Whose idea was this anyway?

Lots of people ask us which one of us decided on a tiny house on wheels – and did the other one take a lot of convincing?

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Our house mid-build last fall.

The answers are: Todd. And no.

We’ve both been dreaming of alternative housing for quite some time. Here’s the short-ish version of how we arrived here.

Back in the 2000s, Todd had a penchant for buying houses. When I met him in 2006, he had just bought his third, and shortly thereafter, his fourth house. Two were rentals, one was to flip, and one was to live in. He bought them all before 2008 and the Great Recession.

It’s hard to overstate the impact that the market crash and housing bubble collapse had on many young people coming of age, including us. We saw – in real life and in the news – hardworking adults all around us fear they’d lost their entire life savings and retirements (some would bounce back and some would not) and I lost the first job I had that actually paid a decent salary during a period of huge layoffs. Todd’s housing investments lost value.

In fact, we sold our house in Albany last year for about the same as he’d bought it for 11 years prior…. No huge return on the years of taxes, money, and sweat equity we put into it.

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Our first home together –  145 Ramsey, where it all began

So several years ago, Todd, craving a simpler life with less money going out the door to pay for housing, started talking about living in a yurt.  (He may work in Corporate America but he is a crunchy hippy at heart). I’d laugh at him. I thought yurts were just glorified tents, so I wrote them off (only to find out later, they’re quite beautiful and can be hooked up with electricity and plumbing. I do actually think someday we’ll fulfill Todd’s dream to live in a yurt).

I might not have been sold on the yurt idea but there was one type of alternative housing that really intrigued me. I saw a documentary on earthships and was totally fascinated. I loved the idea of using recycled materials such as old tires to build a home, and creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly dwelling.

The yurt and the earthship had a few things in common – they’d make us much more self-sufficient and they wouldn’t drain us of nearly 40 percent of our budget (the average that Americans spend on housing).

We also knew we didn’t need much space. For years we lived in our conventional three bedroom, two bathroom, 1,100 square foot house in Albany, NY – which actually felt too big for two people.

A quick aside – we did almost buy a house way too big for us back in early 2016 when Todd got a great job after being laid off from Bank of America the year before, and we got ahead of ourselves knowing what kind of mortgage we could afford. We loved the house mainly because it was on a kayak-able creek, and had stunning mountain views. Someone else bought the house before we could and, wow, are we glad we dodged that bullet. Just because we could afford the mortgage doesn’t mean we want to pay for a house for the next 15-30 years.

Sometime in the spring of 2016 – after we dodged the big house bullet – Todd started talking about smaller living again.  It appealed to him because we’d lessen our environmental impact and we’d save money. Todd has been talking about extreme early retirement since I met him, and eliminating a mortgage was a huge way to achieve that goal. (For all of our big reasons for going tiny, see this earlier post).

My huge light-bulb moment came in May 2016 in Costa Rica. Todd and I were on vacation there and even though we’d been together for 10 years, it was the first country we visited as a couple that neither of us had been to before. I have a few great loves, and travel is one of them. To me, the experience of discovering a new place for the first time is incomparable. I don’t think I ever feel as alive as I do when I am exploring. And Costa Rica was magical. We hiked through rainforests to dormant volcanoes to dip our toes in the crater lake at the top. We swam in lagoons at the bottom of spectacular waterfalls. We had lovely conversation with the locals, and we had food that when I think about it, still makes my mouth water.

It hit me like a ton of bricks on that trip to Costa Rica that there are so few material things that I need to be happy. I want to travel and explore new places with Todd. A warm home, comfy bed, and my pups would be a perfect home base in New York – the size of the abode really didn’t matter to me.

For that trip, and others before and since, we take stock of the way people live. And again, many people in other countries live small because they have to – but so many of the people in Central America live small and seem to be really happy, happier than many Americans who live in McMansions and drive enormous vehicles (especially the people in Costa Rica. It’s a very progressive country with no military, a huge emphasis on the conservation of their natural resources and their land, and they have great health care to boot. Which is why we may move there in a few years… ) We had traveled to Mexico several times as well and we always noted how much happier and more communal their neighborhoods seemed to be, with folks gathering in town squares, kids playing ball, women sitting outside their homes chopping veggies for dinner. It was a way of life I’ve rarely seen here in the US. (I know that not all regions of Mexico are this way and that there is crime, poverty, and government corruption, but the point here is that big houses don’t equal happiness).

So when we got home from Costa Rica, we got to work. Todd started reading Walden, and I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We started selling, donating, and giving our stuff away to family and friends like crazy. We kept only the things that “sparked joy” or that we needed. We read about tiny houses, watched documentaries, went to a tiny house festival in Brattleboro, Vt., and started slowly sharing our plans with friends and family.  We went from looking at 400 square foot tiny homes on foundations, to 200 square foot tiny homes on wheels – to us, the ultimate freedom because you’re not tied to one place if you find you have to move your home eventually. I’ll concede I had to wrap my brain around the idea of one small (28 inch wide!!!) clothes closet that we’re sharing.  But cutting down my wardrobe in return for a lifetime of travel and financial freedom seems like a very small price to pay. Generationally, I’m on the border of Millennials and Gen Xers, but I agree with the experiences-over-things mindset of the younger generation. Small house, but big life.

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At the Vermont Tiny House Festival with my cousin Kathy and her husband Brad, who’ve been super supportive and were there for us for our “barn raising” weekend in 2017.

So that’s how we arrived here. We both had big goals that can be fulfilled by a change in mindset about how we live. Fortunately, we’re both a little weird, and I trusted Todd that we could make this whole build-our-own-tiny-house thing work. So far, so good.

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Happiness after having installed the bamboo flooring.

For other tiny house people – was the decision an easy one? An evolution like ours was? Was it a decision that took a lot of convincing? We’d love to hear how other people came to this decision. And for everyone else, we’re always happy to answer your tiny house/travel/financial independence questions! As I said in my prior post, gleaning information from others was so helpful for us as we embarked on this journey. So reach out!

Thanks for reading,

Jess & Todd

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