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Small homes: a boat, a dream shack & twins in a tiny house

The godfather of small houses built his tiny shack in the 19th century (see video Thoreau’s simple life at Walden), but it was over 150 years after Thoreau’s experiment before tiny living truly become a movement. Granted there have been back-to-the-land movements before the small house movement of this century took shape, but it took the Internet to really launch a more widespread sharing of information.

Gregory Paul Johnson, co-founder of the Small House Society, explained to the Financial Times that a google search for “small house” five years ago, “would have been like putting in a search for small elephant or small whale – a contradiction in terms”. Now there are large numbers of Internet sites, as well as a heap of books and many experts devoted to the subject.”

No definition for tiny

While the Tiny House Movement has its poster children like Johnson, Jay Shafer (our video of his 96-square-foot home tour Tumbleweed Tiny House), Susanna Susanka (The Not So Big House), among others, but there is no unifying style or even type of tiny home. 

Just on faircompanies, we’ve filmed, among others, an RV home, a former-schoolhouse-now-studio, a DIY trailer homea tiny cob home, a Manhattan microstudio, a soon-too-be-crowdsourced tiny bachelor pad, our own 400-square-foot Barcelona place and lots of tiny homes on wheels.

When, via the tiny house blog, we asked for submissions from small home dwellers interested in filming their homes for our site, even the definition of tiny ranged from 40 to 700 square feet (including a Canadian man living in a 12 cubed space).

Not a hippy thing

The tiny homeowners we heard from didn’t fit a typecast. One couple considers their small home an upgrade from being “homeless” and traveling, while another made sure to point out she was in a different category. 

“I have never been a ‘hippy’ type – I like painted fingernails and makeup -,” explains Debra Jordan, who sells baby gifts online advertised as “made by hand in a little cottage”, “but more and more I can relate to a lifestyle of simplicity and sustainability.”

Online tiny inspiration

For many, the Internet provided motivation- and resources- for moving to a tiny home. Kyle and Jeannie, self-described nomadic artists, were traveling and living out of a backpack until they found online inspiration. 

“One night wandering around the Internet I stumbled on the tiny house blog,” explains Kyle, “and two days later we had bought a utility trailer and have been working at a mad dash ever since to make our home.”

In the coming months we’ll be posting videos from some of these tiny homeowners. In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite emails extolling the tiny life.

A small house and then came twins (Bec Peterson)

“Three and a half years ago, my husband and I bought our first home.  We found a small house located on a lake peninsula and instantly fell in love, despite the 700 square foot footprint.  Three months later, we learned that I was pregnant with twins. 

Our friends and families gently (and some not so gently) suggested that we sell the little house and find a bigger place to raise our kids. We declined, deciding to fit our lives to the space we had and the space we had to our lives.  

We added creative storage solutions, donated unused goods, and brought home two babies and a bunch of baby gear. Two and a half years later, we’re still in the small house and have grown to really embrace the lessons of small dwellings. 

There certainly are challenges to raising two little girls and a yellow lab puppy in such a small house, but we always have enjoyed challenge. 

We have focused our household renovations on efficient heating and cooling of the space, and making the most of every space. Sometimes we do grumble about things like closet space and clutter, but we realize that people tend to complain about those things regardless of the size of their home.

When our friends bought a home earlier this year, they gave us a tour and pointed out their often unused formal living room. Where once I might have been envious of having extra space, I found myself feeling thankful that I don’t have that problem.  When I write out my mortgage check every month, I know I’m paying for space we use.

Our home may be small, but we fill it to the rafters with family, friends, laughter, love, and memories. We couldn’t be happier and are so satisfied with our decision to remain in our small house. Not only do we feel good about living sustainably and teaching those values to our kids, we feel much more connected as a family.”

Liveaboard life: people not stuff (Merry O’Brien)

“I grew up with a mother who was plagued with OCD hoarding, a serious issue that many Americans face, and which our consumerist society seems to increasingly encourage. I was forced to be homeless as a teenager because there was literally no longer room for me in my mother’s house. My mother loved me, but she was trapped by a condition which forced her to collect “stuff.”

As an adult, I have tried as best as possible to live as a minimalist and focus on people and experiences over possessions. 

I’m a single gal living on less than 300 square feet in Annapolis’ harbor. I’ve been living aboard for over a year now and never want to go back to land. I was inspired, like many people, by Jay Shafer, Coming Unmoored Blog, and most of all, Teresa Carey’s blog “Sailing, Simplicity, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The liveaboard life puts you closer to nature and to other people, yet you also have a sense of independence and opportunities for solitude. It’s a paradox between more closeness and more solitude. The best of both worlds. 

Before living tiny, I rented a large townhome with a drive-in garage while getting my master’s degree in Michigan. I had 4 neighbors over the course of two years in that townhouse. I never knew any of their names. Now I know all my dockmates, local small business owners, neighbors, and I am part of a community. I have an identity as a minimalist and as a woman who lives aboard alone. I am proud of these aspects of my identity. 

This lifestyle is secure and comforting yet freeing. You still have a close connection to others in a unique, fringe-like community. You have independence. You have a closeness with nature.”

A reclaimed, one-of-a-kind dream shack (Deanna Campbell)

“Years ago, I lived in a carriage house. It forced me to use what I had and not gather what I didn’t need. I started noticing, even in that small space how much I had that didn’t serve a purpose. 

Ever since, I’ve wanted a tiny workspace of my own. My partner Jackie was the ideal collaborator for my “dream” house. There was enough land behind her home to put my little space. It took us years, but now I have the space I’ve always wanted and all the “space” I need.

The house is unique because it wasn’t built from a kit. We knew we wanted a simple design, but we also wanted reclaimed wood on the outside and the inside. 

We found a man that specialized in demolishing old homes and saving beautiful wood inside that was still usable. You can still see charring on the board and batten where an attic caught on fire in a house that was built in the early 1900’s. It took a while to get what we needed but it was worth the wait. 

I also wanted a window with colored antique glass. We found an old window at habit and the glass in California. That window is in the front and it gives a fairy tale style to the house. As a matter of fact, I often feel like I am in a fairy tale when I walk through my gate. Definitely a dream come true. 

For years I have worked as a copywriter and editor. With effective copywriting you have limited time to get your message across; it’s all about essentials. I taught copywriting for years and it was a constant challenge to get my students to understand how powerful messaging can be when you choose words carefully and leave out what your do not need. 

Now, I find I am also “editing” the way I live.”