‘Scuse the mess. People live here.
I became aware of the concept of minimalism in 2012. It took several years for things to build up to the point of making this dramatic switch in our lives, but I won’t delve into those details here as that’s a subject for another, or multiple other, discussions. In 2016, we made the transition from our house in town to a sort-of tiny house in the country. As we learned more about who we were and what actually mattered to us, we removed things from our lives and found ourselves with a lot of extra space and extra expense we didn’t really need or want.
The “big” house in town after we fixed it up several years ago
We started to actively realize that we only used less than half
of our house more than half
of the time, and our house was hardly large by average standards at around 1200 square feet. At least half of the things filling our home were only there because the space was there. That wall looks bare so we’d better find something to fill it. We need some chairs and an end table here, even if we will barely use them. We better have a dining table and chairs for the dining room, even though we eat at the desk or in bed or just about anywhere else in the house. Look at this huge closet. I bet we can fill this with hundreds of articles of clothing we won’t wear so we have to dig through it to find the things we do wear. That second bedroom needs a use- maybe I’ll make it a hobby room (My fleeting hobbies/obsessions have sapped untold thousands of dollars from our pockets. Probably another thing best left for a separate discussion).
Eventually, you start to accept that you’d be better off cutting out the extra space instead of trying to fill it with crap so it feels normal. We don’t have to spend extra time cleaning those areas. The electricity bill is way down because we don’t have to heat/cool/light those areas. We save money on decoration and furnishings for those extra areas. All these time, money, and energy savings allow us to invest those assets in a more-productive, deliberate, and meaningful way. That could be profound, or it could be as simple as using the money you saved to put better-quality items in the areas of your house or life you do use often. When you think about it, it’s perfectly congruent with basic minimalism. Who knew.
The new “tiny” house on the day it was delivered
I only reluctantly refer to our house as a “tiny house,” because, like the word “minimalism,” it is subject to so many preconceptions and pre-formed opinions. When you think of a tiny house, most people imagine a 150 square foot construction on top of a trailer with wheels under it. They think of hitting their head on the ceiling when they crawl out of bed, going to the composting toilet to do their business, turning on the propane stove to cook their breakfast, and folding up the table so they can use the couch to read the paper. That’s definitely one option, and it’s a very impressive use of space- if that’s what you truly prefer and wish for. I’m here to tell you that there is an in-between. A big turn-off for people who would otherwise consider this route is that you really do give up so much space and function- well, some people do. Some people really DON’T use that much space at all, but we are a little more average, I think.
The finished “tiny house” interior, looking in from the front door. Living room area to the right with a love seat. Full size appliances in the galley kitchen. The door in the hallway leads to the bathrom. Across the hall from the bathroom, you can just see our stacked washer and dryer. Beyond that is the bedroom.
Our house is built out of a pre-fab portable shed in the style of a cabin. You know, the kind you see advertised on the side of highways in every rural area in the country. Extra storage solutions. “Why RENT
storage when you can BUY IT
!?” Maybe you need a lake cabin for a weekend getaway from the troubles of life. Maybe you want a “glamping” shelter. Perhaps a hunting cabin is in order for your new lease out in the woods. Whatever the application, they offer a mold. We decided the 14’x32′ cabin-style shed would work for our purposes, which comes to about 350 square feet if you don’t count the porch. This is obviously way smaller than most any house in this country, but it was really all the space we needed, if we were honest with ourselves. This floorplan and size gives us the space we need for a separate sitting area and television, a nice galley kitchen with full-size appliances, a bathroom with a full size shower and a flushing toilet
, and a good size separate bedroom area that easily fits our queen bed and my work desk, among other things.
Ye Olde Slumber Chamber
We took the cabin on a rent-to-own plan at 400 dollars, or thereabouts, per month, with no credit check, to be paid off in 36 months. If you’ve got 9,500 dollars cash laying around, they will also accept that. We didn’t have 9,500 dollars cash laying around. Disclaimer: Read this post on Debt
. Consider any debt you take wisely, and don’t do it unless you don’t have a better alternative. Debt is a tool, but a dangerous one, so plan well and utilize it carefully.
If you’re a person who absolutely abhors debt, you’re smart (I wish I’d been that way a lot sooner than now). That payment plan on our shell of a house probably horrifies you. Well, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t end there. The house came finished externally (I’ve heard people who know more about construction than I do refer to this as “in the dry”), but the interior was just bare subfloor and stud walls. We had our basic shelter, but the interior was a blank slate. We took a “project loan” out from Home Depot in the amount of 10,000 dollars. Yikes. We also had to buy some land, which cost us 5,000 dollars for a 2 acre plot (owner-financed). I sold my motorcycle to pay for a septic system. The drilling of the water well we paid off in two installments over the course of a month. If you’re wondering about the price for septic and a well, it varies a lot by area. I’d say to expect to pay at least 8 grand combined.
Drilling the well
Saved a lot of money by buying and installing the pump and line myself. I had to figure out all the pieces I needed by googling and researching, install the components down into the well casing and above the hole (pressure tank, wiring, etc), build a pump house out of plywood to protect it from cold, and then rent a trencher (not expensive) to run the water line to the house.
So, to summarize our new monthly expenses: we’ve now got a 400 dollar bill for the cabin, 150 bucks a month for the Home Depot loan, and 200 bucks a month for the land. That comes to about 750 dollars monthly. Yikes, but fret-not, friends, for we offset that cost a bit. We “own” our house in town still (you know, own with a 30 year mortgage). We payed about 600 dollars a month on that home after insurance (really not bad). We were able to rent that out to a mature and reliable tenant (Holli’s brother and his young son) for about what we pay for it, maybe a hair over. That means we’re really not out much more than than what we were paying to live in town, but we now have a house accruing equity in town without costing us a dime, as well as a complete, separate property outside of town that will be paid off in-full within three years. Subtract from that extra 100 dollars the water bill (we now have a well), gas bill (we’re now all-electric), and comparably-huge electricity bill (our bill is around 75 dollars a month now) and we are seeing a net positive
financial impact on this move of a couple hundred dollars per month. It’s definitely a risky thing to do, since you depend on that tenant maintaining residence to make the whole equation work, so think twice before pulling a stunt like this. I’m just being honest about what we did and how. Glean from it what you will. Now, on to the house project.
Our 2 acres isn’t huge, but it sits on a 40 acre tract that we have written permission to play on from the owner.
I’ve always been a handy person. My father and my father-in-law are likewise handy people, and they’ve taught me a lot of things. My wife’s father helped me with the breaker box and meter box installation, as well as answering a lot of questions regarding the wiring when I first started. My father was on-site with me for nearly the entire second half of the project. I couldn’t have done it nearly as neatly or as quickly without his help (and his table saw), so I’m very grateful to him. All that said, you can do it. I promise. If you aren’t trying to be as fancy as we went, you don’t even need much in the way of special saws and tools. With YouTube and all the blogs and forums we have access to today, almost anyone can do almost anything, to at least an acceptable level- if you have the time and patience.
Interior construction is fully underway.
I wired the house. I installed the toilet. My father and I created a simple pvc drain system under the house and connected it to the septic tank. I plumbed the water lines with pex tubing and Sharkbite connectors (it doesn’t leak, I promise). I restored an old clawfoot tub I got for free. My wife and I insulated the house. My father and I hung the drywall, mudded/textured the walls and ceilings, and cut trim boards for the doorways and windows (I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have two sets of hands for this. Drywall sucks, especially on the ceiling, without special tools). I made two storage lofts- one over the front door and one over the bathroom.
Bathroom in-progress, Bathroom complete.
We cut and hung shiplap wood over the western interior walls, and cut and hung corrugated metal over the eastern walls of the house (using a circular saw with the blade turned backwards). Snazzy. Our budget of 10,000 dollars included the purchase of brand new (but bargain hunted and price-matched) stainless appliances, including a dishwasher (A tiny house with a dishwasher. Is that even legal?) and LG front-loading laundry machines that we got on sale.
Holli putting up Reflectix
I built the center island in the kitchen with plywood and 2×4 framing. The two cabinets to the left are cheap pre-built cabinets from Home Depot that we painted, but so far they are worth the small amount of money they cost and look just fine. I cut plain 3/4 inch plywood and measured it out for countertops, then sent them to my father-in-law, who is a carpenter by trade. He used some hardwood he had laying around at work and laminated the plywood with 1/4 inch hardwood- it turned out freaking beautifully (THANKS RANDY). Obviously, not everyone has a father-in-law who plays wood like a violin, but you can make something nice without special skills or a ton of money if you need to. Hell, some people even make countertops out of pallet wood
– and they look great.
Measuring the hole for the apron sink before sending the countertop to Holli’s dad for laminating.
It’s coming along
When all was said and done, we are looking at a total cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 33,000 dollars- including the cost of the building, the finishing of the interior, the appliances, the 2 acres of land, the septic system, the well drilling, the well components, etc. It seems like a lot, but it should all be payable within a few years, which beats the hell out of a 30 year mortgage.
Most people tell us the house looks great, and we agree- the small space allowed us to double-down on quality instead of spreading our resources thin. That isn’t the real point, though.
Holli has the space she needs for her animals.
She has a place to garden and grow food.
I have a place to shoot.
And woods to explore.
We get to experience nature at will, without driving anywhere. We save a ton on utility bills. We don’t spend much time cleaning or doing unnecessary chores. We aren’t preoccupied and distracted by a million different things. We’re more inclined to get out and have an experience. We may live in a small house now, but we finally have the room, time, and inclination to just live.