We now live in a little 106 year old farm house in our favorite historic neighborhood of the Yakima Valley, but we took a circuitousness route to get here and our current existence is, and continues to be, inextricably linked to our tiny house.
Before we ever bought a traditional home, we built (and lived in) a tiny home. That experience and the resulting benefits were invaluable, preparing us with the skills, finances and mental perspective (and perseverance) to tackle the home buying and renovation process. If we had to do it all over again, we wouldn’t change a thing. The time we invested designing, building and living in a tiny house was invaluable, yet there seems to be a myth out there that if a tiny house isn’t forever, than it isn’t worth pursuing. It’s perpetuated by comments like ‘what about if you have kid’s?’ or ‘what about when your child gets older?’
We’re here to tell you that nothing can be further from the truth. We have utilized our tiny house in many different capacities throughout different stages of our lives and it continues to positively influence and provide for our family. The following is an adaptation of an article titled ‘Tiny House Stepping Stone: A Case For The Non-Forever Tiny Home” that we wrote specifically for the June 2019 issue of TINY HOUSE MAGAZINE.
My wife and I stumbled into the tiny house movement at a unique time; it was 2013 and there were only a few well documented examples to consult and no one to ask permission from, let alone any sort of legal recognition of the dwelling scenario we envisioned. There was however an undeniable energy and a certain allure to the ‘under the radar phase’ the movement was in before there was enough critical mass to take a stab at legally defining the subset of alternative housing that is ‘tiny houses.’
We were young, up for anything and had just moved across the United States to live out our dreams of a life full of outdoor pursuits in a region of endless possibility; the Pacific North West. We also had the debt that came with our graduate degrees and found solace in the idea of simplicity through reduction and the lower cost of living that could be achieved by living on wheels; not to mention the flexibility.
Over the next fourteen months, primarily on weekends we turned our graph paper sketches and late night conversations into a reality; learning each task and paying for the project weekend by weekend. It was undoubtedly the hardest and most complex joint task we had taken on as a team with an equally rewarding feeling of pride upon completion. Yet before we ever moved into our tiny house we were adamantly declaring that our tiny house was NOT a forever plan; at least not from a full time living perspective. It may sound like an odd declaration but there seemed to be an ‘if it’s not forever it’s not worth doing’ mentality and we wanted to reconstruct that narrative and show that a tiny house could positively benefit us in a variety of ways over its life time, not limited to personal full time occupation.
It is unfortunate that the fear of ‘plans changing down the road’ stops people from pursuing something that they think could have a very positive impact on their lives rather immediately. We see too many people afraid to commit to something because they don’t have all of the questions answered ahead of time. Sometimes we make decisions based on immediate needs. Sometimes we make decisions based on the future well being of ourselves and/or our families. We successfully did both when we began our tiny house journey.
On January 31, 2016 we SHED the superfluous items in our lives and moved into those 204 self-built square feet with no idea how long that tiny space would be our home. Aided by large publications and popular websites, our home exploded onto the internet and we fielded a fair amount of criticism and opposition to our lifestyle which grew louder when, a little over a year after moving into our tiny house we announced Samantha was pregnant. We were no longer the assumed tiny house demographic and it felt like there was an eager crowd of people waiting to say ‘I told you so’ if we decided to move out. [We continued to live in our tiny house for another 18 months, adapting the space to our growing family as needed with projects like a D.I.Y. BEDSIDE BASSINET and CUSTOM LOFT EDGE NET BARRIER AND TILT UP DOOR.]
Even those in favor of tiny homes would say ‘I love what you are doing and I would do something similar in a heartbeat but I want to have children in the future,’ or ‘what about when your daughter gets older?’ and it was again clear that the idea of utilizing a tiny house for a particular stage of one’s life and then ‘moving on’ did not seem like a reasonable idea to many.
Meanwhile (and ironically) the concept of ‘forever home’ is fading all together. A home that can satisfy the evolving needs of a person(s) for their entire life barely seems plausible now-a-days; especially if it is location static. There are growing families that feel the need to up-size, empty-nesters that want to downsize, people changing locations due to employment, those who lose their intended ‘forever home’ due to drowning debt, or any other number of reasons that require a majority of us to change living situations multiple times throughout our lives.
THREE STAGES AND COUNTING
Our tiny house has been and continues to be an incredible tool and experience spanning three distinct stages of our lives so far. During the first stage we were a young couple wanting to reduce our time at the office and increase our time exploring outside. The diverse education alone that came from designing and building our tiny house was worth the money it cost to build and the lessons learned about ourselves and each other during the process are invaluable. We owned our home outright and could take it with us when needed. Our dramatically reduced cost of living allowed us to reduce the number of days we worked while building a substantial financial safety net and refinancing six figure student loan debt to an aggressive five year repayment plan while traveling more. We were simultaneously happier and more prepared for the future than ever before.
During the second stage we became first time parents and spent the most transformative years of our life in those 204 square feet. The minimal nature of our home and our possessions allowed us to focus 110% on each other and our new addition and we couldn’t have asked for a better environment during this stage of our lives. I can’t overstate the importance of being able to focus on our child and relationship rather than how we were going to pay the next bill. Most notably, we were able to take extended parental leave to spend more time with our daughter for her first six months of life and then I had the newly afforded opportunity to become stay-at / work-from-[tiny]home father to Aubrin. By then our tiny house officially paid for itself; that is to say the amount of money saved from our reduced cost of living over thirty-two months equaled the amount of money initially spent on our tiny house.
And then we were catapulted into the third stage of this journey sooner than expected when we fell in love with and purchased a 106 year old farm house in our preferred neighborhood surrounded by friends and with-in walking and biking distance to our jobs. It is not a secret that those three years in the tiny house had financially enabled us to make a split-second decision like this. The unique little home with a sub-one-thousand square foot footprint was modest and not overwhelming yet had a beautiful quirkiness that made it irresistible. There were moments and spaces and potential that we connected with on an immediate and indescribable level and in the span of twenty minutes I had already played out years worth of memorable scenarios of our family growing up in those spaces.
In our minds we were investing in an experience, not simply purchasing an asset. This home needed us and we couldn’t be more happy to give it the love and attention it deserves while becoming the next stewards of this little piece of history. Encouraged by the skills learned and confidence gained from building our tiny house, we spent the next eight months stripping our new home down to its bones and pouring every last bit of time and energy bringing it back to life while being ever thankful to be living in the tiny house rather than amidst the debris [and without a kitchen].
At first glance this recent development may seem like a departure from and the end of our tiny house journey but that isn’t true. This path has never been about the tiny house, it is about the life it affords. The physical tiny house was a tool used to enable the life we desired and our decision to acquire a little home on foundation in the middle of the Pacific North West, very near our friends and our jobs and everything we have grown to love in our adopted home town is a continuation of that goal. The new found perspective, lessons learned, construction skills, and opportunities inherited from our tiny house journey will have a lasting effect throughout or lives and for that we will be forever grateful. Maybe paradoxically, we hope this story of ‘moving-on’ helps others find confidence in their decision to go tiny. It was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
But there is another part of this third stage that continues to be amazing in multiple ways. We now have the ability to share our tiny house with others as a way to inspire and educate those potentially interested in a tiny living. This summer we spent three months sharing our home with people from all over North America through Airbnb. We dedicated THIS ENTIRE POST to the exhausting but rewarding experience of turning our tiny house into an Airbnb rental. Financially speaking, our tiny house earned enough supplemental income to pay for the mortgage on our new home and much of my monthly student loan payment. When Samantha and I were spending those long days and nights cobbling away on our little dream I never could have imagined that it would would literally pay for itself and then, enable the opportunity to purchase and continue to pay for our next home.
Most recently, we shifted from nightly rentals on Airbnb to a long term renter and our tiny house is allowing us to provide affordable housing to a new young professional who just moved to the Yakima Valley.
Sometimes I feel weird continuing to write about tiny houses; like I am a fraud now that we no longer live tiny. There are days when I feel like an outsider to the movement we were so heavily involved in for so many years. But I’ve come to the conclusion that our perspective may be that much more valuable after having experienced so many facets of the movement. We have designed a tiny house, built a tiny house, found a place to put it, lived full time in it, raised a child in it, and now rent it to others while also experiencing traditional home ownership so I feel like we have a unique and unbiased perspective about the ongoing pros and cons from both sides of the fence, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of both could be the perfect recipe for you.
Up Next on this blog will be a recap of this summers extensive and continuing remodel of our little 106 year old home. Stay tuned!