Getting Ready For A Tiny House
Most of you are well aware that there is more to going tiny than designing your house and getting it built. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of planning to take the plunge into going tiny, both physically and emotionally. For most, it’s a gigantic lifestyle change and an embrace of a whole new state of mind that isn’t always compatible with the consumerist lifestyle we are brought up in.
Moving into a tiny house is actually a huge - not tiny - thing to do!
You should plan accordingly in order to have everything lined up for a smooth transition into your new home. Let’s start at the beginning and take a look at what steps you must take before your tiny house move-in day:
1. Narrow down where you are going to live.
It always comes down to the big 'P' with a tiny house, doesn’t it?! The first step to designing and building a tiny house is having a solid idea of where your house will end up being parked.
Why? Well, for one, it might be harder than you think to find parking in your desired region. It might even be impossible and that would be a really poopy thing to learn after you’ve dumped your savings into a tiny house. Another good reason to have parking figured out first is so you can use the resources available at your parking spot to design your utility systems.
Knowing whether you will be renting or buying land will also inform your overall tiny house budget and how much you can spend on the journey to go tiny. Sure, it might be a little intimidating to start talking to towns or family members about the legalities of owning and parking a tiny house in their municipality without actually owning one, but being well-informed on tiny houses before becoming a tiny house owner yourself is probably the number one most important tool you can arm yourself with!
2. Figure out how you will finance your tiny house journey.
How much can you spend on a tiny house? Will you need financing or have you saved up enough money to pay in one lump sum? I won’t sugar coat it - transitioning to the tiny life, renting or buying land, purchasing a tiny house, and all of the incidentals that go along with it will be expensive. Incidentals include:
landscaping or parking site prep
delivery or travel fees (paying drivers, buying a new truck, or even just the cost of gas or wear-and-tear on an existing vehicle)
building a deck, sheds, awnings, or other outbuildings and attached structures
move-in supplies and new furniture or decorations
rent, mortgage, or financing payments
monthly utility costs
...you get the picture. It adds up beyond the price tag on the tiny house unit alone. You can save a lot by DIYing your build and leaning on the help of others (like parking for free on family land or relying on skilled labor from friends).
Anticipate that materials for a tiny house alone will cost at least $25k if you buy the materials yourself. This number will quickly grow as you add professionals into the mix, which I recommend, because if you are going to invest your money into something this important - your home - then you want to make sure it will last. We will discuss financing concerns and options in a later chapter.
3. Start downsizing as early as possible!
If you are even thinking about going tiny, you should start downsizing right now! Why? Well, there is no reason not to and cleaning, organizing, and minimizing is cathartic at all times, whether you plan to move into a 200 sq ft house or not! Cleansing your belongings and streamlining your possessions will also prove to yourself that the tiny life is actually for you and not just a pipe dream because to go tiny, you will definitely have to get rid of some of your stuff.
Donating or throwing away things you don’t use anymore will help you feel like the tiny life is in reach, even if you get stuck on hard topics like where you are parking your house or how you are financing it. Plus, when it is time to make the big move, it will be much easier to transition. Can you learn to make bread by hand and ditch the bread machine? Can you pare down your wardrobe to just the essentials? Donate your least used books to charity? These are important things to know before you commit to going and staying tiny!
Our client, John Rodrigue, has a tip for how to start the downsizing process:
"Well, going tiny is a process. You can have all the things you really NEED if you put your mind to it... I started condensing my life by choosing one month and starting to get rid of 'one' item on the first day of the month, 'two' items on the second day, 'three' items on the third day and so on through the month. That meant at the end of the month I had to get rid of 30 items. It was easier than I thought so I did it another month. That was the beginning. Then I added a rule: if I bought something new, I had to get rid of something old. It didn't need to be the same kind of item, it just had to be something. For example: if I bought a new pair of shoes I didn't have to get rid of an old pair of shoes, I could get rid of a t-shirt. It just had to be something."
4. DIY or buy?
There are a few ways to physically manifest a tiny house. You can build your own, buy an already finished house from the secondary market (like tinyhouselistings.com), or you can have a tiny house building company build you a custom model. Each has it’s own pros and cons. Building your own tiny house is a very attractive choice for the DIY-inclined so you can take pride in your work and ownership of each decision. However, not everyone has the skills or the time to do this. We’ve had clients come to us half-way through a build once their partners or parents got tired of it sitting unfinished in their yard for several years!
True, it’s not easy to build a tiny house on weekends and nights, especially if you are learning as you go. It takes Tiny House Crafters about two months of building 9-5, Monday-Friday with a fully stocked workshop and five years of experience under our belts to produce a finished product.
Buying a tiny house from the secondary market is the fastest way to get a tiny house because in most cases, the houses are ready to be picked up at the moment of purchase. This is a great option for those in a housing pinch who are ready to dive right in to the tiny life. However, you won’t get to make many customizations when the house is sold as is. That means that you will have to adapt to the house - how it’s laid out, how the utilities are designed, how much storage it has - rather than build a house that’s suited to you and your environment.
Another huge con to buying a prebuilt house? You can’t vouch for the quality of construction or the building materials used. This could be ruinous for your investment if the house is built shoddily. You should always make sure the house you build or buy is appropriately suited for your climate (see more on this here).
And lastly, you can hire a firm to design a tiny house with you and build it for you. I’m sure I don’t need to extol the virtues of hiring professionals who have experience building in your climate, in all phases of the tiny house building process, designing and implementing unique utility solutions, and working with clients to build your tiny house!
5. Make sure you have the right skills and tools for tiny home ownership.
Do you plan on traveling with your tiny house? Then you will need a truck large enough to safely pull the unit. Are you going off-grid? Then you will need to know where and how you will be accessing and disposing of your resources. Living in a tiny house in New England? Then you will need to be prepared for harsh winters and ready to perform seasonal maintenance.
Truthfully, the hardest part about going tiny isn’t all the work you need to do to get ready for it, but actually owning the physical unit itself.
As I mentioned above, as a tiny house owner, being well-informed on your tiny house - both the tangible things like how the utilities are designed and the intangible things like the philosophy of the tiny house movement - is the most important tool or skill you can have as you enter into this journey.
Having the right tools is as literal as having a toolbox to make repairs, but also a toolbox of skills so your investment will last in the long term. Are you comfortable with power tools? With plumbing? With wiring? If the temperature drops into the negatives in the middle of the night in December and your pipes freeze, will you know what to do? Are you ready to monitor your resource consumption so you don’t run out of propane or fresh water or fill up your gray water holding tanks too quickly? Can you change a tire or know what to do if something goes awry on the road?
Moving into a tiny house requires accepting a greater responsibility for the materials in your life beyond moving from one apartment to another. It requires filling your toolbox with knowledge and skills and new priorities, and yes, even actual tools!
6. Okay, now go get your tiny house!
Now that your belongings are paired down, your toolbox is full, your parking is secured, and your budget is sorted out, it’s time to get your tiny house! Armed with answers and ready to accept responsibility, you are the perfect client and potential tiny house owner. It’s time to secure your builder or designer or go buy your plans. It's time to turn your dream into reality.
It’s true that it might take up to a year to complete the design and build process - or more if you decide to do it yourself. You might be tempted to start the building and buying process before having your ducks in a row and that is of course totally okay and up to you!
The journey to the tiny life will be different for everyone, so make sure you take my advice with a grain of salt. As a designer and builder, my experience is that the most confident and excited clients are the most prepared - or at least the most willing to embrace the adventure!