What do we really need?

Before we even start to think about floor plans or how you will store all your stuff in a Tiny House, we first need to get down to the basics.  What do you really need in this life?  It is often a lot less than you think, but I feel it’s also important to point out this isn’t about living without, we aren’t trying to sacrifice things here, we are trying to find the happy medium.  When we understand our needs, we then can determine the form and function of our house.

I have talked before about symbols of happiness, the idea that we purchase things which remind us of happy things, of our hopes and wants, of our dreams, but they do not themselves bring us happiness.  In fact, internally, I think this actually creates inner turmoil because our desires go unmet.  A perfect example is having a desktop or screen saver of a white sands beach, it constantly reminds us of us not being there, and it doesn’t seem healthy.

So what if we were to adopt a lens to view our world through to determine what bring us joy and contentment.  With this new lens we need to do a shift in thinking as well.  We need to know what things to strive for, to know what things we must pursue, but they should be achievable with hard work.  At the same time, we need to be okay with not having things that we will never have and shift focus to the things we do.

I am reminded of a story about a man who sought the wisdom of Buddha.

It is said that the happiest people don’t have everything; they just make the best of everything.  While cute quotes such as this one may be fun, we are beginning to see there is a solid foundation in truth to them.

There have been quite a few studies that show that too much clutter has a very negative impact on our well-being.  Angus Deaton, Ph.D., a renowned economist, and Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., a Nobel prize-winning psychologist conducted a study where they were able to determine that people who made $75,000 a year were the most happy of any salary range.  They were able to show that above that figure had no bearing on happiness and in fact, it could decrease because additional stress that comes with that job.

Now $75k seems a lot to many, but I would expect that Tiny House people could achieve this same peak happiness at a much lower salary because your money goes further. It isn’t the amount of money here that matters; it is what it affords you that is key.  At $75,000 you can afford all of you life’s basics, you can have good health insurance, a good house, some money to take trips and still save some for a rainy day.  With a Tiny House you remove the housing from the equation, which is equivalent to many people’s 30%-40% of income; in this case $23,000-$30,000.  So if we adjust that $75k we are looking at $45,000 annual salary which is much more achievable.

One way I help people determine what is important to them is propose a scenario.  Imagine you wake up one night from a deep sleep and flames are curling up the walls, your house is on fire.  You look out the window to see your family and pets screaming for you to escape with your life.  What do you grab on your way out of the house, know that all else will be lost?

There are few things in this world that cannot be replaced: those close to you and things that remind you of times with those people are irreplaceable.

Finally the differentiation between wants and needs is a tricky lesson to learn.  We are exposed to a consumer culture that makes it hard for us to even separate these things.   So this part is a gradual process that many of us still find ourselves grappling with.  It has been taught to us from a young age that accumulation of things is better.  The more stuff we have, the better we are.  The psychology of these things cannot be understated; we need to dig deep into ourselves to examine our motivations.

So hopefully this has let you understand a little bit of what truly makes you happy, what to steer clear of in terms of things that we THINK make us happy and help change our thinking to determine our needs and wants.  Once we do this we are prepared to fully determine our true needs and how to arrange our life to live in a Tiny House.

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  1. I often wonder how low the cost of living could be reduced to.
    Shifting to a tiny house cuts the cost way down.

    Growing your own food seems like it would be another cost saver, and it seems like there are methods of food production that could be useful now, that weren’t widely used in the past (aquaponics, permaculture, etc) that would lower the cost even more.

    I wonder how low the cost of living could reasonably be reduced to?

    Could it be a threat to the labor market where people just lose interest in working because they don’t need to anymore, and then established companies just cant seem to find anyone to fill jobs.

    Somewhere in the middle between here and there is where we end up I guess.

    • What I do is make my budget, then revisit at 3 months, 6 months and 1 year to how I am doing. When I review spend to my budget I will also take a few minutes to sort it so my largest expense are on top of my spreadsheet. From there I evaluate what can I do to eliminate or minimize the top 5 or so.

      Biggest costs right now for me right now are:
      1. Car loan
      2. Student loan
      3. Food
      4. Spending money
      5. Utilities

      My car loan will be gone in 3 months, student loan will take a while, but I double or triple pay. My food costs are reasonable and I grow a good amount of food. I don’t spend a lot and I am comfortable with how often I eat out, do stuff, etc. Utilities will reduce with a smaller house when I move in

    • I read about someone who got his cost of living to zero. He lived in a cave and got all his food and stuff from dumpsters. Not EVERYONE can live off other people’s cast-offs, (you need some people to be out there casting things off) but some people can.

      Now, how low the cost of living could “reasonably” be reduced to depends on the person. Check out the blog of Early Retirement Extreme to find a pretty low answer ($7,000/year). He recommends things like sharing a small residence, using only a bicycle for transportation, cooking all your own food, learning how to maintain and repair your other things, eating right, and staying in shape.

    • I personally rejoice in the prospect that established companies will fall and that people will stop working this slave trade out of need. Some of the best work and discoveries arise from a free wandering mind. A mind not cluttered with the tedium of unimportant jobs. Most of the work we all do is not needed. Instead if people stopped working for these companies, they would have to start paying people the wages they really need to get by in life! We don’t need these companies, we don’t need spend money on all this crap that society tells us we need. Imagine if we all stopped consuming (in the sense of things we don’t need to live) for 1 week, for 1 month…

      • Umm, yeah. Thank you for your correct hypothesis for which our societies dilemma of lowering of natural resources arises and is caused by the mass market approach of consumerism, instead of slower more natural pace for trade and a balanced lifestyle.

  2. These are questions I have been pondering a lot lately. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Ryan.

    I think the findings of that study are interesting. (I managed to find the full study on google, maybe you could link it to this page?) The authors conclude that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness”. One only has to observe the Great Australian / American Dream to see the truth in this finding.

    Here’s an interesting case. Every year during the Australian Federal Budget there is a vocal group of households on $150k+ that cry poor. You see, their overwhelming liabilities take away that security that their income should guarantee. Rather than have a modest house, fewer gadgets, and putting their children through less swanky schools and have loads in a savings account for life enriching pursuits, they max themselves out with materials and expect happiness at the end. Having trouble paying the bills and living pay cheque to pay cheque doesn’t do much to foster happiness.

  3. This is interesting, I just turned 22 don’t have a car or student loan and will graduate college in May. I would love to begin my career living in a tiny house to save money before grad school, but it’s tough to know where to start since I don’t even know if I will be able to stay in the same city. Reading this blog helps a bit, so I’ll comb it through soon!

  4. Hi Arleen the beauty of tiny houses often is that they are on wheels so you can take it anywhere. Also you could consider to convert a 20ft sea container into a home. That can be moved as well.

  5. I really am interested in the tiny house movement and I want to build (or buy) one, but it’s a bit hard when you don’t have a job, a home, or a way to save up money to even consider attempting the construction (let alone design) of one of these wonderful homes. I’ve had more than enough experience living in small spaces over the past few years. It would be ~nice~ to have my own space, let alone ~home~! Something I could just hook up to my car and take with me if a job opportunity opened up for me in another state; no moving required, just a stop at the gas station. I long to be able to have more than my car and a friend’s couch/inflatable mattress on occasion. I don’t mind living a gypsy lifestyle. I mind not having a home or space of my own.

    If you have any ideas on how a homeless, jobless, somewhat health-impaired NC resident could follow your or any of the other plans I’ve been reading about for these tiny homes, I’d love to hear them! Much appreciated!

    • EP:

      I have not heard of anything the few months I have been checking into tiny homes there is a homeless tiny home camp or village in olympia wa that has been in the news.

      Good Luck

    • This is a good question. I have a graduate degree, but have difficulty finding work in my field that is steady enough and pays enough to maintain my own household. I am $100,000 in debt for student loans, and then also have medical expenses and other things on my credit record.

      I have three children to take care of, as well. I have seen/read plenty on families raising children in tiny homes, and I think it would work well for us, as they do prefer to spend a majority of their time out of doors being active; however, I can’t afford basic necessities some months, let alone the money to buy a trailer my car could haul or some land upon which to build a tiny home.

      I’ve seen the ones made in old buses and such as well. We have been living with friends and our belongings are reduced to what can fit in my ’97 Ford Taurus, so I know we are not holding on to too much.

      I was told by human services that we would need a home with heating and cooling (fans and space heaters would work), would need access to running water, and would need to keep food in the house, but other than that a tiny house wouldn’t go against what the government says is necessary for me to raise children.

      I would love to do this if I could somehow get the startup funds.

      • You could try gofundme.com
        Some of my friends successfully raised large amounts of cash for their dream/wish/need. One friend raised several thousand in 2 days for medication that someone over seas could not afford. Just tell them your story and share it to social media sites. I’m going to try it out as well and see if anyone will support my dream of having a tiny home at 22 years of age. 🙂 best wishes!

    • well if you move to a warmer climate year round then, a tent or even maybe a teepee would work for you instead, if only my woman liked camping I then would go do the teepee trip thang.

  6. Didn’t really help me a whole lot….but the happiness thing is very true!

  7. As far as sorting out “needs/wants” when it comes to physical things, there was a TED talk i heard not too long ago about living a minimalist life. To achieve this, one of the speakers boxed up everything in his condo, and he means everything (couch, bed, refrigerator, TV, EVERYTHING, big and small). Over the course of three weeks he only took out of the boxes what he needed/wanted. After three weeks, he got rid of everything still in a box, finding there was much he never used. Just a suggestion for getting rid of things not needed or things that you think you want but never actually use.
    Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgBpyNsS-jU

    And thanks for this website by the way! Just starting to look into a tiny house and this site has been very helpful.

  8. I am 17 and I’m on my way to building a house on wheels. I have more of a need to build this instead of a want because I am forced to move out and I know it will be cheaper for me to do this instead of a house+ everything else that comes with a house. Yet I have no happiness, Buddha lies!

    • Isabelle,

      Building a small house is not going to be something you can do with a few hundred bucks. If you are being forced to move out, you may find it ideal to rent a tiny apartment for the short-term so you have a home base of operations while you build or save up to do so. Building a small home takes a lot of time and money. 🙂 Another option if you have a few thousand dollars available for any reason, is to buy a camper van/motorhome. You can find them used for reasonable prices, and if you want to get used to a tiny house lifestyle that is a good way to do it. Plus you can be portable if required! 🙂 But, I would highly recommend a small apartment, especially with friends if you can manage it, it’s a good way to learn skills you need to survive and thrive. Once you get set up, you can focus on building a house that suits you the best!

  9. It’s great to hear and read about so much enthusiasm in wanting (and sometimes needing) to come up with alternative ways of living. No way of living will provide happiness without the right attitude, though. Learning the skill or cultivating the habit of looking inside, I discover that I’m essentially joyful, loving and deeply happy. This doesn’t mean there won’t be or haven’t been moments of frustration, jealousy or anger, but these take on less weight in my life.
    I will joyfully look into the information provided here as to planning, designing and eventually building some form of alternative style accommodation. I see a future which is more rounded, better balanced, with humans living more in harmony with our surroundings, where letting go rather than accumulating and being rather than seeming are key values.

  10. This was an interesting article
    to read. Am extremely grateful
    to be Swiss and living in Switzerland. Have lived in a few
    countries for some years each and
    can see the various problems folk
    have. Here most of us live in
    apartments. It is a small country,
    but living standards and life
    quality is high. Schooling is
    free and university not at all
    expensive. No student debt here.
    Also should one be say single and
    on social help or even a couple
    one still lives well. We do not
    need a car (unless one lives say
    way out in the country). Even
    then public transport is punctual
    and serves the entire country.
    Generally we buy quality, what
    we use and need. Not wasting
    money on cheap junkyard things
    just to cause clutter. Kids
    as well do not have an excess
    of toys or things. Children are
    much loved and very well catered
    for: good home cooked food, love,
    some nice clothes (not a lot) and
    a high standard of education. So
    we are more than fortunate. Having
    Direct Democracy is great as well.
    Bless all people battling to make
    a reasonable living in this world.

  11. WOW Good Ideas

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