Can You Live Tiny?
Four things to consider before selling everything.
So you’re thinking about living tiny? It’s no wonder. The minimalist lifestyle has gained major popularity over the last couple years. When you have less stuff, you have less to pay for, less to maintain, less to take with you when you move to the next place.
Mike and I move around, A LOT. In the last four years we’ve lived in three different states, to say nothing of our college years before that. Being an architectural designer, each place I live must be properly arranged and perfectly decorated. This weird nesting compulsion costs money and so much energy.
A few years ago, the Tiny Living movement caught my attention. I first heard about the tiny homes on wheels and was enchanted. What?? A home (that actually looks like a house) that we can tow wherever we go? Yes please! So when Mike’s job transferred us to east Texas, we thought we’d take the plunge. How hard could it be? Here’s what we considered in making this dream a reality….
It’s the first thing on any homeowner’s mind. How much can we risk losing? This is how you figure out what kind of tiny house you’ll transition into.
A custom built tiny house can range anywhere from $25K (if you’re very thrifty) to $75K and beyond. Cost is based on many things like: are you on wheels or attached to the ground, are your utilities (electric, water, sewer) already on site, are you building it yourself or hiring a contractor, how big and luxurious will your tiny home be?
Three years out of college and swimming in student loans, Mike and I were not in a position to drop tens of thousands on a new home. More loans were out of the question and we had a limited amount of cash. Finally, we settled on buying an RV. While it compromised my dream of living in a home that looks like a house, it hugely minimized our risks. We told ourselves, “Let’s try this minimalist thing. If we haven’t killed each other after a couple years, we can see about something more custom.”
Before we spent most of our savings, we investigated other options. How much to live in an apartment in the area? $1K/month. How much would we pay in rent at our chosen RV Resort? $450/month. What’s the difference in utilities cost? What is the quality of life for each option? The numbers definitely worked in our favor.
There was one moment Mike and I remember vividly. In four days we toured 7 apartments, 4 RV parks, and over 25 RVs. There we sat, in a random parking lot in Gruene, Texas, deciding our fate (at least for the next year). Were we actually going to do this?? Were we actually going to live in a shoebox on wheels? Well, why not?
It turns out an RV was the perfect move. In order to make it financially viable, it needed to be our house AND my office. We bought a 33 foot (about 325 square feet) 5th wheel for $11,000 (including taxes and fees). This was a very hard find and the minute we walked in, we knew it was our home. Texas is a great place to shop for RVs, they love them down here and we did most of our shopping at RV consignment stores.
We wanted something that we could renovate to make our own and in the last 7 months we’ve spent about $6K on new appliances, finishes, and general maintenance. That’s about $17K total.
The benefits to having an RV rather than a custom tiny home are two fold. A) Since it’s more “normal” we’re accepted into almost all RV parks. Many parks prohibit tiny homes, gypsy wagons, and anything else unusual. B) We can resell! The market for RVs is much larger the market for a tiny homes. < This is a big one and it’s what quelled most of our fears. If this little experiment fails miserably, we’ll just sell and move into an apartment!
Sitting in that parking lot, we had a couple other things to consider.
2. Mental Stability
This may seem a tad dramatic, but living tiny really tests your mental stability. We lived in a pretty small apartment before moving tiny. At 650 square feet we had a kitchen, dining room (turned bike workshop), living room, bathroom, and bedroom. But what happens when you shove all that (plus an office!) into two rooms? Answer: you go outside.
There are some days I barely leave the RV and feel like I might explode. I must consciously tell myself to take a walk, visit a neighbor, or go to a yoga class. Sometimes Mike comes home from work and blares the radio when all I want is quiet. So again, I walk outside, visit a neighbor, go to a yoga class… you get the point. You have to design your life (and your relationships) to give yourself space.
Now we spend much less time in front of the TV and more time on date night, volunteering at the humane society, hanging out with friends (most of whom also live tiny), or putting in extra hours at work. We identify when we need space from each other and we take it, only one person allowed in the kitchen at a time, and we HAVE to keep the place tidy. It’s a steep learning curve, but pretty easy once you figure it out.
3. What About All Our Stuff?
Don’t underestimate the power your stuff has over you. Ladies, imagine if you only had six feet of hanging space and two large drawers for ALL your clothing. Gents, what would you do without your multitude of sporting equipment and hundreds of tools?
When we moved out of our apartment, we had a massive yard sale and sold ALL our furniture and 90% of our other belongings. We had to sell 2 of our 5 bikes, all our large paintings and decorations, over half my already meager closet, and Mike’s prized toolbox. We moved to Texas with a 5’x8’ U-Haul trailer. That’s it.
But here’s the thing, all of sudden we felt free! No more stuff to maintain, pay for, or clean. Shopping is completely different if you literally don’t have the space for more. Now, the few things we have are quality things. I researched our water filter until I was blue in the face – if it’s gonna take up counter space, I better love it. Our bed is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever slept on – it’s one of our few places to relax, it should feel like a cloud. My closet is full of gorgeous pieces – ever heard of a capsule wardrobe?
When something breaks, we don’t buy a new one, we fix it (that shiz was expensive!). And because we have so little, it’s not a burden to spend time mending our belongings. Besides the financial savings, we feel much better about our carbon footprint. The amount of trash we accumulate is tiny too!
Are you a nostalgic person like me? That’s ok. We made space for the smaller decorations and knick-knacks that I couldn’t part with. Our few larger items went into one tiny corner of my parents’ garage. One day, when we’re attached to the ground, I’m hoping to have a small shed to use as a bike workshop/office/storage for these nostalgia items.
The truth: when forced to pare down, you realize what’s really important to you.
4. Unavoidable Tradeoffs
There are a few unavoidable negatives to living on wheels (I think these would be easier if we were attached to the ground).
A house on wheels isn’t really a “home” in other people’s eyes. If you don’t care what others think, then you’re fine. I thought I didn’t care but it definitely took some adjusting to friends and family asking when we would buy a “real house.” There are many preconceived notions about this lifestyle, and the judgment from outsiders can be astonishing.
If you’re renting the land you live on, it really isn’t your home. We are still at the mercy of our RV park (aka. trailerhood). If they raise the rates, we have to pay. If they want to mow the lawn at 6am, we have to listen. And if the poop pipes are extra stinky in the summer, we have to smell it.
The maintenance can be costly if you don’t have an engineer as a husband. We’re very fortunate that our combined skills can fix most problems and we rarely have to call in the RV repairman. It’s a niche market and can be outrageously expensive. A tip to ease the transition: learn everything you can about your new home from the people who sell it to you.
And finally, our house on wheels makes me feel like an elephant. Despite our best efforts in stabilization, the place shakes when we walk around. It’s minor but it’s probably my biggest pet peeve about the RV. I’d love to take a step and not see the reverberation in my water glass.
Worth The Sacrifice?
It’s been seven months since we moved tiny. Neither of us regrets it for a second. Our lives are simpler and easier. We have more time and money. We’ve realized our strength as a team and we rest better at night knowing that we own our home outright. Of course I still dream of a bathtub rather than our coffin sized shower. It would be so awesome for Mike to have a workshop one day. And when we have kids we’ll definitely need more than two rooms. But all of these dreams can be realized while living minimally. This is a complete lifestyle shift for us, and I doubt we’ll ever go back.
So… will you take the plunge?