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Minimizing Living Space/Maximizing Happiness
Why We Chose Tiny House Living
As with most great stories, mine starts with a problem. I lived in a quaint 2,200 square foot home on a beautiful five-acre property with my husband, Justin, son, Wyatt, four cats, and one dog. We had chickens, a small marsh, and visiting backyard animals a plenty. We had an abundance of beautiful sunsets and great neighbors. Every spring the thunderous roar of hundreds of frogs would echo from our marsh down the cul-de-sac, awakening the slumbering creatures from their hibernation. We loved our slice of heaven, but there was a hidden fire brewing in my soul. As with most families, we thought we were living the "American Dream." Then one day, out of nowhere, I awoke to the truth. I wasn't happy! I was far from happy! I was tired, sick, stressed, and in turmoil. You see, I was running a licensed organic daycare in our home and coaching gymnastics. I loved both these jobs dearly and excelled in both, but I was worn down. I became pregnant a year and a half into my daycare adventure and quickly began to lose touch with self-care. I was up almost every night past midnight cooking, cleaning, doing daycare paperwork, researching how to have a natural pregnancy, and trying to spend as much time with my husband as possible. I felt as though I was walking on eggshells while I made sure everything got done and everyone was happy. I made it another year and a half living this way until my health started failing. At the time I didn't know, but I later found out that I had adrenal fatigue and hyperthyroidism. With a heavy heart, I closed my daycare and so closed the door on teaching and caring for other children. With very little income coming in from coaching gymnastics part- time, we needed a big idea for minimizing our expenses.
I'll never forget when the light bulb went off in my mind. We were sitting on my mother-in-law's porch discussing how to live more simply, and my sister in-law, Frances, introduced us to the tiny house movement. I was instantly hooked! She mentioned that the local news had featured a family that was currently living in a tiny house and a local contractor who builds tiny houses, Jim Wilkins with Tiny Green Cabins. The research had begun in haste. Turns out, I already knew the family that lived in the tiny house! I had worked with the husband when I was an elementary teacher. Not a coincidence in my mind. They graciously offered to have us over for a tour, so off we went to visit and unknowingly start our minimalist journey.
I was totally ready for this drastic change in our lives, but we wanted to be sure we explored all avenues before making a final decision. Well, I should say Justin wanted to explore other avenues. I was pretty set on tiny house living. I am so thankful he encouraged me to do the research first, so I could make an informed decision. We researched the best way for us to downsize. Did we want to purchase a smaller conventional home first? Did we want to live in an apartment? Or perhaps an RV would be best. When we looked at downsizing to a smaller home, we were looking for something around $90,000 to stay on budget. There were some home options out there, but they didn't fit our needs. The type of home you get for that price, in our area, is a home that is in need of a lot of repairs. In this price range, you also got a small yard in a neighborhood with little to no community resources. You get appliances in need of replacement, repair, or they just weren't included. All the repairs needed to make these older homes safe, up to code, and nontoxic would have been anywhere from $30,000 to 50,000 extra. This was not ideal for us, or our budget.
Next, we thought we could find property and build a new smaller home on it that was within the square footage requirements of the county. The cost of land within a reasonable distance from my husband's work was way over our budget and often came without electricity or water. We also discovered that according to the National Association of Home Builders study, "an estimated 8,000 lbs. of waste is created from the construction of a 2,000-square-foot home." We did not want to be a part of this wasteful practice. Our home wouldn't have been that big, but we still would have been building more space than we needed just to meet zoning restrictions. The next logical step was to look at a townhome. The ones that were nice enough to live in were over $150,000. We wanted privacy and control over what chemicals were being used on the yard and in landscaping, which a townhome couldn't provide. We also wanted to be sure the cleaning supplies used in shared spaces were safe for us, which of course they weren't. Then we thought about apartments, which we had lived in before, but again we had no control over chemicals being used, and the rent was more monthly than our mortgage.
Finally, we looked into an RV. We were amazed at all the neat features that have been added to RVs since we were young, including complex slide outs, bunk beds, washer and dryers, full-size fridges and many of the same amenities a larger home provides. There are two main features that made an RV less attractive than a tiny house. One is the lack of insulation provided, aka R-value. Conventional homes have insulation rated at an R-value between 15-40, depending on what part of the home was being insulated and where you are located as far as climate. RVs have an R-value ranging from around 5-15. We were not comfortable with this when thinking of making it through a typical Minnesota winter. We wanted the freedom to live in multiple different climates, so we needed a much higher insulation value. Our tiny house contractor had a plan to insulate with an R-value of 22 in the walls, 38 on the ceiling, and 18 on the floor, so we would be toasty warm during our Minnesota winters.
Another downside to RVs is that they are made with several toxic materials.
We toured several RVs and could smell the intense chemicals, and some of the older models smelled heavily of mold. We found Evergreen Recreational Vehicles to be the only company with less toxic glues, low VOCs and less formaldehyde. Unfortunately, this company went out of business because they couldn't compete with the cheaply made toxic RV construction found in other companies.
We could have gutted a RV and started over, but at that point the cost would have been about the same, if not more than a tiny house. We knew our tiny house could be built with nontoxic materials and with way more windows than an RV provides. This design would give us the illusion of space and lots of great cross breezes to decrease our use of the air-conditioning unit. Tiny homes are very customizable in their design and size, which meant we could grow into it as a family and live in it comfortably for a lifetime. Tiny houses on wheels were especially attractive to us, because we could bring them anywhere we want.
After all the research, we knew we were ready to own a tiny house. The first hiccup was how to pay for it. We knew we would make some money from selling our large home, because we had updated it and kept it up really well, but we weren't sure how much. I believe in the law of attraction that says if we believe enough that we can make things happen for us then they will, so I focused on abundance and having a successful selling experience. It wasn't easy at first. I was up every night till at least 1:00 in the morning organizing, selling our possessions online, and preparing the house for staging. It took from April 22–July 1 to have everything donated, sold, and staged for the open house. One night, a couple drove past the property and asked if they could take a look before it was officially on the market. The couple toured our home and loved the five-acre property, all the hardwood floors, and the recently remodeled basement. They had several pets, so the layout and gates from my daycare worked well for them. They made an offer the next day and we were out of the house by July 3. We made enough money off the house to fund the entire tiny house! Life was good. Now, where to live? Since we weren't expecting such a quick sale, we hadn't looked at places to stay while our tiny house was being built. Thankfully, both Justin's and my parents offered us a place to stay.
I am so blessed to have experiences multigenerational living. It is a great step towards simplifying your life. Whether you have family or friends live with you or you decide to live with them, everyone will benefit from the experience. We lived in my parents' basement while our tiny house was being built. This experience was very rewarding. I had heard about multigenerational homes being the norm in several cultures and had read several articles about it, but I had never expected to be considering it myself. Our modern society values independence and it is very career oriented, which leaves us putting our kids in daycare and having both parents work to be able to support the family. This didn't resonate with my deep desire to be a homeschooling mother and nature enthusiast. Being with your child all day has its benefits and challenges, and doing it alone can be exhausting. Having my mother, father, and husband available for childcare when I needed to get something done for coaching, or when I needed to cook or clean, was extremely helpful. This allowed me to have much needed time for self-care, which I had ignored for the past four years due to having multiple jobs and a large property to care for.
There was also the benefit of the shared wisdom that can be found in a multigenerational home. Every adult has a different perspective on raising a child, and our experience provided Wyatt with multiple avenues for learning. The shared housework benefited everyone, providing more time for other things that had been put off, such as exercise, organizing, and socializing. Having everyone help with utilities payments helped financially as well. Overall, everyone got to enjoy more time to do the things they loved by sharing the responsibilities that come with a larger house. After about six months of living with my parents, we were tempted to stay as a mutigenerational household, but my dreams of a tiny house community kept me on the course of building a tiny house. Having shared responsibilities gave us the time we needed to really think through our tiny house design. Most would have been upset that their tiny house took a year to build, but for us, it was a blessing because we had time to research, reflect, and rest. If you are thinking of downsizing, living with a family member or friend is a great place to start and a way to save up for your next step in your journey to a minimalist lifestyle.
Learning from the Skeptics
As the tiny house build came to a close, friends and family were still skeptical of our choice. Rightfully so, considering the challenges ahead, but we were determined to simplify our lives drastically in order to improve our mental and physical health. Our friends were also wondering how we were going to raise a child and five pets in 325 square feet without "damaging" them. As a former educator and daycare provider, I giggled a bit, considering the square footage requirement per child in daycares and most schools is between 35 and 50 square feet per child. Most children spend eight hours or more a day in a classroom no bigger than a living room with 30-35 other children. To have one or two children in our tiny house seemed spacious compared to the average classroom. We felt our child would have plenty of space, and if any of us ever feel cramped, there's a big beautiful world outside to enjoy. Living in a small space gives us the opportunity to explore the local community resources, such as museums, libraries, community centers, parks, and nature centers.
Our experience has been very positive with our son's transition into the smaller space. His attitude towards toys has completely changed. He used to ask for new toys all the time, and since living in the tiny house, we have been too busy at the zoo, playground, beach, library, museum, and state parks to worry about toys. Of course, we still play with them in the evening, but by this time he has gotten most of his excess energy out and is ready for indoor playtime. Wyatt at 3 1/2 years old was very proud of his tiny house on wheels and loved that we were always in his line of sight. In our larger home, he was always telling me to stay with him, because he couldn't see me while I was cleaning, which meant household chores had to be done after he went to bed. I could now do several chores while he was playing in his loft, because he could see me and had comfort knowing I was there engaging him in conversation. It is even easier in our temporary camper of 150 square feet, which we are living in as we prepare for our next smaller tiny house.
Another big concern people had was how we would get enough alone time and privacy. An acquaintance of ours asked, "Won't you get sick of each other?" Before I could respond they started, "I would go crazy if I was around my husband that much." She wasn't the only one with this perspective. In fact, this was one of the top concerns when discussing tiny house living. I started to second-guess myself, considering all the negative feedback we were getting relating to relationships and small spaces, so as usual, I sat down to do some research and reflect. First, I reflected on our past experiences. We had the benefit of living in many small spaces together before our tiny house decision. Ironically, our relationship was at its lowest point when we purchased our large home, because of the added financial stress, added responsibilities, the time it consumed to maintain, and the long work hours required to pay it off.
While everyone was wondering how we could stand each other in a small space, I was filled with joy because all I wanted to do was to spend more quality time with my family. Having alone time is an important part of self-care, so we found time for that as well. If either of us needed alone time in the tiny house, we would just go to a different area, the same as you would in a larger home. Often I was in the kitchen watching a documentary and doing dishes, while Justin would be reading on the couch and Wyatt was up playing with his toys in the loft. In our camper there is a wall between the bedroom and living room giving us space to ourselves when needed. If we need even more space, we do what any person would do, such as go for a walk, spend time in the garden, or socialize with friends. This may not be everyone's experience, but for us, a smaller space helped us focus on the things that really matter. Communication is easy and always accessible because everyone is always within earshot of each other. Alone time is always available due to less household chores to keep up with, which results in more free time. We also have ample time to reflect and communicate our daily needs thanks to the minimized financial stress that comes along when living in a tiny house. Being able to stay home with my son and homeschool gave me the time to have home-cooked organic meals prepared and most chores completed. When my husband gets home from work, we get to spend time together as a family instead of me doing chores.
When it comes to being intimate, everyone is curious how we make it work in a tiny house. Our tiny house was no different than a larger home in this sense because of the way we designed it. We designed walls in the lofts that are three-fourths the way up to the ceiling. Then we hung up blackout shades for our son's naptime and for privacy. The only difference from our big house is we were intimate in the kitchen because our son is up in the loft. Overall, we feel so much closer as a family, we have learned a lot about ourselves, and we are now able to meet our individual needs. This doesn't mean you need to live in a 325-square-foot home in order to make these changes in your life. For us, we needed that drastic change so we could be financially stable enough for me to stay home and follow my dreams. Living WITHIN OUR MEANS is what changed our lives forever, as it will for you.
Financial concerns came up a lot when discussioning our decision to live in a tiny house. Several family members and friends talked about our tiny house as being a poor financial investment. We did the math. With less utilities, no mortgage, and the fact that if needed to, we could sell it as you would an RV, we were confident in our decision to downsize. Our experience with a home was it being a big money pit, full of repairs, updates and maintenance costs, so we were excited to get off that hamster wheel and find a new path to financial bliss. We saw money problems as a common factor to relationship stress, and we knew tiny house living would get rid of some big monthly payments. By minimizing monthly payments we now had the freedom to buy experiences rather than pay for a mortgage and excessive utilities. Some believe that we have no equity, but I am fully enjoying following my dreams and living in the moment. When you follow your bliss, money follows.
Think about times you were most happy with your significant other. I can bet for most of you it was before you got married and/or purchased a home, because this was a time when you weren't tied to financial restrictions and household obligations. Justin and I were very happy before we purchased our larger home. We were living in a doublewide trailer as groundskeepers for a local YMCA children's program. We lived there for free in return for maintaining the property, caring for horses in the summer, and being a watchful eye for trespassers. The chores didn't feel like chores, because they were a part of our financial freedom. Not worrying about a mortgage payment gave us the money to travel. We did a long road trip out West to my beloved city of Port Angeles, Washington, camped and hiked in Glacier Park, and spent time in Justin's favorite hangouts in Montana. We had the money to travel to Kenya for a friend's wedding, where we were able to go on several Safaris, explore the capital city of Nairobi, walk the beaches of the Indian Ocean, and get engaged! All of this was possible because our financial responsibilities were minimal.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Minimalist Living for a Maximum Life"
Copyright © 2018 KPT Publishing, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of KPT Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 MINIMIZING LIVING SPACE/MAXIMIZING HAPPINESS,
CHAPTER 2 MINIMIZING POSSESSIONS/MAXIMIZING EXPERIENCES,
CHAPTER 3 MINIMIZING CONSUMPTION/MAXIMIZING WEALTH,
CHAPTER 4 MINIMIZING TOXINS/MAXIMIZING HEALTH,
CHAPTER 5 MINIMIZING CONFUSION/MAXIMIZING VITALITY,
CHAPTER 6 MINIMIZING TOXINS/MAXIMIZING CLEANLINESS,
CHAPTER 7 MINIMIZING STRESS/MAXIMIZING HEALING,
CHAPTER 8 MINIMIZING DISTRACTIONS/MAXIMIZING MINDFULNESS,
CHAPTER 9 MINIMIZING STRESSFUL RELATIONSHIPS/MAXIMIZING LOVE,