These days when you ask someone how they are feeling a likely response is “stressed out”. In a world where personal debt is high, jobs have been difficult to come by and chronic illness on the rise we find that stress levels are at an all-time high.
How do we escape?
You may have noticed the “Tiny House Movement” has experienced a huge upswing. Magazines, such as Dwell, are highlighting tiny house owners with their efficient homes and HGTV has started showing Tiny House Hunters.
Several people have shared that downsizing, decluttering their lives and moving into a tiny home has helped them not only relieve stress but also achieve financial goals and live a life they dreamed of.
Consider this, sixty-eight percent of tiny house owners have no mortgage.
Just considering having no mortgage makes my stress level almost disappear! Nevertheless, there is always the other side of the coin: Sharing smaller living spaces, how to deal with illness and issues concerning privacy.
Then there is that complicated question of: Where do I store my stuff?
Recently I had a chat with Macy Miller, a tiny house dweller in Boise, Idaho. Macy graduated in 2007 with a Masters in Architecture. After living in the real world and facing some hefty stressful challenges of her own she was searching for a fresh start and a better housing option.
In 2011 she designed and began the building process of her own tiny home.
Macy has been living in her tiny house since June of 2013 and currently resides there with her partner James, her adorable daughter Hazel, who recently celebrated her first birthday, their faithful great dane, Denver and an exciting addition, in the form of a new sibling for Hazel, will be making his/her arrival in the fall of 2015.
What inspired you to take the Tiny House route?
I was studying for my architect licensure exams and needed a “real project” to solidify my thoughts and move into a hands-on learning environment. However, a close second was the fact that I hate being a renter. Feeling like I have no control over decisions for my home was frustrating, I always had to ask if I could paint a wall or hang a picture.
Another problem was that I was not in the position to buy a ‘standard house’ nor did I even want to. Yet, I knew that I wanted a place to call my own. But I wanted to have that ownership faster than a 15-30 year mortgage would allow on my income.
Building smaller just made sense, I did not realize that ‘tiny houses’ had become a ‘thing’ until well into my build, for me it just made sense and gave me enough education and training to justify the expense, if nothing else. As a bonus, I was also hoping to cut my living expenses, for at least a little while.
How did you come up with the plan for your house?
I designed the house based off of my life and how I live it, focusing on my top ten priorities:
a good sized kitchen, with an oven for casseroles, an over-sized shower, room for a great dane, endless hot water (for time spent in my oversized shower), a flexible floor plan (I get bored of the same layout and I like to rearrange furniture), room for my king sized bed, room for at least two adults, light and airy and as many passive design strategies as possible (with these I could continue the learning process and test out theories first hand).
Once I defined my priorities I put them to paper and made it work. I wasn’t as strict with budget planning, it was more “off the cuff”.
How was the construction process?
It took about three times longer than I had planned with my “conservative guessing system”. Each step took longer because I had to first learn how to do what I wanted to do (not having a construction background) then do it, there is hardly enough work to learn to perfect each trade but it’s definitely a good intro, but each step takes WAY longer than it would take a professional.
Does “tiny house living” re-introduce new stress? (ie: closer quarters, illness…does it spread quicker, etc.)
Not in the least! It reduces stress for us if anything, but in reality, the actual ‘living’ part is no different. We just save a lot of money which allows me more quality time to spend with my family.
It won’t work for everyone, you have to really like the person/people you live with and have very strong communication skills.
When conflicts come up they have to be resolved, you can’t just storm off into another part of the house. It is a fairly easy skill to coordinate separate time so we can work on our individual projects.
Ironically we were all just sick, I don’t think the house had any greater or lesser influence on the spreading of it though, it’s been a nasty bug that spreads easily, still, it took me 5 days before I passed it on.
Any upcoming plans to make changes?
We are adding a 36 s.f. an addition that will bring our house from 196 s.f. to 232 s.f. This is so that we have two separate areas for naps since we will soon have two kids who will likely be on different nap schedules.
The new room will be the nursery and will have a crib, a toddler bed and clothing storage for both kiddos.
Describe your favorite benefits of living in a tiny house.
I save well over $2000 a month. I now have the luxury of staying home to raise my family instead of sending them to daycare. I have everything I need with no debts (debt free does amazing things for your stress levels). I am able to work on the projects, that I carefully select, instead of working on other peoples’ projects just to constantly to pay the bills.
I can take part in my own life and participate in things I WANT to participate in, including volunteer activities, events with my kid, and I have the freedom to just NOT participate in anything if I don’t want to.
Let’s be honest and talk about some of the drawbacks.
Honestly, due to the widespread exposure, one of the toughest things to endure is people think I’m “weird”, I am constantly on the defense about my chosen lifestyle and find myself in the position where I need to defend it.
There are a lot of people who think my lifestyle is a criticism of theirs and jump to defend their own lifestyle by belittling mine and others who choose to live simplistically. Personally, this is my choice, I’m not saying what is best for anyone else.
There are legal limitations as to where I can actually live in my tiny house.
Living in a small footprint is something that is generally frowned upon, most places have a minimum square footage size (most tiny houses are on a trailer to bypass the min s.f. requirements) and smaller dwellings are not allowed even when completely code compliant.
Finding a location is daunting and uncertain and can diminish a sense of security. Fortunately, the wheels also help alleviate that stress.
If I want to ‘entertain’ I have to wait for good weather. This one has not really been an issue for me OTHER than my daughter’s Bday party. I don’t typically entertain, we have two entire sets of family in town and neither James nor I have ever been the ones to throw the dinner parties.
This party though I have been waiting out the weather to decide if I can have it at the park or if I’ll need to find another location to fit our families.
Any plans to return to a “regular” size house?
Never. Never ever. We will eventually build a slightly bigger home so that our kids can have a bit more space as they grow, James and I have always wanted to build a straw bale house, right now we have plans for a 650 s.f. straw bale that includes 3 bedrooms and a home office since we both work from home.
I don’t see us ever living in a bigger space than that. It is all we need and then we don’t get strapped with all the debt/bills that come with a bigger place.
What other steps have you taken to making some life changes and reducing your stress?
I am constantly running little ‘experiments’ I never know how they are going to go, I try to keep an open mind. I was not sure I could handle living in a home this small, I thought I wouldn’t be but it’s not even a little hard, there are FAR more pros than cons.
I have always been conscientious to live within my means, I graduated with a Masters degree and no debt because I worked through school to pay for everything. I would rather work hard then accrue debt.
Since getting rid of my main bills (mortgage and most of the utilities) I have pushed it further to see how minimally I can live my life. I got rid of my cell phone opting for other free means of communication (which still include voice and text conversations).
It was tough for the first few months but has been a very freeing experience. My goal was a year; I am over that goal with no plans to get a cell phone anytime soon. I was able to pay off my car with the money saved on rent so I have a newish car with no payment.
I am at a point where I am saving far more than I am spending every month so that all of my purchases in the future can be free of loans. The money saved on interest will compile in my bank account rather than going to an organization. I think it’s very freeing to not be saddled to anyone else for my finances.
Let’s talk about your expenses.
My yearly expenses amount to $2,400 lot rent, $700 full coverage car insurance, about $600 for gas and electrical, $3,000 for health insurance and whatever I choose to spend on food and gas. Not a bad gig in this day and age!
Has this new living arrangement changed how you spend your time both indoors and outdoors?
I am able to spend more time doing what I want to do because of my tiny house, for now, that means I get to take my daughter and dog to the parks in good weather and that we play inside in bad weather.
I think I spend my time inside and outside exactly the same as I did when I owned a larger home; I just had more ‘things’ to take care of in the larger home.
More time was spent taking care of my ‘things’ and less was spent relaxing. My time outside was less because I would spend a Saturday mowing the lawn and weeding instead of going for a hike.
I had much more to take care of that ate up my free time, now I have more ‘free time’ which I fill in ways that are important, I visit family, play in the rain and party with Denver at the dog park while Hazel plays.
I hate to be gooey but my life is amazing, I hope I never outgrow my means again!
For more information on Macy and her tiny house visit her blog at www.minimotives.com. Macy also has a podcast at www.tinyhousechat.com for those wanting to learn more about how they can build their own tiny house.
Images courtesy of Macy Miller
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