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The Accidental Small Houser’s Transition to a Small Home

This is simple living story a guest post by Gaylin Weber (share yours)

This SHOULD be titled, The Accidental Small Houser, as this wasn’t really a planned thing…It was prayed for, hoped for, longed for…but never actually thought out and planned…at least, not by me!

We were busy raising our 2 daughters in the typical ticky tacky stuccoed cookie-cutter neighborhood in the burbs of South Orange County, Ca. Don’t get me wrong; it’s what I wanted! A lovely home with a tropical backyard built around a deep blue salt water pool. Five bedrooms; all the kids upstairs, master down, thank you very much! Top rated schools right down the road. Who didn’t want that? Millions of people watched my lifestyle on the TV every week and wished for what I had! Anyone of them would have traded places with me in a South County Second! But I felt restless. Wanted something more. Or less.

My Move to a Small Home

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The “Cabbage”

Images © Gaylin Weber

I was born and raised in South OC, however, not the South OC most folks know. My neck of the woods resembled something akin to a holler down South or a Hollywood back lot of an old mining town.  Because that’s what it was; an old mining town! Up in the Saddleback mountains; the mountains that separate the OC from the IE (that’s the Inland Empire-Riverside, Corona, Temecula, etc) , there are a few canyons inhabited by a colorful mix of folk since the silver rush. Back in 1878, some crusty old explorers found some silver and the place has been there since. It’s a quiet, bucolic little village. Slow and sweet, steeped in natural beauty. On the ocean side of the plateau, we enjoy the cool breezes and somewhat close access to the beach.

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Hills Behind The Cabbage

My home was at the very end and then some…off the main road up a dirt road at the very end; where the Forestry gate kept us all from driving up to the old Blue Light Silver Mine. I think a lot of old horror movies had my house in mind when they wrote the location. We lived in a wide spot of the Canyon with about 100 other hardy souls. We had a garden we ate from, goats we drank from, ponies we rode, chickens we tended…the whole farm type experience. It was awesome growing up there as a kid! It flooded every winter and was hot and buggy every summer, we had nothing but an old smoke belching Franklin wood stove for heat and wet sheets for cooling off (ponies had to get used to that!)… but as a kid, I didn’t care. There was too much to do! Explore the old mill up the mountain (via pony…who wanted to hike that far on foot??), go swimming in the swimmin hole the dad’s made in the creek by boarding up the old culvert, walk the couple of miles down to the country store to pick out penny candy (and then hitch a ride with a neighbor so you wouldn’t have to hoof it back up hill). It was supremely perfect.

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Hills Behind the Cabbage Cottage

So when I became a mom and found myself returning to California after moving around the country with my military husband, I wanted what we all want; a perfect suburban home to raise my 2.5 children and safely walk my dog.   Boy did that get old FAST.  It’s HARD to clean 5 bedrooms and keep a two story house running! It’s difficult to get to know your neighbors who are so busy running their own lives that they never come out and socialize. And the ones who are out are the ones that are causing trouble. I stood in the shower every morning praying that someday when the time was right, maybe we could go somewhere more country, smaller, quieter, pure and natural…somewhere…better. And I felt so guilty for thinking that way! I was incredibly blessed! I kept thinking how true the old adage: be careful what you wish for!

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Driving our mini horses on the lane in front of The Cabbage

As the kids grew, I realized they would not be experiencing the bucolic lifestyle I had as a child. They were now what I used to call, “Flat Landers”. They liked being able to walk to the mall and hang out at the pool. They enjoyed a short drive to the beach or Disneyland. They didn’t miss bug infested bogs or creeks so swollen by rains that you had to move your car to the far side. They wanted to go to the movies any evening without having to feed a ton of farm animals first. But not me! I got myself a horse and boarded back up in the Canyon area. This canyon was a neighboring one to the one I grew up in. I knew it well, as I had friends from the teensy school we all attended that had lived there.   I lived a portion of my dream thru friend’s that allowed me to board on their property. It helped ease the knot of longing I had for that lifestyle.

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The Mr. Riding the Po

And then, to get to the main gist of the purpose here, stuff started shifting. We were having a hard time meeting the financials associated with such a large house in So Cal…the electric bills were sky rocketing due to the pool and cooling needs. The constant upkeep was crazy! All for what? The  girls were rarely home now that they were going to school and working. So we took in a few of their friends to rent the extra rooms and help with the monthly costs. It helped, but it wasn’t an ideal situation.

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The Original Stone Fireplace

And then it happened. The Mr and I were on our way to The River (here in So Cal, everyone goes to “The River”…it’s any point along the Colorado River from at the California/Arizona/Nevada borders) for a little R&R. We got a call from my friend up in the Canyon where I kept my horse that a friend of hers passed away. How terrible! My condolences! Thank you, but…his little cottage will be available to rent… COME AGAIN??  I told the Mr to pull over. Um, we’re on a freeway….PULL OVER!  I listened carefully to my girlfriend as she explained her dearly departed pal was renting from an old codger who lived out in the middle of a forest in Idaho and just wanted someone who would take care of the place for a ridiculously low rent. My daily shower prayers were about to be answered!!  We called the gentleman right there and then. I had only seen the home from the outside while riding my horse past. Never set foot inside. But when I heard the amount he wanted for rent and the available space for animals and gardening, I said YES right then and there!  He had me at BARN…(the barn is old and needs a few repairs, but she should hold for another 20 years). The rest of the weekend was spent at the River with me on the phone asking my bestie to do a little recon and send me pics, (which she did, but we later discovered she was at the wrong house! THAT’S another story!!)

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Living Area

So now here I was madly planning and scrambling to get going. We were fixing up the big house to rent out to a family. On top of that, we had finally gone to see the inside of the cottage- WHOA. Let’s just say there was some work to do… There were missing floor boards. And about 20 years of dust. And the windows were only windows in that they were glass and kind of set into a hole in the wall. A LOT of work had to happen before we could live in it!

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LOVE My Old Stove!! Runs on propane!

And we suddenly realized: we had to downsize 3000 square feet of house into 800!! Which led to having to pack up about 14 years worth of house. Which led to the realization that 14 years worth of house is really a huge pile of crap.  At first, we tried to sell stuff. Then give it away. Then throw it away. The little barn was bursting with our things until the cottage would be liveable!

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Found the Glass Cabinets for Free and the Soapstone Tiles for the Countertop

The girls, who had been living elsewhere, had to come get their stuff. And then the youngest announced she needed to move back home. OK, well, the cottage has a spare bedroom. Teensy, but it’s your own room! So now we were cramming all of her stuff into the lil cottage. And then oldest sister joined! Talk about cramming! And 4 of us on a septic system? Adventure time!

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The Bathroom is Teensy, but Sufficient

And before you know it, we had a family renting the big house, and we were moved in to our little cottage! (We call it it The Cabbage…I say it’s a cottage, The Mr says it’s a cabin. So we compromised.) My horse and 2 mini horses came to live with us…JOY! We rescued a llama and a pig…YAY! My garden was producing more than we could eat! We even boarded out stalls to some friends and made some extra cash! We were now living our dream and had funds to live a life! We were no longer working for an over sized home we didn’t need. We could use the money spent on $800 a month electric bills towards our future! We finally could contribute to our 401k?!?! YES!!

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After the Kids Left, we knocked out a closet in the bedroom and turned the 2nd bedroom into a closet/office space

My girls and hubby had to now get used to what I had grown up with; no heat, septic tanks, no whole house air conditioning, funky animal smells, a bit of a longer drive. But the trade off… gorgeous views of green hills dotted with spring lambs and grazing horses. Quiet, bucolic lanes shaded by tunnels of old oaks. Neighbors who helped each other and gathered for holidays…4th of July brings a flurry of red, white and blue bunting draped over everything that will stand still; and even all that does not, as they have a small parade down the lane!

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View of the Front Yard…and a rotten mini who keeps escaping!

My mornings are spent feeding and watering my dear animals and tending my garden. Listening to the sounds of the world wake up; the donkey who belts out his good morning echoes thru the canyon, the chickens chuckling at each other, the lambs calling to their mothers, my horses stamping and nickering impatiently for breakfast. Days filled with the soothing hum of bees busily gathering pollen, my neighbor’s canary lustily belting out a tune, horses neighing to each other as they pass on the dirt lane in front of my cottage . Evenings spent listening to the birds quietly chirping to each other about their day. The coyotes laughing with each other as they venture out of their dens for the night. The owls softly discussing their plans. The confused rooster crowing at a shed light. The crickets keeping the tempo for the night…all is well with my world.

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View out of my bedroom window…LOVE!

And my lil haus is stuffed with love and warmth! It’s walls that have stood since 1936 may sport new windows and have a new roof, but otherwise, she looks just like she did the day she was built. The old oak may cast more shade on her and the old pepper tree may be fatter, but I don’t think much else has changed. She doesn’t have any clever storage or up to the minute remodeling. She barley has the innerwebz. Other than the visible pipes on the outside for the plumbing and electric that was added in the 50’s, she is the same. And that’s what I love; time stands still here; it’s my slice of heaven.

While not all tiny houses are in the country, away from suburbia, mine is. My dream came true. As I watch weekend hikers ask locals if there’s anything available to buy or rent, I smile and look upwards. I thank the Good Lord that, once again, even if just for now, I am so blessed to get my happily ever after.

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Riding here is perfect in the Spring!

Images © Gaylin Weber

Follow up- the girls got restless and begged to have the big house back, so after a year, when the tenants moved out of state, we allowed the girls to move home. They have enough roommates to cover our mortgage and meet the utilities. And we have the cottage all to ourselves….bliss!

Our big thanks to Gaylin Weber for sharing her inspiring and amazing story (and small home) with us!

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Mary July 16, 2015, 3:44 pm

    I think that we are beginning to realize that we come from the earth: water, dirt, clean air and animals and the farther we get from these basic elements on a daily basis the more we lose of our life and happiness and contentedness.

  • Kim July 16, 2015, 4:16 pm

    Sounds lovely,apart from the bugs! I wouldn’t ride without a proper hard hat these days. Too scared of head injuries.

  • gianni July 16, 2015, 4:36 pm

    It sounds like you found your place on this earth, God Bless!
    Beautiful story.
    Thanks Alex

  • Marsha Cowan July 16, 2015, 5:44 pm

    Great story…I am soooo jealous. What a beautiful cabbage!

  • SteveDenver July 16, 2015, 6:18 pm

    I love how “The Cabbage” came by its name. You sound remarkably content: CONGRATULATIONS! It seems that some people are truly pursuing LIFE instead of “lifestyle,” and finding it.

    Your description sounds wonderful and the cleaned-up interior looks inviting. I had a babysitter with a Dutch door, and I remember her often remarking: “It lets the sunshine in and keeps the chickens out.” It also kept us toddlers inside… but it doesn’t sound like you have to deal with that… yet.

    Recommendation: every-other year raise your daughters’ rent 5%. That is a market standard. Reevaluate market rents in your area and adjust their rent to fall in the middle of what they’re paying and what re-rental would bring in.

  • Lise July 16, 2015, 6:46 pm

    Oh my goodness Gaylin! I grew up in the same general area, South OC, and am so in love with that area. . . we drive the Ortega frequently and my dear husband always comments on how lovely it is in the valley up there. . . secretly wishing to be in your shoes! I need to start praying more evidently LOL!

  • Sue July 16, 2015, 8:16 pm

    Love your story. You are really living the dream!

  • Karen R July 16, 2015, 8:50 pm

    Follow your dream and simplify seems to be the lesson you shared with us . . .beautifully done! Thanks do much!

  • Carrie G. July 16, 2015, 9:21 pm

    Oh how I loved this post and storyline. I can imagine the ups and downs and the family drama that could have taken place without teamwork, a plan and family devotion. The cabbage looks delightful and is an inspiration for those of us who are caught up in the live to work instead of work to live. My husband and I are almost done paying off 340 acres in Montana and moving fron the fast paced life of Seattle. I want to live off the grid and downsize, and he is thinking about a large cabin and a large house. I have three years to read theses posts to convince him!

  • Alisa July 16, 2015, 9:50 pm

    Love this story! And the kitchen! That stove is great! And the color of the room with the pops of red! Well done! Thanks for sharing! And it even has a llama! Pure joy!!!!

  • Bonny July 16, 2015, 11:51 pm

    I loved the story! I used to have horses, even several miniatures that I drove so I can really relate. We are retired now and I just have a little garden on the edge of a small mountain town in Northern California and we live in a small two bedroom house. None of us ‘need’ as much as we can accumulate in a big house.

  • Patty July 17, 2015, 2:28 am

    Love your well-written story and photos of your cozy new home. Blessings regarding answered prayer.

  • Susanne July 17, 2015, 4:17 am

    I really would like to visit the area- sounds wonderful…

  • Liz July 17, 2015, 9:06 am

    What part of the sheep, people on horseback, a view of the yard or horses grazing has to do with tiny homes? Newsflash… Tiny Homes is about Tiny Homes. Not your yard or animals. Man, people amaze me.

    • Lise July 17, 2015, 11:52 am

      @Liz. . . if you read the article you would notice they downsized from a 5 bed mansion to a tiny 2 bedroom cottage. . .and why not include the parts about the animals/lifestyle. . . geez such a scrooge!

  • Liz July 17, 2015, 11:54 am

    If you read my comment, Tiny Homes are not about some guy on a horse or their yard. I’m not a scrooge, just honest.

    • Cheryl July 20, 2015, 6:17 am

      Not every post has to be about just the house. This particular post is about a house AND the people who live in it.

      The human interest aspect may not appeal to you, but it sure does appeal to me!

  • Beth @ Hooked on Health July 17, 2015, 1:41 pm

    I cried as I read this…as you are living the life I want! God certainly did bless you!

  • dea July 17, 2015, 4:23 pm

    Funny thing, I didn’t realize how many people have similar younger days! the nostalgia of it all the keeping up with the “Jones’s” can go to @*$%! fast living is not for everyone. The commentary of lengthy report was about how she became to be in her new smaller life, so all of the description (well articulated) is a part of that story it makes up why someone goes from 3000 sf to 800 ish… without the binding her “story” wouldn’t have the why…just to live in a small space and “just because” are really not very good answers and pretty much lead to more questions. So with that I found Ms Weber’s story fulfilling like a bedside novel that begs you to read the unwritten chapter (like the Blue Willow Plate) which I’m sure most no one has read…

  • Pammy July 17, 2015, 5:48 pm

    Sad how some people (Liz) are just plain mean. I would guess it’s based on jealousy…

  • Rue July 18, 2015, 3:35 am

    What a blessing to be able to live the life you dream of (and isn’t that a huge part of what the tiny house movement is all about?)

    “14 years worth of house is really a huge pile of crap.” Boy, do I hear ya on that one….and I’ve not only got my own 15 years of crap, but all the stuff “rescued” from cleaning out my Depression-era parents’ house, and -their- 40-some years of crap. Like them, I just can’t bring myself to just throw it out. -sigh-

  • Quentin July 18, 2015, 8:42 am

    Thank you for sharing your story! I relate to your transformation from what you thought you wanted (5 bedroom home) to what you actually thrive on (smaller home, animals, real neighbors, nature). Many of us are making this same change!

  • jo chanin February 5, 2016, 9:33 am

    Thanks for sharing your lovely story and the updates. It is a lifestyle change and I love the details. Liz sounds very angry. A pity she chose to strike out at you.

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