four second house

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I am neither creative enough to make building sound poetic, nor knowledgeable enough to give any further insight than already exists in the seemingly endless blogs concerning tiny house construction. I don’t think I have the greatest tiny house in existence. There are plenty of micro homes that are more creative, more clever, more minimal or more expansive, more or less of anything and everything than mine. I don’t think mine is the best, and I can certainly appreciate all of the amazing things others have accomplished. I can say that mine is my favorite, and it is exactly what works for me.

So I’m not going to give a thirty-post tutorial on the ins and outs of how to build a tiny house, and I’m not going to gush out poems about the simplicity of living in a small space. But I do have a few thoughts to contribute to the world. Namely: what a truly unusual and splendid experience. After living hours and time zones, cities and states away from my parents, it was awesome to have the opportunity to spend four months with them. I am so grateful for that. Also the fact that they are literally built into my home. I can look at any part of it and think of them. There is something extra special about this structure I call my home due to my parents’ involvement in its construction.

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From all of the blogs I’ve read on tiny houses, I’d say my experience was a bit different than other people’s. It seems to me that a lot of tiny housers had this providing-for-themselves-empowerment experience. I, however, was on a tight schedule (my parents do, in fact, have their own life in Florida (also the weather in Washington, as you may have heard, isn’t all sunshine and construction positive)), and I had two building experts at my disposal. So I didn’t do every single thing with my own hands; I didn’t learn every intricate aspect of building a house. Sometimes I learned the processes, and sometimes I stood aside and let the experts do their thing. I didn’t feel like I needed that empowerment experience – I’ve had that with traveling, and I’m good with that. As such, rather than the year plus it has taken many of the tiny housers I’ve seen, we finished in four months. That’s two full time builders (my parents) and one almost-full-time-builder (me, the job holder who needed to pay for rent and food and this whole construction thing.) My wonderful parents were tireless – seven days a week from 8am until 6pm. I think they took maybe three days off during the entire project. So much for exploring the pacific northwest. I, on the other hand, would say less that I was tireless and more that I was tired. I worked mornings starting between 4am and 6am a few days a week, came home and worked on the house with my parents, after which Sunita and I would work on packing and cleaning our current house, after which I’d scour the internet for second hand supplies. Making food some days seemed just too much. It was really nice having four adults to share that particular burden. Also the taco truck people got to know us really well.

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Probably the most difficult thing about the whole process for me was making all of those damn decisions. I, by nature, have a very low tolerance for decision making. I never knew just how many decisions were necessary in building a house. Choosing a toilet, a sink, windows and doors were easy. Colors, on the other hand, were very difficult for me (my parents are shaking their heads right now.) Some decisions took weeks. Like the stain for the exterior siding. And the interior, come to think of it. Anyways, I grew skyscrapers in my decision making abilities.
The most time consuming aspect was definitely researching and acquiring materials. I bought the majority of my stuff from craigslist (some from as far as Seattle and Anacortes): windows, house wrap, siding, sink, refrigerator, toilet…A few things came from re-stores: skylights, tub (aka giant kitchen sink), door…I bought the basic skeleton new, the trailer, tankless water heater, bathroom fan, things like screws and stuff. Still more stuff we hand made: couch base, loft shelving, bottle windows, bookshelf…
I’ve still not done all of the calculations for cost, but my rough estimate is about $15,000. We definitely stretched our resources and used them smartly and efficiently. I had about $10,000 in the bank when we started. I was still making some money during construction, but my parents loaned me some as well, and ended up just donating some for the cause. My grandmother also bought my stove for me.

Some of my favorite features I would have expected, others not so much. My skylights (I love lying just beneath the rain, and I’ve seen 6 shooting stars to date through them) and bottle windows are no surprise. My infatuation with my composting toilet, however, was a surprise. My facebook page betrays this strange affinity. I also quite like my 3/4 size refrigerator and my gas range, my loft in general, my little shelf of bits and bobs….

There have been a few issues and challenges in the past six months of living here. The most notable being the excessive levels of moisture. Two people, a giant dog, and a cat create more condensation than this space can really handle. That, and we live in the notably moist state of Washington. I think next winter I’ll invest in a small dehumidifier. The best solution I’ve found so far is keeping the place at a consistently semi-warm temperature. Otherwise mold grows quite rapidly on the edges of my windows and skylights.
I got surprised by the first few days of freezing weather and completely forgot to winterize my hose. So we were without water for a day. I’m still perfecting the winterization, so we’ve lost water two other times, but it’s a little better each time. Not really sure what’s going to happen when we move to Colorado next year…
I’ve admittedly had a few days of feeling overwhelmed by stuff scattered around. It definitely feels different having a messy tiny house than a messy non-tiny house. Apart from clutter, sharing a smaller space with Sunita hasn’t bothered me at all. Like I’ve told a lot of people: I wouldn’t be able to live in a tiny house with just anyone. But my closest friends have been people who can be present and I still somehow feel like I have a certain amount of solitude. Also, neither Sunita nor I are too particular – we’re both pretty happy as long as the other person is happy. By the way, I’m pretty grateful to her, too, for agreeing to move into a two hundred square foot house with me. It’s one thing for a minimalist, and quite another for a non-minimalist/artist/nerd/hoodie addict/gear collector with a dog and cat. She’s been fully on board, and very patient with my exasperated “we have too much stuff!” rants. Despite the fact that I expect this space will feel the size of Westminster Abbey when she moves out, I’ll miss her presence. I have yet to live by myself, and I’m just fine with that. Housemates are so underrated.

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There’s not really much I would change. I might have gone with the twenty foot trailer (rather than the eighteen footer) and gained an extra two feet of kitchen space, but I’m really fine without it. My kitchen outlets are a tad wonky because I changed the floorplan halfway through, but again, it just doesn’t make too much difference. Everything else I’d pretty much choose to do over again.

I guess one of the most interesting things to me is the perception of what living in a tiny house is like, versus the reality. Reading all of those blogs and never having set foot in a tiny house gave me this (subconscious) idea of all these people being these really different individuals whose lives revolved around living in a tiny house. In reality I don’t even think about it most of the time. It’s always disconcerting the first time it comes up with someone when they act like it’s a big deal, and I remember ‘oh yeah, this isn’t normal.’ I mean, I have to be more conscious about my grocery purchasing, I have to dispose of my toilet contents myself, and I can’t jump on my bed, but otherwise it’s just not that…noticeable. I don’t miss having separate rooms for each of my activities. I don’t miss having a minimum square footage surrounding me. I definitely don’t miss any of the stuff I got rid of before moving in here (except those darn fuzzy green socks!) I do miss having two couches, but then I have a slight couch obsession. And sometimes I miss having an exorbitant amount of fridge space for leftovers (also a little obsessive about leftovers), and occasionally I miss having an already-set-up art desk for working on projects. But…that’s all. And I don’t really mind any of that too much. Those are sacrifices I’m willing to make. I’m happy in my tiny house. It is adequate to contain my existence. As I heard it put recently,

“There is a fine balance between too little and too much, it is called enough.”

me