I am in the process of shifting my life into a 140 square foot custom built tiny house. Here are a few words about how it all got started.
I have always had a mystical, rugged dream of living in a cabin at the river valleys edge. You know the one. Remote, in tune with nature’s rhythms, rustically-idyllic, where the weather is, somehow, always amenable. It’s a sweet, sparkly fantasy. Fantasy, because it happens to leave out the very real logistics of living remotely and closely with the land. From growing, harvesting and storing food to accessing drinkable water, off-grid living forces your hand into presence and accountability. Your survival depends on the quality of your attention to the health and livability of your environment and you become keenly aware of your consumption. What you need and what you don’t become readily transparent. This is a pretty radical state of mind in our current world. I’ve skirted the edge of radical, peered off its cliff, but for the most part remained one foot in, one foot out - this concept of home remaining a colorful postcard in my mind.
Like many, I have rented homes my entire life. Apartments, condos, houses….East Coast, West Coast and in between…I appreciated the freedom it lent me. It allowed me to travel, to pay for continuing education, to move whenever my Work or my Heart called out. But, as our consumption and population continues to increase this way of living is becoming less and less sustainable, both financially and ecologically. I feel as though I am living on borrowed time, paying more for less and by default participating in an already stressed utility infrastructure that is bleeding our earthly resources dry. We can’t replenish what we are taking quickly enough. We can’t keep up, I can’t keep up, but more to the point, I don’t want to keep up…I want to create.
Inspired by my childhood image of freedom and sovereignty, I decided to channel that sweet fantasy postcard into an accessible version – my own off-grid Tiny House on Wheels or THOW. Being a bit nomadic and minimalist by nature, the tiny house movement has always intrigued me. It seems to combine the best of all worlds – personal creativity, movability, sustainability and affordability.
As an artist, I really liked the idea of building my own tiny house. But, I also knew that I sorely lacked any basic carpentry skills and already had far too many projects on my plate to manifest this tiny in any realistic time frame. So, I began researching well-known builders. I wasn’t surprised at how much the tiny house movement had not only blown up in craftsmanship and design over the past decade, but also in cost. Most off-grid tiny houses start at around $70K, these are usually 20-24’ long. Despite the ups and downs of self-employment, I had fastidiously maintained great credit, but definitely was not sitting on $70K. I needed some financing to make this happen.
My only previous experience with larger financing was the purchase of my current car. In 2013, I needed a reliable car that I could live out of for the next year as I toured the US looking for some place I wanted to call home (another story for another time!), so I applied for a loan. When researching financing for a tiny house, I quickly found out that financing is an even bigger numbers game than I thought, emphasis on the word “game”. This is not news to anyone who has run this gauntlet, but to me the whole learning curve was a revelation.
Mix this paper-generating, number crunching, hoop jumping experience with the perceived radical nature of tiny house living and you have one big ass power point* to work with. *(aka: a transformational opportunity disguised as a challenging, sometimes “oh, this will never work/what the fuck am I thinking” dilemma).
Let me explain, tiny homes are still a bit liminal to most financial institutions/lenders. They are not a traditional house and they are not a vehicle – they manifest somewhere in between. It seems pretty clear to me what they are, but as is the case with any new creation it bears the burden of skepticism and scrutiny until it is deemed as safe, cool, known. With lenders, my experience was that they simply don’t know how to value it, which means it may not be a something they deem “safe” to lend on, regardless of ones credit/borrowing history. And it doesn’t help that it is has been historically difficult to find an insurer to insure THOWS, which can add to that sense of being an unsafe lending arrangement should the tiny burn down, be stolen, etc. I had essentially 3 pathways to pursue:
1) Find an angel/peer loan (This didn’t pan out, not surprised by that! But asking for help was a good, humbling practice.)
2) Short term personal loan (The percentage rates are incredibly high, making monthly payments high and the point is to lighten the financial load, right?)
3) Long term RV loan (For me the best option, lower monthly payments and lower interest rates. Savvy tiny house builders are becoming certified RVIA builders, this means they build to code and are held to the same standards as any other RV or travel trailer on the road would be. This is a great option for folks like me that can qualify for a loan, but simply don’t have the cash in hand.)
To wrap this little part of the story up, I did apply and qualify for a travel trailer loan. Though, it was for 20K less than I needed and while my credit rating was excellent my debt to income ratio was just out of range. It was a deflated win. It was possible, but not quite. Thankfully, I have a pretty awesome crew. My people really showed up to remind me of my bigger vision and to not let the perceived road blocks throw me off course. (Thanks crew! I love you!) It took some time, but I borrowed some money from friend to get the debt to income ratio numbers in line and then reapplied for a smaller loan amount and finally, I had secured some financing.
My builders, Tiny Heirloom, ultimately came through a personal reference (Thank you, Sapphire House!). I was transparent with them about my financial limitations. I was approved for a loan, but for way less than what I needed in order to move forward. Which leads me to the TV show - what an odd gift. They asked me “what I thought about Television?” and I said “I don’t own a television”. They kinda looked me up and down and said “Did you look at our website? You know that we have a show on HGTV, right?” I laughed and said – “well, I kinda didn’t look at your entire website, because you were recommended and I thought I would just come and talk to you.”
We both laughed, but I knew I was being thrown the bone that I needed. But, oh man was I skeptical and torn. I spent a decade in the film industry and got out just as the industry was headed away from actual film. I knew too much about editing and sound bites. Anything I would say could be hacked up and used in a completely unrelated context, which made me really uncomfortable. Not to mention that I’ve always preferred taking the picture and not being the subject of one. It was a tough, but ultimately no brainer decision – I wanted my tiny house, so I said Yes to the show and Yes to my vision.
What followed was an unexpectedly exhilarating process of conceptualizing my tiny house from invisible to visible. The main reason I chose Tiny Heirloom over all other builders that I spoke with, is that they specialize in custom builds. We share a love of individuality and personalization. They got me, they got my aesthetic and guided me through the design process with great attention.
I am beyond excited to have created a home that is in alignment with my soul, from its nature preserving off-grid systems (solar, propane, composting toilet) to its simple elemental beauty. Going tiny is my movement toward greater Freedom - Artistic. financial and personal. Going tiny is also my movement toward greater Accountability – Consumption and Conservation.
My next goal is to move the tiny to steward some land of my own. To grow, harvest and distill some of these beautiful plants that I learn so much from and that assist us in ways that we are just beginning to understand.
Thanks for reading and shoot me any questions you have about going Tiny and I will try my best to assist! Pics coming soon!