Living Big In A Tiny Home: 12 Months On

Today is a year to the day that we moved into our new abode. But I have to go back in time a bit to tell the story of how we came to be living big in a tiny home. In August 2016 after six years of renting we’d bought the all-important house, symbol of making it. We finally had what we thought we wanted. But after less than 12 months in this large four-bedroomed property, the nomadic disposition and anti-consumerism resurfaced. 

Living Big In A Tiny Home

For us, there were three main motivations for building a tiny home. Firstly, so that we could downsize from a four-bedroomed house instead of selling it and buying another property. Secondly, to create a source of passive income by renting the house to tenants. And thirdly, to transition from living in a larger space (and learn to cohabit peacefully in a tiny home) to a campervan for prolonged periods. We eventually purchased the campervan in August 2020 and plan to spend as many post-lockdown periods of time in it as we can in 2021. 

It All Started With Decluttering…

In 2017, I started reducing the amount of clutter in my life having become increasingly fascinated by the minimalist movement. I began a blog about living well with less and consuming as little as possible, spending within my means and reducing my environmental footprint, which has grown and evolved in the past couple of years to encompass the path we are now on.

The more I decluttered, the larger and more overwhelming the house seemed and I felt as if I was rattling around in a four-bedroomed house largely alone as Dave worked away during the week. I also felt greedy and that I needed to share the space, seeing as we had no plans to fill the house with children. And, before I knew it, we were designing and building our own tiny home.

12 Months Into Living Big In A Tiny Home

It’s still great fun and a novelty. I can honestly say that our tiny home still feels like being in a campervan partly because our bed is so high off the ground and we have a rooflight. And, as it’s self-built, both the functionality and decoration of our tiny home is a reflection of our personalities.

We Did It Long And Low…

…as opposed to tall and short when it came to considering our tiny home footprint. This was because we already had a single-storey extension (long but not very tall) in our house. The most fun part of this is that it feels like we live on a houseboat. 

Read more about how we constructed our tiny home and the materials we used.

“The key to a well-designed tiny home is to be self-observant. It can be a confrontational experience challenging ideas about consumerism. The (tiny house) movement stands in opposition to that, and encourages us to find happiness in a deeper place.” [Bryce Langston, Living Big in a Tiny House]

Why Living Big In A Tiny Home?

Living in a tiny home really forces you to continually focus because you don’t have the luxury of space. And, when you do buy more things, possessions must either have a functional use or a dual-purpose. We found that decluttering freed up the mental and physical space to focus on what was really important. And, by the time we moved into our tiny home in November 2019, I was an avid follower of The Minimalists and Joshua Becker. 

We’d Love To Make It More Eco-Friendly And Sustainable In Time

In an ideal world we’d have built a tiny home from scratch on our own land but that’s not something we could in any way afford. We live in the UK where land is very expensive coupled with complex planning laws, which is why the tiny house movement in the UK is still a fledgling concept.  

Eventually, we’ll buy some land in Spain or the south of France and build a sustainable home there, but that’s several years down the line. In the meantime, we’re living in a self-built tiny home which offers a way to reduce our mortgage debt and live a scaled-back life. When we’re eventually able to go on longer trips in the campervan, we can also rent out or Airbnb our tiny home as well, creating a double dose of real estate and passive income. 


Everything You Need You Already Have

For us, happiness comes from subtraction, not addition – it will never come from acquiring possessions. We’ve learnt to be grateful for what we have NOW. To enjoy as much as we can in life, without the need to constantly purchase or own things to feel better. And feeling at peace has come after we cleared out what I like to call the ‘zeit’ noise. This is enabling us to support others in their parallel journeys to live well with less, because aspiring to have what others have and what others think of you is exhausting and detrimental to mental wellbeing.

As I often talk about in this blog, decluttering is a lifestyle choice not a fad diet. Like changing your eating habits, living more healthily and exercising, it’s a muscle which constantly needs exercising. But once you have the muscle memory it becomes second nature – I’ve reduced my possessions by at least 60% but I’m not done yet.

We Still Have A Way To Go In Our Own Journey

Living in a tiny home is a lifestyle choice requiring tenacity, commitment and mindfulness. But I’d like to think we’ve learnt the life skills to succeed as the rewards really are worthwhile. And as somebody always looking for excuses to declutter, I’m in anti-hoarder heaven!

For now, we’ve been able to turn our house from a liability to an asset by building an annexe and renting the main house to tenants, which is a great source of passive income.

What are you doing to bring in passive income? What is your decluttering mindset? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments section below!

In the meantime, check out these interesting articles on the tiny house movement from other bloggers:

The big idea behind the ‘tiny house’ movement – Financial Times

Posted: 01 May 2020 03:02 AM PDT

In a field close to a quiet village near Bristol, far from the bustle of the city, sits a small wooden structure on wheels. The locals here are mostly farming families and older people. Unbeknown to many of them, the fledgling UK branch of a global housing movement is taking shape within these four walls. This is a “tiny house”.

Tom Lear, a 20-year-old carpenter, joined the movement three years ago. He began building his own tiny house after discovering a global community of fellow enthusiasts online. Working through cold winters to assemble the roof and hot summers to gather lumber, he moved in at the end of last year.

The result is a rustic home just 2.4m wide, 5m long and 4.5m tall — and an awful lot of wood. “I wanted a log-cabin vibe,” he says. Sustainability plays a big part in Lear’s project: nearly every surface, both external and internal, is made from reclaimed wood. By using recycled materials and a donated trailer, Lear’s home cost him just over £6,000.

Hand-sawing tin for the roof and coping with unpredictable British weather were the most difficult parts, he says. “There was a point where I thought, why am I doing this?” But with perseverance and help from his family with electrics and plumbing, Lear finished the house. “I got tunnel vision building this. I didn’t have much of a life.”

Tom Lear at his tiny house: living big in a tiny home
Lear, 20, is a carpenter and estimates that he cut his budget by half because he did not have to rely on hired labour © Izzy de Wattripont

Lear has invited the FT to tour his tiny masterpiece. The entire space is visible from the front door. To the right is the living area — with a sofa that takes up nearly half the width of his home. The miniature log-burner in the corner is still puffing out heat from logs added that morning.

To the left is a kitchen, kitted out with essentials. A curtain conceals a shower and chemical toilet, which form a bathroom. A loft — accessible via a drop-down ladder — rests above the kitchen, furnished with a double mattress, Lear’s refuge in the evenings.

Tiny houses are stripped-back, downscaled versions of regular houses. In Lear’s case, each element was designed and crafted by Lear himself, without the help of machinery. Tiny-house enthusiasts without carpentry experience often work with professional builders. Ready-made — or “turnkey” — tiny homes are on the US market and since last year, DIY tiny home kits are even available to buy on Amazon.

Tom Lear at his tiny house : living big in a tiny home: © Izzy de Wattripont
The interior of Lear’s tiny masterpiece, which measures 2.4m wide, 5m long and 4.5m tall © Izzy de Wattripont

For Lear, a handmade home was the best way to cut costs. He says his skills and YouTube tutorials saw him through, and he estimates that he cut his budget by half because he did not have to rely on hired labour.

Now, as the scent of cinders drifts through the air, he points out the details with pride. From the wall made from upcycled pallets to the rain-like sound when water patters on his corrugated-iron shower — Lear has poured his labour, character and love into this home. “I built it on my terms,” he says.

Many tiny homes are constructed with environmental features, such as rainwater-collection systems and solar panels. But what really interested Lear was a desire to break away from the housing market. “I just didn’t want to get caught in the rent cycle,” he says.

Tom Lear at his tiny house: living big in a tiny home © Izzy de Wattripont
Lear’s miniature log-burner © Izzy de Wattripont

Many of his fellow enthusiasts have joined the tiny home movement for the same reason. In the UK, housing shortages have left younger adults, particularly in urban areas, unable to afford to buy or rent a property. For some, tiny homes are an appealing answer: a way of living that circumvents high levels of mortgage debt or enriching private landlords.

Lear has parked his home on his family’s land, so, he says, he now lives a financially liberated life. His only overhead is power: a long, yellow cable plugs his structure into the grid via his grandparents’ home. Even then, he says he pays an average of 25p a day for electricity. His tiny home — and the freedom it brings — allows him to spend time and money on other interests: skiing, climbing and travelling.

A worldwide community

The tiny house movement originated in the 1970s, but took off after the 2008 financial crisis, when many young people decided to build affordable compact homes. It is particularly popular in the US, Australia and New Zealand, with growing communities in Fresno, California, and Spur, Texas.

An abundance of media brings both knowledge and community spirit, and makes a tiny house feel possible even for those with no building experience. US television shows such as Tiny House Hunters and the Netflix series Tiny House Nation have led the charge.

Social media has captured the attention — and hearts — of enthusiasts. There are countless forums filled with tips and tricks, while cosy YouTube house tours explain the possibilities, from the everyday whimsy to the challenges of “going tiny”. Facebook groups help regional communities — including a steadily growing UK group with more than 6,000 members.

It is not just for dropouts: stylish Instagram posts and well-curated interiors abound. More than 1.47m posts are tagged #tinyhouse.

Bryce Langston: living big in a tiny home
Bryce Langston, founder of YouTube channel ‘Living Big in a Tiny House’, with 3.17m subscribers, says the appeal of a ‘safe’ space that is yours resonates with Generation Rent — ‘It can’t be taken from you’

Bryce Langston, 35, and his wife Rasa run the YouTube channel Living Big in a Tiny House. Together they have visited 187 tiny homes worldwide, gained more than 3.17m subscribers and garnered 404m views. Their videos have inspired many, including Lear.

“Social media has been huge in the tiny-house movement,” says Langston, who began building his home seven years ago when he became frustrated with renting in Auckland, New Zealand. His biggest audiences are in the US, New Zealand and Australia, though that is changing.

“We are starting to see the movement take off as a global phenomenon. Our show is very popular in places like India and the Philippines. We’re seeing growth from all over the place.”

A home featured in the US reality TV programme 'Tiny House Nation': living big in a tiny home
A home featured in the US reality TV programme ‘Tiny House Nation’, which, along with social media groups, has spread knowledge and enthusiasm around the world © Alamy

Langston says the appeal of a “safe” space resonates with many people. “It can’t be taken from you.” There is no fear of eviction and owning a home outright provides a sense of security many from Generation Rent do not — and may never — have. “It’s a place you get to retreat to, and it’s one less stress.”

Limited space also forces inhabitants to look inwards. The key to a well-designed tiny home is to be self-observant, says Langston. It can be a confrontational experience, he says — challenging ideas about consumerism. “The movement stands in opposition to that, and encourages us to find happiness in a deeper place.”

A long-term solution?

But tiny houses reside in a legal grey area, which makes it difficult to find reliable data on how many people live this way. Some estimate there are more than 10,000 tiny homes in the US alone, and legislation has opened up possibilities for tiny homes to be built as additional dwellings units — or ADUs — on existing lots in the hope of easing housing problems.

A home featured in the US reality TV programme 'Tiny House Nation': living big in a tiny home
Another home featured in ‘Tiny House Nation’ © Alamy

Authorities are debating the safety and impact of tiny homes on cities. “The conversation is still going on,” says Phil Nemeny, a city planner in Portland, Oregon. “The question that comes up is whether this is a long-term solution.”

In California, the regulation of ADUs has been relaxed. Not all ADUs are tiny homes, but so long as the minimum size does not compromise health and safety codes and it is on a fixed foundation, “a tiny home can absolutely be an ADU”, says Greg Nickless, a housing analyst at California’s department of housing and community development.

In Portland, after the city abandoned development charges in 2010, there was an instant increase in permits, says Nemeny. “We’re trying to tackle the [housing shortage] by creating more flexibility in permanent legal housing,” he says.

However, tiny homes on wheels do not qualify, nor do city codes account for them. Some cities, such as Fresno, have allowed wheeled tiny homes to be treated as an ADU, but most US authorities classify them as recreational vehicles intended for short-term living.

An interior featured in the US reality TV programme 'Tiny House Nation': living big in a tiny home
A tiny house interior: there are an estimated 10,000 such homes in the US alone © Alamy

The UK movement is much younger. Planning laws mean many tiny homes are built like Lear’s, out of sight on private land. But back in Bristol, there is hope for legal recognition.

Rachel Butler, 50, is leading a project called Tiny House Community Bristol. The project aims to create an “ethical, community-led alternative” to the housing market. “We’ll be independent from the broken housing system, and interdependent on each other to share resources,” she says.

Residents will live in tiny homes, with communal areas providing a space to work and socialise. They plan to use renewable energy and grow their own food. “The challenge is how to sustain ourselves,” says Butler. Tiny homes in themselves encourage residents to live in a frugal way, she says. “The emphasis is about having enough.”

Acquiring land for the project has been the main obstacle. The Bristol group is currently hoping to complete the purchase of a plot. The project is still in its early stages, with only 18 core members working in their spare time.

They were recently granted funding from the ministry of housing, communities and local government. Now the team are able to hire a professional community housing enabler to refine the plans, says Butler, and are hoping to start building in the next few years.

Back at the Bristol field, as the sun fades over the trees and LEDs brighten the interiors, Lear talks about his next project: to build a home on firm concrete foundations. For now, wheels will suit him fine.

Follow @FTProperty on Twitter or @ft_houseandhome on Instagram to find out about our latest stories first. Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on AppleSpotify, or wherever you listen.

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