Today we have a post written by Jody Brady, she and her husband had came to the very first Tiny House Conference and through their journey of learning, building their own tiny house and living in it full time ever since, I’ve had them come speak at the Conference. You can read more about them, their life and their amazing house at: http://simplyenough.weebly.com
This April, we’re happy to return as speakers at The Tiny House Conference in Charlotte, NC. It will mark four years since we attended the conference as volunteers, trying to figure out if we were really going to build a tiny house. Showing up at that conference was an important part of our “tiny” journey, some six years in the making.
Our first “aha” moment came almost ten years ago. We were living in a neighborhood we loved, in a big house we’d shared with more family and friends than I can remember now. But they’d all moved on, and there was just the two of us, sitting in our family room trying to remember the last time one of us had been in the basement apartment or the guest room—or the living and dining rooms, for that matter. We lived in a few rooms, but paid the mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance and utility bills on the entire 3,000-square-foot house. We realized the house owned us.
Money was only part of what was troubling us. We’d gone to several Solar Decathlons sponsored by the Department of Energy. At these events, college teams compete to make energy efficient homes, but the competition goes beyond energy consumption. Aesthetics, livability, sustainability of materials and cost are all evaluated, as well. Before we’d ever heard of the tiny house movement, it was these beautiful, compact, sustainable homes that inspired us. We saw that it was possible to tread a little lighter on the planet without sacrificing anything.
Add to that, all the time our house demanded of us. Painting the house inside and out took months of our “free time.” Repairing the decks. Landscaping. Cleaning. Not to mention the hours and hours and hours we felt trapped in jobs we didn’t want to be doing just to pay the mortgage.
So, though we loved where we lived, we came to the realization that the house had to go. We put it on the market before we knew what would come next. I was reminded of a phrase from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: “Leap and the net will appear. ” We leapt, and we sold the house just before the real estate crash of 2008. Thanks to that fortunate timing and all the work we’d done on the house, we made a lot of money on it. We also sold most of our furniture. Things I thought I couldn’t part with at first, but quickly came to realize I didn’t miss: a grandfather’s clock we’d bought on impulse, our dining and living room furniture, our dressers and side tables, our second set of dishes, our kayaks. (Well, truth be told, we’ve missed the kayaks more than all the other things combined.)
What made the process easier was focusing on what mattered to us. I love my Grandma Mae’s china—so we kept that and started using it everyday, rather than storing it away for special occasions. I love the antique silver that came from my other grandmother. That stayed. So did old books and rugs, travel mementos and art. What went: things we could go out and buy again at a store. Duplicates. Things hidden away in boxes and closets—many of them we’d forgotten we owned. We went digital with our snapshots and music (and made decent money selling off all the CDs.)
We learned along the way how best to get value out of what we were selling. We sold collectibles on eBay, antiques at auction, furniture on CraigsList, household items at yard sales. Every dollar in bought us time to figure out what we wanted to do. When a relative asked us to fix up a condo she wanted to sell, we were ready for this rent-free opportunity to test out living in a smaller space. And with the house and most of our possessions sold, we quit our full-time jobs and didn’t have to look for new ones.
We took our time figuring out the next step. By keeping our expenses at a minimum, we were able to wander through Panama for eight weeks. We drove cross-country twice. We got to babysit our first grandchild. We could spend time with our parents when they were sick and then be with them when they died. After our wandering phase, we lived in a couple apartments, trying out square footage, and we came to realize that even a one-bedroom apartment was more than we needed.
Which brings us to the 2014 Tiny House Conference. We’d become aware of tiny houses and thought if we could find the right piece of land, we might want to build one ourselves. We had experience fixing up six houses over the years and figured we could learn whatever we didn’t know. Doing our tiny house research, we read about Ryan Mitchell’s conference in Charlotte and realized it would be a perfect opportunity to decide if we were ready for another leap. Around that same time, a friend living in the Blue Ridge Mountains offered us a corner of her land to build a tiny house. It seemed the universe was sending us a message.
Volunteering at the conference made attending affordable for us, since we still weren’t working. We split up during our free time: I went to talks on design and building techniques; Bill focused on utilities—especially plumbing and solar. We learned more about composting toilets and trailers and, most importantly, we toured our first tiny houses. Seeing a picture or a video on a computer screen is nothing compared to walking through a space, climbing up into a loft, looking at appliances, comparing floor plans, or asking questions of people living the life we were contemplating.
What did we take away from that conference? Most importantly, we’d made our decision: we would build a tiny house. We committed to that decision by ordering our trailer from someone we met at the conference—Dan Louche of Tiny Home Builders. We also bought Dan’s book, Tiny House Design & Construction Guide, which gave us an invaluable step-by-step overview of the building process.
Skip ahead to today: We’ve lived in the tiny house we designed and built for more than two years. We love it more than any house or apartment (and there have been many) we’ve ever lived in. The space fits us perfectly. It doesn’t require much maintenance. It requires little more energy than what our solar generator produces. We cook with clean-burning alcohol and do much of our heating with a cleaning-burning wood stove. We compost our waste, and we grow some of our own food. We are truly living our dream: consuming fewer resources and spending our time as we choose.
Which brings us to the 2018 Tiny House Conference in Asheville, NC, where we’ll be speaking about off-grid living and tiny house budget and finance. I can tell you this from personal experience: If you’re considering the leap to tiny living, attending a conference like this can transform intention to action. Ready for a leap?