Could you live in just 320 sq. ft. of space? How about with 3 other people? The Tiny House Family does it, and the DIY, money-saving way they went about it is attracting them a lot of attention. Hari, Karl and their son and daughter's small living adventure began when the sour economy caused their award-winning restaurant in Florida to close. Knowing they needed to save money, but still wanting to live mortgage-free, they bought a parcel of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains and built a salvaged (mostly from Craigslist) new home for just $12,000. Now this smart family of four enjoys their abode without owing any money on it whatsoever, allowing them to live completely off of Karl's salary and save all of Hari's salary for their future dreams. Read on to see Hari's insightful small-space living tips and see photos of the Tiny House's wonderful living spaces, which include a loft sleeping space, a lovely porch and a sunny kitchen.
INHABITAT: Can you tell us a little bit about the Tiny House Family‘s home and its features?
Hari: Our tiny home is 8’ x 21’ with a full loft. The loft has 3’ of head space. We built two separate lofts for a bit of privacy. There are areas of the house dedicated to office, living, dining, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and wardrobe. Appliances and fixtures include a 12 gallon hot water heater under the kitchen counter, an apartment-sized range, a large hood (which vents the house in minutes), an under-counter refrigerator, a built-in couch and shoe bench (both of which open up for storage), a toilet, a shower, a hand sink and a kitchen sink. Each family member has his/her own cabinet for clothing. The windows and full-light door help bring lots of natural light inside making a connection to the outdoors.
INHABITAT: What made your family decide to build your tiny home?
Hari: It fit into our long-term plan to build a small mortgage-free homestead. After saving for and buying the land, the well and septic, and putting in a driveway, we weren’t left with a lot of money. We were also still in Florida, but we wanted to start building. Building on a flatbed trailer made it possible to start building while still in Florida. It was also possible to build to completion even with our small grubstake. Building tiny also made it easy to find salvaged/overstock/leftover construction materials. When you only need 12 sq. feet of tile, and 100 sq. ft. of flooring, it’s easy to find deals.
INHABITAT: How much did the home cost and how did you keep prices down?
Hari: $12,000. We kept costs down by salvaging, using Craigslist and doing all of the labor ourselves.
INHABITAT: Were any recycled or salvaged materials used to build the home?
Hari: Yes. We first found the trailer, an old mobile home trailer. The kitchen sink came out of a remodel—our neighbor donated it. The shower stall has been sitting in another neighbor’s garage for years. We salvaged the oak for the interior from a local home being demolished. The lights, refrigerator, fabric, are recycled from our former restaurant. We found the framing material, insulation, stove, windows, flooring, on craigslist. I wrote this blog post about the stories behind our salvaging/recycling adventures.
INHABITAT: Leonardo Da Vinci said “Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it.” Do you believe that to be true?
Hari: I know that small rooms/dwellings discipline the mind, and in my case, a larger dwelling did weaken my discipline. Through the creative confines of a small space, the mind has to work out a puzzle, which is certainly a discipline— especially when living tiny with a family. Everything has its space, and it has to be put away. It forces me to stay present with each moment. I wrote about how the tiny house has disciplined me in Digging Rocks and Tiny House Reforms a Messy Housekeeper.
There is also the discipline of communicating effectively, which goes far beyond stuff. When our family is in harmony, there seems to be much more space. Our relationships have been discipline by the space. We breathe deeply (try to) before reacting, and remember that our moods can clutter the space just like stuff.
INHABITAT: What is your favorite part of the house?
Hari: I love our kitchen with its simple tile/wood back splash, wood counters and shelves. I also enjoy having two small windows next to the sink. Having the items we use everyday on display makes me happy. We put most of our herbs and spices in canning jars and the flour and other grains are in clear containers—the apartment sized range fits the scale and performs the job perfectly. I love the floor to ceiling 4” shelving in the kitchen. It holds all of our glasses, mugs, small dishes and wine bottles. It also makes it easy to purge. Sometimes, I sit on the couch and notice something we haven’t used in a while. It ends up at our local thrift store. We put a restaurant ticket rail up to display the kids’ artwork. The pantry cabinet hides the unattractive pantry stuff; we also use the inside of the door to hang our family calendar. The glass-front bottle cooler from our restaurant works well as our only refrigerator. We don’t have a freezer.
INHABITAT: Do you ever feel cramped living in your small home?
Hari: On cold or rainy days, our house shrinks. With the option of going outside for space removed, I do feel cramped. I feel cramped when I am trying to write and the kids are playing with the dog and asking me questions. But, we’ve gotten used to it after living here for a year. When I feel cramped, I am fighting against what is happening in the moment. If I am edgy and needing space, I need to bundle up and go outside or climb up into my loft with a book. Sometimes, it means I just have to stop writing, put away the laundry, the dining room, pick up the dishes, put away the toys and 15 minutes later, I have my space back. The key to not feeling crammed is staying present – and putting things away!
INHABITAT: Do you have any advice for people who want to emulate you and live small?
Hari: For folks wanting to emulate us and live small, the first step is deciding and committing to a new lifestyle. Then start paring down your possessions. Wardrobes need to be minimal. Everything needs to serve at least 2 purposes, or it goes.
Design your space around the regular activities in your life. We knew we needed a full kitchen because Karl is a chef and we have a big garden. We live in a rural area and cook almost all of our meals at home. So, in our tiny house, a lot of space is dedicated to the kitchen.
Make sure you go with your gut, and don’t compromise on fixtures or facilities. It was important to me to have a hand sink in the bathroom, even though there is a kitchen sink right across the way. It was a challenge to find a sink to fit between the shower and the toilet, especially since we were trying to salvage everything. We ended up buying the sink new because it is a specialty item. When I am brushing my teeth in the bathroom, and there is a sink full of dishes in the kitchen, I’m really glad I didn’t compromise on the bathroom sink.
Figure out how to organize all of your stuff so that the every day things become the decorations. I like using clear canning jars to contain items. We can see the items, we know where everything is at a glance, yet it is contained and doesn’t look cluttery. I love shallow shelves! We can see everything and nothing gets shoved in the back of a cabinet and forgotten.
Be ready to step out of the consumer culture. There is no where to put extra stuff!
If you have a partner or family, be ready for an inward adventure and practice asking for what you need with respect. Practice finding your space within. When our son, Archer, was in his social emotional music class, his teacher shared a sweet story: She had a whole first grade class laying on the floor and listening to a chime ring until it got silent. When it stopped, she asked the kids what they noticed. Archer said, “I feel a lot of space.” I felt proud hearing his teacher tell me this story.
Build a shed to house recreational gear, extra food (in our case, we can a lot of food from our garden) and your washer/dryer.
Make sure your have some outdoor living space. We use our deck a lot! In nice weather, it is our living room. We even have a fire pit for cold months. Stainless steel prep tables (salvaged from a burned down restaurant) are a fabulous way to bring food prep and buffets outside.
Be sure everyone in your family is committed to the adventure and be clear about why you are doing it.
Celebrate your achievements! For us, the difficult times are a bit easier when we celebrate that we are living mortgage-free, with a small environmental footprint—our mission from the start! Every now and then, especially when I’m feeling cramped or Karl is wishing we were further along, we stop and remind ourselves: We have a lovely three acres of land in one of our favorite places, the Blue Ridge Mountains. We live on our land with a well full of pure, delicious water, we have a septic and we don’t owe money on any of it!
INHABITAT: What are the next steps for the Tiny House Family?
Hari: We are going to break ground on the first phase of our small home this summer. We are constructing a 16’ x 24’ main house which will include a loft, kitchen, bathroom and living room. Eventually, we will add two wings for the bedrooms. When the entire house is complete, it will be around 1,000 square feet. The tiny house will become guest/office space.