When my husband and I got married, we moved into a 700 square foot, two-bedroom, two-bath duplex. We had a small (but genuine; no fenced-in patio masquerading as outdoor space for us!) back yard, two covered carport spaces, and a laundry room integrated next to the kitchen. Our hallway was a square with five doors coming off it (two bedrooms, bathroom, living room, and hall closet). It was downright swanky in comparison to some first homes. It wasn’t long before we began speaking of dreams. We had already spoken of the usual starry-eyed children, grandchildren, and forever sorts of dreams before marriage; now we began speaking of specifics. How did we want to live? I was finishing my BA in English; he had finished his coursework for his MS in Agriculture (He has since received that Masters degree). What did we actually want to do with these degrees?
Well. Perhaps I ought to have begun this post with the fact that my husband and I may have a tenuous hold on sanity at times. Some of the decisions we’ve made could be questioned by some. For instance–on our first date, we both said, “I love you,” and meant it sincerely. Three months after that I was happily wearing a beautiful and sparkly ring on my left ring finger. Somewhere in-between those two events, several people questioned my thoughts and motivations. I managed to placate them (although I should perhaps not have asked my then-future-mother-in-law if she was indeed asking me what my intentions were towards her son. It may not have been the least antagonistic response to her query. Happily, my mother-in-law and I are now on very good terms. I often feel more like one of the actual kids than one of her in-laws.). Oh. And we scheduled our wedding for a Friday evening. Who does that? We do. We have always been a little different.
And so we began our discussions. Occasionally the idea of converting a bus into a home would surface. “Where would I put my books?” I asked. Underneath, in bins, we decided. Why a bus? So we could explore the country, of course. I’ve always been fascinated by travel and history– a side effect, I think, of the obsession with reading I’ve grown up with. (A great curiosity comes from reading; how much of what I have read about is actually out there? I want to know! I want to see!) He wants to know what life is like all over the place. We really do mesh well, I think. What would we do for income? Well–that brings us back to the question of careers and what to do with our degrees. At that point, I was enrolled in school full time, an hour away. He was working for a friend. One day in philosophy class, I was amused to learn that we were technically well below the poverty line. I hadn’t noticed. (Shall we ignore the fact that in spite of the poverty line, I was unable to receive financial aid? Government technicalities make life interesting.) It’s amazing what love and impractical practicality can do for you. I made an attempt at a few online editing jobs, but nothing panned out. I worked on writing an original novel and wrote a bunch of fan fiction. Yeah, I’ll admit it. Fan fiction. For a fantasy universe. It was fun. I made some good friends that way. He continued working.
Eventually, through his job, he learned of a property in the country. Two acres. A completely trashed red-brick two-room schoolhouse and a (rented!) rental home. The owner’s wife had cancer, and they had moved from the area. He may be open to selling. Have I yet established that we don’t tend to do things normally? If not, let’s just state that for the record here. We don’t. Simultaneously, my aunt and uncle decided to sell their decently-maintained older home with a pool. Shall we take the home that doesn’t need much work, or take on the property that needs a complete rehabilitation prior to moving in? We talked about the usual steps: apartment to small fixer-upper to tract home when the kids come to the “we have arrived” home. Renovating the schoolhouse would in essence be skipping many of those steps; my aunt’s home would be somewhere between the fixer-upper and the tract home. The schoolhouse would become the “end game” home. We knew we could afford the property, but the renovation and landscaping would perhaps be an issue. However…the schoolhouse had a stage, and the stage would make an ideal library (English major…books…).
We picked the property that needed a lot of work. On her first tour of the place, my poor mother later revealed to me that she was physically frightened and nearly ill. Aloud, she said supportive things like, “potential,” “project,” and “progress.” We heard a few variations on those words multiple times from our family and friends.
A year (and a job shift into project management for a homebuilder for the husband) later, we lived in the schoolhouse, and it became a showpiece. It wasn’t to begin with. When we moved in (on Christmas Day, no less), there was no hot water, and my kitchen counter was plywood. Did you know that cooking a hot lunch from scratch for your contractors, and then smiling sweetly and mentioning you’d like to do the dishes in hot water gets results? Also, there were no interior doors. Two or three years after that, we had added a garage that had a mother-in-law quarters behind, and two additional (handicap accessible!) restrooms behind that. We had P-L-A-N-S for our property. It could be an event destination! People would flock to us to have their weddings! We could put in a pool! There could be a room or two added in the back half-acre, and we could have a B&B (It helps that I like to make breakfast…)! The property would become our income and we wouldn’t need to have outside jobs! By this time, I was teaching English at a local high school.
Nota Bene: Teaching isn’t exactly my forte. I excelled at certain aspects, but
I could never comprehend why the students wouldn’t just do the logical thing and both behave and do their work. It shouldn’t have been such an issue. This attitude didn’t help my interactions with them. I did enjoy making fun of them behind their backs for their myriad typos and malapropisms, however. Where else could you get gems like: “I felt asleep” and “My family moved Montana” but in a teaching environment? Studentisms, I call them.
And then. And then, after having multiple large parties at our lovely home. After everyone just knowing that our place was the meeting place for whatever gathering. After I experienced the true joy of entertaining ̶ I love playing in my kitchen (or your kitchen. Most kitchens, really. I like challenges. In the kitchen.) After a few children were born. After finishing the original novel, and revising it. After progressing from delight to complacence to vague annoyance with the sheer twelve-foot-ceilinged dust-ridden huge-dirty-windowed rapidly-filling-with-stuff SPACE of our lovely home (now may be the time to mention that my first job was as the Head Housekeeper for a 14-Cabin resort in the mountains, but if it’s my own home it’s much more difficult for me to do the cleaning and maintenance part with any sort of enthusiasm and regularity), those discussions about living in a bus returned to the forefront of our consciousnesses. But perhaps not a bus. Or maybe that cool double-decker bus we saw parked just off the freeway east of town. We actually found the guy who owned it and braved the potential rattle snakes to seriously explore the possibility of that one. He was going to let us have it for an exceptionally reasonable price, considering it was a shell that didn’t run. But the ceilings were shorter than my dad, and I just couldn’t quite see people being happy visiting, even though I thought the concept was supremely awesome. Or perhaps–just maybe–one of those Tiny Homes that were becoming increasingly popular if you looked in just the right place on YouTube. We occasionally even heard about regularly scheduled television shows centered on Tiny Homes. We had made the decision, upon our marriage, not to purchase a television service. We are fifteen years in, and still don’t have one. We do have a decent DVD library, and have had some television series either on DVD or saved on a hard drive somewhere, but we only watch television when we are away from home. It makes for yet another checkmark in the “abnormal” column, if one were to analyze our lives (as I suppose we are inviting you to do…).
Questions arose. We lived in a 2600 square foot home with an additional 1400 square foot multi-purpose outbuilding. I literally (I was an English major. You can trust me when I say literally.) had stuff stored in lovely shelves to my tall ceilings in the (walk-in) pantry (which had integrated sink, a secondary oven, counter space, and a chest freezer) and laundry room. We had people over for meals three times a week, on average. We had a growing family. How could we ̶ even if we were intrigued by the concept ̶ give this up for something Tiny? A Tiny Home couldn’t possibly be something that made sense. We weren’t serious, were we? It was just an unconventional pipe dream borne of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement. We really just needed to accept that a thirty-year mortgage and soul-sucking jobs (oh! That was another Studentism. “Many people hate their jobs and just end up quieting.” Not quitting. Quieting. I love that one. It is inadvertently philosophical.) were our lot in life like everyone else does.
And so we talked. Realized that what we do when the family is all home is either spend time outside, or all congregate within twenty feet of each other and do what we are doing. Determined that with my husband’s homebuilding and renovation experience, he could design everything we wanted into a Tiny Home. My usable kitchen prep space would exceed many apartments and cabins. We would still be able to seat twelve people for supper. Yes, in a Tiny Home! The kids would have their loft to sleep in; we would have ours. We would still spend time together indoors, and outdoors. Life would become…simpler. I would have a full-sized washer and dryer (I have a family of five ̶ I have no desire to frequent a Laundromat), and a shower large enough to bathe myself and all three children without being cramped. Come to think of it, our shower is actually bigger than that square hallway in our first little duplex. Figure that one out! (Also, mark a win for a Tiny Home, there…) A fifteen-foot L-shaped couch was planned.
Okay! So what was I giving up? A bunch of dust. Accumulated stuff. A flush toilet; you’d be amazed at how well composting toilets work, by the way. And my library. It became the dream, and in time it began to take shape in our back yard. The adventure began ̶ and people with prior suspicion had sudden confirmation that my husband and I were, in fact, crazy.
I am writing all of this from a perspective of retrospect. We have lived in our Tiny Home for over a year now. Between the Schoolhouse and the Tiny Home, we spent four months living with some good friends, and another year living in yet another remodel. It was interesting to live in a construction zone with an infant, a three-year-old, and a homeschooled kindergartener. But those aren’t the stories you want. You want to know about living with a family of five in a Tiny Home. Well, stick with me. I’ll let you know the delights, the surprises, and the realities of our not-exactly conventional lives. Maybe, if you’re one who has been wondering if Tiny Home living is for you, you’ll get some answers. Maybe you’ll find that this lifestyle could answer many of your difficulties. Maybe you’ll just think we are crazy. Maybe you’ll just read to ridicule. Or to dream. For whatever reason, whatever the outcome, you are welcome. Here, I’ll ramble, I’ll occasionally rant, I’ll make random parenthetical insertions for clarification or confusion, and I’ll reconcile the Hollywood Reality with my own.
I’m not paid to do this. I just live here.
Katrina Jones is a: Wife, Mother, Daughter, Believer, Writer, and the Chief of Strategy for Tiny House Tool- a business that exists for the purpose of helping attain freedom through frugal living, tiny house dwelling, and smart decision making. To Learn more, take the Tiny House Survey Here.