Dee is my tiny house hero. You’ve probably heard about Dee’s tiny house adventures. She’s been interviewed by NPR, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and a variety of other local media outlets about her experiments with voluntary simplicity. She built her tiny house for $10,000 in about 3 months, using mostly recycled building materials.
Katy Anderson rocks. She’s been in the trades for over 20 years and defines her work as “Finish Carpentry”. Katy recently graduated from a two-year program at the School of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, California. It was great talking with Katy about her experience and her future plans.
Dee and Katy recently started their own tiny house company called, Portland Alternative Dwellings.
Logan and I have been pondering building our own tiny home and this was the perfect opportunity to learn from two experienced builders.
I loved the structure of the class; it was all about active learning and contained an incredible amount of valuable information. We learned about general construction techniques, how to stay safe with power tools, discussed building codes and built the foundation of a tiny mobile office.
It was great to see two amazing women leading the workshop. I’ve always been scared to use power tools, but I walked away from the workshop feeling confident. I think Logan and I could build our own tiny home. We still need to do more research, find the time and people to help us. Even if we don’t build the home ourselves, the workshop equipped us with basic knowledge that will help us if we hire a contractor. And I can start scavenging for materials to use in our tiny home.
We didn’t talk a lot about design and that’s okay because I was more interested in learning about construction basic’s. But Dee did mention the importance of design and considering your needs. She recommended Jay Shafer’s workshop for learning about design and material choices.
Logan and I have been bickering about the style of our tiny house. So we both really enjoyed Dee’s analogy of tiny homes to clothing. She mentioned how important it was to “try on” different styles to see if they fit your body type and personal habits. I lean toward a house design similar to Dee’s and Logan is more partial toward the Naked Galapagos.
Dee and Katy’s main message was to start talking about these things now rather than waiting until the building starts.
If Dee and Katy host more workshops, I’d highly recommend signing up for their class. Learning about construction techniques, tool use, and connecting with fellow tiny house enthusiasts was incredible.
There are, I’m sure, many for whom the biggest obstacle is actually believing they can build/buy a tiny house, who sit and say ‘oh if only I could do what your doing’, or ‘I’d love to be able to do that but I’m not clever/rich/strong/free enough’, or even ‘I just have far too much stuff to downsize that far’. I spent years planning an off-grid home, always hoping that one day I’d have enough money to buy a piece of land and build the house of my dreams. It was never going to be some mansion in the mountains but even so it was a huge undertaking and I thought that if I worked solidly for enough years I’d eventually get to the place where I’d be able to take a year or two off work and build it.
Life, however, had other plans. I found myself unemployed, getting divorced and having a nervous breakdown. I’d moved from a 3 bedroom house to a room in a shared house. I was steadily going through my savings living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and starting to wonder how long it would be before I was out on the streets. It was during this time that I gradually became aware of the tiny house movement and, in particular, Jay’s Tumbleweed houses. I sat looking around my room and realised that a tiny house would, in fact, be bigger than the room I spent most of my time in. Add a small kitchen/bathrom to it and you’d pretty much be there. I once spent 3 months living in a VW camper I used to own doing fieldwork in the Hebrides, the space became more reasonable as I started figuring out how I might arrange storage.
So, once I decided I could live in the space, it came down to money. With savings dwindling, could I afford to build a tiny house? I’ve always been a bit of a womble and I figured I could recycle a fair amount of stuff picked from skips (dumpsters), freecycle, eBay etc. Reading about Dee William’s tiny house cemented the idea.
Even so, actually doing something about it was harder. I finally decided that I had about enough money left from my savings to pay the rent on my room for a year, just in case I couldn’t get more work in the current slack job market. I could easily see myself getting to the end of that year and then having nothing left. I made a bit decision, one that was very tough, with the agreement of my mum I would move in to their spare room in Ireland and build a tiny house in the back yard. It would mean leaving everything behind but I would have space to live and mum would feed me. I was 42 and moving home. Strangely it didn’t feel like defeat, I was going to follow my dream for the first time in ages.
Then a friend who was starting a new business offered me some part-time work and my girlfriend, who I’d only been with for a few months, offered to let me move in with her so I could stay in London and build it here. I had no idea whether I could, but making the decision was undoubtedly the hardest thing in the entire process. After that, it became much, much easier. Once you’re actually embarked on the journey sheer inertia tends to keep you going.
There have, of course, been many ups and downs. The trailer I bought turned out not to be a good buy, I should have spent more which would have meant I’d have been much further along with the building than I am now, as I’m still fixing the problems with it, although I should be moving upwards soon. Weeks of rain can become demoralizing as you just can’t really build in a downpour. However, you take that time to research, monitor eBay, scour the small ads and freecycle lists. Even though I was again made redundant when my friend’s business couldn’t attract additional funding, this just gave me more time over the summer to concentrate on building and I had a little bit of extra money from the work.
I have always been reasonable at basic diy, but I’d never framed anything, never wired or plumbed a house from scratch, never built a roof or welded anything. I love to learn new things though, and I love a challenge. It costs nothing to spend time on the internet, you can even go to the library or a coffee shop and use their bandwidth if you don’t have your own. I’ve spent many days lost online, learning about all the new skills I’ll need. No-one’s born with the innate understanding of electrical code, or the metallurgy of copper pipe, it can all be learned if you’re prepared to put in the work. I was time rich, and I’ve been using it to learn so many new skills. I’ve also gained many new friends online through the tiny house communities/forums and blogs. I’ve built a network of contacts through whom I can learn, exchange ideas and gain support.
At each stage there’s always been a reason not to do something, but equally there’s a reason to start. The old Confucian saying ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. For me that single step was the hardest point in the entire process. I was having lunch with a very good friend of mine a while ago, just after I’d made the decision to build, not knowing how I’d find the materials to do all this on the budget I had. He looked at me, smiled and said the oft-repeated line from the film Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come’. So far he’s been right, things have turned up unexpectedly just when I’ve needed them. Maybe it’s all about belief.
A Normal life?
Five years ago, we lived the “normal middle class” suburban lifestyle. We were newlyweds with flashy rings, living in a two-bedroom apartment, driving two cars, commuting long distances to work and living well beyond our means.
At this time, we were living in Davis, Calif., which is notorious for expensive real estate and a negative vacancy rating (more people than rooms). In reflection, we had a life with too much stuff and stress.
Initially, we resisted the idea of moving into a smaller one-bedroom apartment because we were more concerned about appearances and space for guests than for our financial well-being. Realizing the source of our stress was our financial situation, we decided something needed to change. This “change” began by defining our values and prioritizing our needs over those of potential future guests.
After creating many long pro/con lists, the scaling down process began. We sold one car and moved into a one-bedroom apartment near the train station, the grocery store and downtown amenities. Driving everywhere was still a big part of our lives, but with lower rent we began chipping away at our debt. Our lives began to change for the better.
It wasn’t until last year that we stumbled across Dee Williams’s tiny house, the Small House Movement, and the concept of simple living. After doing a lot of research and making many to-do lists, we decided to move from Davis to mid-town Sacramento. We scaled down even further, to a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment within walking distance to my work. Dee inspired me to go small and start thinking big.
Thinking big required setting goals and decluttering. Slowly we began focusing on the quantity and quality of our belongings.
Downsizing can be stressful, but the benefits are tremendous. Moving to a smaller apartment in the city opened up amazing possibilities. Once we sold our one remaining car, life became even better because we saved money and worked less. It sounds like a cliche, but without the car and the TV we had the time, money and energy to prioritize our health, happiness and life goals.
Below are a few tips that worked for us:
1. Going small. Downscaling to a tiny one-bedroom was a slow process that required a lot of work and many trips to the thrift store. Moving into a 400-square-foot apartment forced us to declutter our lives and seriously question why we needed so much stuff.
2. Divorcing our car. After months of talking about the pros and cons of selling our car, we decided to follow in the footsteps of a Wisconsin graduate student and divorce our car.
3. Becoming debt-free is indescribably liberating. Discovering the concept of simple living helped us become debt free. After giving away the TV and selling our car, we realized how many hidden ownership costs we were paying. We also discovered an amazing book, called “Your Money or Your Life,” that fundamentally changed our relationship with money.
4. Happiness counts. Purging our lives of clutter and debt has not only made us happier, but we have purchased less stuff. Since we started the downsizing process, we feel psychologically “lighter.” Since we eliminated our debt, I know I have options to engage in activities that make me happy. For instance, I’m a lucky person and enjoy my job. But if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to be tied to the position. That is a huge bonus of being debt-free and actually having money in savings.
Downsizing is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I hope our personal story will help you remove clutter from your life, one step at a time.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.
Good luck in your own simple living quest. Above all, pursue happiness and not more stuff.