Issue 14: Finding Land for Living

Last month we posted a survey and asked readers what they wanted to hear about next. You told us you wanted the next issue to focus on finding land for living, so here it is!

Finding land can be one of the biggest initial challenges in building any home and in the case of a small home there are often additional challenges if the home doesn’t meet local size minimums. There are four articles in this issue:

Guest Submissions - Small Living Journal aspires to be a repository of some of the very best writing from the Small Home Movement. As such, we welcome the contributions of guest authors. If you’re interested in submitting an article for a upcoming or past issue please read about Guest Submissions.

While we’ll be publishing new issues on new topics every month; in the spirit of growing Small Living Journal as a complete knowledge base we’d like to welcome new articles on past issue topics. So if you have expertise in any of those areas we’d love to consider your submission.

Issue 10 – Why a Tiny Home?

Posted July 27th, 2009 by Stephanie Reiley and filed in Issue 10: Why a tiny home?

waldenI guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that members of the Small Home Movement are nonconformists.  If they weren’t, odds are they wouldn’t be so attracted to an idea so radically outside the norms of mainstream America. Starting with Thoreau and his $28.12 and 1/2 cent house, small housers have all marched to the beat of their own highly-individualistic drummer.

Even knowing that, however, it still catches me off-guard to discover how different the motivations and exact solutions are of various members of the community.  For that reason, I thought it might be worth the SLJ writers taking some time to discuss the personal appeal and perceived advantages of tiny homes.

Also, this issue welcomes a new regular writer:  Lellewynn from Project Rolling Freedom.  We also have a guest post from Betsy McCullen who is becoming a regular on the “premises”.

We hope you enjoy our latest issue…

Tiny Testimonial

Why tiny?

I’m such a total proponent of small housing that it would be simpler for me to discuss the things that turn me off about tiny houses. Nevertheless, here is my “Benefits of Tiny Housing” blitz.

Modesty

modesty
In a society built so heavily on self-aggrandizement and the display of material status symbols, (a condition that leaves me in a state of  virtually perpetual disgust), the tiny house is a modest house. And it’s nice to imagine that modesty still has admirers in America.

Affordability – The tiny house is an affordable house. While the price of prefab tiny houses ranges considerably, the vast majority of tiny house options run a fraction of the price of a conventional house. In fact, the tiny house averages in the new car price range.

Accessibility – I am not a man of means. I live in one of the most expensive regions in the world on a rather pitiful income. The likelihood of home ownership, (something I’ve dreamt about from a very young age), has, for my whole life, seemed on the same order as space travel. But then, I was imagining a conventional house. The comparative affordability of the tiny house renders it far more psychologically accessible than the conventional house to a chronically destitute individual like myself.

Customization

customization
The tiny house, in every incarnation I have come across, is highly customized to the needs and desires of the people who call it home. Customization is essential to turning a dwelling into a home, and the tiny house lends itself uniquely to customization.

Mobility

mobility

Tiny houses, even the ones that don’t come with integrated wheels, are vastly more mobile than their conventional counterparts.

Empowerment

empowerment
The tiny house, because of the simplicity of its engineering and construction, invites owner design and building, (or at the very least, much greater participation in these activities). Participation in the design and construction of one’s own home is not only deeply fulfilling, but also an unsurpassed opportunity for practical education and confidence building.

Minimalism – The tiny house demands the discipline of minimalism, which can promote increased focus on the individual activities and material objects that make up our lives.

Ease of Maintenance – The tiny house requires less work in cleaning and maintenance. The less there is, the less there is to care for.

Conscience – The tiny house, whose construction and operation consume far fewer resources than a conventional house, should assuage the conscience of the individual who considers consumption a vice and conservation a virtue.

Less Energy to Heat and Cool – With obvious financial and conservation benefits.

Historically and Globally Appropriate

world housing
Housing for virtually all people throughout human history, and today for most people throughout the world, is and has always been tiny. The conventional house is a disruptive anomaly.

Character Compression

character compression
The tiny house enjoys character compression. Tiny houses have easily as much personality as conventional houses, but distilled into a much smaller frame. This distillation produces a more potent product.

Embraces the Outdoors – The tiny house encourages forays out of doors. This is good.

Higher Quality Product – Because construction of a tiny house requires a fraction of the materials of a conventional house, it encourages an investment in higher quality materials.

Coziness

cozy
The cozy factor of the tiny house is off the charts.

The Small House Community

small house community
Tiny housers are fun, interesting, and unique! (At least that’s my general evaluation). Becoming involved in the small house community is a great perk of tiny housing. And we haven’t even witnessed the arrival of the prophesied Intentional Tiny House Community yet! Think how cool that would hypothetically be if it ever, you know, happened!

The Salvage Factor

salvage
Tiny Texas Houses owner Brad Kittel has demonstrated that the tiny house can be built out of approximately 95% reclaimed materials. Once again, the financial and conservation benefits should be self-evident.

Lower Visual Profile

minimal visual impact
The tiny house takes up less space visually! That means it’s not messing up your neighbor’s view. And if your neighbor is a tiny houser, her house isn’t messing yours up either.

Decreased Impact on Immediate Surroundings

decreased impact on surroundings
The tiny house has a tiny footprint, and the negligible engineering requirements mean that the site preparation work is insignificant compared to that required for a conventional house. This means less impact on the immediate natural surroundings, which is good for all the other things that happen to be living there.

Site Specific Design

site specificity
The tiny house’s reduced impact on the immediate surroundings, coupled with the customization and owner participation to which it lends itself, encourages a degree of site specific design that the conventional house simply cannot offer.

Decreases Consumption by Necessity – Life in the tiny house enforces a consumption pattern radically diminished from the lifestyle encouraged by the conventional house; you are simply forced to consume less.

Relieves Wage Slavery – The lessened financial burden of life in a tiny house should presumably empower the owner with greater financial independence.

Strength – Consider the ant. Proportionate to it’s size the ant is mighty! This is a general physical phenomenon – relative strength is inversely proportionate to size – i.e., small stuff is inherently stronger, big stuff is inherently weaker. That’s why, given a fixed set of materials, engineering small stuff is easier and engineering big stuff is harder. (This explains why there are loads of tiny flying creatures and not many giant ones).

What does this mean for the tiny house? My house endured being dragged 600+ feet up a 30+ degree slope with a winch hooked to the framing, and suffered only minor cosmetic damage. Imagine trying this with a conventional house.

house moving

And last, but certainly not least, the tiny house is the house that has allowed me to build my home in my favorite place in the world.

Thank you, tiny house.

*Special photography credits to Amanda Abel

Through the Opposition

The first time i saw a tiny house was in an edition of This Old House.  I think.  I looked at that glossy photo of freedom and, like most people I’m sure,  I thought, “Oh how cute!  That would make a neat playhouse!”  But on the raw edge of my mind I could feel the pull of the tiny house movement.

I bought my house in 2005; a small 1100 square foot bungalow, tucked into a beautiful neighborhood in the Idaho Falls Historic numbered streets.  It was such a rush!  I was so proud of myself for reaching out and grabbing that ultimate goal of the American Dream.  I gave no thought as to how I would pay for it; only that it was mine.  I was the only 20 year old I knew who owned her own home.

The rush of home ownership swiftly wore off as I struggled to make the mortgage payment, fix things that were broken, and clean that 11oo sq ft.  Not to mention taking care of the huge yard that went with it.  It soon became the norm to not have any cash to myself.  I could no longer go and do the things that I wanted, like watch my father play with his blues band because I couldn’t afford a $3 beer.  As the walls of my dream home closed in on me, I began to feel suffocated and crushed by the weight of my mortgage.  I sought a way out.  How was I going to find a way out of my claustrophobic seclusion if I couldn’t afford distraction?  I found freedom within my self-created prison walls by designing spaces that would allow me to do what really mattered to me.  I remembered that photo and I dreamed that home was mine.

An enticing part of the tiny house movement is the sheer and almost utter freedom that could accompany it.  Freedom from debt, from life sucking time wasters like tv.  Freedom to be able to spend your money on what you want instead of on what you must.  As I continue to struggle to maintain my big house and get it ready to sell,  tiny home living becomes even more important to me.

I think though, the thing that lures me in the most, especially in the case of tiny mobile homes, is the ability to hitch my house to my truck and hit the road.  I’d be at home everywhere I go!  After being tied down and feeling like a cornered animal these last three and a half years, I think it would be almost sensual to be so free!  Sometimes I think it would be so fun to learn to read palms and just up and leave and become a gypsy.  Kind of like joining the circus, even to be sideshow entertainment would be preferable to being cloistered all the time.  To be able to just pack up and go visit my family in Washington or my best friend in Nevada, or go see every national park in the USA if I wanted, would feel something like a good stretch after a nap.

The Floating Kitchen

Floating Home KitchenI had to laugh when Tammy selected tiny home food management/cooking as the topic of our current issue.  Me writing an entry on cooking makes about as much sense as Paris Hilton writing an entry on frugal living.

In my long history of culinary disasters, perhaps my most ignoble moment was managing to set my kitchen cabinets on fire attempting nothing more than to boil a pot of water.  My survival strategy when it comes to food is simple… I fall in love with men who LOVE to cook. They cook and I happily do all the clean-up. (Even for the one who made it look like Julia Child had not only been busy in the kitchen but had actually been murdered in said kitchen.)

And when that plan has failed, I either eat out or survive on unlikely combinations such as beer and ice cream and an unhealthy amount of  Captain Crunch Peanut Butter cereal. (Yes, Tammy, I can see you sadly shaking your head over there. But I’m being honest.)

What has been interesting, though, is how my cooking and eating habits have begun to change since moving into my little floating home.  While my pantry is pretty expansive compared to what you would find in a Tumbleweed, it is still significantly smaller than anywhere I’ve lived previously.  There simply is not a lot a room to stockpile items that are likely to be around for a long time. Moreover, trash management can be a hassle in a marina.  Any sort of packaging you haul in is also going to need to be hauled out. And I got tired of hauling pretty quickly.

What I’ve noticed as a result is that my diet has shifted significantly away from preprocessed/packaged foods and more towards items such as fresh fruit and vegetables.  (Admittedly, some of this has also been a conscious effort on my part to live on something more than just breakfast cereal as I try to improve my general health.)  That combined with the fact that I have no patience for cooking times of anything more than a few minutes has translated into my diet starting to vaguely resemble that of a raw foodist.

farmers-market-1Additionally, now that I’m spending so much less on housing costs, I have more available funds to invest in quality food.  I’m buying organic and locally grown wherever possible.  I have two farmer stands within a few minutes of my house and also a fantastic Farmer’s Market in downtown Portland on Saturdays.

I’ve never been much for grocery shopping, but I enjoy farmer’s markets.  They’re much more of a social outing and adventure than simply a task to check off my list.  I’ve also noticed that if I’ve gone to the trouble of picking something up at the farmer’s market I’m much less likely to let it go to waste than if I just absentmindedly threw it at my cart at Safeway.

All in all, it’s been interesting to see how my shift in housing has had an impact also on my eating.  Below I have included a brief tour of my kitchen.  (And I just have to note that, once again, I’ve managed to be upstaged by my cat.  He’s becoming quite the little camera hound.)