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Envisioning A Tiny House

Updated on September 23, 2014

For Anyone Who Thinks They Might Want to Think About Living a Little (or a Lot) Smaller

Getting from the idea of a tiny house to the actuality of a tiny house is the tricky part. It's probably even trickier than the genuine construction process part. And for a lot of people, learning to scale down and live smaller takes a lot longer to master than it takes to build a tiny trailer house too.

I've been contemplating tiny house-dom and doing a lot of reading. But it's never the same as having some sort of actual, real-life experience. So when I had the chance to actually see a tiny house in person, I took it. And because I live in Washington State, it just so happens I was lucky enough that the small trailer home I got to visit belongs to none other than Dee Williams, active advocate for smaller living and owner of PAD, Portland Alternative Dwellings, a company which designs and builds tiny homes.

Dee Williams' tiny house
Dee Williams' tiny house | Source

Exploring A Tiny Trailer Home

The funniest thing to me about my pictures of Dee's tiny house is that I was just starting to really take my own photographs to go with my web writing and I was still a fairly timid photographer. Meaning, I didn't take a lot of pictures because I felt like I really was stepping into her personal life and space.

One thing to remember about Dee's house is that it's on the smaller side of what people build for trailer houses. She's in about 89 square feet in this. The top-selling plans for building your own tiny homes are just over twice that size. Dee's "rug test" where she laid out a rug and used it to map out the great room of her house is a fantastic example. Right now my life takes up something more like two rooms in a house. I have a lot to reduce if I'm going to live tiny.

Dee's Tiny House Story

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir
The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

Dee's experiences with building her very own tiny house with her own hands for just $10,000.

 

What's a bathroom to you?

For Dee, the bathroom is a composting toilet in a little niche with no door that is right next to her front door and across from her kitchen. Sorry I don't have a picture of that. She showers at work, so there's no more bathroom.

Would you be able to live like that? I know I absolutely could not. I would build what's called a wet bath and it would have both a Japanese toilet with a sink on the back and a special soaking tub with shower option.

What's Your Definition Of "Kitchen?" - enivisioning what you need and/or want

Dee's tiny kitchen, photo by Relache
Dee's tiny kitchen, photo by Relache

Here's a picture of Dee's tiny kitchen. It's the first thing on your left when you come in the door of her tiny home, directly across from the toilet. (I say 'toilet' and not 'bathroom' because it's just a composting toilet and nothing else.)

What you see is what you get. A jug watercooler. (It's got a bowl of fruit on top of it in this photo). A sink basin, meaning just a bowl set into the counter, no faucet. A single electric burner. I asked Dee if she cooked in her kitchen and she said that for her, cooking is heating up a can of soup. She does nearly all of her eating outside her home. I have lived like that a few times in my life, but it's always been when I lived in dense, urban areas and was employed in scenarios where I had a generous cash flow. This type of minimalism will be a delight to some and utterly insufficient to others. It might even scare a few people away from tiny living permanently.

So, how do you define a kitchen? Do you cook? Do you eat in or out? Would you need any appliances? Would you need any food storage? Will you always be eating alone or will you ever have any other people over to eat? And if so, how many of them, and will the food you want to feed them be made in or out, etc? If you've ever done any virtual world building or real house building, you may have tackled the concept of inventing a kitchen from scratch, but for many tiny home contemplators, it's a new challenge.

When Treehugger's Graham Hill held his apartment design contest, it was for a 420 sq ft space and he wanted to be able to host dinner parties for 12. The tiny home scale you see here is less than 100 sq ft, and this class of tiny home tends to top out before hitting 200 sq ft. Considerations about hosting others at this scale are extremely important as there isn't so much as an inch to spare when you get this reduced.

I had an apartment once that had this tiny galley, and not even a full kitchen in it. I had a dorm half-fridge. Too small, but I could see myself living alone and not needing a full-sized conventional fridge. I know I'd need two burners for a stove, or the equivalent. I do NOT want an all microwave kitchen.

Dream Big, Live Small - Dee Williams speaks at TEDxConcordiaUPortland

This tiny basket was the sole extra anything in the loft aside from the bed.
This tiny basket was the sole extra anything in the loft aside from the bed. | Source

What's In Your Bedroom?

here's when tiny living really hits home

So, what's in your bedroom? When I saw Dee's tiny house, she was really inviting and so open. She encouraged me so much to climb up into the loft and lay on her bed to see what it was really like that I actually did. I took one picture out the tiny window and I took one picture of the stuff in her bedroom.

You're looking at it. Okay, so there was a double bed futon and two pillows and the bed was made, but the only other possessions in the entire "bedroom" are what you see here. Everything sitting in that tiny basket.

Back to my opening question... what's in your bedroom? That's the simple version of the question. The really complex version, the one that you have to ask yourself as a person genuinely contemplating if tiny living might be for you is, "How often do you use each and every single thing that you have in your bedroom? And beyond that, every single thing in your entire life?"

The key to reducing what you own/keep/have when it comes to seriously analyzing how small a space is right for you is to determine exactly what you use each and every day and really not have anything on hand that is not going to be of actual, genuine, you-really-used-it use every single day of your life. For anything that's occasional or temporary, you find a way to utilize space or tools that are outside the home.

Interesting challenge, isn't it?

The Mini B Passive House - This demo tiny house came to my neighborhood just a few months after I saw Dee's tiny house

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is the second tiny home I ever got to experience, and it's about 300 square feet, or a little over three times the size of Dee's tiny house.This kitchen had a convection cooktop, a small microwave, a sink with water hookups, some cupboards.  This is more what people think of as a kitchen.There was a refrigerator below the counter.  There was talk of how some of the eating bar could be swapped out to install a teeny washer/dryer.This shot of me in the bathroom mirror shows a toilet, and the shower corner.Inside the bathroom, this is the sink across from the shower.This tiny house had some storage.The loft is over the kitchen and bathroom areas.A built-in desk adjacent the ladder.Combo usage area adjacent the kitchen counter.Stools can be chairs or smaller tables that move around.The far end of the great room.
This is the second tiny home I ever got to experience, and it's about 300 square feet, or a little over three times the size of Dee's tiny house.
This is the second tiny home I ever got to experience, and it's about 300 square feet, or a little over three times the size of Dee's tiny house. | Source
This kitchen had a convection cooktop, a small microwave, a sink with water hookups, some cupboards.  This is more what people think of as a kitchen.
This kitchen had a convection cooktop, a small microwave, a sink with water hookups, some cupboards. This is more what people think of as a kitchen. | Source
There was a refrigerator below the counter.  There was talk of how some of the eating bar could be swapped out to install a teeny washer/dryer.
There was a refrigerator below the counter. There was talk of how some of the eating bar could be swapped out to install a teeny washer/dryer. | Source
This shot of me in the bathroom mirror shows a toilet, and the shower corner.
This shot of me in the bathroom mirror shows a toilet, and the shower corner. | Source
Inside the bathroom, this is the sink across from the shower.
Inside the bathroom, this is the sink across from the shower. | Source
This tiny house had some storage.
This tiny house had some storage. | Source
The loft is over the kitchen and bathroom areas.
The loft is over the kitchen and bathroom areas. | Source
A built-in desk adjacent the ladder.
A built-in desk adjacent the ladder. | Source
Combo usage area adjacent the kitchen counter.
Combo usage area adjacent the kitchen counter. | Source
Stools can be chairs or smaller tables that move around.
Stools can be chairs or smaller tables that move around. | Source
The far end of the great room.
The far end of the great room. | Source
Source

The Mini B Experience

A non-mobile tiny house

I got lucky when a tiny house, a tiny passive solar house even, got installed for six months near my home. The MiniB (for mini bungalow) is about 300 square feet and really looks and feels more like a house. It's not far off from some actual apartments I've had (my smallest apartments have been about 400 sq ft) and it's much more stylish and efficient than anything from any of the unique student residences I've encountered.

While I found Dee's place cute, it didn't feel like something that was functional for me. Looking at a MiniB, I still felt like I would have to reduce a LOT, but it felt like it would be interesting to try for a set period of time as an exploration. I've had funky apartments that were as limited in the bathroom and kitchen spaces as in this structure, so those parts of the house weren't daunting in the least. But as someone who does different types of art semi-irregularly, the challenge comes from really looking at how that interacts with the TCB parts of life. So far, I have not met any fine artists who seem to be pursuing this lifestyle. Gardeners seem to do great with tiny living, as do people wedded to high-tech, urban-centric lifestyles.

Take an Excellent Tiny House Tour!

Are you contemplating a tiny home? What are your challenges? If you just happened by this lens and have just learned about reducing the footprint of your physical life, what do you think of the ideas? Do you have extra, unused space in your home and life?

What do you think of the ideas around living smaller? - Is tiny terrific or just too tiny?

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    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 2 years ago

      Love a tiny house as long as it is neat and elegant. Sundae ;-)

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 2 years ago from Land of Aloha

      It's fascinating to me. Our cottage is 640 square feet. I could see downsizing further for sure!

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @Pam Irie: If I were to build a non-mobile tiny house, I'd probably want it to be about the size you have. But if you go mobile, you do want smaller.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @TapIn2U: Part of why people are going tiny is that with smaller spaces, there's so much less cleaning that has to be done. You just have to get over the modern urge to own lots of stuff.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      As much as I want to love the idea, tiny is just too tiny. We don't need a lot of space, but at our age it's important to be comfortable and not cramped. Our issue is yard work which is why when the time comes to give up our home, it will be for a place where someone else takes care of the outside. Fortunately we don't own a lot of "stuff" anymore, so downsizing for us will be easy.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @SusanDeppner: Susan, you sound like my parents. They are downsizing the "stuff" right now, and shrinking the outdoor chores. The trick to a smaller life is to let go of what you don't use. If whole rooms in the house are empty/idle, the house can be smaller. If the space is good, but packed full, get rid of stuff. Having less is just less burdensome.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @PAINTDRIPS: Now the the tiny house movement is starting to branch out, people are actually doing all sorts of custom things to make their houses exactly what they want. Dee told me how her company built a trailer for a woman and her dog, and the dog had the mobility issues, so they invented a folding ramp that swung out so the dog could get up to the loft and down. But actually, for people with stair/ladder limitations, there are designs that don't have lofts, there are some with storage that can be raised/lowered, and some with intriguing teeny stairs. I personally want to build a tansu in my tiny home instead of a ladder.

    • profile image

      epickett 2 years ago

      Even *300* square feet sounds like a jail cell to me. My house is about 1400 sqft, with a full basement. I know I have way too much stuff, but I can't imagine getting rid of even HALF of it at the moment.

    • TerriCarr profile image

      TerriCarr 2 years ago

      I think I would find it difficult to go this tiny. I really do not have a lot of stuff. The main thing would be storage of clothes and books not currently being worn/read. Also extra kitchen items. I like the idea a lot. Maybe 400 square feet. This lens really makes me want to visit a tiny house in my area - SOON!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Oh this is what I need to get rid of all my clutter. But I must have a decent size bathroom. It's a thought but it most likely will never happen.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @Elsie Hagley: I saw the most amazing van/house that two Japanese guys built so they could spend a year traveling around all of Japan. It had an honest-to-goodness one person soaking tub right in the corner with a window to open so you could soak traditionally. You just need to prioritize what you really want, and there seems to always be a way to work it out from there.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @TerriCarr: I know I could do 400 sq ft, as I've had three apartments that were all that size. That taught me a lot about shape and use of space. If I build something that's an earth house, I'll probably go closer to 600 sq ft as I'd then want to put in details like a cold pantry. But if I do a trailer, I'd want to get as close to about 200 sq ft, I think.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @epickett: And that's okay too. I actually started this process almost a decade ago when I began a series of reductive moves. After many years of slowly moving into larger places, I then had three moves over several years that each was a little smaller. One day I just started to go through the boxes and things that were left and realized I was just dragging around stuff for no reason. For years. And so one box at a time, maybe one per month, it's been getting smaller for the past couple of years.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 2 years ago from GRENADA

      Great review! I have to agree with you that Dee's tiny is too tiny for me. The MiniB looks manageable.

    • profile image

      changrcoacher 2 years ago

      Geez! And I thought I was living small. Downsizing began out of necessity, major life transitions that forced me into it, followed by a sense of loss. Grief, even. Surviving that, downsizing and simplifying has evolved into a constant choice, accompanied by good feelings. Feeling light and free. Open...unlimited potential for change. My situation is different from Dee's and my choices are different but I am aligned with her awareness of "gratitude, humility, grace." I send her gratitude for her sharing.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @changrcoacher: I too am trying to downsize to be more open, thanks for sharing your experience!

    • profile image

      DebMartin 2 years ago

      Downsizing is so freeing. I love the 300 ft version. Tiny is terrific.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @DebMartin: Deb, Dee's house really is Tiny House 1.0, and from what I'm seeing, the 2.0 versions are coming which are a bit more RV sized, but instead of being built as cheaply as possible, they are being made to last lifetimes.

    • profile image

      Nelda Hoxie 2 years ago

      My home measures about 1,100 sf and I couldn't imagine living in anything smaller than that. I love to cook and a composting toilet definitely wouldn't be okay for me. This would be existing not living. Thanks for taking us on a great tour.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      schwarz,

      This is a terrific idea. Great going.

      I will tell you the truth. I really love this hub.

      This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing work. I loved the way you presented your topiic. Wonderful graphics.

      This piece was helpful, informative and very interesting.I was glad to vote Up and all of the choices.

      You are certainly a gifted writer. Please keep up the fine work.

      Sincerely,

      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Kenneth, thanks! I'm really glad you liked it. I hope to be able to write some pages on what it was like to build one of these in the next few years.

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