We are proponents of the Tiny House movement. Fans of living small as the foundation of a large life.
For us, our goals, that means an RV. For others, probably for many, that means a fixed residence. Either way, Ashley and I frequently find ourselves amazed at our life and wondering why more people don’t utilize “alternative” housing to more intentionally build their lives.
Fourteen months into our adventure and we love it more as we go. It suits us perfectly. Maybe one day we won’t. Perhaps our needs will outgrow the RV, or we’ll need something with thicker walls. Or the RV will prove to be too large for us and we’ll want something smaller. But for now, we couldn’t ask for anything better.
One size definitely doesn’t fit all.
Technically speaking, I believe a Tiny House is defined as less than 1,000 sq ft. We are living in less than 240. The popular shows on TV seem to focus on very small, 250 or less (from the handful of episodes I’ve seen).
I don’t wonder why everyone doesn’t live in a 220 sq ft house. A couple with young children need more space. A couple with children at all need private spaces. That takes more room.
RV’s aren’t well insulated (at least ours isn’t). They aren’t built for 4 seasons. So those in cold or hot climates wouldn’t be super comfortable, at least not without high utility bills to offset the lack of insulation.
It isn’t traditional
This, I believe, is the real reason people don’t pursue alternative housing. Financial institutions aren’t equipped to deal with non-traditional housing situations. Living in an RV doesn’t fit into their spreadsheets of security. Nor does living out of a converted van. At first glance wheels don’t provide a permanent mailing address.
Tiny houses fit into a gray legal area that have to be dealt with or worked around. Utilities have to be searched out and found. Traditional houses fit in designated situations and utility companies will gladly allow you to pay them for the privilege of letting them provide you with their services.
Nontraditional means you have to do a lot of the work
You have to find a mailing address for yourself and search out your own utilities. It might mean you don’t have unlimited water and electricity like you’re accustomed to. Perhaps you’ll have some extra paperwork to do that others won’t.
The benefits are great
A smaller abode can mean smaller expenses. Less to heat and cool means lower utilities. Fewer square feet require less lights to see and less furniture to fill. It can mean a smaller purchase price and thus fewer payments.
Though it doesn’t have to be, your home can be portable. You can live right next to work when you need to. Vacations could be more relaxing because you simply move to an area, taking everything you own with you (including the kitchen sink!) You could move as often as you like, with far less trouble – and none of those pesky leases or utility hook-up fees.
Live a Rich Life
In Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, he talks about the meaning of being rich. Rich doesn’t always equal great amounts of money. It is personal. Perhaps to you being rich means being able to eat out every single meal and taking flying lessons. Maybe it means that you can travel every month. Perhaps it means that you don’t have to work at jobs you don’t enjoy.
Ashley and I love to travel, to explore, to be out in nature. We are homebodies with wanderlust in our hearts. Our RV affords us this opportunity. It costs less to live in than our previous apartment so we can afford to travel. We get to take our home with us everywhere we go so we can comfortably experience new locations. And it is self-contained so we can spend a week or so out in nature without the convenience of utility hook-ups.
A traditional life is expensive. Keeping up with the Joneses can take all of your income. But it’s easy. Others understand it. Our culture guides you to that lifestyle.
But if it doesn’t provide you with a rich life, the cost might be too high.
A couple of examples
Whenever Ashley and I wonder why more people don’t live a non-traditional life we always think of people who we think would be happier with a few changes.
A single person (likely with college debt and maybe owing on some credit cards) who spends most of their time working, hanging out with friends, and perhaps engaged in some sort of hobby or second job to help pay the bills.
They could live in a conversion van that could be parked anywhere, provides a places to sleep and store clothes and food. A camping stove or little microwave could heat up meals. Wifi could be shared with a neighbor. A gym membership provides showers and exercise equipment.
This would allow them to live close to whatever job they have at the time, save most of their income (or use it to pay off the monies owed) and still functionally live their current life with no interruptions. They could go to work, pursue their hobbies, and hang out with friends.
If they have been moving regularly (new job, room-mate leaves, etc) this would allow them that opportunity without the annoyance of deposits and leases.
Too unconventional? Buy a travel trailer, pay for a long-term parking spot and live the same way, except with full utility hook-ups and a direct internet connection.
More than one
Of course, this isn’t limited to single individuals. Two people can be more than happy in a smaller house. Just look at us!
But you don’t have to travel to appreciate it. We were looking at a tiny house even if we hadn’t decided to hit the road. Less to clean, to decorate, and less room to fill with items.
By my rough estimates, we could have built a tiny house, paid it off with our then-incomes in about a year. Then, with some careful managment we could have continued saving and been almost financially independent (ie: retired) in around 10 years.
What about the children?
While I can’t speak personally, I have read about a number of families who are traveling even while having young children. One family of four set off to sail about the world with two boys who are not yet teenagers. Another family began a bicycling adventure, aiming to ride all the way across the continent, down to the tip of South America. Yet another, with three children, have flown around the world, visiting many countries with their family. The Tougas family have lived in five places in two countries, plus hiked the Appalachian Trail – including all three kids!
Children seem to be far more resiliant and flexible than adults. Especially if you can keep their routines/schedules the same. It will be an adventure for them as well. And just imagine how much they will learn! Geography will have meaning. Historic sites will help provide rich memories of the past instead of just being dates and names.
Of course, one doesn’t have to travel. There is something to be said about having a stable community. So maybe you don’t live in a tiny, mobile structure. But at least you don’t have to stretch your mortgage to buy the biggest thing you can. Purchase a modest house, work to make it yours, and revel in the joys of life instead of the joys of home-ownership.
No longer a spring chicken?
Travel and RV living runs in my family. My mom does it, who learned it from her parents. For at least 20 years they spent part of every year living in their RV. They traveled, visiting friends and family around the country. Eventually, they parked their travel trailer in a single location and lived half of the year there and half at their house.
If G-mom had gotten her way, however, they would have just lived in the travel trailer. She liked the town it was in so much more than where her house was. While I don’t remember her mentioning them specifically, there are additional perks to living in a smaller space – ones that might be of particular interest to someone who is older, or is living on a fixed income.
Everything is within easy reach. Forget something in the bedroom? It’s only 20′ away. Your favorite coffee mug is just across the aisle from the table. You can still clean every day, if that’s your habit, and finish the entire house with time and energy to spare. Not so steady on your feet? There is always something near-by to provide support if it is needed (a counter, wall, or piece of furniture) without requiring a walker or hand-rails inside your own home.
While my grandparents were able to keep their home and still travel, others might not be so fortunate. They could rent out or sell their home. Even if the sale results with them breaking even, their other retirement income (fixed amounts, I expect) would allow them to travel around. Even if the mortgage has been paid off this still saves on other recurring costs – taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance expenses. When funds run low, you slow down or stop traveling. If you need special medical equipment, it can be incorporated in your home.
Tiny isn’t for everyone
While we think that living tiny is a great way to build a foundation for a large life we know that it’s not for everyone. But we do think it’s for far more people than are currently doing it.
Incredible lives don’t just happen. They are intentionally designed and built.