Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Debunking Tiny House Myths

For the past year, my tiny-house-under-construction has been parked in the driveway of my rental house.  My end goal is to move into it to a place closer to my work once my two now-college-aged children have moved on to their own apartments.  I am looking forward to a life with less financial obligations (I am already debt free) and more time to travel.  The new tiny life, however, that I am imaging for myself is still full of so many unknowns and getting there has been harder than I imagined it would be.
First off, to clarify, I never assumed that building a tiny house would be easy. I have taken on big remodeling projects before and this one has been an equal challenge.  At this point it is almost done and I will end up spending a bit less than 10% over my $30,000 budget.  I also originally estimated it would take 18 to 24 months and I started on it one year and two weeks ago.  
I'm almost done!!
So, all in all, I’m doing pretty well as a self-builder. And, in the end, I am confident that building tiny house is the right thing for me and my future plans. With that said, however, the idea that “a simplified life in a tiny house is easier” works well as long-term goal; but certainly falls into the short-term-myth category. 
And while I’m at it…
there are a few other myths about tiny houses that I would like to debunk.

Downsizing while Building a Tiny House – The Dream vs Reality

During the time that I have been building my tiny house, my life has become a LOT more complex.  And, despite my downsizing efforts in my main living space, I have mounds clutter in every room of the house.  The kids are sick of it.  I am sick of it.  Quite literally, a LOT of stuff is required to build a tiny house. 
I can’t keep my tiny house materials and fixtures in the tiny house because there is no room and stepping over and onto building materials and tools is not a safe or tolerable scenario.  I have been keeping my garage floor somewhat open so I have a work space when it rains I need to use the garage as storage for lumber and other bulky items like insulation and roofing.  I keep a constant eye on excess materials/supplies and dispose of them as I complete projects.  More than a few times, however, I have needed the materials / supplies that I just got rid of.  To put it succinctly, one should not simply decide to downsize while taking on such a mammoth project.  Do one thing at a time. 
Build a tiny house and THEN downsize.
Doing both will drive you bonkers.
I know.
I am already there.

A Tiny House Will Make Life Better/Easier

I recently had a conversation with someone who is going through a lot right now.  She is on the verge of divorce and afraid that her husband is going to kick her and her daughter out of the house very soon.  She is stressing about the possibility of being homeless.  And, on top of that, she is scheduled for a major surgery that will require 8 weeks of rehabilitation.  She lamented to me that “if only I had a tiny house, I could manage.”  I had to apologize for sounding Anti-Tiny-House at the time but tried to encourage her to NOT think of a tiny house as the answer to her problems. 
She had so many other challenges to overcome and basic life necessities to cover, taking on or even entertaining the notion of a tiny house would be the OPPOSITE of better/easier. Even once it is built (and she didn’t have money to pay someone to build it for her) she would have to pay someone to move it, find a place to put it, etc…  These kinds of endeavors require resources, and when you’re already strapped for emotional, financial, and logistical resources, taking on a tiny house project is NOT a good idea!
Taking a day off, at the zoo.

Living in a Tiny House Will Bring Us Closer

Physically, maybe.  But, emotionally, if you will be sharing a tiny space with someone that you do not have a very VERY good relationship; please reconsider.  I’m not even living in my tiny house yet and it has already taken a toll on my relationship with my boyfriend.  We disagree on how it should be built, we disagree on who should be building it, we disagree on how quickly it should get done and how much I should push myself.  My boyfriend and I already know that we will not be living together in my tiny house. I may park it in his backyard, I may park it someplace closer to where ever I am working, we may even use it at a short term housing solution while he remodels his homes. We are not, however, considering my tiny house as a long term living situation for both of us.  We know this about ourselves. We have too many differences when it comes to living space and priorities. I am a minimalist and he isn’t. I work quickly and move on to the next thing, he takes his time and collects things for months before embarking on a project.  Yes, a tiny space would bring us closer together and that might work for a few weeks or months but in the long run, having our own space / lives / projects will keep us happier.  You have to really know yourself, and your partner, and be willing to sacrifice (every day, forever) to live in a tiny space together. 

The kinds of relationships that thrive in tiny spaces do actually exist,
but they are pretty rare and take a LOT of work.
My boyfriend, Mark, working on my tiny house. 

A Tiny House Is Cheaper to Live In

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people exclaim that $30,000 is a lot of money to pay for a tiny house.  And, if you do the math, living in my now-paid-for tiny house will indeed be miles cheaper than paying the $1,500 a month for rent.  So, yes, undoubtedly, living in MY tiny house will be a lot cheaper for me.  But this calculation is very different between Oklahoma and Oregon. And, in the short term, I am spending more money this year than I ever have in my life!  I am balancing the financial and maintenance needs of both a rental home AND a tiny house.  There is NOTHING cheaper about my life right now.

In some areas of the country you can actually buy a home on a foundation for less than a tiny house will cost you.  In some areas of the country you can get FREE land and build one yourself.  So, if your goal is to merely find a cheaper place to live, then a tiny house may be a solution, but not always and not likely in the short-term.  If you have other goals of reducing your carbon footprint, or having flexibility to move your tiny house, then a cheap house on foundation might NOT meet them.  Maybe an RV would fit your lifestyle if you want to move it often? Maybe a tiny off grid cabin high on a mountain (where land is super cheap!) would meet your goals?
Dee Williams' Traveling Vardo

Even if you can build a tiny house for less than $10,000 the expenses don’t stop there.  Do you need a truck to tow it?  Do you plan to insure it? Are you going to place it on your own land, or someone else’s? Do you have enough money in savings to properly maintain it.  (which may end up being MORE expensive to do than a normal house because residential contractors do NOT like to work on DIY built tiny houses…….trust me on this……)

This past weekend I had an emotional breakdown when hundreds of dollars’ worth of tile fell off my newly grouted kitchen wall.  I have been pushing myself emotionally and financially for over a year.  I have a good life, a good job, great kids, and a generally supportive boyfriend.  This shit, however, is HARD!!!!  I wake up some days and think “What am I doing?”  When people ask me why I decided to build a tiny house it takes me a bit longer to tell the story.  I have officially moved past the stage of passionately pursuing my creative endeavor for the good of my future, and on to the stage of just wanting it to be done.  So, I guess you could say I am in a bit of a cynical mood this week.

So, I may have written this article far from my Pollyanna-like perspective on tiny houses; but I think that taking a step back and looking at this whole tiny house movement from this angle is a good thing.  Gaining perspective is a positive thing. 

If there is someone out there who is thinking that tiny house will solve all their financial and relationship problems…..and if I have made them / you stop and think more cynically and objectively for even another day about the realities of the tiny house lifestyle; I have fulfilled my objective. 
Pursue One Goal at A Time
Know Yourself
Pursue Your Passion, Responsibly

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