People have asked many times why we decided to build tiny houses, how we persisted and finished our first one in spite of the challenges, and why we keep at it even though it’s much harder then it looks. In real life off the cuff answers have worked, yet somehow fallen short of clearly expressing the most important parts. Here are my answers from a more reflective point of view.
My First Workshop
I attended the Tumbleweed workshop, presented by the brilliant Jay Shafer (now of Four Lights Tiny House Company) in a Sebastopol California apple orchard in July of 2008, alongside Kent Griswold (of Tiny House Blog) and Greg Johnson (of Small House Society). It was either the second or third they had presented; about 10 of us sat in a circle of folding chairs under an enormous evergreen with Jay as he quietly talked us through his build process. We were given six photocopied pages of handmade notes and sketches, which I still keep in my (ever shrinking) library. For the sake of full disclosure (and with kindness), it was among the best and worst educational purchases I’ve ever made. Critique depends on goals: if my goal was to come out of the day feeling ready to build my own tiny house, it failed. If I intended to come out fired with new passion about the idea of housing freedom, and thrilled to have spent a day in discourse with original minds with refreshing viewpoints and interesting experiences, it was an absolute success.
Tiny House Writing
On break from the workshop I had lunch with Jay, Kent, Greg, and my mentor Rob. The conversations were wonderful, and I was turned on to the idea of writing for tiny house fans, which led to my sporadic blogging efforts through the years. I wanted to be part of the tiny house movement, and it felt important to share as much detailed info about my build as possible. At the time there were no educational articles or forums for tiny house groups online, just The Tiny House Blog which – while wonderful! – has never specialized in construction. I hoped to develop an audience and perhaps cultivate a trickle of revenue, but my sporadic efforts didn’t come to much.
In 2010 I put myself in an impossible position from which I had no retreat. We were living paycheck to paycheck when I inherited a small lump sum. I wanted more than anything to use the money to change our lives for the better permanently. I had fallen hard for tiny houses already, and it wasn’t enough money to fulfill my end game – little self built cottage on land we owned – so instead we built our Towhee intending to sell it, start a tiny house business and work our way towards the big [tiny] dream.
Our First Build
I knew how to read plans, but I had no building experience. My husband Dylan had a little, though he knew general home repair and some electrical and plumbing, and his automotive knowledge would be invaluable later when it came to towing. Almost two years after the workshop, with my inheritance and the help of a neighbor with a lot more house building knowledge than us, we started our first build. It was based on the Lusby design by Jay, and my version of the plan was one of the earlier ones, with custom window sizes, and fewer construction details. My vision was to tweak the house to include things I would want if I were going to live in it for the next 30 years; an oven, 3 burner range, bathroom sink, and slightly bigger shower and kitchen sink. You can find albums here and here.
Many of the physical tasks of building your house will be hard, but it’s likely the mental effort will be even greater. The most surprising and nearly overwhelming part of the project was the number and importance of decisions involved. I’m good at research and naturally inclined toward it, but even I had trouble digesting the floods of information available on every topic. While voluminous, much of what’s available isn’t perfectly relevant. I carefully evaluated PDF spec sheets, product details, photos, and forum posts, because the information wasn’t produced with a tiny house scenario in mind, one that differs significantly from mainstream expectations. No matter what the hard part is for you, it will come close to knocking you down at some point, and you’ll need to have your supportive network, deeper purpose, and intrinsic motivations close at hand to fight discouragement.
The Feel Good
Since taking the leap and building a tiny house in our suburban front yard, I’ve met more heart-felt idealists than I encountered in the previous ten years. I’ve grown and learned enormously in the past 6 years; I wrote a book, taught more than a dozen building workshops, and coached over 1000 people toward fulfilling their dreams of a smaller, simpler life. Despite all the challenges and setbacks, without a doubt, I’m doing good by doing what I love the most. It’s a priceless gift, and I’m profoundly grateful I followed my heart, took the risk, and just kept going.