Skoolies: Surprisingly Beautiful Mobile Tiny Houses (Not Just for Hippies)

Skoolies: Surprisingly Beautiful Mobile Tiny Houses (Not Just for Hippies)

skoolies mobile tiny homesDo you have wanderlust? Do you want a tiny home to take with you as you explore the world? A converted school bus (aka a skoolie) might be the right answer for you!

Here’s the deal with skoolies. I started out as a skeptic. I had this vision that skoolies were old dilapidated buses with cramped, dark interiors. I thought they were strictly for Deadheads on their way to their next concert. Then I met my friend, Hank.

hanks skoolie interior

I was interviewing Hank for my book, Tiny House Living. His bus was beautiful, like jaw-dropping beautiful. It showed me that you can have a big, open, very good-looking space filled with natural light. It was Hank’s bus that won me over to the whole idea of skoolies and I was sold. Now, I’m seeing a whole new era of skoolies that embrace open spaces filled with light and great, aesthetic details.

So, before you dismiss skoolies as a tiny house option, check out how you can live a great tiny life in a school bus tiny house.

What Is a Skoolie?

what is a skoolie

In the simplest of terms, a skoolie is a used school bus modified for living. Skoolies are converted into RV homes for living the tiny life on the road.

Now, skoolies have been around for a long time. In fact, I remember going to college in Asheville, North Carolina and seeing old hippies living in converted school buses. The buses would line the roads all over downtown and you’d see these old guys out there playing music—busking for gas money to carry them to their next destination.

school bus turned skoolie

While bus conversion life has come a long way in terms of design and possibilities, the principles still remain the same. Skoolies are perfect for those who love the freedom of a tiny house on wheels! Converted school buses are wonderful for adventure, travel, and exploration. Plus, living in a school bus is quite comfortable. With smart planning, a skoolie will easily accommodate a family, a couple, or a single person on the road.

My friends Chris and Kelly from The Just Right Bus came to our annual conference twice, and I got to see their awesome skoolie. Their bus has a whole bathtub in it! They have AC! It’s roomie and beautiful! Kelly is a potter (I have a skoolie magnet she made for me on my fridge in my tiny house) and Chris is a medical student. They both live in the skoolie to save money as a way to keep costs down during Chris’s med school training. Skoolies can literally be the perfect tiny home for anyone.

skoolie kitchen

There’s also a big DIY element to converting a used school bus. You see, the bus itself has great bones to start with. Typically, all a skoolie owner needs to do is rip out the seats and customize the inside to their desired specifications. As soon as it’s set up, you’re ready to hit the open road.

Used school buses are perfect for conversion because they have diesel engines built to last a very long time. School systems “retire” buses early, usually when they hit about 100k miles, but often there are (hundreds of) thousands of miles left in the engine. Plus, diesel engines are easy to rebuild, making skoolies an investment that keeps on running for years and years.

Many school systems sell their used buses to countries like Mexico, where they’re used for years. There are several places to purchase used school buses for private use (as I’ve outlined below). From there, building your school bus tiny house is similar to any tiny house build.

If you’re experienced with building or customizing your tiny home already, skoolie conversion is fairly simple. Besides the obvious limitations of the shape and shell of a school bus, you can really turn these into almost any type of home you’d like. Skoolie living is great for those seeking the simplicity and customizability of a tiny home, but the mobility of an RV.

ask the experts

Why should someone consider a skoolie or bus conversion over a camper or RV?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“Our main reasons for choosing a skoolie over an RV were cost and the endless possibilities for customization.”

skoolie homes
Skoolie Homes website
Jeff & Missy Miller

“Skoolies are designed to carry our most precious cargo: our children. Thus, they are built strong and sturdy. Skoolies are customizable to each owner allowing more space right where you need it instead of predesigned RV’s. In addition, a converted bus cost less for more space and design appeal than on RV.”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“The customization aspect. You get to build it exactly as you want it instead of how a RV manufacturer wanted it. They also handle being in a crash much much better and can generally hold more weight.”

How Much Does A Used School Bus Cost?

how much does a school bus cost

So, of course, a big question when it comes to converting a school bus into a tiny house is how much does a used school bus cost in the first place?

Keep in mind, there are a lot of cost factors to consider when you look at buying a used school bus. It first depends on the type of school bus, the mileage, and the condition of the bus. If you plan to gut it and rebuild the inside, then you’ll often find a good deal on the shell.

Another piece to consider is the engine. Because diesel engines are easily rebuilt or refurbished for a few thousand dollars it may be smarter to opt for more miles and a lower price. All other factors being the same, you can still do a lot with a great shell and frame.

There several styles of school buses as well. The standard school bus is 34 feet (a 72-seater). Flat-front buses are referred to as pullers (front engine) or pushers (rear engine). School buses with a more traditional “nose” in the front are referred to as dog-nose buses. Dog-nose buses are said to be more accessible for engine work. You’ll also want to assess what size bus you’re looking for. There are many people who prefer short buses or mini-buses. With the right interior work, small buses are quite beautiful and livable.

skoolies - school bus conversion

The basic answer to the school bus price question is buses range from under $1,000 (for a real fixer-upper) to $20,000+. It seems the mid-range of $5,000-$10,000 is a good starting point to aim for (but realize it may require additional funds and sweat-equity to become livable).

There are great resources to help you decide what type of bus to buy such as:

ask the experts

How much should people budget for buying a used bus?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“Our total costs, with the purchase of the bus was around 20k. I have seen people spend a range from 10k all the way to 40k on these things. I think a lot of it depends on the size bus you’re building out, your previous knowledge level/skill set, and how much of a perfectionist you are.”

skoolie homes
Skoolie Homes website
Jeff & Missy Miller

“The costs of used buses is on the rise. When we bought our first bus it cost $750, the second was $1800 and the third was $4500. We tell people to budget between $4500-$7000.”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“Probably about 3-5 times as much as you think it’s going to cost – then if you actually guessed correctly you will be excited about all the money you have left over for your travels.”

How to Find A Used School Bus

Once you decide a skoolie conversion is within your price range and fits your lifestyle goals, it’s time to start looking. I would research the type of used school bus you’re looking for first (size, make, model, year) and then you can search for a bus almost like a car. There are used school bus dealers online that are easy to work with.

Online retailers of pre-owned and used school buses are:

Of course, eBay and Craigslist are also great places to start searching for used school buses as well. If you are open to any type of bus that comes your way, then you may find a great deal—even local! I’ve seen quite a few buses for sale, now that I’ve become aware of the whole skoolie phenomenon.

skoolie interior

Finding a bus to buy in town or nearby is helpful especially if you’re planning to rebuild or refurbish the engine. (Keep in mind, transporting a school bus by towing isn’t always cheap, so look for something you can drive, at least a short distance or plan accordingly.)

Depending on your comfort level with DIY work, check the body for issues like rust and other concerns, but I would recommend you don’t get too hung up on aesthetics because there are a lot of possibilities once you’ve purchased the basic used school bus to work with.

You’ll also want to keep the length of the used school bus in mind. There are short, mid-sized, and full-sized options. How comfortable are you with driving a full-sized bus? Since it’s not for commercial use, a CDL isn’t typically needed, but some states may require you to complete additional driving tests for “heavyweight” vehicles. Check with your local DMV so you’re prepared to drive your skoolie when it’s ready to hit the road.

How to Convert a Used School Bus into a Skoolie

how to convert a bus into a skoolie

So, you bought a used school bus, now what? The process of converting your new school bus into your new tiny home follows similar principles to any other tiny home build. You’ll want to look for inspiration, find and/or design a layout, and plan carefully. As I’ve said many times, great tiny home building starts with great planning.

There are many guides out there to help you through a school bus conversion. Most school bus conversions cost between $5,000-$30,000 (similar to a tiny house with an existing outer structure) depending on how much DIY effort you’re willing to put in and your familiarity with the tiny home building process. You’ll also need to figure costs associated with upkeep for a road vehicle (tires, vehicle maintenance, etc.).

When you think of how you’d like your converted school bus layout to look, it’s important to consider not only the aesthetics of your skoolie, but the functionality. You’ll need to consider insulation, plumbing, electric (and if you plan to use solar, how to power up on the road). Will you connect to shore power or do you plan to boondock (when you camp/park without a nearby power source)? These factors will also need consideration when you plan for water and plumbing.

skoolie bathtub

There are so many great resources to help guide you through your school bus conversion. A few helpful skoolie conversion resources I’ve found are:

If you aren’t the DIY-type (or if you would like help designing your skoolie floor plan), there are companies who specialize in building and customizing skoolies.

Like any tiny home build, you’ll want to consider all the needs of your family as you design the skoolie layout (or work with a converted school bus floor plan designer). If there are multiple people living on the converted school bus, how will you plan for privacy? Consider bathroom, kitchen, and washing needs. How will you set up for relaxation and make the bus feel like home? A unique challenge of buses is that there are lots of windows—this is great for light, but not always great for privacy, so consider how you will plan around the windows.

ask the experts

What was the hardest part about building your skoolie?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“Can we say everything?! We had no experience in anything related to construction, metal work, plumbing, electrical or mechanics, so every step was a big one for us. I would say the hardest part was the plumbing, though. We struggled with planning the plumbing, deciding where to run pipes and hang the tanks. We put this part off until way too late in the build which complicated things even further because we had already built most of the furniture and walls.”

elizabeth spenccer
Making Me Brave website
Elizabeth J.W. Spenccer

“Our skoolie was converted by Wind River Tiny Homes. They did an amazing job and took lots of the frustration out of the building process for us. The big learning curve came for us once we had the bus converted and were on the road, in the winter, trying to maintain the engine and keep the systems from freezing!”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“Everything had to be custom made from cabinets to couches to bed frames to curtains. Everything is an abnormal shape or size and therefore had to be created accordingly … allow that’s also half the fun. Making our wet bath waterproof was also a huge pain in the ass.”

Skoolie Regulations

skoolie regulations

Regulations are often sticky territory. As I’ve discussed in my post Tiny House Building Codes: 5 Myths Busted, there are often grey areas when it comes to tiny house coding, rules, and regulations. The same applies to skoolies.

For example, the issue of a CDL varies state-to-state and depending on how many “passengers” you’re driving. BUT if your skoolie functions as a home and not a bus, then technically you aren’t a commercial driver. So, again, check with your DMV to understand the guidelines on school bus RV conversions. There are also rules on modifications required to ensure the bus can’t accidentally get mistaken for a school bus.

skoolie with a view

There’s also the question of where to park. RV parking rules are the best guidelines to follow since skoolies are essentially the same as an RV. So, any place you can park your RV should also accommodate your skoolie. You may need the same permits for campgrounds, RV parks, and temporary parking facilities.

Other spots with skoolie regulation information and resources:

Skoolie life is a great option for people who want the ability to explore the world on wheels. Of course, the option to move your home around is convenient for many reasons as well. It may seem like a quirky choice, but if you’re looking for a DIY tiny home option within an existing structure, a school bus is a great way to go.

ask the experts

If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you do differently?

rolling vistas
Rolling Vistas website
Zac Anderson & Tiffany Everett

“We have talked about this a lot and we are actually really happy with our bus and don’t truly wish to change anything. If we are being very picky, I would say we would have made our bed larger, made our kitchen counter a little less deep, and left our base-boards a natural wood color so they don’t show so much dirt. That one is an easy fix though.”

elizabeth spenccer
Making Me Brave website
Elizabeth J.W. Spenccer

“We would insulate the floors. We did spray foam insulation on the walls and ceiling as well as replaced the windows, but a fair amount of cold still comes through the floor. We would also install a propane heater. Before you convert a bus be sure you are aware of the problems of carrying insurance. We were shocked that we could only get liability insurance to cover our converted bus. I have done extensive research and talked with a lot of other skoolie owners who have had the same problem. It is my only complaint with skoolies.”

vicaribus
Vicaribus website
Heather, Nick & Miles

“We wouldn’t put in a shower. It was a lot of time, hassle and money and we never ever use it. We’re either trying to save water or somewhere that has showers that you can stand up in.”

skoolie travel

Your Turn!

  • Would you consider living in a converted school bus?
  • What are your biggest concerns with school bus conversion?

How to Embrace the Basics of Hygge (Even in a Small Space)

How to Embrace the Basics of Hygge (Even in a Small Space)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard the buzz about the concept of hygge. The basics of hygge are about adopting a warm and cozy décor.

But for many people this means buying a lot of extra items—candles, blankets, or decorative items like pillows. If you prefer a minimalist lifestyle, and especially if you live in a tiny home, adopting the basics of hygge seems tough at first (but once you get started, it’s pretty easy).

embrace the basics of hygge

I was lucky to go on a spur of the moment trip to Stockholm in 2018. It was an amazing experience that really let me see just how prevalent the concept of hygge is in Nordic cultures. I was hanging out in Copenhagen and had a few days to explore, after spending Christmas with my family in Germany. Since it was my first time there, I had no idea what to expect.

Hygge was everywhere! There were charming Christmas markets, beautiful twinkling lights, churches, coffee shops, quaint stores, and museums (that managed to be both light and cozy at the same time). I really enjoyed the atmosphere and I couldn’t wait to implement some of the ideas I learned about the basics of hygge into my own home.

So, here’s what I learned during my visit to Sweden about hygge. This will help you add more warmth and comfort to your life without buying items you don’t need.

The Basics of Hygge

the basics of hygge in a small cozy space

Hygge is pronounced “hu-guh” and means warm and cozy in Swedish. It doesn’t only refer to furniture, blankets, or candles. Hygge is more of a concept or a lifestyle and it’s a big deal in Nordic countries.

The concept is quite popular in cold climates because, obviously, when the weather’s chilly, you want to stay comfortable. When you live in a small space or have limited resources, you may wonder how to still invoke a relaxing, calming feeling in your home.

To me, it’s even more important to make a small space relaxing. In a larger space, you may find more flexibility, but it can also be more difficult make larger spaces have that cozy feel. You can add lots of options. The light of a TV or overhead fluorescents aren’t as harsh in a big room. Small living, on the other hand, is all about embracing the cozy.

This may seem like a winter-only concept, but the truth is, you can implement the basics of hygge all year round. Apply the principles to your living space and you’ll find your home is more relaxing, comforting, and feels happier. It’s about a shift in mindset.

What I Learned About Hygge in Sweden

what i learned about hygge in sweden

As I said before, during my time in Copenhagen I was lucky to have a few days to explore. I really fell in love with the atmosphere and the overall vibe. When I was there, the concept of hygge really stood out to me. You’ll see the word pop up a lot in comments and reviews of different spots. Most places I went in were around 80-85 degrees (much warmer than the 75-78 degrees considered normal here in the U.S.). They really amped up the heat there.

People in Sweden also wore a lot of hats and winter accessories. They’d dress in layers with jackets, scarves, gloves, and more. So, even when people were indoors, they’d often wear several layers. In addition to wearing plenty of layers, people in Sweden love to wear sweaters.

With the long winters, there’s a lot of nesting going on, especially since the winter is so long and cold. The people of Sweden take hygge seriously, making a really cozy place to spend a good chunk of their time throughout the year.

hygge winter in sweden

There are other ways they accommodate the long winters as well. Coming from a building background, I couldn’t help noticing, that despite the really cold climate Swedish windows are typically very large. Usually houses in colder climates feature smaller, more efficient windows. But in Sweden, since the winters are long, many people have huge windows in their home to let in as much natural light as possible.

While this isn’t as efficient for heat retention, they’ve made the decision to prioritize natural light exposure. It keeps the people there feeling mentally healthy and happy during the winter months, keeping away seasonal depression disorders. This is especially key since they don’t spend a lot of time outside for at least the good part of the year.

Now, what does light have to do with coziness? A lot! Following the basics of hygge means keeping your space really bright, utilizing a lot of natural light. The décor is often quite minimal, with plenty of openness and texture. Again, hygge’s more of a feeling than anything else.

warm cabin interior

I saw lots of natural materials—wool and cotton. Textiles used in interior design are often natural and highly textured as well. I saw a lot of big fluffy blankets and soft pillows. The colors are often lighter and soft as well. This all contributes to a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere.

One of the biggest parts of hygge is the lighting. Lighting is a HUGE deal in Sweden. I saw candles and twinkle lights nearly everywhere I went. Almost every home has a really great focal fireplace in the center of the room (as opposed to the United States, where we often see TVs as the centerpiece). If a family has a TV in Sweden, it’s often hidden or set off to the side.

Softened edges, plenty of texture, neutral colors, warm wood tones, and earthy colors all contribute to the feeling of hygge along with the natural light. You see a lot of plants—succulents and leafy plants—because when you’re spending so much time indoors, plants help recycle the air and improve the air quality of the space.

candle lighting in sweden

There’s a lot of thought put into the vibe of each room when applying the basics of hygge. People think of the atmosphere and feeling more than the look or style of the place. The feeling of hygge is achieved alone or with family and friends. It’s found in a public space or in your home. What it really means is cozy, charming, light, warm, and relaxing.

Most importantly, you can’t buy hygge. It’s not about adding more stuff to your space. It’s really about clean, cozy, comfort. For this reason, you often see natural materials used in hygge design, rather than plastics, bright colors, or cold, metallic surfaces.

Adding the Essentials of Hygge to Your Home

the essentials of hygge

No matter the size of your home or the current style, adding hygge elements and accessories will create the feeling you desire. Remember, hygge is about ensuring most items serve a functional purpose. So, for example, a fireplace may serve as warmth, a cooking hearth, and a light source. Blankets are used for snuggling up on the couch, sleeping in your bed, or folded as cushions on the floor.
If you want to add the basics of hygge to your home, here are a few ways to create a soft, cozy feel.

1. Add and Use More Blankets

add blankets for warmth and a cozy factor

Warm, cozy, fluffy blankets are perfect for cuddling up and reading a book in front of the fire. Look for blankets in natural materials and light colors. You’ll see a lot of cotton blankets (especially helpful in the warmer months we see here in the United States), down comforters, and big, chunky knitted afghans. Oftentimes, blankets are used as seating, for padding a bench, or draped across the end of a bed to use as needed.

2. Layer Up in Warm Clothing

layer up for warmth

Now, if you’re like me and live in a warmer part of the United States, you may not need all kinds of layers. That said, a soft sweatshirt is practical and helpful, especially in the spring and fall when the weather gets chilly in the evening. I’ll admit I’m partial to hoodies when a chill comes into the air. Scarves, sweaters, gloves, and hats are a big part of the hygge “look” but obviously it’s all about being practical. If the weather’s warm, there’s no need. A pair of comfortable slippers or a nice warm set of socks may be plenty.

3. Embrace Mood Lighting

mood lighting in a hygge space makes it feel calm

The basics of hygge include making the most of lighting. Hygge focuses on natural, warm light and following the rhythms of the sun. So, during the day, bright sunshine through a window is nice. In the evening, warm, soft lighting from candles and strands of soft twinkling lights help you wind down and meet the time of day. Changing switches to dimmer switches is an easy DIY project and can tone down the mood of a space to the perfect Hygge lighting feel. This style of lighting is certainly practical for any lifestyle, especially the tiny life. I prefer to use natural light whenever possible.

4. Warm Up with a Fireplace

cozy fireplace for warmth on a cold winter night

It seems like everyone in Sweden has a fireplace. It’s a great way to invoke the feeling of hygge. However, if you live in a small house, you may have a wood burning stove, a firepit outside, or use another heating method. You can still get the feeling of hygge using candles and soft, dimmed lighting in the evenings. This helps prepare you for sleep and creates a toned down, relaxing atmosphere.

5. Enjoy Warm Drinks

enjoy warm drinks

Most of us enjoy coffee all year round. I like to drink mine out on the porch in the morning before I start my day. This helps me destress, prepare for the morning, and gather my thoughts. If you’re not a fan of coffee (or prefer hot drinks later in the day), how about a cup of hot chocolate or tea? Cozying up with reading material, a soft blanket, and a warm beverage is the ultimate way to unwind and get the hygge feeling (no matter the time of year).

6. Move Away from Technology

embrace simplicity

While we may not think of hygge as synonymous with minimalism, they do have similar values. With hygge, you embrace cozy simplicity. This means putting down your phone, turning off the TV, and taking time for more mindful activities. Reading, listening to music, and even journaling will help you get into the spirit of hygge. As I said, I barely noticed TVs in Sweden, and they certainly weren’t the focal point of the room. Taking a break from your phone will give you a chance to relax, feel less stressed, and get refreshed.

7. Declutter Your Home

declutter your home

Here’s the deal, many people own stuff just to, well, own stuff. They forget the purpose of owning stuff is to serve a function and enhance your life. The essentials of hygge living, include decluttering and letting go of stuff that weighs you down. Hygge should help you feel safe, cozy, and happy, not weighed down and stressed out. This means cutting out the clutter and parsing down to what really matters. Buy quality items that are built to last.

8. Avoid Hard Edges

avoid hard edges in hygge

With soft fabrics and fluffy textures, hygge is all about softness and comfort. This means natural materials without sharp, hard edges and lines. Furniture and room décor should fit with this comfort-focused approach as well. Plants and lights, wood, stone, cotton, wool and other natural components are important to creating the feeling of soft, fluffy hygge.

9. Create a Space to Gather

create gathering spaces

I typically prefer to entertain or gather outside when I have visitors, but this doesn’t mean an outdoor gathering can’t still invoke the basics of hygge. When your friends are enjoying themselves around a campfire in the yard, wrapped in blankets, enjoying conversation, it still fits with the idea behind hygge. When you live in a small space, entertaining is often a challenge, so organize the room around your kitchen table, your stove, or fireplace (rather than the TV). This helps people connect without distraction and enjoy each other’s company.

10. Enjoy Comfort Food

enjoy comfort food

One of the biggest ways to enjoy hygge all year round, in any space, is to embrace comfort food. The concept of hygge is all about being warm and welcoming. Mealtime should fit with this same philosophy. Think of a delicious bowl of soup, golden cornbread, or a yummy pot pie. Even in the summer months, a delicious bowl of chili is everyone’s favorite and there’s nothing better than pasta on a cold winter day, right? Focus on foods that are warming, rich, filling, and delicious for the ultimate comfort.

If you’re looking to make your home a more relaxing place of retreat and rest, embracing the basics of hygge are a great way to do it. Even if you live in a very small space, it’s not about adding more stuff to your home, but selecting functional, natural items that will bring you comfort.

Your turn!

  • What are your favorite ways to make your space comfortable?
  • How do you relax and create a cozy feeling?

How Much Does A Tiny House Cost: From Someone Who’s Done It

How Much Does A Tiny House Cost: From Someone Who's Done It

how much does a tiny house cost

If you were like me when I first started I have one big question: how much does a tiny house cost to build?  Now that I’ve actually built my own tiny house and come out the other side, I wanted to do the full tiny house cost breakdown for others that want to live in a tiny house on wheels.

How Much Does A Tiny House Cost?

the average price of tiny house

The average tiny house costs between $10,000 and $30,000 to build yourself, double those numbers if you hire a builder to build it for you.  But that is only part of the picture and depending on options, the price can vary a lot.  Many people are hoping to build their tiny house at a certain price point because of budget constraints or other factor, so the real question becomes, what’s the difference between a $10,000 tiny house and a $50,000 tiny house?

Tiny House Cost Breakdown

tiny house cost breakdown

What’s great about tiny houses is they’re really an approachable size, so it’s pretty easy to think through a cost breakdown for each part of a tiny house.

  • Trailer: $3,500 to $5,500
  • Windows: $500-$$6,000
  • Metal roofing: $500 to $2,000
  • Insulation: $500 to $3000
  • Siding: $1,000 to $2,500
  • Lumber: $1,000 to $5,000
  • Interior finishes: $500-$4,000
  • Electrical: $750 to $3,000
  • Shower: $400 to $1,000
  • Water heater: $500 to $1000
  • HVAC: $500 to $1,500
  • Toilet: $20-$800
  • Fixtures: $1,000-$5,000
  • Appliances: $400 to $4,000
  • Interior wall: $500 to $1000
  • Flooring: $300 to $1,000
  • Fasteners/Adhesives: $1,500
  • Paint: $50 to $200

Tiny House Building Materials List:

tiny house materials list

When it comes to getting a true sense of a tiny house cost, you need to understand the different materials that go into your tiny house.  When I first started my build, I had never done anything like it before, but what I realized is if I break down the house into different parts, I could make it even more manageable, that’s how we’ll figure out costs.

The big thing to know is most of your budget will be dedicated to your trailer, doors/windows, roof, and mechanical.  These are things that I wouldn’t skimp on at all, I’d buy the best I could afford.  This will account for 80% of your costs.  For an example my trailer cost me $3,600, my doors and windows were $6,000, roof was $2,600, and HVAC was $1,800.

Trailer

tiny house trailer

The trailer for your tiny house is one of those places you don’t want to skip and you don’t want to mess around.  I’ve see it now a hundred time, someone trying to save money by getting a used trailer.  Unless you are already handy with metal working and have some experience, you won’t save any money going the used route because fixes, repairs, reinforcements, a new paint job and new tires and wheels will leave you broke.

I have personally watch over 100 people try it and fail to save a dime.  What’s worse, they worry about their trailer not being good enough, which is a nightmare when you home is relying on it.

The next thing I see is people overspending for “tiny house trailers” that are purpose built.  The differences are minor and all you’re really paying for their markup.  None of the tiny house trailer sellers actually make them, so go to the source: Big Tex Trailers, Kaufman Trailers, etc.

Estimated Costs:  20 foot trailer: $2,800, 24 foot trailer: $3,000, 30 foot trailer $4,500

Windows For A Tiny House

tiny house windows

I spent a lot on my windows because they were all custom, but if you buy standard window sides and don’t mind white vinyl windows you can save a ton.  My windows cost me around $6,500 for double pane, argon filled, low-e glass that was tempered glass.  You definitely want tempered glass that are high quality and good efficiency.

Windows are one of those things that it can be tempting to try to save money on by going low quality, but you’ll pay for it in your electric bill month after month for the rest of your life.

Estimated Costs: $120 per window for stock sizes, $250 per window for custom options

Doors For A Tiny House

tiny house doors

I wanted to try my hand at building my own door and this was one thing that I struggled with immensely.  Even with the help of my Grandfather who is quite a skilled woodworker, we had a tough time building the door.  If I had to do it all over again I’d go with a metal or composite door bought from a manufacturer.

The problem you face with doors is they have to be exceedingly accurate and that is compounded by how wood moves, warps, and twists.  We employed a lot of techniques to stabilized the wood within the door, but in the end my door is still far from perfect.  Do yourself a favor, have a door manufacturer build your door for you.

Estimated Costs: $500 for self built door, $800 for basic manufactured door $1,500 good to high-end manufactured door

Roofing Options For A THOW

tiny house roofing options

The roof is a critical part of a tiny house, it keeps your investment safe from water.  It’s not something to do casually, you need to really nail it or it can spell disaster for you.  For a tiny house on wheels that you might want to move, metal roofing is the only practical option.  I opted for standing seam metal, which is amazing, but a ribbed metal or corrugated metal roof can work too.

The tricky parts of doing a metal roof is in bending all the custom bits to fit your edges, valleys, drip edges, and skylights.  That last one, skylights, are notorious for leaks on any roof, so make sure you follow the manufacture directions, most of them sell kits that cost an arm and a leg, but I’d just bite the bullet on that, it’s that important.

If you’re thinking of asphalt shingles, don’t bother.  They are too heavy and they get torn off while driving down the road.

Estimated Costs: $1,000 for ribbed metal, $2,000 for standing seam

Insulating Your Tiny House

tiny house insulation

Much like windows, insulation is one of those things that you spend a little more and you save each month for years.  The return on your investment is huge, so don’t skimp here.

In the early days I’d suggest a few options like standard fiberglass bats, foam board, and even sheep’s wool.  Now that I’ve been working with tiny houses for over a decade, I see how those options have their failings.  I now unilaterally recommend closed cell spray foam.

The benefits of spray foam are many, but ability to seal your thermal envelope, it’s water resistance, and its ability to prevent condensation issues are leaps ahead of any other option.  Not only that, but it has the highest R value per inch out of any other practical option.

So this is an easy one, go with closed cell spray foam.  If you have a contractor that recommends open cell, send them packing.

Estimated Costs: $3 per square foot for 3 inches thick (R 21)

Lumber To Build Your House

tiny house lumber

This can have a wide range of prices depending on what finish quality you go after, but for your standard framing pieces it’s all about the same.  There are two real buckets of lumber that you’ll need: framing and finish.

Framing for a tiny house will be very affordable, a few hundred dollar, up to about $1000 for the whole house depending on it’s size and any specialized beams like Glue-Lams.  There isn’t much price difference here, with the exception of treated vs untreated lumber.

Finish woods are where you can spend some real money, from a few hundred to a few thousand.  At it’s simplest you could build out your interior cabinets and built ins with MDF which runs about $35 a sheet.  My preference is Birch Ply which runs about $50 a sheet because I can stain it or paint it, it’s a much nicer project.  The only non sheet good products you’ll use is timber beams for your accents and loft framing.  For that I spent about $80 per beam and had 5 of them.

Estimated Cost: $500-$4,000

Flooring Options For Your Tiny House

tiny house flooring

Flooring is one area that you can look for savings on. You can find reclaimed flooring, you can buy short lots of flooring, and you can even go with a cheap option now and upgrade later.  I’ve even seen people do a finished floor with plywood.

So when it comes to flooring you can really run the gamut depending on the price you want to spend.  For me I went with a solid hardwood maple floor that was about $4 a square foot.

Estimated Cost: $0.50-$8 per square foot

Electrical/Plumbing In A Tiny House

tiny house electric and plumbing

Wiring and plumbing your tiny house can be done pretty affordably if you want to do it yourself, if you need to hire a trades person, then it’s going to cost you.  it’s important to note that by law in many places you need a permit and the work needs to be done by a licensed electrician or plumber.

In my area an electrician costs between $75 and $150 an hour, plumbers are about the same.  For me, what I did was have the electrician do the main breaker panel connection and setup, then I did the rest of the work.  For the plumber, I had everything done and just had him come in and do all my crimps for me and check over my work.

The thing with electrical and plumbing most of the money and the variability in the price is in the labor, the parts are what they are, you’re not going to be able to shop for better prices because they are such a commoditization type of goods.  The copper, brass, etc that makes up the raw materials are what they are.  Figure about $300-$500 in electrical stuff and $300-$500 in plumbing items.  This doesn’t include finished stuff like faucet, shower, etc, just the actual connections.

Estimated Cost: $750-$3,000

Fixtures

tiny house fixtures

I’m lumping in things like your lights, bathtubs, shower stalls, sinks, mounted fans, etc.  You can do this very cheaply outside of the shower, I’ve found that you can only get so low with a simple 32″x32″ shower stall for around $400.  You could technically do it cheaper, but I’ve found they often fail and lead to massive water damage.

Sinks can cost $50 or cost $500, my sink cost me about $225 for a nice stainless steel under mounted sink.  My light fixtures were pretty cheap, a bunch of $10 puck lights and a $80 ceiling fan.

Estimated Cost: $1,000-$5,000

Fasteners And Adhesives

tiny house fasteners and adhesives

This is one category that people always forget to budget for and it’s something you can’t reuse or find second hand.  You need quality fasteners and glues that are new because you need to know exactly what you’re getting for safety sake.  Code also has very specific rules around this.

For me I spend around $1500 for all my nails, screws, metal strapping, glues, and various metal ties.

Estimated Cost: $1,500

 

Tiny House Costs: Build Vs. Buying From A Builder

Here’s the truth, if you want someone to build you a tiny house, it’s going to cost you big time.  Tiny houses came into being because you could save yourself so much money because of two things:  They’re smaller in sized and you could build it yourself.  There is no way around it, having a tiny house builder build you a tiny house will cost more money.

The rule of thumb I tell people is take the cost of the materials and then double it.  About 50%-60% of the cost of a home (tiny or traditional) is in the labor.  So a tiny house that costs $10,000 in materials, will cost about $20,000-$25,000 from a builder.  A tiny house that is $30k in materials, will cost around $60,000-$75,000 for a builder to build it for you.  If you use a builder, make sure to get a contract!

This leads me to the big take away, tiny houses only really make sense if you can build it yourself and the really good news is that I believe literally anyone can build their own tiny house, even if you’ve never build something before.  It’s totally doable and if you want to live in a tiny house, you shouldn’t pay a builder in my opinion, you should build it yourself.

You’ll save a ton of money, learn valuable skills and you know your house will be built right because you did it, not some builder who’s trying to turn out a house each month to earn a profit.

The good news is anyone, yes even you, can build a tiny house.  If you’ve never used a tool in your life, never built anything, if you aren’t that strong or don’t know how… You can build a tiny house.  I put all the info together for you in my book:  How To Build A Tiny House.

Tiny Houses Cost Money, But It’s Worth It

are tiny houses worth the effort

When I made the leap to living in a tiny house I was concerned due to how much it was costing me.  But I knew if I could live in my tiny house for 2 years, it would be the same amount as me having paid rent in an apartment in my city.  Now looking back, it’s been over 5 years of living in my tiny house full time and I couldn’t be happier.  With more money in the bank than ever while working less hours, it’s a winning combination.

Since going tiny, I’ve left my corporate job for a better self employment path, I work way less hours, make more money and spend more time with friends, family and traveling.  It’s an amazing lifestyle and it all starts by taking charge of your life and going tiny.

Your Turn!

  • What costs are you considering when it comes to your tiny house?
  • What budget are you working with for a tiny house?

How to Destress Your Life

How to Destress Your Life

how to destress your lifeI get asked for advice by a lot of readers. One of the most common is how to destress your life and live a simpler, calmer existence.

Now, I’ll admit, paring down and living a life with less stuff has helped address the root cause of my stress quite a bit. The simpler your lifestyle, the less chaos you need to worry about. Minimalism lends itself to a calm, orderly way to focus on what matters.

But, of course, there are plenty of times when I get stressed out about money, too many commitments, or social drama. Even though I’ve managed to cut way back on the typical stressors, there are times when I still have to step back and destress. So, if you’re wondering how to destress your life, here are the practical steps I take to cut out the chaos.

1. Recognize Your Stress

recognizing stress

Many people don’t know how to recognize stress or figure out when they’re feeling it. Yes, there are obvious signs of anxiety or distress, but with “normal” stressors, many people don’t even realize how much they’re feeling.

Sometimes, small stressors will eat at you. You won’t realize it until you’re completely stressed out, seeing effects on your sleep, eating habits, and happiness. This is especially common when people are very busy. You may look back on periods of your life and think, “Woah, my stress was way out of control and I didn’t even know it at the time.”

Personally, when I get stressed, I clean. Suddenly it’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m scrubbing down my kitchen and I’ll stop and realize there’s something weighing on my mind. I don’t normally grab a broom and start cleaning just because. It’s typically a sign I’m really feeling pressure and I need to figure out how to destress my life.

recognize what gives you stress

Maybe cleaning isn’t your coping mechanism. Some people eat sweets, some people run, some people sleep, others stop sleeping, while others lose themselves in a TV show or video game. Whatever your coping method is, it’s important to recognize it.

If you recognize the signs of a stressful time, it will better help you know how to destress your life by taking the right approach to mitigate the problem. From there, strategize ways to address the root cause of your distress.

Some people experience common signs of stress, while others show very minor symptoms that go unnoticed (but still ultimately take their toll. A friend of mine told me she really only notices she’s stressed when every little thing gets under her skin—an offhanded comment, traffic, minor inconveniences. Another friend grinds his teeth in his sleep.

Discover your signs of stress and learn to recognize them right away. This will help you start to plan your approach to address the stressors.

2. Cancel One Appointment

cancel one appointment to reduce your stress level

If you want to know how to destress your life, take a look at your calendar first. How packed is your agenda? How much free time do you have scheduled? Is your calendar full and your to-do list long?

The first action I take when I’m feeling stressed is to look at my schedule for the week and find something I can cancel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fun social outing with a friend, an activity I had planned, or a show I have tickets for. I write it off.

Now, a lot of people push back on this idea. There’s a lot of guilt tied up in our commitments. People are convinced they can’t possibly cancel anything.  It would be laughable how predictable humans are on this point if it weren’t for the fact their health was taking a hit by being so stressed. So, put aside your excuses, your reasons, just choose something, and cancel it.

cancel appointment to make life easier

Even if you live a minimalist lifestyle and simplify your routine as much as possible, chances are, your calendar still gets booked now and then. Be mindful of how you schedule your time.

The counterfoil to stress is time to step back, catch your breath and collect your thoughts. What helps you destress? Is it exercise? Cooking? Reading a book? Whatever your hobbies are, take that chunk of (now free) time and enjoy yourself.

Going forward, learning to say “no” is one of the most empowering actions you can take. Avoid scheduling or committing when you know it will cause you undue stress. Learn to say no to perceived obligations and let go of feeling guilty. Remember, when your schedule is less stressful and packed, your work will improve, you’ll feel happier, and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the activities remaining on your calendar.

3. Fix the Actual Problem to Destress Your Life

fix the problem to fix stress

Many people attempt to fill up a leaky bucket by adding more water instead of stopping the hole. When it comes to stress, people feel like they should pour more time, energy, and effort into the problem, rather than addressing it at the root. This is a vicious cycle, one that will run you into the ground, leaving you sick, tired, and worse off than before.

The next time you’re wondering how to destress your life, step back and ask, “Why am I stressed about this? How did I get in this situation in the first place?”

Money is a good example of this. People often stress about their finances and debt without addressing the root cause. How do you minimize your spending and figure out a way to stop living a lifestyle you can’t afford? I’ll admit, when I decided to shift into tiny space living, it was mainly out of financial necessity. I realized I simply couldn’t afford to live otherwise. Once I made the choice to address the problem, money became much less stressful. I could afford the way I was living and that was freeing.

I still push myself to address the money stress often. I’ve been on a buying freeze for the last year (buying only consumables and necessities), which has gone very well. I’m surprised at how much it’s helped me really focus on my needs and prioritize.

what bothers you, fix that

There’s not enough credence given to creatively fixing problems, either. For example, if your house is always a mess, instead of stressing out over cleaning (or not having enough time to clean), why not look into how much a housekeeper costs? Is it worth it to you to hire a housekeeper and eliminate the root cause of your stress? Another example: I hate doing laundry. I pay $15 per week for someone to do my laundry. Is it an extra expense? Yes, but it’s 100% worth it. One of the most stressful jobs on my plate is gone.

We can often fix problems simply and cheaply for good if we think about new ways to address our stress. Can you afford to outsource the problem? What could you do preemptively to avoid the problem in the future?

If you have financial issues, could you schedule time to review your budget each week or month? If you hate doing dishes, could you commit to rinsing them each night before they pile up too much? Could you schedule laundry time twice a week to avoid falling behind?

4. Set Up Rituals and Routines

setup routines to help with the chaos in life

Ritual and routine are the secret way to destress your life. When we face chaos and uncertainty, it adds to our stress. Even deciding what to wear each day, what to eat, or how to plan your workday all become additional stressors.

Minimizing your lifestyle helps to reduce these extraneous stressors immensely. For example, dressing in a sort of uniform style takes the stress out of deciding what to wear to work each day. You don’t have to eat the same food for lunch every day, but packing your lunch routinely each night will help you prepare without hassle in the morning.

When you wake up every morning, aim for a similar time. Set up a regular morning routine (especially since mornings are notoriously stressful for many people). Wake up, take a shower, make breakfast, sip coffee. Personally, I like to drink my coffee on the front porch while I figure out my plan for the day.

set up routines to help with every day stress

These rituals become anchors for us in times of chaos. The idea is, even if your life is a mess over there, you know what to expect over here because you have a ritual and a routine. It helps to create more balance.

Be sure to build in something you really love in your daily routine. Take a short walk, listen to music, check out a podcast. Whatever it is, that calms you down, build it in. Take time for those little rewards so you feel refreshed and recharged.

On the same note, don’t let your ritual or routine become an obsession. Stress often stems from fighting against the flow and trying to keep up with everything in our lives. If your routine breaks for a day, no big deal. You may forget, may not have time, or may simply want to do something else. That’s totally fine. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Staying on a routine even offers health benefits like better sleep and less anxiety. So yes, it may seem a bit boring to stick to a routine but in the long run, it will help you figure out how to destress your life and keep up with whatever life throws your way.

5. Schedule Time for Nothing

schedule nothing to make life eaiser and happier

When I had a big corporate job, there were times when I had to create pockets on my schedule to destress (and to keep my boss and coworkers from requesting my attention). I would put a webinar or another “away” note on my calendar, giving me a little uninterrupted time to finish up my projects, think creatively, and problem solve.

If your schedule is back-to-back all day, you may need to sign yourself out of your email, put an away message on your office Slack channel, or simply block out “busy” time on your calendar. These little breaks give you a chance to breathe, collect your thoughts, and will honestly enhance your performance.

schedule nothing to relax and enjoy life

If you can’t afford to take time out of your workday, be sure you’re at least taking full advantage of your breaks and lunchtime. Employers should give you time to get in a walk, eat your food away from your desk, and recharge. There’s a tendency in today’s corporate culture to see if employees can out-do each other by taking on more and more work. This tendency leads to burnout and stress.

When you’re out of the office or outside working hours, take time for yourself at home as well. Allow yourself time to do the activities that refresh you and recharge your batteries. Block out time on your calendar to simply think or if you like, meditate. No matter what you do, don’t feel guilty about it—this free time is helping you perform better at your job and life!

6. Put Away Your Phone

put away your phone and enjoy life

Phones are a real problem for many people. Try as we might, most of us can’t get rid of (or put down) our phones. There’s a constant barrage of messages, notifications, emails, and activities pulling at our attention and eating away at our time.

Unless you’re a doctor, a heart surgeon, nurse, or EMT, most telephone communications aren’t critical. Typically speaking, you can wait 20-30 minutes to return a phone call and even more time to return an email. (After all, if it was really all that urgent, wouldn’t they call?) Put down your phone and give yourself a chance to focus on what’s going on around you. The more you give yourself permission to stop being at the literal beck and call of everyone around you, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Cutting back on your phone (and internet) use is one simple minimalist habit that will make your life better. Remember, you don’t need to be there emotionally or mentally for everyone right away. It will only add to your stress.

Similarly, don’t answer work-related correspondence outside of work hours. Whenever you reply to an email or take a phone call, it sets the expectation with your boss and coworkers (or clients) you’re readily available all the time. Give it a break when you aren’t on the clock. No career, no matter how critical, should expect you to stay on-call 24 hours a day. Even doctors know they can burn out and make mistakes under stress.

put away your phone and talk to people

Recognize how social media may stress you out as well. If you want to know how to destress your life, stop comparing your life to others online. Don’t get involved in the drama we often see in online conversations. If you find yourself stressing about something someone said on social media, it’s probably time to take a break.

Stress is a natural part of life. There are many people who tell us adding more “stuff” to our lives—from lavender scented candles to white noise machines—will help us destress. There are others who encourage building in more time at the gym, more yoga lessons, or classes on stress reduction. While some of those suggestions may help in the long run, most people simply need a fast way to destress now.

Think of ways to remove stressors from your life. Spend less money on stuff you don’t need. Cut back on social obligations you don’t enjoy. Say no to commitments that rob you of your free time. Destressing your life is doable, especially if you cut back and learn to live with less.

Your turn:

  • How do you destress?
  • What do you do to make time for yourself?

How to Find Products You Only Need to Buy Once in a Lifetime

Choosing products you buy once in a lifetime
Living a (close to) zero-waste lifestyle means only buying what’s really necessary, and when you do need to purchase, finding products you only need to buy once. There are times when I’ve found items I needed to buy or replace only to be disappointed when the new product breaks down. So, how do you find products you only need to buy once?

You see, everything’s built to last a finite amount of time. A rule of manufacturing is to never invent the perfect lightbulb. Back when lightbulbs were first made, they were practically indestructible. Lightbulb makers quickly realized their business wouldn’t last long if they made lightbulbs you only need to buy once. Thus, lightbulbs were made with filaments to burn out after a few years. Occasionally you’ll see one of these very old lightbulbs that keeps shining, but as we know, lightbulbs, like many other products, aren’t built to last a lifetime.

There are, however, certain items you only need to buy once. Either they’re guaranteed to last or they’re built with such high-quality workmanship, they keep working for years. Here are the rules you should use to find practical products you only need to buy once in a lifetime.

How to Find Quality Products You Only Need to Buy Once

find quality products
For the last year, I’ve tried to maintain a zero (or close to zero) waste lifestyle. The biggest step I’ve taken toward doing this is that I’ve largely stopped buying anything other than consumables (like food, toilet paper, and toiletries). Not only does this cut back on the amount of waste and trash I produce, but it’s also great for saving money.

When I do need to buy or replace an item due to wear and tear, this is how I go about finding quality products I only need to buy once (or at least won’t need to buy again for a very long time).

Research the Life of the Product

research product life

I’m a big proponent of researching before I ever spend money on an item. This was especially true as I built and outfitted my tiny house. Of course, there are certain cases when I haven’t had time for extensive research, but usually I follow a rule to check reviews and thoroughly compare options before I buy.

At the very least, I always read the reviews on any product I plan to purchase. I look for independent reviews and unbiased sources whenever possible (and I post my own product reviews for others). Of course, most manufacturers put glowing reviews of their own products on their website, so it’s usually not the best source for honest product comparisons or learning the pros and cons. Look for independent sources. For example, when looking into solar ovens, I tested several brands against each other and posted my solar oven reviews online as a helpful resource.

Solar Oven Review and Guide

I look for review forums that I trust. If I’m looking for tiny house supplies, like a power generator or solar panel gear, I go to other tiny house forums and websites. Someone with a large cabin or a residential home will offer a very different perspective on these types of items because chances are their needs are different from mine. As a blogger, I also think it’s very important to share my own experience to help others navigate issues like how to find the best tiny house plans.

When I’m buying a larger item like an appliance or electronic, I’ll also check Consumer Reports (when possible). Most of their product reviews are only accessible with a paid membership, but many public libraries carry issues of the printed reports. It may also be worth the cost to access a report before a major purchase.

consumer reports for product reviews

Reviews on Amazon and Google are also helpful for products, but because they aren’t as carefully regulated, be wary of bias and false reviews. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people give items a poor review for strange reasons like, “It didn’t fit on my counter” or “the color didn’t match my house.” Read with discretion, paying close attention to mentions about the life of the product, common problems, and customer support offered by the manufacturer.

One tip is to read the 3-star reviews. People selling the product are only going to give themselves 4- or 5-star reviews. Competitors might try to fake bad reviews with 1- or 2-star reviews. Three-star reviews are the sweet spot; no one is going to pay for a fake 3-star review, so you can usually get a good view on what the product is really like.

There are also sites like Buy Me Once and Buy This Once that offer full listings of products built to last. Many of these items either feature a lifetime guarantee or are so highly durable, they’re proven to last years, so you only need to buy once. Reddit’s sub r/buyitforlife is a great source to learn what will last and get advice.

Budget to Spend Extra

budget to spend extra on quality goods

Personally, I tend to live on the frugal side. However, I’m willing to spend extra if it’s an investment in quality. I’m a firm believer of avoiding a “pennywise and pound foolish” mentality. This is especially true if you’re seeking items you only need to buy once. As a general rule, if I use something every day, I give myself the permission to spend big if I find the perfect item.

For example, I ordinarily wouldn’t spend $20 on a pair of socks, but these Darn Tough Wool Socks feature multiple excellent reviews, promising they’re durable. Better yet, the company offers a lifetime unconditional warranty. So, if you stick to a uniform wardrobe like I do, then a few pairs of tough, long-lasting socks may be the last sock purchase you ever need to make. In that case, the price seems worth it.

darn tough socks

Of course, there are other times when the price isn’t justified. For example, buying certain brand name cast iron cookware is more expensive than a second-hand, generic, or cheaper brand cast iron skillet. Yet, the life of cast iron is proven across the board. So, in this case, paying extra for a fancy brand at a culinary supply store isn’t worth your investment.

For the most part, quality items require more workmanship, design, and high-quality materials. The reality is quality is often more expensive. If you research the product thoroughly before purchasing, you’ll get a good idea if the price tag is justified.

lodge cast iron skillet

The other area to look at is the planned use of the product. If you’d like to find a product you only need to buy once but plan to use every day, a high price is easier to defend. A pair of dress shoes that cost $100 that you wear once or twice a year means you’ll pay $10-25 per wear over the next few years. On the other hand, a quality pair of sneakers that cost $100 but you plan to wear every day may cost much less than $1 per wear over their lifetime.

Test the Return Policy

test return policy on products you buy

Does the product come with a lifetime guarantee? Does the store offer a “no hassle” return policy?

Don’t feel afraid to test the limits of warranties, guarantees, and return policies. Typically, when a guarantee is offered it’s because the manufacturer believes the product is built to last. The other reason is company owners know returns are a hassle, so they bet on the fact most people won’t take them up on the promise. They may also require complicated documentation in the hope customers will give up.

It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, keep receipts, (typically a scan or photograph is acceptable, but read the fine print) and send back warranty cards, especially on major purchases. If you’re already minimizing the number of items you buy, then chances are you won’t have many receipts and warranties to keep track of anyway. Certain credit card companies also offer purchase protection and extended warranties on major purchases.credit card

Many retail stores—like grocery stores—guarantee the quality of their products as well. This means when you find produce that goes bad too fast, or mold on a block of recently purchased cheese before the expiration date, return the item to the store for an exchange or refund. While consumables aren’t meant to last a lifetime, it’s still worth it to ensure you get what you pay for. Stores with great return policies include Nordstrom, Costco, and Eddie Bauer. Both Aldi and Trader Joe’s offer satisfaction guaranteed, easy returns.

Ask Around Before You Buy

ask around before buying

Another way to find products you only need to buy once is to ask around! Talk to your friends and see what they’ve found reliable and trustworthy. Check with product experts and repair people to find out what products will really stand the test of time. See if someone will let you test, borrow, or check out the product so you can see it in use.

worn red wing bootsIt’s amazing how experience changes your impression of a product. Many of us feel gung ho about a purchase at first, but then once we’ve tried it for a while, we may change our perspective. I like to check with friends who’ve used a product for a long time before I go out and purchase it for myself. Everyone loves a new set of pots and pans, a great kitchen knife, or new power tools. The real question is, how do they feel about those same products 3, 5, even 10 years down the road?

Again, this type of information sharing is so important, especially in the tiny house world. When you have a minimal amount of space and are living a minimalist lifestyle, each purchase should be deliberate and long-lasting. This is, again, one of the main reasons why I like to share reviews as much as possible with my readers. I also like to do follow up reviews, like my three year review on the Luggable Loo composting toilet.

When you ask someone you trust for their opinion, you know you’re getting the full, unbiased picture of how the product will work. I’ve found maintenance and repair guys often offer a lot of insight on products like power tools, small machines, and appliances because they’re the ones who get called in when something goes wrong. So, listen to the advice of friends and those with experience!

Seek Quality Materials and Simple Designs

quality-materials

Call it the Occam’s razor theory of finding items you only need to buy once: the simplest choice is often the best. Typically, products that last will feature simple, straightforward design and are made from the highest quality materials. Truth be told, a simple design is loaded with nuances and details you have to get perfect.

When it comes to design, the reason simple products are the best is well…simple. When there are a lot of bells and whistles, there’s more pieces to break. There are more areas where something will go wrong. Unnecessary complexity leads to bigger complications and concerns. Think of all the different “cutting-edge” technology and gadgets that flopped after consumers got their hands on them. When something breaks on a complicated machine, it’s often the “extras” that cause a problem.

surefire flashlight

While it’s tempting to seek the latest and greatest product with the most modern conveniences and digitization, at the end of the day, simplicity and function win out. Think about what you really want the product to do, then seek a trusted brand with quality materials and manufacturing.

For example, Stanley Thermos has been around for hundreds of years. The simple, insulated design works time and time again, even as new versions of water bottles, coffee mugs, and thermos-type containers come out on the market every day. It seems the more complex the designs, the more likely imitation brands are to leak, spill, or lose heat. Many reviewers report they’re still using Stanley thermoses for 25, even 40 years (that said, there are reports the quality declined in recent years). Stanley also offers a lifetime warranty.

mason jars

Another example is DeWALT tools. The simple designs and quality materials have been used for decades and they’ve become a household name and standard. They also offer a lifetime warranty and have stood strongly behind their products.

I’m a big fan of using mason jars for storage as well. They work much better than plastic products, seal tighter, and are usable again and again. When you’re looking for a solution to a household problem, the tried and true answer is often the best. Look at what your parents or grandparents did. While modern conveniences and technological advances have improved many areas of life, there are also places where it’s unnecessarily complicated life too.

Ryan’s Top Ten Lifetime Products (for Everyone)

top ten lifetime products

I’m not a proponent of going out to buy items you don’t need simply because they’re recommended. Use what you have on hand first and wait until you’re ready to replace it. Once you are ready to buy a new item, here are my top ten items you only need to buy once (or will at least last for years).

1. Cast Iron Skillet

lodge cast iron skillet

2. Mason Jars (for storage, cooking, drinking)

mason jar

3. Vitamix 5200 Blender

vitamix blender

4. Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle thermos

stanley thermos

5. Chef Knife

chef knife

6. KitchenAid Artisan Tilt-Head Stand Mixer

kitchenaid-mixer

7. Pendleton Wool Blanket

pendleton blanket

8. Yeti Cooler

yeti cooler

9. SureFire LED Flashlights

surefire flashlight

10. Le Creuset Dutch Oven

lecreuset-dutch-oven

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of how to buy smart, so you only need to buy once or twice in the future. Choose high quality items, read reviews, and do your research before you spend your hard-earned money on products that won’t last.

Your turn!

  • What quality products have you found that are built to last?
  • What stores and retailers offer superior warranties and customer care?