Tiny Homes are trending thanks to their portability, sustainability and ability to help foster financial freedom. But though these benefits are extremely attractive, could you truly live in a small space with considerably less stuff?
While most advocates support the concept of tiny living, many also suggest potential homeowners test drive what it’s like to live tiny before taking the plunge.
One way to determine your readiness is to stay in the country’s first tiny house hotel. Deb Delman, tiny home pioneer and co-owner of "Caravan, the Tiny House Hotel," says being educated about the entire living experience will help new tiny homeowners be more successful.
“You can research the benefits about what it is like to live in a tiny house, however there’s nothing quite like actually staying in a tiny house for a night or two,” she says.
Delman and her husband, Caravan co-owner Kol Peterson, host tours on Sunday afternoons at their urban Portland, Ore. hotel space. “We typically have up to 100 people come for tours,” she says. “When we ask how many people would like to someday live in a tiny house about 70 people will raise their hand -- so we know people are visiting us to learn more about what it’s like to live in a tiny house.”
“However, when we ask how many people have actually been inside a tiny house, only eight or nine people will raise their hand,” she continues. “When we ask how many people have actually spent a night in a tiny home, only one person will usually speak up. So having access to a tiny house is important in order to show people what it actually feels like to spend a night or two in a small space and how it works.”
Caravan offers six luxury tiny houses, ranging from 84 to 170 square feet of living space. “We are also connected to the main sewer and electric grid, and none of our homes are on wheels,” she says.
Based on some of the online reviews, Caravan guests have found their experience to be transformative and a definitive step toward tiny living.
"We came here as an experiment, to see if living in a tiny home was really feasible," wrote Megan and Ian Barnet from Port Townsend, Wash. "And we couldn’t love this place more! We are definitely building our tiny house. We appreciate the books available within each home as well as the other amenities (S’MORES!) This was just a great place to stay. The neighborhood is fun; the other guests who stay here are lovely to chat with. It’s all so open and friendly! If we ever stay again in Portland, we will always stay in one of the tiny homes!"
Why Go Tiny?
Economic reasons seems to be the main reason why many homeowners want to go tiny. “Beyond financial, social and environmental reasons are also a priority for many of homeowners interested in a tiny home,” Delman says.
“The financial benefits of a tiny house are huge,” says Amy Henion, new media assistant at The Tiny Life, a resource for the tiny home movement. “Housing is usually a person's biggest expense. When you can find a way to dramatically reduce that payment or eliminate it completely, suddenly you have more money to put toward savings and more time to do the things you really care about. A tiny house isn't a silver bullet that will solve your financial problems, but it can help you take steps toward clearing them up. Tiny houses are definitely a big investment - if finances are your one and only reason for wanting a tiny house, you should consider whether or not there are other ways to find a more affordable housing arrangement. Tiny house living isn't about just getting by - it's about thriving.”
According to Jay Shafer, author of The Small House Book, the average American home puts out 2.72 tons of carbon emissions annually. By contrast, his 89-square-foot tiny house puts out 900 pounds of carbon emissions annually, an 84% reduction in carbon emissions. Henion says.
"Living in a tiny house is a great way to ‘walk the walk’ and truly live an eco-friendly lifestyle,” Henion says.
PAD Tiny Houses, a Portland, Ore. tiny home builder, estimates it costs around $15,000 to $80,000 to build a tiny home, with the average tiny home typically falling around $23,000 (versus $272,000 to build a traditional home).
The Tiny Life offers these financial benefits about tiny living:
•55% of tiny homeowners have more savings than the average American
•68% of tiny homeowners have no mortgage as compared to 29.3% of all U.S. homeowners
•78% of tiny homeowners own their home, versus 65% of homeowners who live in a traditional house
•89% of tiny homeowners have less credit card debt than the average
•American--65% of tiny homeowners have zero
•Tiny homeowners earn $478 more annually than the average American
Elaine Walker, co-founder of the American Tiny House Association, says the current trend is toward larger, more luxurious tiny homes that cost $65,000 or more.
“Tiny house enthusiasts should give careful thought to their goals and budget when going tiny,” she says. “Building your own home, or purchasing a tiny house shell that you finish yourself, can provide tremendous savings. A central theme of tiny living is to live intentionally, not always following tradition but carving out your own path and living your values. Apartment living can be cheaper in the short term, but owning your own tiny home, if done with wisdom, restraint, and creativity, can provide years of satisfaction and independence.”
How Can You Make Tiny Living Work?
While the statistics and reasons to go tiny are quite clear, could you actually live in an extremely small space?
Americans love their material objects, so before you can go tiny, you have to consider purging a good number of items.
“As far as paring down, be prepared to spend a lot of time doing it,” Henion says. “One tiny house family I know spent a whole year selling and donating their stuff. It takes a lot of deep introspection to wade through a lifetime of belongings, and the process of paring down to the essentials is not easy.”
“You should be comfortable with paring down your possessions to only those things you truly need,” Walker adds. “Letting go of memorabilia, collections, and extra clothes can be hard if you’re used to having those things. You will also need give up buying in bulk. This can be tough for bargain hunters and Costco devotees.”
If you're planning on sharing the tiny house with a partner or family, be absolutely sure that each of you is 100% on board, Henion says. “Everything that happens in a tiny house is amplified," she says. "A small space will make a great relationship better - and it will make a shaky relationship worse.”
Walker adds that entertaining will need to be more modest or outside and homeowners should consider what activities are important and make sure that there is space for those activities. “Neatness is a must,” she stresses. “If you’re used to leaving things piled up on a counter and throwing dirty clothes on the floor, you’ll quickly be swamped by your things in a tiny house.”
What happens if you're still on the fence? Henion suggests you test drive the arrangement for a year or two before making a tiny house a permanent residence.
“Agreeing to try it out for a set period of time can help, or making a pact that if anyone ends up really hating the arrangement, that the house can become a vacation home or guest house or something of that nature,” she says.