The Tiny House Movement is gathering pace, and more and more people in search of a simpler, more sustainable life are making Tiny Living their new American Dream. But it’s not only in the States that people are switching to the ‘Tiny Life’ – the idea is catching on in Europe, too.
We wanted to find out more, so we caught up with Luise – the proud owner (and builder!) of a tiny home on wheels and chief blogger at Runaway Shanty, the blog she and her husband Shawn set up to share their journey. Luise and Shawn began their Tiny Living dream in Connecticut and recently drove their beautiful little tiny house right the way cross-country to make sunny California their new home. Here’s what she had to say about the challenges, rewards and what it takes to build and live in a Tiny House on wheels:
Could you give us a little introduction to the Tiny House Movement and what it’s all about?
I think the Tiny House Movement started more than a decade ago, but it has really been growing rapidly in the last four or five years. More and more people realize that owning a big house with a big mortgage is not their American Dream anymore. Instead of putting most of your money into a loan, it can be used for things you are really passionate about. But it’s more than the financial freedom that makes this movement so attractive. Getting rid of things you don’t need frees you mentally and emotionally and gives you time to focus on what really matters to you. Moreover, tiny living offers a great opportunity to reduce your footprint on this planet – something we all need to start thinking about if we want to preserve Mother Earth for future generations.
What made you and your husband Shawn decide to take up the Tiny Life, particularly in a Tiny House on wheels?
We had plans to move to the western part of the USA after our wedding, and since my husband had been dreaming about a tiny home before we even met, we both agreed that this was the way for us. I don’t remember feeling any denial when he explained his ideas to me. I have always been someone who preferred to live with less, and the thought of living a nomadic life got me really excited, especially since I had already moved so much in my life that I was actually afraid of having to settle down at some point.
How did you go about designing and building your very own Tiny House? And was the journey to the Tiny Life a smooth one?!
Building our tiny house on wheels took us almost four years and was way harder than initially expected. We first attended a workshop from a company that specializes in building tiny houses. Then we bought blue prints and shortly afterwards a trailer that was specifically designed for tiny homes. We had originally planned to construct the whole house ourselves, but quickly ran into problems due to the missing knowledge and skills – which, of course, can be acquired online through videos and websites, but we were both working in full-time jobs and just didn’t have enough time. Friends of ours knew contractors who agreed to build the outside shell for us, but since they had never taken on such a unique project, even their time and labor exceeded what they had expected.
The costs just kept adding up and we basically went from paycheck to paycheck to pay for everything. There were many times I felt trapped between giving up and moving on. Eventually, we finished the interior of the house with another professional who generously kept the house on his property and allowed us to work on it with his help and expertise. If I had to do it all over again, I would order a tiny house from one of the many companies that have popped up in the years we were struggling with our project.
Apart from the obvious size considerations, what was important to you when it came to (interior) design? Are there particular features and/or materials you wanted to incorporate in your home décor?
We really wanted to give the inside of our home a rustic but also modern barn style, and we therefore took our time to find the right, high-quality materials. For the longer walls we chose wide pine boards that we painted white to make our tiny space brighter and bigger. For the floor and the smaller walls we opted for gorgeous reclaimed barn wood.
Other must-haves were our barn roof, barn door, skylights and wood stove as well as modern features like a washer, fridge/freezer and a long kitchen counter for cooking.
What about the practicalities? How do you keep warm in winter and access water and electricity?
Our wood stove is our favorite choice for heat in the winter! It also helps with moisture control. If we don’t have time to build a fire, we usually just plug in our space heater and it gets cozy warm within a few minutes. Our tiny house is very similar to an RV. We simply connect a water hose and an extension cord. But we can also live off-grid for several days since we have water tanks (one for greywater and one for fresh water) and a battery that supplies our water heater, water pump, three LED lights (outside, kitchen and bathroom) as well as two 12-Volt outlets with power.
I would like to mention here that we also have a compostable toilet which is simply a bucket that we fill with sawdust. I’m absolutely in love with how easy it is and how much water we save!
What has been the biggest challenge adapting to Tiny Living?
The biggest challenge has nothing to do with tiny living itself, but with the sheer fact of it. Even though most reactions to our project were very positive, there were always enough people who couldn’t understand our decision. Other than that, I can hardly think of anything because I enjoy living in my tiny little place so much. Some people say that you constantly have to store away things you just took out or otherwise the space feels clogged. I’m a tidy person so I actually prefer that. Also, I have to clean my house more often since it takes very little to make it look very dirty, especially with a dog, but I definitely need less time to finish this task.
And what has been the biggest reward?
Oh boy, I could name you at least a few dozen things! I love how unique it is, how cozy it is, and beautiful. The thought that I can leave a place any time I want is very freeing, same with the small amount of stuff I own. Nothing holds me back and nothing weighs me down. My husband and I now live in an area we choose to live in and we couldn’t be happier, especially since everything started working out in our favor as soon as we followed our hearts.
Going tiny made our world so much bigger. We spend more quality time together and we spend more time outside in nature. I’m also very happy that I’m using fewer of our Earth’s resources – we need to come up with alternative solutions to work against our growing human population.
And finally, do you have any advice for people who’d like to downsize and simplify their lives in general, even if a Tiny House is not an option?
Jay Shafer, one of the major influencers here in the USA, says in one of his books that you shouldn’t own anything that is neither beautiful nor functional. For example, I only own a few tools in my kitchen since I can use a knife for almost everything instead of having an egg cutter, apple cutter, carrot peeler and so on.
Start slowly. Go around your house and take out things you have not used in years. Just a few items a week will eventually reduce your stuff visibly. If you have a hard time parting with your belongings, think of their afterlife, like donating it or giving it to friends and family. Once you downsize, you will realise how it frees you emotionally. When we declutter our home, we also declutter our brains.
And if you want to take it further, start buying more locally to support small businesses. Change to natural, chemical-free products for cleaning and body care to detox your home and body. Apple cider vinegar and baking soda are amazing. But I probably don’t have to tell Europeans that because in this case, they have always been a step ahead!
Picture source: All pictures courtesy of Luise and Shawn of runawayshanty.com