Lessons Inspired by Unfortunate Circumstances.

The last couple weeks have been a conglomeration of progress on a variety of fronts which will be covered in a follow up post, but I want to bring up an event I have been thinking about a lot over the last 48 hours, and that is the theft of a nearly completed tiny house right around Christmas time. While naturally it was a devastating event for the couple, it was this PROFANITY LADEN POST and a few other related posts that has me reflecting. To be honest, I didn’t know about Casey and Jessica’s Tiny House project until the reported theft, and it is actually the first theft of a tiny home I have personally ever heard of despite it being an all too legitimate concern for this type of project.  But rather than the theft, I want to take a minute to focus on the misdirected and over generalized disillusionment with the “tiny house community” that was spewed onto the internet in their time of vulnerability and pain. Even if they do not 100 percent truly feel this way, I think it contains information that is valuable to anyone wanting to take on a similar project, including Samantha and I.

Their general consensus was that building a tiny home had not been fun and that the group of people often times referred to as the “tiny home community” or “movement” are a less than stellar clan of “self entitled idiots,” either trying to financially capitalize on the movement or sticking their nose to far into other peoples projects. It seems that this disdain was born from some rather terrible experiences with a variety of professionals and the all-too-familiar un-solicited suggestions and passive aggressive comments that infiltrate social media and can chip away at ones sanity. The truth is however, that one opens themselves up to the public conversation (both positive and negative) by choosing to partake in social media and in this case by extensively blogging about their Tiny House construction process.

Samantha and I’s decision to go public came after a genuine internal debate in which we concluded that this project was one that we thought could inspire, educate and empower by sharing it with family, friends and strangers alike. We also see value in outside suggestions, support and networking opportunities, but at the end of the day we are doing this first and foremost for us and believe me, we are our own worst critics.

It is fascinating, but not surprising to me how polarizing some of the discussions have become and the lack of a “governing jurisdiction” fuels this. We are participating in an alternative dwelling situation with unique parameters, less than 10 years of steady trial and error and lacking any sort of instruction manual that says “if you do a minimum of this, your house will stand up and keep you warm” (think International Building Code for standard houses). The debates are often times unsubstantiated, overly emotional and tend to be the inevitable result of relative anonymity combined with sensitive issues like environmental ethics, alternative living, best construction practices, zoning ordinances, etc…

But that is exactly what makes this such an intriguing project to us and so many others! It is like being handed a box of lego’s WITHOUT the instructions. The result no longer is a preconceived assembly and instead requires one to look internally for inspiration with the result being an expression of our individual needs and interests and it is these unencumbered scenarios that breed innovation through creative problem solving.

Perhaps the most pertinent content for prospective tiny houser’s comes from Casey and Jessica’s assertion that the process of designing and building a small full time dwelling on a trailer is very hard and can ultimately begin to defeat the original purpose by completely consuming your time, attention and money. I think this provides a natural transition into some important considerations that Samantha and I have followed and found very helpful before and during our still very young process.

  1. Be realistic when approaching the idea of a tiny house.  Excitement is great, as long as it is “offset” with a healthy dose of reality.  Be as open-minded and unbiased as possible before you commit. You will know why you DO want to build a tiny house but try to uncover reasons why you shouldn’t, or you might not be able to. Better now than later.
  2. Decide whether the positives will outweigh the negatives before going public. There is no reason this can’t be an amazing backyard project without any outside interest (& scrutiny).
  3. Be realistic about your time frame before and throughout the project. I noticed that Casey and Jessica initially tried to hire a builder to build their tiny house “as quick as possible.” Very few things in life come quick and easy, I would argue your home should follow suit. We will have 14 months to spread out the tasks. And by following #5 we will be able to celebrate small milestones and hopefully not encounter a stressful situation near the end by pushing a deadline.
  4. Be realistic about money before and throughout the project. Our goal of $16,000.00 is already double what our initial naive estimation and we have been warned by many that project costs can easily surpass $30,000.00. Our hope is that by giving ourselves 14 months we are able to chip away at the project costs slowly with each pay check.
  5. Set small goals. If you follow #3 and #4, you will be pleasantly surprised rather than frequently discouraged. And it is easy to freeze up and become non-committal when viewing the project as a whole. Many people who take on this project are not designers and are not builders and find themselves feeling overwhelmed after the excitement of dreaming up their perfect [tiny] house wears off.
  6. Let the project evolve organically. While this is easier said than done for myself, It has been beneficial to remain extremely flexible. That siding you think is perfect may be too heavy. Those windows you fell in love with may be too expensive, but there are some great options in your local lumberyards barnyard pile as long as you can tweak your design. Someone offers you 200 square feet of left over flooring from a job site for pennies on the dollar but it isn’t exactly what you want? You might want to consider it. These projects lend themselves perfectly to using reclaimed as well as left over materials because of the relative small quantities required.
  7. Buckle up. It’s a long process. Get ready to problem solve. Enjoy the mistakes as much as the successes because if you’re not learning from what you read, the people you interact with and the projects you take on, you are not evolving, you are merely just existing. There is no doubt that any project of this personal importance will become a rollercoaster of emotion, learning curves, mistakes and celebrations but in the end, isn’t that life?

3 replies »

  1. Very well said! I agree completely. Building a tiny house is no easy task (unlike a comment I received that said, “Why couldn’t you just build this in a weekend?), and you have to be really sure it’s what you want before you commit the long hours and money towards it.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. I had never heard of the Tiny House before your interview in the business times. I think it’s a great project and it is fascinating to read about. Who would have thought there would be negative comments and the theft of one? I guess thats the world we live in. Well, best of luck to your project and thanks for the updates.

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