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An Essay on Jay Shafer’s Tiny House Dreams

Jay Shafer felt overwhelmed by the 4,000 square foot home he grew up in back in Iowa.


Time, energy and resources were spent maintaining space that added very little to their lives on the whole.

This distaste for wasted space emerged as a creative influence when Shafer was in his 20s.

After college, he started making blueprints of tiny homes just for fun.

Exploring how space is used, brainstorming how to use it more efficiently and learning about the materialism of our culture, he decided to pursue the passion further.

One of the legal difficulties he found right away was zoning laws that restrict how big anyone living establishment must be.

In most states, to be considered a house a building has to measure at least 220 square feet.

Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

Photo Courtesy of Tumbleweed Houses

That’s about 14’ by 15’ and might seem plenty small, but these laws make the 7’ by 10’ foot house Shafer built himself when he moved to California in 2006 illegal to inhabit. But he has found loopholes that work.

His current tiny house is a little bit bigger than the original 7’ by 10’ design. When his wife gave birth to their first child a few years ago, they turned their first house into Shafer’s office and moved into a 500 square foot home.

Compare that to the average American house size of over 2,000 square feet!


Even though it’s been over a decade since Shafer first started building tiny houses, the anger and frustration he feels about banks and consumers favoring choosing big houses rather than small, sensible houses still drives him forward.

His radical thoughts stem from his belief that Americans are too attached to material possessions. “Getting to know oneself is largely a subtractive process,” he says.

Today, Shafer runs the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company from his 500 square foot home in Sonoma.

His company sells floor plans for tiny houses ranging in size from 65 to 837 square feet.

The rising popularity of his guide to small living, The Small House Book, has been spurred by the economic downturn of the past several years, he explains.

His average customer is someone who is turning away from consumerism and looking for a better option. “We’re essentially selling a dream,” he explains.

He totes this dream around the world, teaching workshops and selling blueprints to anyone who wants to build their own tiny home.

And it’s working. More and more people are choosing to live intentionally small, including Dee Williams, Tammy Strobel, Evan & Gaby, Andrew Odom, and many more.

Whether prompted by a lifelong wish or a recent inspiration, more and more people are realizing that their dream home is less than 1000 square feet.

Written by Tavi Stremple and edited by Alex Pino for Tiny House Talk

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • sunshineandrain January 14, 2013, 9:07 pm

    You’ve stated the case for Tiny living very well. Thanks.

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