Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tiny house, luxurious life?

Jay Schafer changed his life about ten years ago when he left his job as a retail clerk and built an 8 x 12-foot house to live in.  No longer burdened with a mortgage and large utility bills, he discovered a new sense of  freedom and luxury.  His passion for simplicity led to a business called Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.  Go here to learn much more about him.  You can watch a video, too, and see the inside of his house. It looks ridiculously tiny from the outside but you will be surprised by what's inside. It reminds me of a ship. Everything is neat. Everything has a place. There's no excess.  Want to see more designs? You can buy his The Small House Book by going to his website.

This is an intriguing alternative.  Could you live in such a tiny home if it freed you from money worries?  Would you want to do it?

Or are you like most Americans: dreaming of more space, a bigger house? 

I, personally, would want more space than this but I like his philosophy of paring down.


  1. Okay, I could definitely do's the area where the house is situated which means more to me. If I could own a place like this on a beach or in a beautiful wooded area near a lake, etc., that would be all I'd need. I already live in a small house but it's packed with way too much stuff I hang on to for who knows what reason...I wish I could just hook a dumpster up to the backyard and start tossing things out...but I can't. I think this goes back to when my Mom died when I was not quite an adult yet and my father threw out my entire past the day after her funeral before I had a chance to come over and grab anything. So all of my short stories, report cards, photographs of friends, etc. were gone and I felt I had no past. I didn't want the same thing to happen to my kids so I've hung on to every drawing, every book report, etc. they've ever done and they are now 23 and 24...even their baby clothes. I know, I know, it's time to let go.

    Anyway, these houses are amazing but what's ironic is that Tim is probably going to make enough money from this venture that he'll be able to afford that 4,000 foot home and utilities easily. Let's see if he stands by his principals!

    In the meantime, sigh...I really want one of those houses. Anyone have an extra $20,000 to spare?

    Cool blog post, as always, Jessica.


  2. I just realized I mistakenly called "Jay" by the name of "Tim". That is just too funny. Was I subliminally thinking of Tiny Tim?

  3. Robin,

    As usual, you pour out your heart and it's so moving to me what you said about saving things after your mother's death. Of course that makes perfect sense.

    That made me wonder what our lives would be like if we never saved anything? What would happen to our past and memories?

    Yet, this tiny house alternative could be a good way to unload some money worries that we all have.

    I feel as you do in terms of place--where to build my tiny house. Actually, the more I think about this, the more I wonder if it's a good way to get started on some land in Vermont! Why not get the land, build the small house and worry about whether I need more space later?

    Where would my guests stay? Or should my land have several of these little houses, one for each couple or friends?

  4. Man, when you think about it, $100,000 could buy five houses. We could start a writer's colony.

    Oh God, why don't I have the guts to try something like that? I could sell my house in downtown Philly and buy the land and houses for cash and still have money left over. guts. No guts at all. And if you think I have issues with not being able to throw out "memories", the thought of selling the house where my kids grew up traumatizes me like you would not believe. I am so envious of people who are able to pick up and move all the time without effort. I still dream about my first apartment!

  5. Robin,
    I've done a lot of moving in my life. I used to pick up --as you say--without effort, but after a while, it becomes enormously trying. I'm guessing that there are different strains of humans-those that are born to travel and those meant to stay put. And maybe a hybrid type-those who do a little of both?

  6. I love this post , and this dialog. I am in the process of downsizing and I’ve discovered it is less about the stuff and more about the psyche. Letting go of the idea that stuff represents people, feelings, love. Also realizing that dumpsters are wonderful but must also be coupled with examining every object one brings into the house, assessing its need vs. one’s desire. Jay doesn’t have to think about that much anymore; his is an 89 square-foot decision.
    I’d love to try living in a small space. I like the size of the 140 square footer; guess I’m just excessive.
    And one question: Does he have stuff in storage somewhere? And is that somehow “cheating”? (ok; two questions.)

  7. Note to Robin: I've been taking pictures and scanning objects, children's art and schoolwork, etc. as a way to "keep" the stuff without it taking up more space than a cd.

  8. I love that book and also the idea of ridding myself of a lot of "stuff" including bills.

    If I were alone, I could do it, I think, but with husband and two teens and all the animal family here, it would be difficult to size down to that amount of square footage.

    Though if we had the land, and had roomy outdoor spaces (like front porch, deck, etc.)to expand into for things other than sleeping, it might work.

    Some people can go from lots of stuff to nothing w/o a moment's hesitation, but I suspect more of us need to downsize in stages.

    Which is sort of where I am right now. I'm not planning to leave my home (modest in sf by most standards today, at around 2000 sf) but I am actively going through nooks and crannies and closets and shelves, taking a hard look at the "stuff" and what I really need to save/have.

    It's very freeing.

    I love the idea of freeing myself from dependency on electric companies, propane companies, etc. We heat with wood that falls or dies on our property, and during the summer set the AC to 78 degrees, and we have a few things running on solar power at the barn - which I'd love to convert completely at some point.

    But there's so much more we could do.

    There's an architect's sketch of a small house with a barn downstairs that I came across recently and loved - very simple, very compact and efficient - if I can find the link I'll post it later.

  9. Okay, here's the link to the description with a sketch, but you can also click on the images button when you get there, to see photos and more renderings of the house.

  10. Monique! Thanks for stopping by. I love your insight about stuff versus psyche. "Letting go of the idea that stuff represents people, feelings, love." This is a lifelong meditation, I think. What is it about stuff. We have museums and archives. Again, I wonder what would happen if we didn't save items or stuff from the past. It would be strange and I know I would feel lost. But that's the other extreme, I suppose.

    And your question about storage? Is that cheating? Brilliant!!

    And I have to ask again: what about having friends over?

    I think Jay has designs that are even 800 square feet. Of course, that's what I'd be looking into.

    Wonderful questions and observations. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Billie,
    What a great idea to downsize in stages. Makes it palatable. And it's easier on the psyche, which Monique addresses. I'm diving into your link after writing this. Thank you for sharing it here. The idea of a simple barn design is making me salivate. G-d. What is it about these physical structures that touch our cores? I suppose they are direct expressions of our cores--

  12. Monique, the scanning idea is interesting and I admit I thought about it after reading your comments - it really is brilliant, but I think I have the same problem with that as I do with e-books (ha ha, even though I've sold most of my books and made most of my money that way as opposed to print)...I want the actual paper in front of me. I do have all the kids' stuff in big tupperware containers, though, and I guess I am hoping that once they are settled in homes of their own and have kids, they will want me to hand them over, which I will gladly do.. I can remember being a child and being fascinated looking at bits of my mother's past. She was a talented artist but unschooled so there was a box of her sketches of jazz musicians -- she would go to clubs in NY during the beat era and draw them, which is how she met my father -- and also photos of her mother, who died when she was in her early forties, just like my own mother did. So obviously I never met my grandmother and was just so anxious to see whatever photos I could. And lovely father threw all that stuff out, too. So who knows if I'll still be around when my kids have kids of their own? I hope so, but I don't exactly come from a great gene pool. I am so close with my daughter and son...I honestly they believe they will someday want these boxes containing their past to show their own children but yeah, I sure do hope I'm still around to comment.

  13. I admit the scanning idea doesn’t work for everything. Its genius is for the diorama of the Hoover Dam made by my eight-year-old (never to be mistaken for a cardboard box painted blue) but not approaching sufficient for a stack of letters from my grandfather’s sister who died in 1918 and had the most elegant handwriting ever. My husband is an archivist and while that conjures thoughts of saving and preserving, much of his work is in “deaccessioning.” Knowing what to throw away and what to keep. Everything fits into one category or the other and can jump categories only once. It’s difficult to chuck the old, but I also think about whether my kids will think of this stuff as a gift or a burden when I leave them 72 bins of the past; their own and others’.

  14. I was tempted to keep every drawing my children did, but given that I had kids who would go through a ream of paper in a day, what we ended up doing was picking the most "appealing" ones and framing them for hanging. Example: my daughter did a charming portrait of her brother when she was 2, and it's hanging in her room right now. It was something that had real meaning when she did it, and it still holds that meaning.

    But I think what they have learned by me not keeping everything, is that the art comes from inside THEM. It's not about the product, it's about the process - and they always have the ability to draw, paint, create.

    Another example: my daughter wrote about a fourth of a novel at the age of 7, and deleted it w/o a second thought when she went back to edit, because, in her words, "the story isn't going anywhere."

    She wrote another, better, one.

    I also wonder if this trait of keeping/clearing skips generations to a degree, because my grandmother kept everything, my mother almost nothing, and I fall somewhere in between - now my son wants to keep everything.

    I find it hilarious that while he wants to keep everything, he doesn't want it stored in HIS ROOM! He wants me to find a place for it.

    This, imo, is what those big attics with windows and floors were for - you could put stuff up there and go sit and open the windows and let the whole thing air out, and it could stay there forever, until the next generation lived there and cleared and kept and added their own stuff to save.

  15. Billie, Monique, Robin-I'm fascinated by this discussion. Thank you.
    Billie-I'm no. 3 in the family order of 4 kids and not much of my stuff was saved. A few letters. No school work. I yearn for more. But there it is. All in my memory. I now try to save everything for my son (and only child). From pre-school on. His art work. Kindergarten journal.

    I especially love what you said about teaching a child the importance of process. How many of us really get that? And when does our society reward that?

  16. I used to pack up some of the toys the children left strewn all over the place - not their most favorite few, but the extra stuff that always seemed to accumulate. I'd put it in bins up in the attic and on days when they wanted something new to play with, I'd bring down a bin. They always had a blast re-discovering the toys.

    I think one of the reasons my son hoards things in his closet and drawers is for the express and singular pleasure of saying "hey! I forgot I even HAD that!"

    Re: the importance of process - I'm not sure our society rewards it much at all. I think it's important. When mine were infatuated with paint and brushes and easels, we used to set up outside in various places, and it was fairly obvious at that time that it was the experience, the actual sensory experience, of putting paint on the brush and then on the paper, and getting it on hands and arms and legs and clothing. The texture of paper and how paint went onto it. The colors, and how you could make it rich and deep or pale and dilute.

    None of us ever even considered keeping those paintings, because it was so obvious what ended up on the paper at the end was utterly secondary to the process.

    I had forgotten this until right now, but we also used to use all sizes of paintbrushes (the kind you use for walls and furniture and such) with pails of water and we'd paint things on the sidewalk and the driveway and the brick house. As soon as it evaporated away we'd start again.

    Kind of like building in the sand at the beach. :)

    Thanks for getting this rolling, Jessica. It's a wonderful discussion you have going here.

  17. I love this story. I was a single mom with two girls and we moved sometimes more than once a year. When my daughter was 23 she said " I've moved 21 times in 23 years". In her 14th year and my other daughter's 16th year we were packing up to move and they said " Why are you saving these boxes of things that we just move from house to house and never even look at?" And I said" It's all of your things from your whole life!" so we sat down and went through every doodle. They would look at it and say chuck it or save it. I narrowed it down to one small box which I tucked away for the future of who knows what.

  18. Nina,
    Thanks for stopping in and adding your thoughts. I'm floored by your story and the number of times you've moved. I've moved a lot, too, but not 21 times in 23 years. That is almost unimaginable. You've experienced so much uprooting and resettling. At the same time, it sounds like it just became a way of life as if NOT moving would be the challenge? I'm even more amazed at how you and your kids together whittled your life stuff down to one box.

  19. I think Jay is brilliant: smaller and simpler is the future. (Of course, it's also the present for most of the world's population.)

    Will we like it? To an extent, that's up to us.

    Thanks to Jay for presenting a positive vision, and to Jessica for making us all think about the importance and weight of stuff.

    We've been cleaning out my mother's house which has really made me think a lot about the things we keep, and the things that keep us. In so many ways, every item in that house is precious to me. It's my childhood. It's my parents' life together. It's their love for their grandchildren preserved in boxes full of cards and drawings and endless photo albums. But each object is also a decision: Who will keep this now? Who will preserve it and make a space for it in their lives? Or how will we let it go?

    Maybe smaller houses will make such decisions less wrenching and less common.

  20. Patry,
    What you said about things KEEPING US gave me a chill. Things do become us, and pull on us and it seems as if those things don't let US go. I have to meditate on this. What's easier to throw out? What's most difficult? Furniture, Letters? Plates?

    Maybe smaller houses will make such decisions harder? After all, there will be less to throw out and preserve. Each item might serve a greater, unique purpose.

    I don't know.

  21. Thanks to Jessica Keener for this fantastic blog! And I am totally on board with Jay-- he's a wildcrafter and the kind of individual we can all learn from. Bravo and I'm ordering this book.
    Thanks too for the below posting on my book 12x12 about an inspiring physician in NC who lives in a tiny house. More on it at

    To the still, the small, the radical present....

  22. Hi, Bill. I'm so glad you stopped by! I want everyone to read your new and relevant and intimate memoir that addresses a lot of what we're discussing here. I adored it and I know anyone stopping by here will too. It's in paperback, which makes it affordable! Bill's book is highlighted on my June 24 post: Twelve By Twelve, A one-room cabin off the grid & beyond the American Dream.

  23. Jessica, thanks for the conversation.

    The next room I'm working on in my 240-year-old house is the one where the file cabinets, desk and computer stuff is. In order to work on the room, I have to empty it. So I'm going through all the drawers. I have found so much that I don't need: it might have had value once, but not now. So I'm heaving stuff. Papers I've kept for 25 years--if I can't think why I put it in the file, I'm tossing it.

    But along the way, I'm finding the treasures that I've forgotten were there. I found a birthday card from my mother, dead since 1982. I found a letter from a British writer I met in 1989. I think I've kept one file in fifteen, but I know that what I've chosen to hold on to has real value to me right now.

    Of course, in another 25 years, who is to say what decisions I'll make?

    Thanks again.

  24. Hi, Anne.
    My eyes popped when you mentioned that you are living in a 240-year-old house! What a concept in America.

    It sounds as if you've been on a mission of clearing out for awhile. And, I'm so glad you found treasures while lightening your load. That is probably what we all secretly hope for when cleaning out, but that's also what makes the idea of throwing out so difficult. We don't want to cast away that one buried treasure by accident.

    Now. If you're up for it, please tell me more about your 240 yr-old house.

    Thanks for joining in.

  25. Love the idea and innovation that Jay is promoting, similarly to the book I just purchased, *whispers* 'Twelve by Twelve' by B. Powers. I'm for this idea of downsizing from the grand material world. It is refreshing to think that some folks aren't buying into the more, more, more mentality. We might have been thinking that all this 'stuff' is really meaningless, though, we were still buying the 'dream.'

    So, waking a bit we see there are alternatives. One day I would like to downsize, and like Robin, believe the surroundings to be more important than the quantity of house. I think at this point in my life an 8'x12' footprint for living may be too spare, 12'x12' still maybe. Suppose I would sacrifice the 1500 sq ft home for a small hut, as long as there was ample land to garden, and a view of an unspoiled landscape.

    p.s. since we're all creatures of habit, we just need to learn, be shown new ideas for living with less.

  26. Brenda,
    I'm so glad you have Bill's book! I'm going to have him back here in the fall so we can all toss him questions for discussion.

    And, you're right. We do need others to show us new ways. Thanks for stopping by!