Several months ago, some friends sent me a brief article about so-called Tiny House Regret. “What do you think?” they asked.
It’s good to be aware of an author’s incentives. So when a major realty site puts out an article dismissive of any housing arrangement not earning a commission for the realtor . . . well, what do you expect?
But I read it, as well as several others. Some tiny apartment dwellers lamented how well-worn their furnishings were becoming in a small space. Others on reality TV shows were pushed by the network’s schedule to work quickly, making expensive compromises. But many of the stories I read were simply those who had, for one reason or another, moved on.
Tiny house dwellers often eventually move on from the tiny life. Does this necessarily define this choice as a regret?
I was intrigued by this question. After all, Big Country and I built and live in a tiny house. I’d say we’re living proof of the complexities, the joys, the stresses and the heartaches of this path. After some reflection and reading others’ experiences, I began to see some universal regrets and joys of the choice come to light.
Some Aspects of Tiny House Regret:
- Lack of construction experience leading to mistakes, stress, wasted time and money, injury. Occasional catastrophic failure of the structural integrity of the house.
- Unexpectedly high costs, time, or assistance needed to finish the build.
- Life changes during the build: a new baby, job, partner, financial situation.
- Parking availability and legalities.
- The house’s space and organization not flowing or working for the inhabitants as expected.
- Extra work of a compost toilet, wood stove, RV-style hookups, winterizing, etc.
We’ve certainly experienced all of the above situations to one degree or another. Plus, there have been the added challenges of having three young children, an unstable job, an extremely tight budget, all extended family living in another state, a lack of tiny house blueprints or plans.
. . . and the reality that for nearly a year and a half now, we’ve been living in an unfinished tiny house that lacks some basic amenities, comforts and storage.
Our situation in these ways is so fringe even to the tiny house movement that we’re not really representative of the lifestyle as a whole. So, we’d definitely be prime candidates for the Tiny House Regret awards. However . . .
Some Aspects of Tiny House Joy include:
- A simplified, streamlined lifestyle with values and relationships front and center.
- Lower costs of living leading to faster debt payoff, increased savings, more travel, and financial freedom.
- A more outdoor and community oriented lifestyle.
- Closer families and couples. Development of patience, cooperation, selflessness, simple pleasures, and a shared sense of adventure.
Risk and Regret
We can regret things we do out of impulsivity, selfishness, lack of foresight, or ignorance. We can regret things we don’t do out of fear or conformity to a script we trust will bring security and success. Either way, life is risk.
Three years ago, because of the increasing costs of time and money (12% student loans and 15 hour days at school with no end in sight), Big Country and I decided to cut our losses and withdraw him from college.
Abruptly we faced the reality that despite our hard work, frugality, and attempts to follow a wise path, we had failed. We were faced with a mountain of student loan debt with no pre-med degree, skyrocketing rents and home prices, and no clear career path.
Starting our dreams from scratch, we embarked on the tiny house as a survival raft of sorts to weather this sea change and as an opt-out from a market we obviously were not adept at competing in.
It was a sobering and confusing time. Others we knew had taken different paths. Finishing college with ease, skipping college, accepting welfare, putting very little down on a house purchase, or adopting a “greed is good” business mentality . . . and they were all apparently succeeding.
As we began glamping in the bare, unfinished tiny house, we questioned everything. Did we choose something good financially, though difficult personally? Or should we have stayed where we were, in our little rental house by the park and tried to catch up and spring forward in some other way?
Should we have concentrated first on increasing earnings, then decreasing living expenses? Could Big have switched majors, essentially beginning a new degree, instead of leaving school? Should we have given up on Colorado and moved back to Arizona, a climate and community we had departed years before with a freeing, energizing relief?
We explored mistakes, wrestled with regret, evaluated our finances, and prayed that the leap of living tiny would be a personal and financial investment that far outweighed the stresses and hardships of today.
So when people shake their heads and say, “I could never do it,” or “I really don’t know why you’d prefer a tiny house to a big house,” I’m at a loss for words. There is so much more behind a tiny house leap than most realize.
What Would You Do?
I want to say, “What would you do?”
It’s a question we all must answer at a crossroads. What would you do if, as hard as you worked, as many resources as you’ve poured into what you love, as many skills you’ve honed, avenues explored, you still fail?
Would you give up?
Or would you find a way to reinvent your life once again?
A way of brokenness, of growth, of adventure, a striving toward joy?
Our Tiny Little Problem
Maybe our problem is that Big and I have always valued adventure, challenge, growth, health, and relationship above money, career, stability, and housing.
We just don’t have the stomach for many traditional signs of success: amassing money, trinkets, and accolades. Upgrading wardrobes, homes, and vehicles. Chasing the next high, the next balm, through restaurants, concerts, and libations.
At times I can’t help but feel discomforted, even exasperated by the largesse, the waste.
Can’t people see how cluttered their lives are with meaningless stuff?
Don’t they realize how much power, resources, and leverage they have to do something other than consume it all? Many if not most people we know, of all ages, could live at twice our lifestyle, own a full size home outright, and become financially independent in a handful of years.
We have always rejected the materialistic path, but what I am finally realizing after 35 years on this earth is that it doesn’t have to be a choice of either/or. You can still value the intangible and the immaterial while wisely caring for the tangible, material needs of life. Eureka!
So we’re finally moving from the youthful realm of experiencing, learning, experimenting, and taking in . . . to the adult realm of producing, creating, building a legacy, and giving back.
And as our mindset blows open to the possibility of actually using money for good and working together toward financial independence, our big regrets melt away and our purpose clarifies.
To consistently see the bright purpose through the mind fog is difficult. So when I’m weighted down with regret, stress, or disbelief that we currently live in a tiny house that’s not yet how we designed and envisioned it, in a challenging, unexpected location, I need to take a breath and step back.
The numbers don’t lie.
There are stories of people paying builders $60,000-$100,000 for a tiny house, $40,000+ for a powerful pickup truck to pull it, then $500-$1500/month to park it in an RV camping lot. Obviously, this river of waste makes no financial sense and, many would argue, is the exact antithesis of the tiny house movement’s ethics of creative simplicity, financial freedom, and the DIY spirit.
But there are as many financial situations regarding tiny houses as there are people who live in them, us included.
Since moving out of our rental house, we’ve lived essentially for free for 28 months.
We’ve spent around $23,000 building the tiny house and have perhaps $5000 to go to complete it, the majority of this figure going toward an eventual air conditioner / heater combo. So $28,000.
Previously, we were spending $1000/month for rent and utilities, incredibly low for northern Colorado right now. This was not going to last forever, however, as the elderly landlady was looking to sell (and did as soon as we left), and we would have been hard pressed to house our little family of five for less than $1500 with utilities.
So 28 months of living for free and $28,000 going toward the tiny house. We have officially reached the break even point.
That means that if somehow the tiny house burns down tomorrow and no trace of it is salvageable, we will be in the same exact financial position as we would have been if we had kept on renting. And realistically, at the $1500/month rate, we broke even nearly a year ago.
Of course, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that the tiny house doesn’t burn to the ground. The savings in living costs keep building every month, and that is greatly encouraging.
And we hope that the financial benefit will continue after we move to a new home, as we may rent it out short-term or long-term. It is possible that the tiny house will benefit us perhaps $500-800/month as a long-term rental or $80-100/night as a short-term Airbnb style rental, for many years into the future.
Or we’ll sell it for a modest profit and move on with a nice chunk of cash.
Or we’ll push it off a cliff and at least have a boatload of stories to tell to add to our growing collection.
Bottom line is, although we’ve yet to meet anyone who wishes they could live in their own unfinished tiny house on a farm, we still don’t know anyone else living for free.
The kids are healthy and happy living tiny.
Running around outside on the farm, digging in the mud, playing in the snow. Chasing chickens, gathering eggs, chopping wood. Watching deer, spotting foxes, hooting like the owls. And learning from Big and I as we constantly problem solve, build, and fix the tiny house . . . Well, no one could say that our kids’ early years weren’t eventful!
And I think the quiet simplicity of the setting and the house is a profoundly positive thing, too. The kids have a small box of clothes each and share a basket of toys. They can count on wholesome meals cooked in our one skillet or slow cooker. The rhythm of their life moves with the weather, the seasons, the chores, outdoor play, indoor play.
This isn’t to say that our children are always happily frolicking with never a care. Of course there are hurts, frustrations, and scraped knees. But every time I’m brushing away hot tears, I ask myself, “did this happen because we’re living tiny?” And so far, the answer has been no.
At the end of the day, even if no one understands, persist.
It can be lonely when people pity, ignore, or misunderstand a less trodden path.
But what are the choices when this realization hits? Stop taking risks, stop testing out new waters and unconventional avenues. Stop learning, dreaming, risking?
Or take a breath. Reflect and reevaluate. Run the numbers again. Pray for guidance.
And grab hands and keep going!