What kind of house did you grow up in?
During my school-years we lived in a moderately sized one-story ranch house for a middle-class family of four. To make more room we utilized the basement and the backyard. We were close enough to walk to school. We played “house” in our tree house.
My childhood best friend lived in a huge mansion by comparison. We had to drive 30 minutes to get to her house. I will always remember the “new house” smell (which I now realize was off-gassing). During thunderstorms and tornado warnings we would get flashlights and a box of crackers and play house in one of her walk-in closets.
Do you think your upbringing had anything to do with your interest in small spaces?
My hometown, Columbus, Ohio, is a classic middle American city… so much so that it is considered the market research center of the country. Imagine growing up in the exact median of America. Naturally, I was interested counter-cultures! ( I think the small house movement is certainly a counter-cultural movement in a society where people shop for houses like they shop at Walmart.) After college I joined an intentional community (read: commune).
And what was that like?
At the community I moved my belongings into my own 10×10 room, which, at one point was an old chicken coop. The rest of the 500 acre communal land was shared space for about 90 adults. Everyone had their own room in one of about 10 different “houses” — there was no lack of kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, workspaces… plenty to choose from! I learned how to make cheese from fresh cows milk. I harvested potatoes. I helped manage a business. I discovered the concepts of peak oil, sustainability and permaculture. I sold my car and lived car-free for the first time in my adult life. I finally had a glimpse of what I wanted the future to look like.
How did you hear about the small home movement?
I learned about Tumbleweed Tiny Houses several years ago on the internet. It was just one of those random forwarded links someone sent me. I remember being really inspired for a few moments, but I didn’t think much of it. Later I got on their e-mail list and found out that they were experiencing greater success as a business and wanted to hire someone. This was maybe 3 years ago and I happened to be moving from New York to California at the time. A year later I was working for them.
What was your position at Tumbleweed?
Mostly I was answering the phone and fielding questions about the specifics of living in a tiny house. It was a frustrating job in part because I realized that I didn’t exactly have the answers. I couldn’t afford a Tumbleweed House (certainly not on the salary that I was getting!) but I really did have this intense desire to live that way.
So how did you start living smaller?
Well I say on my website that I’ve been living tiny for over 8 years. This is true when you count the commune experience and all the tiny apartments I’ve lived in. At one point I was living in my car after I had quit a job and went on a several months-long tour of the country. I visited friends along the way where I could shower and sleep comfortably.
I loved the idea of a house on wheels but I was intimidated by the building skills needed to build one myself, nor did I have the time, space or money to do that kind of thing. So I did what I could afford to do, which was to buy a used fiberglass travel trailer and start renovating it on a shoestring budget. My significant other has been a huge help in this process. My ThisTinyHouse blog was created primarily to show my friends and family back east what we were working on.
What’s next for you?
I have a great amount of admiration and respect for Jay Shafer and others who are able to follow their dream and manifest it. My vision is a network of tiny house villages throughout the country. I’ve started the Tiny House Village Network as a beginning effort to connect people and really start discussing the details. If you’re interested, please join us. You can also cyberstalk me on Facebook and Twitter to find out what’s next.
Hillary’s blog is located at http://thistinyhouse.com.