Life Ain’t Easy Livin’ for Free

This blog could have be called many things. First World Housing Problems, Life Ain’t Easy Livin’ for Free, or my current favorite, Tiny House Whole Lotta Work.

Sun up to Sun Down

Because we’ve chosen to live where we do and build a simpler, cheaper tiny house that is not yet completed, the price of our housing lifestyle is paid not only in money but in work, time, and unending surprises.

When we first installed “Blast Off” the washerdryer, it shook so violently that we’d run around catching​ books and trinkets jiggling off top shelves during the spin cycle.

Every second or third day, we lift the Loveable Loo bucket, our sawdust toilet, into a wagon along with a bucket of water and pull it up the hill to the compost pile in the north pasture.

Farm work two Amish men in wagon

Once or twice a day we hook up the hose from the hydrant to our house’s inlet and fill the tank, watching carefully that it doesn’t shoot a geyser of water into our kitchen.

And as anyone who has camped or glamped with their family knows, things just get dirty! Vacuuming the floor, the couch, the bed, the counter top, and around the sawdust potty . . .

In winter there is wood chopping, tending the wood stove, and shovelling off our un-garaged truck.

We run extra errands for sawdust from the mill, propane tanks from the grocery store, and our mail from the post office.

And this is all the normal, everyday maintenance of living, aside from our main job here on the farm, the 587 or so free-range chickens and assorted odd jobs. Wading through the waist-high grasses to feed, water, and gather eggs, we all have farmer’s tans, including the baby!

We now have farm clothes and town clothes, and muddy boots fill the landing. The kids’ dress cowboy boots are safely tucked away for when we venture into public.

Cooking over a fire pit

We were having lunch with friends from church a couple months ago, and I think she hit the nail on the head.

“Your family feels it all. You don’t just run the water from the tap, flush the toilet, turn up the heat unthinkingly and pay the bill later. You fill the tank, dump the compost, and chop the wood. It must be tiring at times, but at least you’re feeling how much life costs and are done paying for it at the end of each day.”

So if we’re done paying for our housing expenses at the end of each day, what is that worth?

Playing around with creative housing hustles a few posts back, we found that the average home price in our city, Fort Collins, Colorado, currently stands at $350,200.

After 10% down, this comes out to around $1490 for the monthly mortgage payment, plus a ballpark $1043 for utilities, PMI, property tax, maintenance, HOA, etc., totalling $2533/month.

But let’s face it, this number is largely meaningless to those of us who don’t always earn this much per month and would never buy a house this expensive anyway.

And we can’t compare these numbers, apples to apples, to the living expenses of a tiny house because the entire housing experience is so fundamentally different.

Big house vs. tiny house

Oh well, let’s do it anyway!

Right now, our entire housing expenses average out to 2.7% of the average Fort Collins house, or $70/monthly.

Another way of looking at it, this amount pays for three quarters of a day (19 hours) per month in the average Fort Collins house.

The breakdown:

  • Rent $0; paid in farm chores
  • Wood $0; given by friend
  • Electricity $25
  • Propane $15
  • Water and trash $12
  • Sawdust $10
  • P.O. box $8

Why so low?!

First, the location. Our friends’ parents welcomed some help on their farm in exchange for a parking spot on their property. Our target goal is working around 10 hours a week, although it can vary widely. Truly, surprises arise almost daily, and the work on a farm never ends.

What’s the location worth financially? If we had to pay for a camping spot in one of the nearby parks, this would be $500-750 each month that we’d be further from our goals. Very significant.

Apart from these benefits, living on the farm here is both rugged and picturesque. We contend – I mean commune – daily with all the nature around us. Taken as a whole, the tiny house’s current location is a blessing.

Second, utilities. In a small home, we use less. Fewer rooms, fewer lights, fans, and appliances.

Despite enjoying an efficient propane hot water heater, we try to conserve by wearing clothes twice before laundering and taking short showers.

Heat is achieved through kindling and logs too small for our friend to use or sell himself, fed into the wood stove.

Cooling right now is through fans and opening windows. To improve our often-balmy home this summer, we would choose to orient our house on the east-west axis with the door to the south. Shade trees and an awning would help immensely as well, but we’re getting through. At least the evenings and mornings are delightful!

Internet is through our phone’s mobile data as well as through the farmer’s house, as he graciously let us plug in an extender and use his signal. So far, it works sporadically.

Farm mailbox

Third, the house itself. We paid for the construction of the tiny house with blood, sweat, and tears (ours and others’) as well as savings accrued while living for cheap or free for 11 months.

On top of that, we put a hefty amount of construction costs on credit cards. Yikes!

However, with full knowledge of how wasteful interest payments are, it has been our number one priority to pay them off aggressively. As of this writing, we carry a $2904 remaining balance (down from an all-time high of $15,500 six months ago), with hundreds coming off every paycheck. Nearly there, and then on to the big wild student loan payoff!

I cannot exactly recommend this course of action to someone else. Having a credit card balance is ridiculously foolish, right?

On the other hand, this was no ordinary consumer debt. In completing our house sooner and having an almost-free place to live, we have chosen to spend hundreds in interest to save thousands in housing. A calculated risk.

Scenic road from A to B

The Motorcycle Analogy

Somehow, this reminds me of riding a motorcycle all through college. I bought my beautiful Honda Rebel for $1000 and sold it seven years later for the same. It went a whopping 70 miles to the gallon, and I parked right off campus for free in a space with a light pole that could not otherwise be used for cars. As an older bike, it required an average of $50/month in maintenance and with liability only, insurance topped out at $11/month.

Savings compared to a car in depreciation, gas, parking, maintenance, and insurance? Almost incalculable, definitely into the $1000s. And plus, I had the time of my life, and it’s probably what convinced Big Country to marry me. Now how could you put a price on that?

But could I safely recommend riding a motorcycle day in, day out in a traffic-choked metropolis to an absent-minded 20-year-old girl protected by only a helmet, denim jacket and youthful optimism?

A resounding NO! 

But would I do it again?

Liberty on motorcycle

Absolutely!

This is essentially the attitude I have taken toward the tiny house. It is not a “regular” house and does not try to be, just as a motorcycle is not a car and does not pretend to be one, either.

But at the end of the day, the tiny house is a safe, warm place for our family to live, just as a regular house is. A motorcycle was my way, in one season of life, to get from A to B. The tiny house is our way, in this season of life, to get from A to B.

Is it worth it?

So has all the head scratching, stuff chucking, uprooting, designing, building, problem-solving, chicken chasing and compost dumping all been experiences I would recommend to others?

Has this crazy adventure that has tested, taught, broken, and strengthened us wildly beyond our expectations been worth it?

I guess this entire blog is my attempt at figuring this question out.

There’s really no such thing as living for free, just as there’s no such thing as a free car, horse, or anything else.

But we’re doing the closest thing to it that we can, and perhaps we’ll be able to evaluate the depth and breadth of our time here from future eyes.

Motorcycle by the sea

Nature is Our Living Room

Sometime in the night, as if by magic, a little bubbling spring seeped up through the earth and emerged beneath the tiny house.

With the recent rains flooding the Poudre Canyon, the underground river is suddenly coming to the surface in pools dotting the grass, making our new parking spot a muddy marsh. In exasperation, Big lays a makeshift boardwalk in the mud so we can make our way, stepping gingerly, to the truck.

Tiny house on a muddy farm
Little House in the Marsh

Three days later, the marsh is spreading. “Our home smells like the Jungle River Cruise at Disneyland!” I cry in dismay, swatting away flies. “All we need are the hippos!”

It is sultry summer, and the butter melts on the counter. Big labors to install window screens so we can let in the fresh breeze without inviting wasps, flies, and honeybees. A ceiling fan is on order, as the one we picked out was crushed by a falling crate at the store.

For now, we relish shade, wet hair after showers, and the gorgeously cool evenings with pink and lavender clouds swirling into the summer night.

Colorado has famously good weather and boasts 300 sunny days each year. But somehow over the last seven years of living in the state, I did not fully experience the other 65 until now.

Two weeks ago, it was Thunder Snow! Booming grey clouds brought a blizzard of heavy wet snow, swirling all around the tiny house and blanketing every green thing the Spring had brought thus far.

Thunder Snow tiny house farm

During these times, we watch the rain or snow shower down all around us and content ourselves with hot chocolate and watercolors, library books and pillow forts.

After one of these rains, we discovered that the moisture from the soaked ground had evaporated up under our tarps of tools and possessions still in the yard, soaking everything. Hours of sun drying toys, washing quilts, and line drying papers and photos ensued.

This afternoon, we were under a tornado warning, and Big hunkered down in his truck across town until the golf ball sized hail let up. Then, all of a sudden, deep blue skies broke through the silver clouds.

Nature and blue skies at the tiny house

And the skies above are not the only thing we’re now closer to in a tiny house.

Mountain lion in the pasture

Large, unwavering eyes following Big one night led us to be extra wary of the mountain lions that stealthily prowl the foothills. We keep the kids indoors after dusk and go together when we need to run out for something at night. And a rifle has been added to our belongings, courtesy Papaw.

Raccoon at the tiny house

Silently​ precocious raccoons and skunks have visited the grounds around our trailer at night, pawing for worms and other treats.

Colorado fox

We awoke with a start one dark night as a fox pair screamed their banshee wails to one another across the windy pasture.

Canadian geese on the tiny house farm

In the icy months of late autumn and winter, the wide swaths of grass welcomed flocks of Canadian​ geese. A sleek coyote would circle around, setting his hungry eyes ambitiously on the giant birds.

Honey bees at the tiny house

Occasional honey bees from the nearby hives flit here and there around our house. But on the afternoon we were set to hitch up and move thirty paces closer to the main house, something got into those bees!

Suddenly billowing to a 70,000-strong swarm blocking our path, the local beekeeper arrived, and we learned that the hive was splitting. Lasting less than an hour, we were soon able to go about our business unplugging, hitching up, and moving the house.

Colorado fall tree tiny house

After growing up in southern Arizona, coming to Colorado marked the advent of experiencing real seasons for us. Furthermore, living only a few steps away from the outdoors at any given time means that we see, hear, smell, and feel nature more immediately, with little separation from these things.

It’s interesting to see the kids playing and acting out the things around them, rather than characters from shows. Chickens and coyotes, foxes and geese, they imitate the squawks and growls and make dens and nests on the couch and under the table. And wide-eyed Baby Hazelnut is big sister Firebell’s “precious baby calf.”

Firebell and Calf at the dairy

Being this close to nature isn’t always comfortable and often makes us scramble. But our hope is that the kids are thriving during this tiny house season with nature as their living room.

Creative Housing Hustles in a Hot Market

Our plan, as long as we’ve been married, was always to have Big Country finish school, get a fulfilling, decent-paying job that left plenty of time for family, live frugally, avoid debt, buy land, and build our own cabin or yurt.

That is, until we thought we were going for the gold in pursuing a medical career and instead ran ourselves into the ground emotionally and financially.

Playing big and putting all your chips on the table means that sometimes you lose big. But, what can you do? Perhaps a bit of vagabonding and stumbling through the building of a homemade tiny house for your family of five? That sounds reasonable.

Big Country and Liberty in our living room . . . the Rockies
Big Country and Liberty in our living room . . . the Rockies

But really, this unique vantage point has opened our eyes to the myriad of people also under the gun to find sustaining jobs and housing. And perhaps nowhere else is there a more challenging place to be hustling for housing right now than in Northern Colorado.

Northern Colorado cabin

What’s going on in Northern Colorado?

Recently The Denver Post discussed the phenomenon of this area’s unprecedented housing prices in terms of affordability. Although there is evidence that we’re over the crest of the boom and growth is slowing, it’s still a very hot seller’s market with homes being snapped up mere hours after listing or sooner.

But are these homes affordable? To whom? Out of the dozen most unaffordable counties in America in relation to wages, seven are in Northern Colorado.

Let’s take a look at the area’s biggest city.

The average home price in Fort Collins, CO is $350,200, which comes out to a high $203 per square foot.

  • Mortgage: For the above house, say you’re able to come up with 10% down, plus closing costs, etc. A 30-year mortgage of $315,200 at today’s 3.92% interest rate would mean a mortgage payment of $1490/month.

Add in . . .

  • Utilities: electricity, gas, water, trash, recycling, internet… $200/month is a ballpark estimate, as factors such as local rates, a home’s insulation, and personal preferences make all the difference.
  • Maintenance: common rule of thumb is 1% of the purchase price per year, so $3502/yr or $292/month.
  • Property tax: a percentage based on a percentage. First, the assessed fair market value of a property is generally 80-90% of the sale price. Then the county or state collects tax on this figure. Larimer County collects .64%. Let’s say 85% of $350,200, which is $297,670. Then, .64% of this is $1905/yr or $159/month.
  • Private mortgage insurance (PMI): required for down payments of under 20% to protect the lender (the bank) from the borrower (you) defaulting on the loan. This can be .3%-1.5% depending on credit score and down payment amount. Let’s say 1%, so $3502/yr and $292/month.
  • HOA fees, lawn care, tree service, and/or anything else applicable to home ownership. Homeowner Associations (HOAs) are all over the board in what they charge and what services they provide, and there really is no meaningful average. Fort Collins is green and full of trees. Let’s throw out $100/month.
  • . . . and you could be looking at shelling out $1043 + the mortgage of $1490 = $2533/month for housing related costs.

Most lenders consider 28% as the standard “housing ratio,” which is the maximum responsible allocation of pre-tax income toward housing (consisting of principal, interest, taxes, and insurance).

So if we were to take out utilities, maintenance, HOA, and other services, the house above would come out to $1901/month.

$1901 is 28% of $6789. And so, to afford this average Fort Collins home, the average home buyer would need to make $6789/month, or $81,471/year.

These numbers are representative of the Front Range region in general. Some neighboring towns as well as outlying areas, foreclosures, short sales, and the daunting “handyman specials” run somewhat more​ affordable.

“Hot” areas like Timnath and Berthoud can run even more expensive, into the half-a-million-dollar range for, at the end of the day, yet another single family dwelling. And of course this is not to mention the separate unaffordable universes of Boulder, Vail, and Telluride.

For comparison, the average monthly rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in Fort Collins runs $1400, although this can only accommodate a family of four under the city’s “two person max per bedroom” rule. Families with even one baby more than this (like us) have to go bigger.

These numbers are all fine for a working professional who makes a high steady income and wants to put down roots in a vibrant, desirable area of the country. For the rest of us, we have to get more creative.

Creative Housing boho loft

Families who Hustle

We know a family who both lives for free and draws an income from their work on a grass-fed cattle ranch. The gentleman farmer-owner, a doctor in the city, needed a manager for the estate and someone to renovate the farmhouse. The husband of the young family hired for the job has experience with both cattle and carpentry, so it was a perfect fit.

We have friends who pay a small mortgage on rural land, live in a 400 or so square foot converted Tuff Shed, and slowly build their home as earnings come in. They have debated whether to go the route of a construction loan to move things along, but banks don’t typically understand their unconventional plans for a homestead.

A sweet former student of mine and her husband and two boys just moved to a 600 square foot loft in downtown Loveland. The rent’s a bit pricey, but it’s a perfect location to be close to family, work, and community.

We have friends who rent a farmhouse they worked hard to renovate and beautify for their first year’s rent. They’re happy here and have no foreseeable plans to move or buy. Still, they have struggled with the nebulously communicative owners who at times have seemed suddenly eager to sell it out from under them.

We have friends who went in with their older parents to buy a rural farm and have moved all three generations together to enthusiastically establish a life for themselves, complete with gardens, bees, chickens, and ducks.

We have acquaintances who lived in little more than a room when their son was born and placed him in a dresser drawer beside their mattress. “Just take him into bed with you!” encouraged the wise midwife.

Other friends stay temporarily in basements of friends, with something always cooking in the kitchen and little kids’ screams and laughter ringing through all the rooms.

An enterprising single woman we’re privileged to know lived for two years at a family member’s empty condo. Then, with that family member’s assistance, she bought and completely renovated a home in a desirable neighborhood. She now lives in a beautiful home of her own and rents out two of the rooms for $600/month apiece to other single ladies.

Another couple we know VRBOs two rooms in their home, making $18,000 last year alone.

Several friends bought homes they don’t love at much lower prices a few years ago, but they probably won’t sell high because they can’t afford anywhere else. They instead are cautiously renovating and preparing their homes in case an opportunity presents itself to make an advantageous lateral move.

Others have left the state for opportunities to build a life elsewhere, usually staying with family for a season while getting established.

And many others struggle on, paying 50% or more of their earnings on housing, as we did before the tiny house adventure.

So what is the answer to an increasingly unaffordable, even skyrocketing housing market when you’re a hardworking, blue collar family?

Big Country and I continue to learn many things that help formulate an answer to this apparent quandary of shelter.

Creative Housing for families

Shelter Thoughts

  • Pursuing a house for your family in a hot market is about getting smart, working hard, earning more, and spending less. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be an impossible quest or a pie-in-the-sky dream to be financially fit, have a comfortable home, and build a legacy for your family.
  • Recognize what currency you possess. It may be youth, flexibility, education, health, physical strength, good communication, a particular skill, a language including native English, a willingness to be frugal for your goals, or simply a joyful heart. In an abundant society, there are opportunities to leverage even small assets for big dreams.
  • Talk to friends about their housing journey. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
  • Familiarize yourself with different attitudes towards housing, risk, and debt. Most people pay their minimum monthly mortgage payment and spend almost everything else, or more. Some people seek to aggressively pay down their mortgage as soon as possible and live mortgage-free. Others prefer to leverage extra money into additional rental properties or other investments and believe the risk and stress to be worth the payoff. Consider your personality and family goals in light of different options.
  • Study historical trends of both the housing and business cycles.
  • Learn and know the housing market of your area. Download the Zillow app, get updates on houses that go up for sale, take realtor friends to coffee, attend realty seminars. Make it a goal to get good at estimating prices based on many factors. It’s fun!
  • Consider what level of fixer-upper you are game for. The more you can do yourself, over time, paid with cash, the richer you will be, but hardcore insourcing must be balanced with the reality of your skill set and family life.
  • Learn what you really want and need in a home. For us, an east-west orientation with south-facing windows is way more important than square footage.
  • Be fluid; be patient. Your picture of the right home may change over time. And there is no joy in making the pursuit of a house into an idol.
  • Opportunities come in very unexpected ways. We would have never foreseen the blessings of the past year and a half: housesitting for two different families, totalling six months; having incredible, skilled help on the tiny house from our wonderful host family of 12; being able to work hard and live for free on a beautiful farm. What’s next? I can’t wait to find out.

Spring Blooms in the Tiny House

Spring is in full swing, here in the tiny house on the farm!

Lush tall grass has filled the surrounding pastures and hills. Billowing clouds roll off the mountains, bringing invigorating, Englishy rains. And two little wobbling calves have been born this past week.

Cow and calf tiny house farm

We seem to be getting into the rhythm of life here. Roasting hot dogs with family and friends around the fire pit on gorgeous, cool evenings. Big Country contentedly pruning rose bushes and lilacs, Rig and Firebell eager to scuttle off with enormous branches to the burn pile.

Lobbing wagonloads of last fall’s apples to eager chickens. Baby Hazelnut turning her head at every new sight, smell, or sound, fatter and squealier than ever.

Brown hen tiny house farm

Our expectations have, for the most part, come into focus with life as it is. Not a complacency but a humored acceptance of where we are, with a slow-burning ambition underneath and a keen eye to the future.

We’re ever learning to become more fluid, more content with incremental, patient gratification of dreams. It may not seem like things are happening, but under the surface, there is tremendous growth. Things are changing, building, progressing.

Specific tiny house milestones this late winter and spring:

King-size sleeping loft with strapping and cable supports since the corners extend slightly over windows.

Studs and strapping tiny house loft

Tiny house loft cables

The night Big and I hoisted the enormous futon into the loft, we suddenly had a sitting area downstairs and a bedroom upstairs!

For five years now, Big Country and I have co-slept with our kids. First one, then two, now three! Sleeping all together has been one of our most rewarding parenting decisions, bringing peace, calm, and connection for all of us. So thankful we can continue this tradition even in a tiny house.

Ladder to the loft, with ladder bar. After experiencing futility with a flimsy RV ladder we took the trouble to modify and paint, we found that a storable telescoping ladder was our best solution for now. In the future if we shorten the loft to a Queen for renting out, there will be room to have a convenient, rolling library ladder.

Ladder bar tiny house loft
Big installing a pipe to serve as a bar to attach ladder

Windows washed in and out.

String lights under the loft for evening. Now our life is a party!

String lights under loft tiny house

Clothes storage: shelves and fabric cubes, closet bar, hooks, and a laundry basket to keep work clothes and farm boots. Still a bit messy for me, but at least everything has a place.

Clothes storage tiny house

Blinds and a trimmed kitchen window.

Kitchen blinds tiny house

Dish rack over the sink to both drain and store dishes, along with a trimmed sink and tiled space under the Berkey. So homey to see our dishes. And it streamlines cleaning up when you don’t have to put away dishes after they’re dry!

Tiny house over sink dish rack

Sleeper couch, a gift from a friend. A place to read stories, make a pillow fort, collapse after work, eat midnight chocolate, and everything else during waking hours. We’re thinking of making a slipcover and putting the couch on risers for extra storage.

Tiny house living room and sleeper couch

Washerdryer. The kids have christened it Blast Off, for good reason. But we love it! I typically do one load every morning, cloth diapers every third day and clothes the other two days. Perfect for us.

Loading the washerdryer combo

Book shelves, hooks, and some (but not all) outlet covers. With every purchase carefully budgeted, we’re still holding out for a few fancier decorative outlet covers. Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous, but another token of slow-burning gratification nonetheless.

Book shelves tiny house

Cleaned up build site, roughly taking 25 man hours’ worth. Trash chucked. Lumber, personal possessions, and tools organized. Amazingly, there are still several items to give away or sell. And the rest of my sewing fabric went to Mamaw, a great relief.

Hand held vacuum makes it easier to clean up all the sawdust, wood stove ash, and dirt tracked in!

New compost pile in the back pasture to dump our Loveable Loo and kitchen scraps. Made with metal posts and chicken wire found on the farm, this means no more expensive and unsightly blue barrels, and the three we have we can now hose out and sell.

Humanure compost pile Loveable Loo

Bathroom wall framed, sided, sanded, and tung oiled. Next up with this project, shelves for kitchen storage between the studs and a sliding barn door. And yes, that is a beach towel clamped in the doorway.

Tiny house bathroom wall

And finally, we moved the house! A friend came by with his work truck to haul the house (with the kids and I in it!) just thirty paces away, closer to the main house and out of a pasture needed for chickens.

Moving the tiny house

We miss the wide open view of mountains and pasture to the north but are looking forward to seeing the blooming of a giant rose bush out our big window in the new location. And who knows what kind of views we’ll see out our tiny house windows in the future!

Tiny Home Sweet Home: What We Got Right

We’ve made a whole lot of mistakes this past half year in building our tiny house, chiefly in design, but we got some things right, too, chiefly in materials.

The design and layout are challenging in the short-term chiefly because we’re a family with little kids. I’ve wished recently that we had a mud room, an entrance through the kitchen, and king bunk beds at the back of the house. Instead, our door opens to the main room with a large 8′ window front and center, kitchen and bathroom to the right, and sitting area to the left beneath the loft.

But the upside is, I believe that for the long-term, the house’s layout is actually more beneficial, professional, and inviting when considering it may be used as a guest house, massage studio, office, rental, or residence for one of our grown children in the future. After all, who would want to Narnia their way through someone’s coat closet only to arrive at a massive bedroom?

So in talking with Big Country about our successes and failures on the tiny house build, I’ve begun to make peace with the design and to count it as a win overall.

Luckily, other choices are much easier to love! Some other things we got right on the tiny house so far:

Trailer

Tiny house trailer Dan Louche

A high quality heavy duty trailer fabricated specifically for tiny houses makes a stress-free foundation. No way were we up to welding and fortifying a used trailer for our purposes.

Hiring out the Framing

Tiny house framing

For us, hiring out the framing jump-started the tiny house build. In two days, a small local crew built what would have taken Big Country by himself several weeks or even months of labor and possibly injury and defeat.

Cedar Siding

Cedar siding with tung oil

Purchased from a friendly young wholesaler on the interstate, the rustic 1″ x 6″ tongue and groove cedar siding has defined the style of our home, and we love it. Aromatic, resistant to moisture and pests, and stained with natural tung oil, it’s gorgeous!

Alpaca Wool Insulation

sheathing over alpaca wool insulation

Yes, this was such a ridiculous ordeal, but you can’t argue with the house’s incredible coziness even when the wood stove is not burning and there’s a blizzard outside. The true test will be how insulative it is in the summer heat. Will it feel shady and cool, or will it feel like we’re wearing a giant alpaca wool sweater indoors? Stay tuned . . .

Oil-Rubbed Bronze

Oil rubbed bronze door knob and key

Just as the tiny house build has had a life of its own, the house decor has evolved item by item seemingly on its own. One common theme that has emerged is oil-rubbed bronze in the fixtures and details.

Oil rubbed bronze door knob and alder knot

It all started with the alder door’s light wood accented by dark knots and has informed our design choices throughout the house. From the door knob and key to faucets to shelf brackets and even spray-painted exposed strapping, we’ve tried to keep everything oil-rubbed bronze.

Tiny house oil rubbed bronze door hinge

Tiny house oil rubbed bronze loft strapping

As a contrast, many tiny housers use discount, mismatched fixtures, and one couple we knew even used a tin bucket as a bathroom sink! Nothing’s wrong with any of that if it works, but I am glad we are pursuing aesthetic cohesiveness with our decor. The developing rustic elegance is calming.

Wood Stove

Tiny house Grizzly wood stove

There are many pros and cons of heating your tiny home with a wood stove. It takes more daily time, labor, and finesse than other means. Chilly mornings demand that you depart your cozy bed and make a fire before making a hot drink, showering, or starting breakfast.

But the ambiance, beauty, reliability, and free heat from free wood is terrific. Our Cubic Mini Grizzly wood stove is cheery and interests and inspires our senses.

And I would add, even the simple, methodical work it requires to build and maintain a fire can be a positive, disciplined experience. Not everything in life needs to be rushed through.

Windows

Tiny house window on snowy day

Large windows letting in that wholesome, mood-lifting Colorado sunshine. What could be better for a small space?

Door

Tiny house alder door

Our alder door was a unique piece of beauty found at a fraction of the cost at a local used building supply company specializing in doors. So glad we didn’t attempt to build a door, which in all likelihood was a nightmare averted.

Metal Roof

Tiny house metal roof with shed house wrapped

Sturdy, lightweight, and a cheery “ivy green,” the metal roof will almost certainly protect this tiny house for several decades.

Kitchen Sink

Tiny house kitchen sink wood stove

A large, single basin stainless steel kitchen sink has been so nice to use for washing dishes and especially babies and toddlers. The three foot wide dish rack we plan to order will fit nicely right over it, serving as a place to hold just about everything!

Loveable Loo

Loveable Loo compost toilet

The Loveable Loo sawdust toilet – simply a 5 gallon bucket housed in a wooden cabinet with toilet seat affixed on top – was a generous gift from homesteading friends and has been surprisingly easy. It’s hard to believe we’ve been using this for half a year with few issues. Simple, free, waterless, and a way to truly compliment the beauty of the phrase, “in nature, there is no waste.”

Washerdryer

Our new washer/dryer in one! I smile every time I put a load in and press start, and the kids sing, “the washer’s done!” in unison when it plays its happy tune at the end of a cycle. Truly magic. I will never take a washing machine for granted again, now that I’ve lived without one!

Mini Fridge

Tiny house mini fridge

How does a family of five who cooks nearly every meal from scratch live with only a mini fridge?!

Hands down, this has been the easiest, most seamless transition we’ve made since going tiny. The success of the mini fridge in our lives is due to eating a simple, whole foods diet (with some treats of course!) and eating up everything in a timely way.

Our 4.4 cubic capacity fridge, which was $150 on sale from Costco, truly holds everything we need for a week. Typically, this includes raw milk, homemade broth, cheese, eggs, butter, cod liver oil, peanut butter, maple syrup, veggies, tortillas, meat thawing for the next day, and various homemade condiments.

Plumbing

Tiny house plumbing PEX pipe and tank

Thanks to our wonderful host dad we were living with this past fall, our tiny house plumbing is simple, exposed, and able to be modified if needed in the future. Including PEX pipe, a 40 gallon freshwater tank, heat tape around the greywater outspout, an RV inlet, and outside spigots, it has served our needs well.

Tiny house RV water inlet and spigots

As an added bonus, the bath tub faucet is at a great location for little ones to wash hands by themselves.

Sleeper Couch

Tiny house living room and sleeper couch

A place to rest, play, and read, the small sleeper couch given to us by another close friend has become a must for our family. And who can resist the retro golden flower fabric?

Building the tiny house at all!

When I think back to just this past summer, when Big Country with broken toe and smashed thumb was laboring in the heat to attach the subfloor to the bare trailer, I shudder. I would never want to go back!

The good thing is, we don’t have to. Life keeps moving forward, and we can thrive amidst constant change and even hardship knowing that we have weathered storms in the past. We’re still here!

 

Tiny Home Sweet Home: Things We’d Change

After living in our hand-built, still-under-construction tiny house on wheels for a whopping, very full five months now, I’ve brainstormed several ideas of how I’d make things better the next time around.

Tiny house under construction

The next time around?! Okay, we may not build another tiny house any time soon, or ever, considering this past year nearly killed us! But hey, never say never, and perhaps a dozen years from now, strapping, adventure-seeking teenage Rig will want to build his own.

So for our kids’ sake, and for other young bucks out there who care to learn from our fledgling tiny experience, this one’s for you.

Mud Room / Entry

We got a little obsessed with eliminating what tiny home builder Dan Louche calls “micro hallways,” tiny house areas where you don’t spend much time and really just serve the purpose of conveying you from one center of activity to another.

However, I would argue that in any climate with seasons of mud, rain, and snow that necessitate jackets and boots, the mud room / entryway qualifies as a vital area, not a micro hallway.

In a future tiny home, I would have the door on the short-walled back end of the trailer that would include a porch, opening into a mud room of three or four feet deep. It would be floored with a resilient hardwood, marmoleum, or even diamond plate metal. On one side would be a closet for shoes, coats, work coveralls, hats, gloves, sunglasses, and keys. On the other side would be the washerdryer, laundry basket, and small freezer.

The entry could have a stool to assist in putting on boots and a heavy curtain separating it from the main house to keep out rushes of cold air when the door opens.

Tiny house door covered in ivy

Porch and Door Location

In comparing tiny house trailers, every 4′ in length adds substantially to the price. Why would someone justify buying a trailer only to allot four whole feet of it to a porch?

Well, now I understand. The porch is a living room of sorts, and it serves also as a pre-mud room to transition coming in and going out. A place to leave shoes, a place for kids to play in so-so weather, a place to sit in the mornings or evenings, a place to welcome visitors . . . the list goes on.

It’s also good to keep in mind that inside the house, a loft can be built fully or partially above the porch, so even a king size bed would only extend four feet into the visual space inside rather than eight (or not at all, with a mud room). This time around, it simply was not in our budget to order a 28′ trailer, but if there’s a next time around, you bet we’ll make it a priority!

Reading in tiny house loft

Lofts & Sleeping Arrangements

Lofts. This has been such a hard one to figure out. Because of our desire to adhere to our area’s suggested R-values while using alpaca wool insulation, we needed to insulate at 6″ thickness for floor and ceiling instead of the standard 4″. At the same time, our inside height dimensions were limited, in order to stay within the legal 13’6″ for tiny homes on wheels. And because of Big’s height (6’4″), those lofts seemed to shrink even more during the design phase.

So, we planned to have a ground-floor bed. Except that hauling the pillows and comforter off and folding up the massive futon every single morning while holding the baby and shooing off dancing children was so much trouble, I was ready to scream!

True, it would have been easier to use a thinner synthetic insulation and thus a taller loft, but we’re so glad we didn’t, as a big desire was to avoid damaging off-gassing from the materials we used. But I think by doing more research into designs and by purchasing plans rather than relying on our own, we could have opened up some space possibilities.

Our makeshift solution: go ahead and build the king loft. Live (tiny) and learn! However, with windows obviously not able to shift, the loft is built as a queen, with a king extension coming slightly over part of two windows. We’ll modify it back to a queen if and when we rent it out down the road.

Also, the loft clearance is at 6’2″, which makes Big Country and anyone else vertically blessed duck a bit to enter the sitting area.

On the other side of the house, we have space for a single or double bed loft, not yet built. And a new sleeper couch on the ground floor. Just how many kids can we fit in here?!

Catwalk

Another sleeping idea for tiny house families is a catwalk between the parents’ and kids’ bedrooms, as found in Kim Kasl’s home of Bless This Tiny House. That would make nighttime parenting with little ones so much easier than negotiating stairs or ladders at night!

Two king size lofts is another possibility, and I joked with Big Country the other day that we should have just put three king size beds end to end in a massive tiny house attic of sorts to accommodate everyone. And what an awesome play area during the day!

Wild painted house bus

House Bus Dreams

But truly, my very favorite sleeping option for a family building a tiny house is to either buy an extra long trailer or a bus. Then, in the front over the porch/ entry, build one king loft. In the back, build a set of king bunk beds. That way, parents, boys, and girls of all ages can have multiple, flexible sleeping arrangements. I love it!

Kitchen window and coffee

Kitchen Window

A kitchen window positioned right in front of the cook stove invites wild splatter all over the glass. It makes it look as if you cook bacon on high continually throughout the day.

Unless you only use your stove for boiling teacups of water, you will probably get the wall or window behind your stove dirty. Consider using tile or a protective seal on a wall instead. Good thing Big Country has experience professionally cleaning windows! But, who are we kidding, that still doesn’t mean they stay clean.

Purchase Professional Plans!

It was a very difficult decision to land on a house design that was right for our needs. We ended up designing our own, as we never found professional plans that would really allow for Big Country’s height, extra inches for natural insulation, the large, free windows we received, and our budget’s limit of a 24′ trailer while allowing extra living room space for a family.

However, all these stipulations were dwarfed by the incredible reinvent-the-wheel headaches and hurdles we experienced during every single part of the build by not having plans. Next time, oh boy are we going to be first in line to order plans, probably from Tumbleweed, Four Lights, or Portland Alternative Dwellings, as they’re the veterans in the tiny house world.

Electric lights

More Electrical Outlets

The space would be a bit more versatile with a plug near the couch and particularly an extra for the kitchen. I didn’t anticipate this, but shortly after moving into the tiny house, our habits changed (surprise, surprise), and we began using an electric kettle and a crock pot regularly, even daily. As we have yet to install the propane stove and are still using an electric two-burner, these three appliances alone necessitate plugging and unplugging cords multiple times a day. First world problems.

Water Tank Size

This is another choice based on money, space, and usage. Our 40 gallon tank is doable for a family, but barely, as we typically fill up once but sometimes twice a day.

In warm weather, the hose is always out. But in the winter, filling the water tank involves lugging a long, heavy hose from the garage, hooking it up to the nearby hydrant, and watching the tank carefully before shutting it off to prevent the house from flooding! Then hauling the hose back to the garage if it’s expected to dip below freezing at night. Not the most stress-free chore.

If and when we move the tiny house to the backyard of a home in town, we’ll adjust the plumbing so that water will be continually available with a city hook-up.

If we were going to live here on the farm forever, we’d consider installing a bigger tank and buying a freeze-proof RV water hose so we didn’t have to store our hose indoors. Both of these items, however, would be several hundred dollars and this does not jive with our goals.

Bamboo shoots

Bamboo Flooring

Our Craigslist-found bamboo flooring seemed nice but is already scratching up, as well as gathering rivulets of dirt in the seams. You get what you pay for! With a bigger budget, we’d love to put in Cali Bamboo, which we were excited to see last week at our local Lowe’s.

Tiny house family at breakfast

This long list of changes we’d make may convince you we’re unhappy with the tiny house. But actually, far from it!

The learning process has been immense, and we’ve come to a place where we’re now able to laugh about (most of) our mistakes and realize that the imperfections are a huge part of the journey.

And, while this is our family’s home for now, it is likely not our home forever.

It’s best to see the tiny house for what it is: a safe, warm place for our family to live for free, for as long as it makes sense. An eventual unique space to short-term rent for years to come. A welcoming guest house for friends and family. A testament to our brash, risky give-it-our-all effort to simplify and get ahead financially.

In that light, in our next post, we’ll celebrate what we got right, despite ourselves!

Tiny house lock and key

 

The Time it Takes to Build a Tiny Home

Technically, Big Country began attaching our tiny house subfloor to the trailer in late July of this year and we moved in October 29th. However, I would never, ever say it took three months to build. As we march through the last days of 2016 and into January 2017, I look back at the last couple years . . .

January 2015, we meet a crisis point with pre-medical school, funds, time, and kids, and decide to look into tiny houses. We watch the documentary Tiny and cautiously discuss our ideas with trusted family members.

The time it takes to build a tiny home
Book of wonders

February-October 2015, we research and talk together about all things tiny, and experiment, feebly and unsuccessfully, with off-grid living. Conservatively, research alone at an hour a day for nine months = 275 hours. And, as those that helped us build the tiny house can attest, that was not nearly enough research!

Mid October 2015, we review our rental agreement and realize that although we’re on a month-to-month lease, we’re not allowed to leave during the months of December or January. Understandable, as nobody wants to renovate, paint, and list a rental house during the holidays. We make the leap and give our notice for the end of November. Wild packing and discarding ensue.

Thanksgiving 2015, my 33rd birthday. Our house is completely empty. Long, hurried hours of packing the truck and cleaning the house are still ahead, but we’re almost there. We’re invited to a friend’s house down the street for dinner, and we’re incredibly light-hearted and love to explain to anyone who asks what our plans are for the next year. Little do we know.

Christmas 2015. We move out and stay with older friends in a nearby town for the first couple weeks of December as Big Country finishes the work season. While with them, we visit their church, love it, and feel like we’ve found our church home. We visit family in Arizona for the holiday.

January-March 2016, we winter house-sit in the country, and finally make the plunge and order the trailer. Design with Sketchup begins in earnest, as we (foolishly, a thousand times) decide we shouldn’t buy professional plans. Alpaca wool insulation ordered, more research, more preparations. We find out we are expecting Baby #3!

April 2016, we visit family in Arizona again. A particularly downhearted time, as we question everything we’re doing, our options, our limitations, our progress. This month is a blur.

May-August 2016, we summer house-sit in the suburbs for a family of twelve while they are in Italy. Frantically working day and night, yet sidelined by a badly broken toe and multiple rescheduling by our framing crew, we have yet to see any tangible progress until late July. Build parties begin. Baby bump is getting bigger.

August-October 2016, crunch time for the build. Virtually every week, something new goes up: framing, sheathing, house wrap, windows, eaves, door, siding, plumbing, and electrical (several weeks for those last three). Eternally grateful for their long-lasting help and yet embarrassed at our dependency, we bid a hurried farewell to our host family and move in. Rig is 4, Firebell is 2, Baby is nine days old. The tiny house has insulated, sided walls, a floor (except in the bathroom), a roof, electricity, a mini fridge, and hot running water to the bathtub. We have a borrowed space heater and two-burner electric hot plate.

tiny house build

Glamping in the tiny house

November-December 2016, we officially live in our homemade, hand-built tiny house. We settle in the best we can, as there are no lofts, shelves, or cabinets yet built, and the kitchen is unfinished. Clothes are stacked in citrus boxes, tools are in the kitchen sink. Winds whip around the snug little house, and the snows begin, at times making the whole place a mud room.

Friends visiting the tiny house for tea
First visitors for tea

My emotions roll on waves from an incredulous wonder at how we landed here . . . to anxiety over digging ourselves out of the pit of debt . . . to regret for all the mistakes we’ve ever made . . . to longing for our old rental house . . . to relief and thankfulness at friends’ visits and offers to do laundry and bring dinner . . . to happiness at watching the kids play together excitedly all day . . . to admiration and reassurance at Big Country’s tireless work ethic and optimism . . . to peace looking out over the snowy pasture at the neighbor’s large lighted outdoor Christmas tree.

Needless to say, I am at the breaking point. Mid-December, we visit Arizona again for a much-needed break.

When we arrive back to the tiny house in the new year, the journey continues. The work season for Big has slowed for the winter, and there are many questions as to how to pay for the finishing of the tiny house interior, not to mention gas and groceries. I look forward to few things more than continuing to make progress on our personal and financial goals and looking back from quite a distance at this time now.

tiny house in autumn
Autumn colors, green and gold

So what is an accurate timeframe for building a tiny house? This question must be answered with one’s finances, family size, free time, savings, current earnings, family and friend support, and building and design choices in mind. My suggestions . . .

  • tiny house timeframeCheck out tiny house builder Andrew Morrison’s timeframe. Multiply by 4 if you’re single and new to construction. Multiply by 8 if you have a family, are using unconventional materials, or are doing anything besides ordering professional plans and handing a materials list to Home Depot instead of gathering your own supplies. Ok, partially joking, but this is such a difficult thing to pin down! Really consider.
  • Take a look at the Love Liberty Shelter materials list. Every single item listed represents both time and money . . . time for research, decision-making, and searching online or in a store (sometimes adding up to a dozen hours for one item). The list in entirety also represents hours on the phone and possibly 100 trips to the store (no exaggeration).
  • Factor in commute time to the build site.
  • Factor in time you need to spend working, with your family, in school, and on other commitments.
  • And, don’t forget, surprises and delays can abound due to:
    • illness
    • injury
    • family emergency
    • pregnancy
    • job loss or change in hours
    • delayed paychecks
    • vehicle trouble
    • severe, damaging weather
    • lack of organization or foresight as to what needs to happen next
    • unavailability of assisting friends
    • need to move, housing issues
    • need to relocate build site
    • unexpected difficulty in completing a phase of the build
    • mistakes in ordering materials
    • lost or misplaced materials
    • excessive delay in materials being delivered
    • excessive delay or rescheduling of professionals you’re hiring
    • . . . and these are just the things Big Country and I have experienced during our build!

Throughout the dreaming and scheming, I’ve found that it’s crucial to keep a sense of cheerful, unabashed, resilient humor and a grateful humility that tempers the pride of an achievement like this. Extend yourself with this happy, humble attitude toward your spouse and family. Laugh at yourself and at both the triumphs and heartaches of the build. Trust that if you’re in it for the long haul, it will be worth it. And, as Big reminds me almost every day, the building of our character and the drawing nearer to God are the most important things when passing through trials.

He will make straight your paths

“The cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15b

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
  In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

A Truckbed Full


“I hope it all blows away,” Big Country mumbled, half in his sleep as the late autumn winds raged around the tiny house and pounded the tarps holding down our worldly possessions just outside.

I smiled in the dark and imagined the sundry dishes, pots, pans, clothing, books, cloth diapers, sewing machine, skateboard, and stuffed animals we had held onto over the last year of peregrinations rolling wildly through the cow pasture.

“How are you going to fit all that stuff in your tiny house once you’re done building?” I’ve been asked. Well, we’ll see. Simplicity looks different for a family of five with diverse interests living in Colorado, and we will continue to hold onto about a dozen tubs of tools, kids’ clothes, winter clothes, canning, sewing, and the like to be stored outside. The rest does need to fit comfortably inside, or it goes!

If you’re seriously considering a simplified, downshifted, even tiny house-scaled lifestyle change in the works, the question of stuff inevitably stares you in the face. What to hold onto, and what can go? We asked ourselves the following.

What can I sell?  When we knew we were moving, Big Country and I walked around the house, making a list of everything undesirable to the tiny life that we could sell on craigslist or elsewhere, researching what we could get. First we made an organized, typed list of items with prices and emailed friends, who then passed it on. This helped us easily sell about a dozen items.

Craigslist items sell well in our area if priced at 1/3 to 1/2 the retail value, in good condition, with attractive photo, and prompt, friendly responses. We sold almost everything we listed, adding up to $800 toward the build. Not bad, considering we owned mostly free-to-us, secondhand furniture and goods, and we kept the best for our future life!

What activities, memberships, subscriptions, or other financial entanglements can go to free up funds?

Do I need to sell a vehicle?  This could be an extra car, boat, trailer, camper, ATV, etc., or a vehicle that could be replaced by walking, biking, bussing, or carpooling.

Based on our nearly two years of experience going carless, I would say if you’re willing to be creative, resourceful, organized, patient, accepting of friends’ offers to carpool or pick up supplies, and adept at buying nearly everything nonperishable on Amazon, then you’re able to thrive without a car, or perhaps downsize to one as a family.

1991 GMC Sierra Truck
“Thor’s Hammer” our 91 GMC Sierra bought for $2000

On the other hand, maybe you need to purchase a vehicle. Specifically if you’re building a tiny house, ask yourself a fun question:

Should I buy a truck?  For us, it has been crucial to own an old but dependable work truck with a long bed for hauling lumber, plywood, siding, roof panels, appliances, tools, and hundreds of other supplies, as well as moving personal possessions several times. And every time we do load up the truck with our stuff, full to the brim, Berkey water filter buckled into the front seat, baby highchairs strapped precariously to the top of the mound, we start singing the theme to Green Acres, because’s that’s how ridiculous we look. But really, I don’t know how we could even embark on all this moving and the build without a truck.

transport lumber in car not truck
What is this DIYer thinking?

But to temper the impulse of going out and signing up for mega payments on a new F-850, read the highly entertaining, informative What Does Your Work Truck Say About You?

Additionally, ask yourself, is it necessary to own a truck with a tow capacity big enough to tow our tiny house? Do I intend to travel extensively with my home, or would it be financially wiser to simply rent or borrow a big truck to move it when necessary?

Overall, we’ve found that the entire premise behind getting rid of stuff for a simplified life is focusing on what to keep, not what to give away. Like Jay Shafer said somewhere, it’s like packing for a long trip: that’s what you keep. There are techniques for making a home beautifully clutter-free and techniques for discarding, but if you’re patient and honest with yourself about what you need and keep the focus on what really matters to your life to keep, it will be a freeing project that improves one’s quality of life, I’m convinced.

 

Glamping with Baby

“Is it everything you ever dreamed of?!” asked a breathless ten-year-old neighbor the week after moving into our tiny-house-under-construction with our nine-day-old baby. I burst out laughing. Where to begin?

Liberty glamping with baby

Eleven months after jettisoning our stuff and moving out to begin our adventure of tiny house designing and building, we are now living in our very own cozy little home! It is exciting. It is so much of what we dreamed of. The first night lying in bed, we looked over our heads out the curtainless window and watched the stars for a brief minute before we fell instantly asleep.

tiny house unfinished interior

For the past month during these immense changes, our blog has malfunctioned and gone down, and with its absence, I’ve felt like I’ve lost my sense of clarity about what is happening. We’ve crossed the threshold of living with others to living in a home of our own on a friend’s family farm. We’ve gone from a family of four to a family of five with new dynamics, stresses, and joys. The tiny house is not at all finished, and life isn’t easy. Sometimes I laugh at the irony of a first-world couple willingly choosing to do the things we’ve been doing this past first month of our new life, and, as Big Country says, we have to laugh to keep from crying.

Hand washing laundry in a hand crank barrel and wringing out the sopping clothes in the chilly November air to line dry. Squatting down to hand wash dishes in the tub and drying them on a rack perched on the water tank. Pulling back the shower curtain that serves as a bathroom wall to use the sawdust bucket toilet. Lugging the heavy five-gallon water bucket from the outspout of the trailer to the weeds several times a day. Rearranging dishes and baskets of food on our plywood counter in order to prepare a meal. Hurrying out in the wind to chop fallen branches and cedar siding scraps to feed the little wood stove at night. Tripping over the tornado path of tarps, wood, wires, tools, and boxed possessions strewn all through the build site.

As well as installing the kitchen sink, tung oiling the bathroom, and stuffing alpaca wool into the ceiling in a race against the winter weather. And of course all the feeding, clothing, diapering, refereeing sandbox fights, and kissing skinned knees of the three little ones.

tiny house glamping with baby

Many of these deficits in comfort will end, as we eventually purchase a washing machine, run a greywater line out to the pasture, build a bathroom wall, install counters, and finish task after task on the house. But some of these aspects will simply stay the same or change a little, as we grow into our new life here.

Why would anyone do this? The truth is, we have to keep reminding ourselves the reasons to keep going despite the immense mental and physical stamina this path has demanded. And while the toll has been great, the reasons are still compelling.

This year has been an unprecedented, serendipitous opportunity. With the generous help of friends, we have built a home that is warm, comfortable, sun-filled, and aesthetically personal; a place of visiting, relaxing, playing, cooking, eating, resting, and raising a family. And helping out with the farm’s chickens and gardens, in exchange we have a beautiful place to live with no rent.

farm tractor chores

Although we continue to spend money on building supplies and house necessities, these purchases will eventually diminish to a normal home’s level (or hopefully tinier!). And after student loans and other debts are paid (what a glorious day), what we’re left with are living expenses consisting mostly of groceries, gas for the truck, a post office box, and paying our small share of the utilities.

This was the plan: to take a temporary, voluntary step away from first-world conveniences and have a little gumption, take a little risk, embrace a little extra work (ok, a lot) in order that the deficits in comfort now pay dividends of freedom and funds in the future.

I can’t say we’re camping exactly, because our insulation, hot running water, and electricity certainly catapult us out of the category of those roughing it in tents. But even as an experiment in glamping, it has had its challenges as we find our groove doing new chores and work on getting the essentials, like water and warmth and clean clothes, covered before falling into bed at night.

So what is glamping with a baby, on a farm, in a tiny house, in the late autumn, really like?

At its noisiest, it is nursing the baby, comforting the crying toddler, and encouraging the frustrated child learning his letters, while stirring the stew, glancing at the tank’s water level, looking out at the chickens who need their eggs gathered, and reaching for a log to feed the wood stove.

tiny house wood stove

At its quietest, it is feeling the afternoon sun’s warm slanting rays as the children nap. Bundling the sleeping baby in my wrap and holding hands with the two little ones for a walk through the pasture. Stirring cranberries, jalapeños, and honey in a pot late at night while the embers glow and warm the house.

sunbathing baby tiny home

At its happiest, it is sunbathing the wide-eyed baby through the big window; hearing Big Country’s truck clank up the drive after a long day; sharing a hearty meal of sausage, eggs, potatoes, and peppers, with a side of sauerkraut and pickled beets, washed down with a friend’s homemade apple cider.

I would say it’s a fair mix of new and exhausting experiences. Many times it is overwhelming and depressing and chilly and dirty. But sometimes there are moments of magic when Big Country and I catch each other’s eye and smile in a way that I imagine many people through the years have shared a glow when they are walking together through some adventure of great risk. When Marian, forsaking and gaining so much at once, first walks hand in hand with Robin through his clandestine camp, laundry hanging from the trees in the starlight.

shelter from the snow

Before Falling in Love with a Tiny House . . . A Philosophy Check

Ah, yurts, house trucks, tiny houses, and gypsy caravans. Something about them calls to some of us wanderlusting hearts and nearly compels us to throw everything away and follow them into the sunset.

But wait! Just before chucking all your possessions to the curb and delving in headfirst to the simplified, streamlined life of a tiny house, why not pause and reflect on this amazing life transformation for what it is and what it means!

Especially concerning the many, many months of preparation and exhaustively hard work you will be going through if you commit . . . an irony to pursuing simplicity, but well worth it! And that goes for many other 180 degree life shifts as well.

As we considered a tiny house transformation, Big Country and I dreamed and hypothesized well into the night by oil lamp and solar jars (trying out non-electric off-grid life) on many occasions. Some of the following questions we pondered quite a bit, others not so much. But I think this list is a good thorough start toward crystallizing the vision and how to realize it.

simplicity philosophy

  • What do I hope the house will add to my life, free up in my life?
  • What do I hope to learn through the process of planning and building the house?
  • Who are my core people, those who are there for consistent support, advice, or muscle? How am I going to respect these friends and loved ones enough not to take advantage of their kindness when the demands on me are the highest?
  • How many years could I conceivably live in the tiny house? How could I design it in such a way that accommodates for the changes these years will bring?
  • What are the essentials of my physical house design? How do my physical size and individual needs inform the design?
  • How does my family status (present and possibly future) inform the design? If you don’t have kids but hope to in the future, spend some time talking with those who do, preferably with a similar philosophy as you. What do they think about stairs, ladders, lofts, wood stoves, play space, bathtubs, toilets, child locks, and other design elements of a home?
  • What are the essential activities in my life that deserve space in my home, and what are just nice-to-think-about hobbies, the accessories for which need to go?
  • Begin assessing how many gallons of water you will use daily, how much wattage, and what this means for power needs, off grid/ on grid capabilities, and solar.
  • Read books and blogs about tiny house design, lifestyle, construction.
  • Research the local laws and have a specific plan as to where you want to live and what it looks like.
  • Reach out to others who have lived in tiny houses or RVs.
  • Visit and spend time in tiny homes, maybe renting one for a day or a week.
  • Talk to people with construction, plumbing, or electrical expertise and ask about what the most important things are to know about ahead of time.
  • Consider going to a convention, attending a workshop, and buying plans.

You can’t know it all, but the more deeply you look into what simplifying to this extent means, the better! It will be a hard road, but a rewarding adventure if you do it right.