When it comes to tiny houses when is small too small? 50 square feet? 100 square feet? 200 square feet? A lot of it has to do with individual circumstances, needs and number of people living in the space. After over a year in La Casita Cedric and I have come to the conclusion that as cozy as our home is, 98 square feet for two people and a stocky corgi is pushing some limits. We need more room in order to work on hobbies, store our bulk items and fulfill our need for independence. In the South it seemed a lot easier to fulfill these needs. We didn’t worry about freezing hoses, there was no need to store bulky winter clothes or gear and going outside was bliss in the winter months. Now that we live somewhere with a serious winter, we have more gear, more clothes and less and less space to put it in and as a tiny house fills, the more claustrophobic it feels. So how do you figure out how small is too small before you’re already living the tiny life? Here are few suggestion from our experience.
First, carefully consider needs. For example, we did not thoroughly consider the impact a tiny house would have on our social lives. We would host 30+ people a year in our apartment and threw lots of social events and fundraisers for different project we were a part of. While I’ve found lots of solutions to the issue of hosting events and entertaining, it’s difficult not having a place for family and friends to stay if they want to visit us up North. This has been one of the hardest parts for me and it wasn’t even something I considered as seriously as I should have. Also, my crafting time has diminished due to lack of space for supplies and the room to actually do projects. My advice is make a list of what is most important to your happiness in your space. Is it being able to cook delicious meals, soak in a tub, host potlucks or a space to do hobbies and crafts in? Number your list with 5 being most important and 1 being least. Make compromises from this list, tweak it as you build and use it throughout construction to remind yourself of your needs and how you plan to meet them.
I started watching this video today and was floored by not only how good it was, not only how true it was, but also how much it just resonated with me. I think every tiny house person should watch this and even non tiny house people.
The quotes that stood out for me is “if you don’t answer this question [what does freedom mean to me] there is a corporation, company or product that is happy to answer it for you”
Here are 5 misconceptions that have cropped up while living the tiny life. Some were my own before moving in to a tiny house and some are what I’ve been asked over and over again.
Numero 1: Oh you live in a tiny house on wheels? It’s like a camper, right?
C’mon! Does this look like a camper to you? Once you mention wheels peoples’ brains seem to zone in on this comparison. It has to be one of the top 3 questions people consistently ask me when I try to describe living the tiny life. First biggest difference between the two in my experience is a tiny house is usually built by it’s owners and is meant as a year-round residence. Secondly, a tiny house is a less toxic living situation than a camper which is usually made with a lot of plastic and glues that are harmful to one’s health. Lastly, you can tow a camper behind a car-I don’t know of a car than can haul a tiny house. At the very least, even the houses on the smaller end need a truck.
Numero 2: The tiny life is the simple(r) life!
Okay, so by simple I mean the misconception I had before living in a tiny house that financial freedom would mean increased simplicity in my overall life. This has not necessarily been the case however. With less bills life has become more flexible for sure but simple not so much. Living the tiny life proves more complicated on the day to day for us due to the time it takes to perform chores and daily tasks, especially if you are without running water like we are. Staying organized is a constant demand, doing dishes takes more time and while cleaning is fairly simple, it has to be done a lot more often. Other complications include finding storage for possessions you don’t want to part with but won’t fit in your tiny house, renting or finding land to buy, setting up utilities and having space to do hobbies and projects. I’ve mentioned other difficulties in a previous post so I’ll leave it at that.
Numero 3: A tiny house means ultimate mobility!
Not quite…if you want to move a tiny house any significant distance plan on paying a tidy sum of money and experiencing a fair amount of stress. At least that was our experience moving from South Carolina to Vermont. Having our own truck would afford us more flexibility and ease of movement but if ultimate mobility is what one seeks, I’d recommend an RV or one of these. Tiny houses are not meant to be moved all the time in my opinion and they don’t have the flexibility of movement that a RV or camper enjoys ( harking back to misconception numero 1).
Vermont has quite the tiny house scene. Only two weeks after moving up here we came across our friend KJ’s tiny house and heard about several more! Back in SC, we were pretty much the only tiny house folks that we knew about but it seems Vermonters have had tiny house fever for some time! Today I want to share this wonderful tiny house that our friend built and currently occupies with her bull mastiff!
The house currently lives on a farm and sits on a 8 1/2 x 16 foot trailer with two bumpouts that serve as storage and sleeping space. She has a hard wired, 20 amp circuit that allows her to hook to a breaker box in the barn next door and although she has a clawfoot tub she recently bought, she does not having running water in the house.
While taking a permaculture course, KJ was exploring a less toxic, less material based lifestyle. She was living in yurt in Vermont and realized that it was not the best living situation through the long winters. It took a lot of wood to heat it and keep it warm for one person so she nixed the idea of buying a yurt. She became especially interested in gypsy wagons and began researching other small living alternatives, such as school bus renovation, back in 2008. Then she moved in to a tree house on a goat farm owned by a couple of architects. She revealed her dream to build a tiny house and she says their eyes lit up! They agreed to help her in exchange for goat sitting on the weekends. Two months of building and she had herself a house.
The house is built with pine that was cut and milled from the forest on the goat farm and it was built specifically to her measurements. She’s thinking up new ideas for the house and planning to remodel the downstairs to have a narrower staircase and a space for a table and two chairs. The best things about living the tiny life? The strong sense of ownership and accomplishment is certainly a strong sentiment for her. “It’s mine, I made it!” is the first thing she tells me when I asked her the above question but also living in a non-toxic space and escaping the materialistic bent of our consumerist culture are among the positives to living this life.
Last post I was pretty much freaking out about having to go and talk to town officials about parking our house on our friend’s farm but I’m sure glad I did! It ended up being a fairly straightforward process, however (there always seems to be a however with tiny houses) we only have a permit for a year. As long as it’s on wheels it’s considered a temporary structure and can only be lived in for 365 days. After that, I’m not sure what we do.
They didn’t say it was renewable so do we keep it on wheels or try and set it on a foundation? I feel like taking it off the trailer will be quite a hassle with zoning and code but trying to explain to people that you LIVE in this, that’s it’s NOT a camper and is your home is pretty much beyond people’s expectation. Some children I care for down the street actually passed by and asked if it was a new playhouse for the children of our friend! This is totally fine with us. We figure the less serious people take our living situation the better off we are.
It’s pretty amazing to me though the amount of attention such a small square footage receives. We have had strangers stop their cars, get out and ask to take pictures. Folks are asking if we build them and how much they cost. There is definitely an opportunity here to gain community support. Who knows? Perhaps even change the zoning laws! I’m definitely debating how I begin to advocate on the town administrative level so that tiny housing can be considered a legally viable living alternative to the statue quo.
We plan to live in this area for at least the next ten years, who knows-maybe the rest of our lives, so I feel like it’s well worth the effort to begin changing the laws. It’ll probably take me ten years to accomplish so I might as well get stared!
The fact that we landed on a farm whose owner is open and supportive of our lifestyle was huge. For changes to happen I feel we need support from property owners like her who have a solid place in their community and can say, “We had a tiny house on our land and it was a positive experience!” Not to mention that the situation often benefits the land owner who either receives work trade, rent or some other barter situation from tiny housers.
In my mind it’s a way to create a more locally minded economy rather than paying a bank for a mortgage we can’t afford. Cedric and I were looking at properties a couple months ago but in Vermont either you find raw land, which isn’t cheap and needs a lot of money put in to make it livable, you find a camp, which is usually only livable in Spring, Summer and Fall or you get huge houses with a price tag far beyond what we can consider.
It’s not an easy situation for the tiny house dweller but right now I’m extremely grateful to have a place to rest our weary wheels for the next year. Winter in a tiny house is a whole new issue for us and we realize we need to start getting ready now for those cold, blustery months. With all the challenges we’ve faced, I still look forward everyday to climbing into our snug little home and enjoying the knowing that it is ours, and ours alone.
Any advice on how to get started advocating change in zoning laws?
Have you received community support in your city/town living in a tiny house?