Tiny House, Big Year

This past year, 2015, was a big one. In December 2013, my husband Nick and I decided we wanted to build a tiny house on wheels. We estimated that we’d build it — with our own hands — in a year-and-a-half.

We were wrong.

So wrong, in fact, that I cried and threw tantrums. I felt foolish and naive: I thought we acted in haste, that we’d been swept away by pretty pictures and a romantic notion of minimalism. We had an unfinished house sitting in my parents’ driveway for months, and for a time, I cursed this stupid fucking thing staring back at me. A voice in my head told me we’d made a mistake.

But we worked through our challenges, found a Northern California builder to finish it, and in a year-and-a-half — on July 4, 2015 — our tiny house was delivered and parked in its inaugural spot.

Photo Dec 28, 10 45 20 PM

Living tiny has been a learning experience so far: in some ways, it’s exactly what I expected, but I’ve also been quite surprised by what each day brings — and what I continue to learn about myself, my preferences, and my limitations. Paring down and navigating in such a small space — 131 square feet — has reset me and pushed me to think about what I truly need and want. I’ve never experienced such a blank slate before, from which I can design and experiment with a different routine.

Our tiny house isn’t a dream home, and while I know people’s experiences in tiny houses are so different, I’m skeptical of others who say such things. But I’m glad we stuck to our plan and have started to pave a path, as this house is simply step one.

More photos from 2015 at my other blog, Tiny Notes.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

71 thoughts on “Tiny House, Big Year

  1. That looks like a great space you have there and worth all the hard work. Sometimes you need someone else to get on board to help you finish something when it all gets too much. The end result is lovely.

  2. Wow! I have always seen articles about people living in tiny houses but I have never read a firsthand account of someone living in it. It is so cute! It’s so fascinating, I hope you enjoy it! You and your husband should be proud.

  3. I’ve always thought tiny houses were such a cool idea! I’ve really started to like them more and more over the last year and hopefully hope to have my own some day! If you ever wanted to share some of your experiences and the things you’ve learned, I’m eager to hear and learn about the tiny house living!

    1. I’ve written about my experiences in our tiny house on my other blog: http://tinyhousetravelers.com/blog/

      I don’t sugarcoat anything — there are many things I’d have done differently, and a number of things I just don’t like about our house. But it was a first step toward something bigger, and I’m glad we did it, if only to progress slowly to a bigger goal of owning land.

      1. Alright thank you I will for sure give that a look! It will be fun to keep updated on your progress as you make small steps towards your big goal or idea with every post 🙂

  4. I have the romantic notion of living in a tiny house too but I don’t think it would work for my big-guy husband and my two dogs and I. Tiny for us is thinking about a one bedroom apartment we’re looking at (around 550 sq/ft)

  5. Beautiful tiny house. My house is tiny, too. As I used to describe it: “About the size of a Cracker-Jack box.” Yet yours is somewhat more romantic-looking than mine. Very nice! 🙂

  6. Neat: the notion of physical space, travel, and internal growth. Wish I could chew this further with you around a campfire, as I’m doing something similar with my family, having rented our house out in Seattle to friends and taken a year off to ‘reassess.’ I won’t bog down your comment box here but I’m excited to read more of your discoveries on your other blog, and in the language of thieves, hoping to nick an idea or two from you to better distill and understand our own experiment. I’ll just say that there’s something deep about travel that’s deceptive, in the going-away that enables some coming-back to self, and how you interact with your physical space, your creative space…it’s all neat stuff. Keep the coals going and I’ll go rummage in the brush for something myself. Best, – Bill

  7. I love when people pursue their dreams successfully. You seem to be the case. Your house is beautiful and cozy, although I admire your ability to live together in it. I assume that you stay out more time than you would usually do (with a bigger house). Also the cleaning must be easy. On the other way, I can’t imagine cooking in there. And what would I do with your house? I would park it in one of the Vancouver parks. Or move it around the Western coast constantly – from BC to Mexico, back and forth.

  8. Cheri, I love the way your tiny house looks and agree with your goal to simplify. That’s what I do every January – go through at least one category of “stuff” and give away what I don’t use. When I’m really motivated, I’ll go through the whole house and give away unused ‘stuff’. Our house is what we’d call an average size, about 2,500 square feet. By no means do we have a ‘McMansion’! We do Christmas in a big way for decorations, so taking all that down January 1 helps a lot.
    While I admire your experiment, there’s no way I could live in a tiny house. Having a place to ‘escape’ for some quiet time is critical. Good luck and I’ll look forward to hearing more about your journey.

    1. Yes, space to escape is so important! While my husband and I can’t escape from each other in the traditional sense (hiding out in another room on the other end of the house, etc.), we’ve learned to be comfortably silent in the same space (I think this is something I was used to already, since I’ve worked from home for 3 years and have dealt with the usual daily disturbances). In general, headphones are my friend — when they’re on, that means “don’t talk to me, I’m somewhere else.” 🙂

      Overall, though, the smaller space forces us to go outside to escape. It’s been harder recently since it’s been colder and rainy, but during the summer, it was quite lovely — “home” was no longer just the space inside our walls.

      Thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful comment!

  9. Hi, Cheri, it’s really nice to be able to read about your experiences–tiny house and travel–because your writing is so honest and good. We lived as a family of four in a 600 sq. ft. apartment in the city of Chicago for many years before seeking a yard, and I still miss those days of keeping things really tight, with just enough space! I look forward to more posts about your thoughts and adventures. 🙂

  10. Really inspiring not only that you really are now living in it. But also that you planned this and tried it out and even through you wanted to give up you carried on only with a slight change. Making dreams or plans come true is what we all should do more often in life. Thank you for sharing this with us. And even fillings us in it about the hard part. Admiration from Janet & Lenja

  11. Construction ALWAYS takes longer than expected! I admire you and your husband for trying the minimalist lifestyle. The results look great. (We’ll see you next on Tiny House Nation, perhaps??) Our homes have gotten progressively smaller. Don’t laugh…we’re now down to 1,400 square feet, which is more than enough. Our next place will be around 1,000. We’re getting there…slowly!

    1. We’ve been approached numerous times by producers of THN and similar shows — to be honest we’re not interested in the attention. But nice to know the opportunity is there if we wanted to!

  12. What a great story! I have a friend who’s saved up for a mobile home, and I’ll be sure to share this with her, as well as check out your other blog. It’s always nice when you don’t necessarily have the guts to try this out, to at least be able to step in somebody’s shoes who’s experienced it first hand! Thanks 🙂

  13. I’ve seen a few tiny houses before and they have intrigued me. I will check out your other blog, but I’m curious if this is a permanent home for you and your husband, or more of a weekend getaway? I also wonder if for vacation you go to huge places 😃 And do you, as a matter of course, spend a lot of time outdoors? Too many questions, I know. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Hi Barb — we currently live in it full-time. In the future, I’d love for it to be a space for guests or a rental, but we’re not ready to do any of that yet (buying land, settling somewhere, possibly building another house) as we travel a lot overseas.

      We love spending time outdoors, yes. Luckily the weather in CA allows us to be outside a fair amount, even in the winter.

      Do check out the other blog, where I’ve written about our experience so far. Thanks for reading!

  14. Congratulations! I love it! I enjoy watching this “movement” on HGTV. Though a tiny house may be too small for my long limbs, I might build an in-law suite to escape to for writing when my in-laws aren’t visiting. Best wishes!

    1. A place to escape to (especially to write) sounds lovely.

      It’s funny, I’d thought I’d write more in this little house in the woods — that it would inspire me. That hasn’t happened, though (which I touched on here). But still, it’s a cute lil home!

      Thanks for your comment!

  15. Ahhhh … trials and tribulations! Life is a test! You stuck with it and what counts now is that you are happy. I know you and Nick have more exciting adventures that await.

  16. The tiny house looks simply incredible! I both envy and admire you because while I so want to live that way, I know I never could. It must have its challenges but the way you describe it makes it sound as though it is all well worth the effort. Congratulations on hanging in there!

  17. I dig the house! Good, critical post. Thinking of something John Cage said: “It’s not irritating to be where one is; it’s only irritating to think one would rather be someplace else.”

  18. Your 2015 was a completely different experience from mine. I now have more stuff than I know what to do with, and it won’t fit into a 5,000 sq. ft. house!!!!

  19. I am fascinated by this post. I watch HGTV and watch people shopping for tiny homes. I am interested in reading more about living in a tight space. When I think of all the junk we own, I doubt we can live that way, but I admire you for your decision.

  20. It’s quite beautiful. And the setting is glorious. I love the simplicity. I know I would have/need more shelves for stuff! even though I’ve been living out of a suitcase/backpack for four years. It makes my northern Canada cabin look positively palatial – main floor and loft a total of 525 sq ft!

  21. Looks great. My wife is especially keen on this Tiny House movement. I love seeing them as well but am not sure it is for me full time. Though I like to keep my ‘stuff’ organized (such as CD’s and books which I see at least one shelf of in yours), I like to have access to it and I would be afraid of the sacrifices I might have to make in a tiny home. On the other hand there really is something admirable about the simplicity of them and the uncluttered aspect which is appealing. Having watched some programs about Tiny Homes recently I will add that yours is very nice and feels very much like a home.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Robert. Purging my stuff two years ago was great, but it was hard at first to part from my book collection. I gave away 500+ books to the SF library and other donation centers, and kept a few small boxes (the books you see on those two shelves). I’ve probably read just under half of those books, though haven’t really taken any of the others off the shelf to read. To be honest, if I got rid of them now, it wouldn’t bother me, despite some being sentimental for whatever reason.

      Living in this house, I’ve noticed how my relationship to my tangible belongings continues to change. An interesting experiment, I suppose!

      1. There are things I could part with and hold onto only the most meaningful books, but I fear there is no way I could lose my music collection! Being a music blogger I utilize the physical collection constantly for lyrics, credits, etc. But never say never right?! I do believe you when you say your relationship to your belongings has changed. I hope you update your experiences on your blog so we can understand it more!

  22. We built our home last year. It wasn’t a tiny home, it was a 1100 sq. ft. cabin at the lake. I hated when the first question out of everyone’s mouth was ‘ooooh, is it your dream home?’ No. It’s not. I’m 29 years old, how am I supposed to know what my dream home is? To me the idea is like that of a soulmate. You can fall madly in love with something, but the myth of the perfect house (or person) is just that. A myth.

    Great post! Your tiny house is adorable.


    1. Thanks, Emory! Yes, this house is hardly a “dream home” and actually a stepping stone toward a bigger plan. So it’s not “perfect.” I’ve learned from this house building experience that even when you have control over your design, materials, and budget, you’re not guaranteed to get the exact house you want. I’ll remember that for when we ever design/build another (more permanent) home, which I do hope will happen in the future.

  23. The finished product looks amazing, judging from the photos. I am happy you stuck it through even through all the challenges—you should be proud of yourselves for that!

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