The Tiny House Movement is Growing…

08/17/2011

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A year ago I was just settling in to calling it a “movement” and before that it was just my weird obsession. Now it’s in the New Yorker: The rise of the tiny-house movement. Creative downsizing is taking hold in the hearts and minds of Americans these days, if nothing else than by necessity.

I like how the author Alec Wilkinson makes a distinction between the various types of people who are moving into tiny spaces. In my own words I’ve condensed the categories here:

  1. Young people who cannot conceive of being able to afford a “real” house or supersized rent in a big city.
  2. Older people who are done with home ownership, trying to keep some semblance of savings, or are empty nesters.
  3. All idealists who are seeking a lighter footprint and privileged enough to design their own lifestyle.

In combination, this movement is made up of some fascinating people, some of whom are mentioned in the article. Photo above is Jay Shafer with his wife and son and Tumbleweed House, photograph by Jeff Minton.

But I want to highlight a couple of folks who do not get as much press attention as Jay. These are wonderful women whom I am pleased to call my friends.

Tammy Strobel, rowdykittens.com

A couple of years ago Tammy was a new blogger on the tiny house scene. Now she is one of the top. Last year she was featured in the New York Times, on the Today Show, and other major media outlets.

Tammy and her partner Logan had us over for dinner recently in their small Portland apartment and showed us pictures of their tiny house being built. Less than 100 square feet, the work of art they’ve commissioned should be finished this fall.

Cheers to Tammy and Logan for their commitment to social change and their personal follow through. Tammy has even been able to earn a living through her writing. I look forward to hearing more from them as they move into their tiny house and explore simple living as a couple.

Photo credit: The Oregonian

Dee Williams, portlandalternativedwellings.com

A true hero, Dee is the lay-person who built her own 84 square foot house and has been living in it for the past 7 years. Affectionately called “The Little House” she opens it up for tours and speaks to kids about voluntary simplicity and sustainability. Positive change begins at home, she says, and she means that literally.

I love all the attention she has been getting, on the cover of Yes!Magazine, in TIME Magazine, on NPR, on NBC Nightly News, etc. but my favorite so far is her TEDx talk in Portland last May.

Dee has written an incredibly helpful book called Go House Go: How to build a tiny house on wheels and I highly recommend it if you’re considering doing it on your own. It is hands down the most helpful thing I’ve read for tiny house wannabes — that is, people who are planning to build a little house on a trailer. (Also, a building workshop is not a bad idea either.)

Give it up for the ladies! Keep an eye on them. As the Dalai Lama said in a lecture two years ago, “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Nahuatl Vargas 08/17/2011 at 7:05 am

Thanks for sharing, I love to read about your movement.
Simplicity is the path, I believe.

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 7:46 am

I’m glad you enjoy it. Simplicity is certainly a nice path to be on.

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Kathy Moncada 08/17/2011 at 8:21 am

I love these articles… gives me hope. My husband and I have a 1974 RV that doesn’t run.. so rather than sinking a ton of money into an antiquated motor we gutted it Last January. It sits on a farmette in VA and has a connection to the septic but no running water. We live in roughly 165 sq ft. On most days I love it… wouldn’t mind a bit more space in the “great room” but it is a work in progress.

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Brian 08/17/2011 at 8:41 am

My wife and kids and I are kind of building a tiny house.
We are converting an old pull behind camper/RV into a cabin on wheels.
Our dream is an off grid cabin on our forest in NY. We own 5 acres of forest, that connects to over 12,000 acres of state forest.
But rules and permits and such, wont allow building a cabin to live on our property off the grid. The tiny house idea does..
We can’t afford what they charge for these little campers, but we can convert an old one into a tiny house, so that’s what we have been doing.

We get a lot of inspiration from these articles. We just have to change some of the ideas, to suit the budget of 1 income family from the midwest.

Thanks for the inspiration..

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 9:04 am

Brian, your dream sounds wonderful. Most people have a smaller budget to work with and I think converting an old RV is a great idea. I’m glad you are getting some inspiration from my lil’ ol’ blog. :)

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deborah 08/17/2011 at 9:33 am

As a “semi-retired” couple who have our businesses on our 10 acre homestead in southern Alabama, I love to see this movement gaining speed.

We bought this property 18 yrs. ago looking ahead to our senior years and how best to survive on S.S. When we moved here we purchased a singlewide mobile home and added a smal front porch and a large covered back porch. We also purchased a 12′X24′ portable building which we are renovating for a rental.

Between a pond for fishing, a few chickens, and raised garden beds everywhere, we are “surviving” very well into our mid/late 60′s. think people are realizing that “debt” is a 4-letter word and changing their ways.

Keep up the great work here!!!! I’m one of your biggest fans, honey!

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 9:41 am

That sounds sweet Deborah. Thank you for the encouragement.

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Sheila Poettgen 08/17/2011 at 9:57 am

Hi Hillary,

My partner Kai and I are in the process of building our Tiny House, which we’re doing for multiple reasons. We have definitely noticed a surge of interest in tiny house living since we decided to take the leap ourselves, which is so exciting and gives us much hope in the future!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people within the tiny house movement label ourselves and how powerful words can be. As far as the categories of tiny house folks that you mentioned above, I think the label “idealist” may no longer applicable in this day and age. Perhaps those of the tiny house movement should begin to describe themselves as “realists” instead? It’s not really in anyone’s best interest to be consuming and living unsustainable lives any longer, especially considering all the facts before us. So I consider those making efforts to downsize, consume less, and live more efficient lives are actually the pragmatic ones in the bunch. We’re making conscious decisions to live healthier lives, both for ourselves and the environment. I don’t really consider that being idealistic, but rather logical and sensible in an age of declining resources and environmental decay. Anyway, thought I would share my take on it. :-)

Thanks for highlighting Tammy and Dee – both fantastic women and role models!

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 10:16 am

Hi Sheila, you make a very good point about idealist versus realist. I first heard about your project a couple of months ago and I think it’s great! Keep it up.

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Tammy Strobel 08/17/2011 at 11:00 am

Thanks for the mention Hillary! You’re so sweet. :) It was great to meet you in person! Stay in touch.

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 11:07 am

You’re welcome Tammy! It was very nice to meet you & Logan — let’s do it again sometime! Wishing you all the best. :)

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Alex 08/17/2011 at 11:09 am

Great article, Hillary! Really enjoyed it

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Lisa 08/17/2011 at 11:40 am

Thanks Hillary! Great article!

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Donnell Allan 08/17/2011 at 12:31 pm

Thank you so much for this, especially for the Tedx talk by Dee Williams. She expresses there so poetically and movingly what I have been trying to say about how I want my life to unfold from here on out. What a treasure.

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Kathleen 08/17/2011 at 12:42 pm

Hope and prayer and living the way we were intended! I am an almost 65 year old woman who would love to live in a tiny house, airstream, etc. I really want a home base but would love to have a little piece of ground to call home. Anyone out there have a place for me and my little house or airstream ( to come?) I am in Colorado and would enjoy a warm place in the winter. The south sounds wonderful or anywhere that would be a place I could call home. Contact me at Katiap604@comcast.net
Thank you so much, Kathee

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April 08/17/2011 at 12:46 pm

We are proud to have been on the tiny house bandwagon before it got to be so trendy. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s great that the trend is growing and becoming more visible–I really don’t see a downside to that. But I just think it’s interesting that it’s emerging from so many different places and people, that’s encouraging that it’s a needed change in the perception of what the American Dream really is.
Our tiny house has been under construction for a couple of years now (after we moved from Portland, Ore. to rural Idaho, in fact). We hope to add a “lav” (composting toilet, gravity shower) to the house before winter and then finish up the interior while the weather is cold. It’s challenging and rewarding and it makes sense for us. Glad to see other people getting recognized for their work in promoting the lifestyle!

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Historic Shed 08/17/2011 at 12:58 pm

Amazing how such a simple concept can take off with a life of its own. After the kids are grown, I expect that my husband and I will downsize significantly. Not that our 1500 sf house is large by American standards, but we can easily do with less, particularly with less to clean!

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Peter Engbretson 08/17/2011 at 1:13 pm

Excellent post! (Of course, featuring Tammy and Dee is a guarantee of success.)
Thanks. Keep it up.
Peter

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 2:49 pm

Thank you all! I’m sure there are many more trailblazers out there. April, I remember seeing pictures of your house more than a year ago and I was very impressed. Thanks for checking in. Keep in touch!

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Stephanie Graham 08/17/2011 at 3:34 pm

Hi Hillary. My husband and I have put our 2200 sf home on the market last month with the goal of significantly downsizing and changing our lifestyle on many levels. However, with the economy we haven’t been successful at selling our place. Last night, I was up all night going back and forth on whether we should do a price reduction (we are already taking a huge hit on the house). When I woke up and saw this on tinyhouseblog, I called my realtor right away and told him to proceed with the price reduction. I was proud to consider myself part of category three: the idealists! There are things more important than money and living a life less burdened with material “things” is definitely one of them. Thank you! Much love…

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Hillary 08/17/2011 at 8:04 pm

Wow, Stephanie, it feels great to have somehow helped in your decision-making process. Welcome to the movement and wishing you best of luck in your downsizing journey.

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Jeanne @soultravelers3 08/20/2011 at 2:35 am

So happy to see this movement growing! We’ve been living in a “tiny green house” as a family since 2006..only the mobile kind..which has allowed us to see much of Europe on just $23/day over the last 5 years. ( We are in Barcelona now).

We are traveling the world for now, but one day we might settle down and build our own off-the-grid tiny house..perhaps a cob house. Besides being monolinguals raising a fluent trilingual ( Mandarin/Spanish/English) and multi-cultural kid who KNOWS the world, we think learning to build a house totally on your own should be part of childhood, so will learn that together with our child when she is a bit older.

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Hillary 08/20/2011 at 11:27 am

Jeanne, great to hear from you! Michael & I are getting ready to slow travel through Europe sometime soon. Building a house with your kid sounds like an excellent learning experience. Be well!

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clickclackgorilla 09/13/2011 at 1:15 am

Always nice to stop by your blog for a bit of small space inspiration, Hillary! And oo, slow traveling Europe soon?! If you are going to come through Germany get in touch for sure! You and your husband are welcome to stay at our community of mini dwellings if you do!

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Hillary 09/13/2011 at 7:43 am

You know I love invitations like that. We may have to take you up on that offer. :)

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Deb Wilber 12/15/2011 at 1:09 pm

I have been obsessed with tiny homes for decades! Ever since getting my hands on the “ROLLING HOMES” book by Jane Lidz, I have wanted to convert an old bus or RV. Then came the “Tiny Tiny House” book, and my obsession grew. When Jay came out with his small house designs, I was a goner! These amazing little dwellings had STYLE! I could SO live in one of these, but during the years spent raising my family, it wasn’t really practical.
I’ve always designed the homes we’ve lived in, and they’ve gotten progressively smaller, with our current home at about 1300sf… NOW I’ve designed what I hope is our final house! It’s a bit bigger than these little houses, but as an older person, I thought it best to give up on trying to sleep in a loft ;) This house is about 600sf, plus an enclosed sun room for my hydrotherapy tub. I created the interior space to be “handicapped friendly”, which added to the necessity of more square footage, but we’ll be prepared for our senior years… We plan to move into the “little house”, and give the “big house” to our daughter and her family of five.
She has MS, and can no longer work, and her husband works his tail off, but they have no hope of getting ahead in this economy. So we are going “old school” and sharing the property. I think this is a trend we might also see more of in the future!

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Hillary 01/13/2012 at 1:31 pm

Hi Deb, 600sf sounds reasonable for a “handicapped friendly” home. I definitely think sharing property will be a growing trend, and it sounds like a good arrangement for your family.

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Margo 04/16/2012 at 6:08 pm

So glad I stumbled over this site as living simply, frugally with a small footprint in small spaces has been my personal philosophy for some time. I will follow the postings with interest!!

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