10 Guiding Principles for Living Tiny

Posted February 1st, 2010 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 15: Small Space Tricks

Since plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, I borrowed some of Andrea Zittel‘s writing (from her ongoing “Things I Know For Sure” series) because, well, I’m quite a fan. Below I’ve put together a mashup of tricks for living in small spaces — or guiding principles, or billboard-quality truisms. Whatever you want to call them, I hope they are as useful and inspiring to you as they are to me.

1. What you own, owns you.

2. What makes us feel liberated is not total freedom, but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves.

3. Things that we think are liberating can ultimately become restrictive, and things that we initially think are controlling can sometimes give us a sense of comfort and security.

4. People are most happy when they are moving towards something not quite yet attained.

5. Ideas seem to gestate best in a void—- when that void is filled, it is more difficult to access them. In our consumption-driven society, almost all voids are filled.

6. Maintenance takes time and energy that can sometimes impede other forms or progress such as learning about new things.

7. Surfaces that are “easy to clean” also show dirt more. In reality a surface that camouflages dirt is much more practical than one that is easy to clean.

8. All materials ultimately deteriorate and show signs of wear. It is therefore important to create designs that will look better after years of distress.

9. Ambiguity in visual design ultimately leads to a greater variety of functions than designs that are functionally fixed.

10. The best rules are never stable or permanent, but evolve, naturally according to content or need.

Image credit: Andrea Zittel, Andrea Rosen Gallery

Hillary lives in a 677 sq. ft. historic home with her partner while renovating a 50 sq. ft. tiny trailer and preparing for full-time travel. Her blog is located at thistinyhouse.com.

5 ways to get around minimum size standards

Posted July 1st, 2009 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 8: Bureaucracy/Regs.
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satelliteYes, it is illegal to live in a tiny house in much of the US. Does that surprise you?

According to designer and tiny house advocate Jay Shafer, “minimum size standards have been found to be unconstitutional in several US courts.” These standards reside in model building codes, adopted and customized at the local level for the stated purpose of protecting public health, safety and general welfare.

In his Small House Book (order it here), Shafer asserts that these standards (specific to the size of houses and the rooms within) were pushed through during the 1970s and 80s by the housing and banking industries in order to produce “more profit per structure.” The result? Ugly McMansions, sprawl, construction waste, higher co2 emissions, and, now, an unaffordable housing crisis.

To make things worse, some neighborhood groups “needlessly fearful for their property values and lifestyles” also prohibit small homes in their areas, writes Shafer.

However, there are ways to get around this.

  1. Move out of the city. Many rural areas are unregulated in this way.
  2. Negotiate. Talk with your local building officials or neighborhood associations. They might be convinced that a small house is non-threatening.
  3. Accessorize. Small dwellings are sometimes allowed to be built adjacent to a house, such as a “granny flat.”
  4. Don’t hook up. If a structure is not permanently attached and not hooked up to public utilities, it may not be considered relevant to housing codes.
  5. Apply pressure. Point out the immense housing problem and give an out for your local politicians to save the day.

the smallest house in santa clara county

Of course I’m speaking in generalities here. You must check your local building codes as they vary greatly.

Alternately, you can do what was done here — turn the chicken coop into a tiny house and make it a tourist attraction. Here is a recent photo Michael took of the smallest house in Santa Clara County. It is 514 square feet on a 956-square-foot lot. The house must have been “grandfathered in” and thus, slips under the minumum size code regulations.

Hillary lives in a 677 sq. ft. historic home with her partner while renovating a 50 sq. ft. tiny trailer. Her blog is located at thistinyhouse.com where this article was first published.

Introduction to Issue 6: Community

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 6: Community
Cottages that face a common green (Photo credit: Ross Chapin Architects)

Sensibly sized cottages facing a common green (Ross Chapin Architects)

Would you pay $600,000 for 1,000 square feet?

Many people are willing to pay more for less, as evidenced by the popularity of Ross Chapin‘s small homes in custom designed “boutique” communities. They are selling well in the Northwestern US and getting good press nationwide (articles in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and HGTV).

In this issue of the Small Living Journal we interweave the two concepts of living smaller and living in communities because they are fundamentally linked: the smaller your home, the more you take advantage of the community around you.

We can’t help but be reminded of our collective past, one that is wonderfully devoid of clutter, high energy bills, spending lots of time alone in our cars and staring at glowing boxes for 8 hours a day. Is there a way to piece together a new, community-minded existence while living small?

We are Craving Community

Posted June 2nd, 2009 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 6: Community

Ecovillage at Ithaca, NY (Jim Bosjolie)

From expats to college students, breast cancer survivors to renters tired of renting, we are people who crave affordable communities. We have joined the Tiny House Village Network, a private online space I set up to discuss the formation of real tiny house villages.

Americans from all over the country are joining and clammering for the same thing:

  1. the ability to live in a small, affordable home without breaking any laws in the process;
  2. the opportunity to “park” that home on a small piece of land;
  3. to live with other like-minded people and maybe grow some food together.

To paraphrase, we just want to live a little more simply.


Third Street Cottages (Ross Chapin Architects)

These requests should not be complicated, but because of the bloated housing industry, distorted municipal codes and unnecessary zoning laws, they are incredibly difficult for the average person to navigate.

It’s hard for me to express how important I think this project is. The numbers should speak for themselves: home vacancy rates soar, tent cities are on the rise, more and more people are living in and around the edge of poverty.

In the Tiny House Village I learned that Jeff is building a retreat center in the Adirondack foothills, Willy wants to develop some lakefront land in Michigan, Jeff & Arlene are building a Tumbleweed house on wheels and looking for someplace to park it, Ann is keeping a scrapbook for her dream home which she plans to build herself in 3 years, and Pete has been living in a cabin in the Yukon for 3 years with no running water.

There are over a hundred of us now. We all want to create a community. An intentional community. We are seeking movers and shakers — builders, developers, parks people, land owners and tiny house enthusiasts alike. Please join us and help make things happen.

Hillary lives in a 677 sq. ft. historic home with her partner while renovating a 50 sq. ft. tiny trailer. Her blog is located at thistinyhouse.com. She is a freelance writer and consultant.

Making a Tiny House Using a Fiberglass Trailer

Posted May 4th, 2009 by Hillary "Tinyhouse" and filed in Issue 4: Do-It-Yourself
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trailerlassenThe problem with DIY projects is that they can seemingly drag on forever. My tiny house is over a year old and only half done, but that hasn’t stopped us from taking her out on adventures!

The biggest challenge in this project is not having adequate space and tools to get the job done. We’ve been borrowing driveways, garages and backyards, and the tools that come with them. Next weekend Michael and I will be planning a work weekend at Michael’s father’s house to finish the interior walls of the trailer.

You can read here to get a glimpse of all the options we explored, and find out next week what we finally ended up deciding on. Until then, you can catch up with the top 10 the highlights of my trailer project:

  1. The Christmas present finally arrives [Jan] – I finally bought a trailer. This was written back when I thought a complete renovation would be a cinch…
  2. Gutted and primed [Feb] – I wasted no time in ripping out the guts of the camper, leaving only a shell behind.
  3. She’s got color and personality [Feb] – Fearing another rainstorm we reinstalled the windows. Michael meticulously painted the trailer in the color of my choosing and I gave her a name: Calliope.
  4. We have a floor to stand on [Mar] – We varnished and reinstalled the floor with a beautiful new piece of plywood. We’re both wanting the project to be done. We dilly-dally for the next 3 months…
  5. Indoor plumbing, yay! [Jul] – Michael, AKA my hero, re-installs the original sink and stove. Here I explain the simple plumbing system we decided on.
  6. Sizing ourselves for solar [Oct] – Summer vacations out of the way, we get down to business measuring our appliances and planning our ideal photovoltaic power setup.
  7. Maiden Voyage, continued [Oct] - We knew she was road-ready, and though we didn’t have the interior walls done, Michael and I traveled around Northern California for a month living in this unfinished trailer.
  8. Our visit with Tumbleweed Tiny House Company [Nov] – During our month-long journey, we visited our friend Jay Shafer, designer and founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, at his home in Sebastopol.
  9. How our house compares to a Tumbleweed House [Nov] - Michael gets a job offer. We move ourselves back down to San Diego. Surprisingly, the house we rent has a striking similarity to Jay Shafer’s Enesti design.
  10. Tiny house gets a new roof [Dec] - Our tiny trailer just barely fits in our new garage. Hopefully not for long, as she is itching to do some more traveling!

Hillary lives in a 677 sq. ft. historic home with her partner while renovating a 50 sq. ft. tiny trailer. Her blog is located at thistinyhouse.com. She is a freelance writer and consultant.