Why Tiny House Living?

Hi there! Jess and Todd here, with our first post on our new blog and website! Welcome!

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Most of our family and friends know what we’re up to – building a tiny house –  but we’re not sure everyone knows our rationale. Have we lost our minds? Our jobs? Are we nuts? (Not yet, no, and maybe a little :))

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Tiny House of New York is the result of years of dreaming and planning; we started getting rid of our belongings on almost a constant basis in June, 2016 and the research started in earnest around that time as well. We read many books, and watched documentaries and YouTube videos of other tiny house people like fanatics. We started designing in 2016 (we’re still designing as we go!) We sold our house in Albany in July, 2017 and our tiny house build started in late June of 2017 – and continues to this day. But we’re close to being done (yayayayayay!) so we decided it’s time to start documenting the “whys” as well as the benefits of tiny house living.

If you’re curious, here are our top four reasons for selling our normal-sized house in Albany, ditching about 80-90 percent of our belongings, and embarking on an adventure to design, build, and live in our very own tiny house on wheels in the Catskills region of New York State.

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Four big reasons:

1) Less house to pay for = more financial freedom and the ability to become financially independent and retire early from our everyday 9-5s (and we mean really early).

Most Americans spend nearly 40 percent of their budgets on housing. When we first heard that stat, we thought about how much we could save if we reduced that cost, or even eliminated it. We had a decent rate on our mortgage on our prior house but it was still a big chunk of what we spent every month, and knowing that we could construct a tiny house with no mortgage was incredibly appealing.

While we’re on the subject of housing costs — it wasn’t always this way! In 1940, the median home value in the U.S. was just $2,938. In 1980, it was $47,200, and by 2000, it had skyrocketed to $119,600. From CNBC: “Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars, according to data from the U.S. Census.” In short, the cost of housing is increasing much faster than inflation.

These rising home costs are hurting us (remember 2008 and the incredible number of foreclosures, and real people who lost their homes?!) and putting more and more people into huge amounts of debt  – many people spend their entire lives paying for their shelter. We think this is insanity.

Consider today’s norm for many homeowners:

Graduate high school. Perhaps go to college. Get a job. Buy a house. Work forever to pay off that house (30 year mortgages are the most popular). Perhaps retire in your 60s or 70s and hope you have enough money, energy, and life left to enjoy your “golden years”.

We just didn’t want to live like that and want to live our lives to the fullest NOW, not later. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to pay for this house as we go. We’ve been building for one year, and we believe when all is said and done, we’ll have spent about $50,000 on it. Many tiny home people spend less, and many spend more. It depends on the materials one chooses, and whether building oneself or hiring someone to build. The DIY, pay-as-we-go method has worked for us, and we’re thrilled knowing our utility costs will be very low in the future, and our only other expenses for the house will include our portion of the taxes, and any repairs or improvements we need to make. (Full disclosure: we are building on Todd’s mother’s land as she has the acreage and we contribute to taxes and pay the utilities so we’re not considered “squatters” :))

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I’ll save our financial independence/retiring early (FiRe) goals for another post, but suffice it to say, we are following the four percent rule, also known as the “25 times your yearly spend” rule. Simply put (for non-math people) – take your yearly spend and multiply that by 25. Essentially, that’s how much you need to have saved to retire. For example: if you spend $50,000 per year to live, you need $1.25 million saved to continue living that same lifestyle for the next 30 years.

We are aggressive savers. Binge savers. Instead of buying stuff when we get paid, we first pay off any debts, and then we buy Vanguard Index Funds. Our goal is to save enough so that we can retire from our day jobs very early and travel/work seasonally and remotely without touching our savings and investments; the plan is to have enough to carry us for the rest of our lives should we need it. We follow FiRe bloggers and enthusiasts and are somewhat surprised that the tiny house and FiRe movements have not intersected more since one path toward FiRe is a drastic reduction in expenses. (If you’re interested in financial independence right now, check out JL Collins’ stock series and blog. A must read for anyone who wants to get their finances and investments in order.)

This is also a post for another day, but we think tiny homes could be part of the solution to homelessness. Call us crazy, but we don’t think people should be without shelter, especially in the wealthiest country on the planet!

2) Less house to maintain = more time (for family, friends, hobbies, reading, leisure)

This one is easy. I remember a few years ago looking around the back yard one beautiful summer day, dirty and exhausted, after I had mowed the lawn, weeded the garden, and painted our shed – and thinking: We work all week at our jobs only to work all weekend on our homes.

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I think we (Americans) are just trained to consider home-ownership The American Dream, fulfilled. But we (Todd and Jess) have different dreams these days, and home-ownership isn’t necessarily part of that. We learned a lot about home improvement while working on our Albany home, and became more self-sufficient but we spent so many hours, days, weeks working when we’d rather be out living (props to our friends who live in a condo in Albany and laugh at their friends who spend all weekend “working on the yard” – they were also an inspiration!)

In short, we have more time to say yes to family, friends, hiking, kayaking, reading – whatever else sparks our interest.

In all honesty, the summer of 2017 didn’t allow for as much freedom since we worked on the house at every free moment. We work full-time and our jobs involve a decent amount of travel. On Saturday mornings we’d build; on Saturday nights, we’d bartend (our side hustle to pay for the house as we built – and we also work with a carpenter who has helped us tremendously but he’s not free), and on Sundays we’d try to build while recovering from the late night the evening prior. It was major hustle ALL THE TIME.

As the build winds down, and we get closer to completion, we’ve already seen an increase in our free time.

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We’ve said yes to more this year, bringing us closer to our community and ensuring our friendships are solid. We don’t feel as guilty indulging in the things that make us happy because this is one of the big reasons we are building this house: to live our life according to our values.

3) Less house to hold us back = more adventure & freedom to roam (namely in the form of international travel)

A few years ago, before we came to the decision to build a tiny house, we were looking for land to build a small log cabin. We looked at a bunch of properties, but one day after driving all over looking at land, Todd said he didn’t think he wanted to put down more roots in New York. There are a bunch of reasons, some concerning today’s politics, but we both have a huge desire to see more of the world. If we put down roots, pay a mortgage, taxes, and the other expenses we’d incur, we’d be less likely to pursue a nomadic way of life.

So we decided to put our house on wheels. We can move it if we need to but more likely, we’ll travel because of it, not with it. (We were inspired by other tiny-housers like Joshua and Shelly at Tiny House Basics and Robert and Samantha at Shedsistence – two couples who travel more and experience more because they’ve made the decision to live small, which gives them more freedom). Tiny House of New York will be our home base but we’ll have the freedom to come and go as we’d like to.

And it’s already paying off. Throughout the tiny house building process, we’ve saved money that would have ordinarily gone to housing costs. We’ve used some of that money to travel, and have been incredibly fortunate to have seen new parts of the world, including Scotland, Ireland, Norway, and Spain in the last several months, and we’re planning more international travel for later this year. We’re truly grateful for these experiences and know how fortunate we’ve been to be able to travel – and we can’t wait to write about our travel hacks and budget vacations because (surprise, surprise) we are thrifty on vacation, too.

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4) Less house to use resources and energy = smaller footprint, greener living

Living “green” and consciously of our resource consumption has been important to both of us for many years. It’s just the two of us and two pups – no kids for us – so the idea of buying a bigger house just because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do just didn’t make sense. A smaller house with everything we need is literally using a smaller footprint, and much less energy. We’re also using a wood stove to heat our home, LED lights, and Structurally Insulated Panels (or SIPs) as our walls, which are extremely energy efficient. We’ll also be using a composting toilet, reducing our water usage. More on that once we actually start using it! We also hang our clothes out to dry and rarely use a dryer. This country air does the job just fine.

We’re also still close enough to the grocery store and library that we can walk rather than drive. We already noted we have curbed our spending but we are taking part in a local farm’s CSA so that’s something else we feel good about. Even though we’re financially frugal, we want to be able to support local businesses, including our local farms.

In a future post, we can detail how we both came to think about living smaller (Todd always wanted to live in a yurt, and Jess is not ruling it out for the future; Jess’s lightbulb moment for tiny house-living came one day in Costa Rica). We will say that we’re freely choosing this lifestyle and it is an absolute privilege. There is no doubt about it: many people, here in the US and around the world, live in very small shelters because they have to. We recognize that this is a conscious decision we’re making, not a mandate forced upon us, and we’re fortunate beyond belief to be able to create a life that makes us happy. We both steer away from the word “blessings” – but we know how fortunate and supported we are. We’re grateful for this life and we won’t take it for granted.

It’s also important to note that we don’t expect everyone to agree with our way of life, or for everyone to be able to do it, and we certainly don’t judge all the homeowners we know and love! We think people should be able to pursue the life they love – and if that means a big house and yard, great! We simply wanted something different and we’re glad we figured it out sooner rather than later before getting sucked into keeping up with the Joneses. (Let the Joneses “win”; we’ve found our own happiness).

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Enough about us. If you’re a tiny houser, we’d love to know your reasons for living small! If you’re someone interested in this way of life, we’re always open to questions and will help in whatever way we can. If you’re someone thinking about making the leap toward downsizing, but have never set foot in a tiny house and want to see what it feels like inside, we’re also open to visitors (it’s something that would have helped us a lot before starting this journey but we were hesitant to ask).

We’re excited to document this journey and will be honest and transparent about the good, the bad, and everything in between. We have learned so much from those who’ve shared their experiences and we hope we can pay it forward and share the lessons we’ve learned as well. Thanks for reading!

-Jess & Todd