  How do I start?

My post on Monday will outline how to get started moving towards living in a Tiny House!

 

What Do You Need?

This weekend it was cold and dreary out, so I decided to tackle all my belongings, start to thin things out in preparation for moving into a Tiny House.  While I am about 1-2 years away from such a move (purchase the land and build my house), I knew there was a lot of things that I could get rid off.  I was able to reduce my belonging by about 50% by removing unessential things, junk and stuff I didn’t need anymore.  I should note I first donated, then recycled and finally if I had to, threw away.

The exercise got me thinking about what do you need?  I started a Mind Map (using xmind, a favorite of mine) to consider how I would integrate my tiny house, my stuff, food production, water, and energy.  When I got to stuff, I started to think, what does it mean to live simply?  The idea came to me, it’s a lot like going to college, simple, small etc.  When you move into a dorm room you have next to no space, but you need to have everything you need to live.

Now some will be quick to point out often in college you have a cafeteria, a gym, laundry facilities, etc.  I agree, but I really like what Gregory Johnson  over at Resources For Life says about this, living in a Tiny House means you need to “outsource” things.  So instead of a bowflex, you get a gym membership, instead of a full kitchen, you eat out (quite common in NYC).  Etc. Etc.  These things cost money, but in the end, you are saving a lot and with no debt it isn’t as bad, plus it afford you more free time.

So when we consider moving to a college dorm room we know a few things: it is small, must be multifunctional, must be meet all your needs.  Sounds like similar circumstances in a Tiny House.  So if I were to make a list of what would it include?  Well here is suggested shopping list for a dorm Click Here.

The other thing to consider when trying to have a rough idea of what you will need is the 100 item challenge.  Here is Tammy’s list of things that she has in her house.

Finally I realize that no matter how slim I get things I will need to thin out some more when I make the final move.  So here is my plan.  Once I have constructed my Tiny House I plan to park it outside where I am currently living for 1 month.  I will move into my Tiny House with nothing.  The idea behind this is that any time I need something, I go into my old place and get just that one item.  Now this means I do have to pay rent for 1 month extra, but I should be able to swing it.  As I need things I will go get them, extra exercise for sure, but the point of the exercise to shift to an intentional way of life, so if I have to get on my shoes, go outside, unlock the door, walk up the stairs, find that one thing, then I will think about it.  At the end of the month I will have stuff left in my old place where I will sort through it all.  Is there things that I can do without or absolutely need?  I figure at the end of the month there isn’t much that I absolutely need need need if I didn’t use it in that time.

Below are two things that will help you along your way to reducing your things.

Here is a great book on getting your stuff under control and life simplification:

Here is a video that I like about one guys quest to simplify:

But Will It Make You Happier?

Today a good blogger friend of mine was featured in the New York Times, it talks about life simplification and what actually makes humans happy.  Not only is it inspiring, interesting and thought provoking, it is backed up with a good bit of research.  The article is really well written and I strongly encourage you all to read it.

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Full article here: NYT August 2010

Big Jump

So recently with the posting of Yahoo!’s Tiny House Video (see my post on it here) we have had a huge explosion of traffic, we are up around 300% and busted all sorts of records!  Since we have so many new folks I always like to take a moment to say “Hello!”.  My name is Ryan Mitchell and I run TheTinyLife.com, to find out more about me and this site check out this post which is a more in depth introduction to the website.

With many people who are new to Tiny Houses they have many questions, some are just intrigued by the idea that there are literally 10’s of thousands of people today who are making their way to living in 100-200 square feet.  For some this concept of down sizing the space you live in is the answer you have been looking for.  Whether it is for financial reasons, environmental reasons, practicality Tiny House seem to resonate with a wide variety of people.  If you want to get a better gist of what the Tiny House Movement is all about I suggest you check out this post here.

We all know and love Jay’s Tiny Houses, his approach has been instrumental in the Tiny House Movement, To show you some variety of Tiny Houses here are few of my favorites:

CLICK IMAGES TO SEE MORE ABOUT THEM

Info Here

Info Here

Info Here

Of Course we have Jay’s Houses, here are some videos of it:

Here are some suggested readings on my site are:
-Be Weird: here
-Seeing Is Beliving: here
-Organizing small spaces: here
-A Dialouge of Hope: here
-The Jones: here
-Difference between mobile home and Tiny House: here

Seeing Is Believing

So I was sitting at work today when a co-worker of mine came in to chat about gardening.  It was at that point, I told her about my idea about raised bed gardens.  The raised beds would be about 4 feet tall, just the right height to work the garden, but not have to bend.  If you have ever spent an hour weeding, either bending over or kneeling, it can be uncomfortable if not painful.  I explained how at 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide, you can be situated perfectly in terms of ergonomics.  Raised bed allow you to have perfect soil for what you are growing and help reduce weeds in the process.  Overall you have perfect soil, reduce strain and have a very neat looking garden. She left my office and I began to think how I really wish I could implement this idea today.  But alas I am not quite settled where I am living. I opened up Sketchup and started drawing out what I would like this garden to look like.  I then realized what I was doing….I was using this tool to help me visualize the future, to help cement this goal, to keep me motivated.

Then idea crossed my mind, what are the other way I make sure I stay motivated on an idea while I get to where I need to be to implement it?

Now these tools will not work for everyone and I am a particularly computer oriented, also very visual, so I find these methods work for me.

My Blog

What some of you may not realize is, I don’t yet live in a Tiny House.  The plans are in the works, designs being drawn, research on building codes in my area and seeking land, but no house of yet.  By having a blog I am able to share my passion and connect with others that love the idea or live the dream.  It is an intensely empowering tool.  Now some of you are thinking, I don’t want to start a blog or I don’t know how.  Of course there are really easy and free services such as wordpress.com or blogger.com that will get you up and running in under 10 minutes.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Journaling, plain old pen and paper, is the old school version to achieve this.  The advantage of a blog over this method is that when you have an audience, you are accountable to them in a way.  Some one, or in my case several thousand, will notice when you shirk on posting.  Even if you don’t want to go the full blog route, consider writing a guest post for a blog, I am always happy to review and possibly post your piece.

Google Sketchup

This is a program made by google that is completely free (they do a pay for pro version) that allows you to quickly design things and create them in a 3D environment.  It wasn’t until today that I realized that I have this established behavior.  When I have something in mind that I have aspirations for or dream about, I have time and time again opened up google sketchup to draw it.  What does this do?  It creates a visual representation of my dream.  It takes it from my mind into the real world, one step closer to being a reality for me.  I did this with this garden idea, see below, and I have done it countless times with ideas for Tiny Houses.

43Things.com

This is a really interesting website, it basically makes a lists of your goals, connects you with those who have the same goals and empowers you to achieve them.   What takes this to the next level is when someone achieves a goal, it has them describe how they went about getting there.  People can discuss and share ideas about how to tackle roadblocks.Stop Making Excuses
A while ago I was out to dinner with several of my friends, the conversation turned to travel and a friend and I were asked how many places we have been.  I responded 17 countries all before I was 23.  They were floored.  “How did you get to do that!?”  I am not independently wealthy, I don’t have a trust fund and my parents didn’t pay for it, so how did I do it?  I posed the question to them, why didn’t you travel that much?  They instantly said “no time”, “no money”, etc.  My other friend who had been to just as many places as I, chimed in and said “you’re making excuses”.  It then dawned on me, how many times do we make excuses, stupid excuses, defeatist excuses.  Now there is reality and responsibility, but at what point does that end and the excuses begin?  For most, they would agree it would be unreasonable to think that a high schooler could afford a trip to Europe, but I did.   I did, for a whole month, I went to 8 countries and had a blast doing it.  So it brings me back to the point, stop making excuses and do it, because too often the only thing standing in our way, is ourselves.

One particular method I use for this is to take a goal that seems too out of reach.  Write down your goals, then next to them write the very very first step you would have to do to achieve that goal.  To get a better idea, take this example.  Lets say you want to build a Tiny House, you might start by seeking out a place to purchase a trailer.  You might open up excel and make a rough budget, then go price the materials at a hardware store.  You might email someone who lives in a Tiny House and ask them for advice on how to start.  See how these are really simple things.  See how these these things take 5 minutes, 30 minutes.  See how you can do any of these things right now!

Vision Board

This isn’t my favorite idea, but it works for many folks, so it is at least noteworthy.  A vision board is basically a board where you glue photos of what you want to be.  If you want to be happy, paste photos that conjure thoughts of happiness.  If you want to focus more on family, put your favorite photos of your kids, your significant other etc.  Take this  board and place it in a prominent place that you can view it several times a day.  Perhaps place it in a place that you look at it, but others can see it to.  They will ask about it and by sharing your goals, you reinforce it, but then you are almost held accountable to them when they ask about it later.

So here is my garden idea