Tiny Houses, Big Ideas

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Nicolás Boullosa
A Tiny House in Pozuelo, Spain.

In a time when the “American Dream” tells us that bigger is better, people are downsizing their space to make more room in their lives. Tiny Houses are small homes, often built by their owners, between 150 and 300 square feet with a focus on simplicity and minimalist living. This trend in housing is a stark contrast to current housing in America and has been gaining support over the past few years.

American homes have largely stayed the same for the past 60 years with two main exceptions: size and cost. In 1950, the average home was just shy of 1,000 square feet and cost an average US$7,354.1 Compare this to today’s homes of 2,385 square feet at an average cost of US$343,300.2,3

The real noteworthy concept here is the income to home cost ratio:4,5
• 1950: 1.7 (median household income: US$4,237, average house cost: US$7,354)
• 2015: 6.6 (median household income: US$51,939, average house cost: US$343,300)

During this time, while the size of homes has more than doubled, family size has decreased from an average of 3.67 to 3.13 people.6 Houses have gotten a lot bigger but also much more expensive. In 1950, only those with very good credit could qualify for a 15-year mortgage, while today most loan applicants are securing 30 and even 40-year mortgages just to make owning a home possible.

All this is to say that housing has become unaffordable to more and more people due to a shrinking middle class, higher costs of living, and decreased buying power of our incomes. It’s clear to many that something needs to change. The average American now spends 33 to 50 percent of their income on housing.

In 2008, I found myself in this position after my employer decided to close the company I had been working for. I started looking critically at my life, my relationship with money, and my budget realized that about half of my income was going toward housing. It was then that I discovered Tiny Houses and realized that their many benefits could be the solution to this challenge.

My story is similar to most people who find themselves in the Tiny House lifestyle. We one day realized that the “American Dream” turned out to be more of a nightmare. A life saddled with debt meant spending long hours in jobs that most people don’t like and spending huge portions of our lives away from the ones we love.

The average American will spend 15 years of their life to pay for their home, whereas most Tiny House owners can build and pay for their living spaces in under a year while working an average income job.

People switch to Tiny Houses for a range of reasons. They are financially more viable, environmentally more sustainable, offer a simpler way to live in the chaos of modern life, and provide flexibility and options that are simply not available to most other home owners.

Tiny Houses go far beyond issues of money, however. They come with an entire outlook on life. Tiny Living means living a life where you can not only live debt free, but also pursue your passions, goals, and free time on your own terms. With reduced costs of living, we can pursue that hobby or the rewarding career that might not have paid enough before but now could mean a comfortable lifestyle. It means we can pursue big goals or bucket list items that can bring meaning to our lives. It can give us the time and flexibility to focus on relationships and spend time with loved ones.

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Nicolás Boullosa
A Tiny House owner in Freestone, California, who repurposed an old shipping container to construct her house.

Simply put, while Tiny Houses minimize your physical space and possessions, you gain huge rewards in the things that matter.

From my personal experience, my monthly cost of living used to be around US$1800 per month when I lived in a mainstream living situation. Today, in my Tiny House, my cost of living is around US$500 per month for a much more comfortable life. That cost includes utilities, insurance, a cell phone, internet, and food.

I took it a bit further to make my living situation not only small and financially minimal, but also eco-friendly. The power for my Tiny House comes from a solar panel system, allowing it to be totally off the electrical grid. I have also equipped my home with high-efficiency appliances. I can run every light, a computer, cell phone, fridge, and hot water heater for less power than a single standard high watt lightbulb.

The house is made of sustainable materials, all reclaimed, recycled and/or sustainably sourced. The water supply is from the city, but all fixtures have an ultra-low flow, making the water bill less than US$5 per month. Freedom from rent or mortgage payments on top of these allow me to keep my costs so low.

All of these decisions added up for me, resulting in some pretty drastic changes in my life in a very positive way.

This lifestyle has allowed me to start my own business, to spend more time with family, and to pursue life goals that had been long deferred. Since moving into a Tiny House, I’ve been able to write and publish a book, travel for six months out of the year, and pursue some key passion projects that weren’t attainable in my life before.

To think that today I spend almost half the year traveling the world, while earning a good living and being more financially stable is a life most could only dream of. Yet this is my reality and the reality of most people who live Tiny.

Finally, a few quick tips on how to make your way to The Tiny Life:

  • Determine your goals in life and evaluate the decisions you’ve made: do they get you closer to those goals?
  • Start today: begin by evaluating your possessions and financial decisions. Could you choose a different path that brings you closer to your goals?
  • Start small: begin with a small part of your life, see how you can improve that one physical space or one aspect of your life. How much can you optimize it for the best outcomes?
  • Make a plan to get smaller: it doesn’t have to be a Tiny House, but a housing option that reduces costs while still promoting a good quality of life.
  • Get out of debt: debt is a toxic force in most people’s lives and inhibits their pursuit of life goals and passions.