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Q&A: Family Desperate for Simple Living to Get Out of the Rat Race

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Every so often I enjoy doing some Q&A on tiny houses and simple living.

And what usually prompts me to do it is an email or question in the comments from other readers.

So here’s a question I got yesterday along with my thoughts. I’d love to read through your thoughts and suggestions too.

Family Desperate to Downsize/Simplify

Below is a copy of the email I received. Let’s let the sender remain anonymous.

Subject: needing to downsize and simplify with a quickness

Message: Hey Alex. I am such a fan. I have been following you on you
tube for a few months now. The Tiny house movement is everything i am
into. Here is my delima… My husband and I just moved up here to
Alaska just over a year ago. Getting a bank to back us for land and a
build, not easy. We are a family of 4. We both work and feel like
hampsters on a neverending wheel. We work to pay rent and so the cycle
continues every month. How do we get out from under it and on our way to how it ought to be?

Pretty tough question, right?

If you want, read my response/thoughts below then add your own in the comments at the bottom.

I have a feeling there are many of us who feel like this too and by us sharing our own experiences, thoughts and tips, we can really make a world of difference for others who are trying to do the same.

Blue Tiny House with a Garage

Photo by Alex Pino

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Downsize, Simplify and Consider Moving Into a Smaller Home

It’s hard to give you relevant tips when I don’t know you personally but if you use one of these seven questions I know it will make a positive difference in your life:

  • If money is an issue, what options do you have for decreasing your monthly expenses?
  • If you took action, how much could you save every month by making these changes?
  • What would it take for you to drive less everyday? If you moved closer to work or wherever you travel most to, would it save you a lot of time and stress?
  • Would these changes really create an improvement in my life and my family’s?
  • What stuff could I give away, sell, recycle, or throw away right now, if I wanted to?
  • What little things could I do right now that would help me simplify any part of my life today?
  • What little thing(s) did I do today to help downsize and simplify?

Bonus Thoughts on Downsizing and Money

Here’s a bonus one to ask yourself and see what your brain comes up with, “if I wanted to, how could I earn even more money than I already do?”

We're Downsizing?

We’re Downsizing?

Sometimes I feel like the minimalist gurus/authors leave us with a curse on our earnings because they’re always having us seek for ways to cut back, be frugal, and scrounge for savings all the time.

And I’m all for enjoying the simple things in life that don’t cost much like BBQs with family and hanging out in nature (hiking trail, mountains, or the beach for example).

But we still deserve money so we can have what we want (especially since it’s not much) and I want to be sure that you open yourself up to receiving and earning more money in your life so you can get what you want.

Getting Out of the Rat Race

beautiful-naples-fl-family-sunsetA great book on getting your personal finances in order so that you can start making strides towards your dreams is Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. I highly recommend it along with the workbook.

Another book that talks about the trap of this never ending wheel also known as the rat race (or living paycheck to paycheck without ever getting ahead) is Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. Not exactly a tiny house guy, but certainly a man of freedom.

My Original Email Response to the Reader

Hi [anonymous],

I don’t know you, but here are some ideas to start..

Have you looked for options on lowering your expenses? (Cars, house, bills)

If you downsized in these areas how much could you save? If you moved to smaller more affordable home, etc. (questions to ask yourself)


Also consider conveniences like commute to work. Would your life be improved if you moved closer to your work even if your home was smaller? (This gives you more time, less stress everyday)


I made a transition (and it was just me, not family) beginning in 2007 by moving to a smaller place and getting rid of my car pmts. By 2009 this helped me save a good amount of $. I don’t believe in any quick fixes. Quick fixes usually aren’t worth it long-term. From my experience, at least.


So it’s okay. Make a plan. Get excited about the future. And just start walking towards that little dream everyday. And ask yourself the question, “am I closer than I was yesterday?”

And even if you’re just an inch closer you KNOW you’re on your way. Start with the little things [anonymous].

Hope this helps/inspires.



My Own Downsizing Story Simplified

I don’t believe in quick fixes for life’s problems but I can certainly understand the urgency that comes up when we find ourselves in desperate situations.

Or just finding ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be over and over again. Until we get to the point that we are..

Sick and tired of being sick and tired.

That’s what happened to me in 2007.

So I started doing the little things to get myself out. Selling this and that.


The Tercel with my Kayak

Giving away my unused stuff. Getting rid of a car payment and buying an old, used-but-reliable, Toyota.

I created a rough game plan for the next few years of my life. It was a plan to basically get out of the “rat race” I felt I was in.

“AΒ rat raceΒ is an endless, self-defeating, or pointless pursuit.” – Wikipedia

Within months I moved from a 1200-square-foot condominium with a garage to a 500-square-foot apartment with a tiny storage. I simplified as much as I could.

Me in 2007

Me in 2007

I learned how to cook for myself so I can save money, I rode my bicycle as much as possible instead of driving, and enjoyed as much as I could between working, doing Tiny House Talk, and enjoying life.

Those are the things I found I could do, wanted to do, and so I did them.

By 2009 I had saved enough money that I could quit my job for 6-12 months if I wanted to. So I did. And that’s when I started blogging about tiny houses a lot.

It was scary but my dream was set. I made the plan in 2007 and I was just following it.

And I’m still following it today even though it continually evolves (which is normal, right?).


Andrea Doing Yoga at the Beach. She’s so awesome (she also creates amazing vegan food & recipes) πŸ™‚

What if you have nothing left to ‘let go of’?

Great question and I understand that some of you are in that position where you’ve depleted all of your resources.

At that moment it’s time for you to build and accumulate. But it’s also time to look at some of the ‘dirt’ in your life so that you can ‘clean’ it.

I’m talking about bad habits, excessive negative thoughts, lack of self-love, and things of that nature.

It’s time to work on YOU so you can build your life back up. It’s time for you to think better thoughts, go to better places, and to begin taking micro actions necessary to take you to the next level that you deserve.

And remember…

Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy or quick.

So keep doing those little things, have faith, enjoy what you have, and be patient.

I know you already know that.. I’m just reminding you that there aren’t any worthwhile quick fixes in life. But you can still start to make micro changes that are easy to start. Things like cleaning out a drawer.

These little actions build momentum. Once you clean a drawer (or just clear the table) you feel great because of the small accomplishment. Look at the drawer (or table?) and be proud of it!

Then tomorrow, pick something else. Don’t over do it all in one day. Just one little thing each day.

Then as you go, you can start to set the roadmap for your future. This will excite you and guide you over the years to exactly where you want to be. Remember, you are the director of your own life.

Just be patient, have courage, and follow your heart. Most of all, enjoy the little moments throughout your way because they’re all special, and so are you.


If you enjoyed this post please re-share using the buttons below then share your thoughts/experiences/tips on downsizing and simplifying. Know that your ideas, tips and stories can really make a positive difference for others. Thanks!

And if you want even more tiny housing and simple living goodness you’ll love joining our Free Daily Tiny House Newsletter with more!

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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!
{ 59 comments… add one }
  • sylvia
    March 29, 2013, 11:44 am

    If you can’t get a mortgage to buy land (the problem with getting a mortgage to build is there is no leverage) what about a mortgage to buy land that already has a house on it? you could live in the house while you build and then rent it out when you’re done building

    • Alex
      March 29, 2013, 11:49 am

      I love that idea Sylvia, thanks!

    • Cahow
      March 30, 2013, 2:18 pm

      Alex: Did you write this, from above? (I can’t tell if it’s you or not): “Sometimes I feel like the minimalist gurus/authors leave us with a curse on our earnings because they’re always having us seek for ways to cut back, be frugal, and scrounge for savings all the time.”

      Because if this is YOU, this needs to become it’s own topic!!!! That is a major sticking point in the craw of many friends that I have, that you must become a monk and give up all Earthly Goods in order to be “legit” within the Tiny Home Purist Group. I’m sure many posters would like to comment but I’d hate to see their efforts buried in the great responses you have to this current topic. πŸ™‚

      • Alex
        March 30, 2013, 2:35 pm

        I did write that. That’s a good idea. I’ll plan on doing more when it comes. I like writing/talking about it too.

        • Cahow
          March 30, 2013, 2:46 pm

          Oh, Goody-Goody! I can’t wait for you to share your opinions on that subject!!!!

          There’s been many a topic I haven’t dared comment upon, with all the chest-pounding and finger-wagging from some of the more austere Tiny Houser’s (both male and female). When I’m made to feel ashamed that I have more glasses than people who live full-time in the house, I start smelling “Zealot”. Don’t these folks ever have company???? Or, are you required to bring your own glasses and cutlery when you stop over?

          Same goes for art. When I’ve read how one purist couldn’t have one piece of art in her home for more than 3 weeks or she became “overwhelmed”, it sends signals that something else profoundly psychological is going on. Heck, even native people’s decorated their bodies and homes with art!

          Can’t wait, Alex!

        • Elspeth
          March 30, 2013, 4:04 pm

          You are absolutely correct that there are those Tiny House’rs who make everyone else feel materialistic if they have even a semblance of normal life. I don’t have a tiny house myself, but I do admire small houses and would love to live in one; however, I don’t see where you have to give up all your worldly goods and become an hermit to be a legitimate tiny house’r. πŸ™‚

        • Cahow
          March 30, 2013, 6:50 pm

          Elspeth: LOVE your name! Been a favourite of mine my entire life and my favourite character on The Good Wife. (Elsbeth Tascioni) πŸ™‚

          Well, saints be praised that there’s at least a couple of us (Alex, Me, and you) that feel that there can be a hidden stain on the underbelly of the Tiny House Movement! In someone’s thread (can’t remember the author) they were asking “WHY are so many people against Tiny House Lovers?” What it basically boiled down to in the responses is that anyone against them is “jealous or nuts” or too many quotes to count from people crushin’ on Thoreau.

          I just spent 1/2 hour of my life on youtube, trying to find the video of an Asian man who built “the world’s tinies house” in Hong Kong(?) and lived there with his aged mother. I can’t remember which way the figures went: he either spent $400,000. on the land and $100,000 for the construction or the other way around. But, when you saw their kitchen, they only had TWO of everything: only enough for his Mum and him. Again, WHERE are your friends? Where’s Mum’s friends? Seriously, you think spending $500,000 so you can sit your arse down in that city was worth it?

          We downsized from 3,000 sq.ft. to 800 sq.ft: a 3/4’s reduction in space. That’s HUGE in our eyes! We have 3 grown kids, 6 grandkids, belong to many clubs where people switch homes to have their meetings, run our 2 businesses from our home offices, and a grand piano that 4 people play. Just how TINY a home could we reduce to, with that lifestyle?

          Seems to me that the exact same prejudice that destroys women’s confidence (I’m not a size 0, now what?) has infected some vocal members of the Tiny House community, where the smaller the footprint the “cooler” you are. Pfffftttt…is all I gotta say about that!

  • March 29, 2013, 12:34 pm

    We sold everything in Florida, then bought land off-grid and moved to Costa Rica. Built a farm, two houses, hydro-power plant, and now we are starting Earthbag and Bamboo construction of small and tiny casitas. Our garden provides most of our food and we have gone to a more plant based diet of eating what is ripe at the time of it’s availability. Forming or joining an Intentional Community is an option. We want one on and surrounding our farm. If your building an earthbag home, your costs are minimal, no loan needed. Build now with a plan to add on in the future if you need more room or the family expands. Thinking outside the box and being flexible while committed to your goals is a must. Not caring about what family and friends think or may say about your lifestyle change is also important. Even our kids thought we had lost our minds….now, they have made the move and understand it was a good thing. Friends that were not positive about our move now say we got out in time, that we were lucky, and yes we were, but that luck has taken a lot of work to get to where we are now. Here is a short video made entirely on our Off-Grid farm, shot by WWOOF volunteers during their stay. http://vimeo.com/60415169 This is our farm blog http://www.costaricamountain.blogspot.com Keep it simple, and just do it.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 8:53 am

      Too cool! Wow. Thanks so much for sharing!! Andrea and I have always wanted to go there.

    • De
      November 6, 2013, 9:24 pm

      My husband and I are in the process of building an earth bag home in Michigan. We started the process prior to me paying so much attention to tiny living. We are cutting our square footage from 3000 to 1100. I feel this is a drastic drop. But sometimes I look at the house and think maybe we should have gone even smaller. When we first bought the house plans I went through my stuff and sold, donated and threw away a lot of stuff. I do have two kids that will not be moving with us and so I have not gone through the kitchen and the towels and things that they will need in their homes. Our one son, 18 years old, will be moving into the in law quarters that are attached to our home, but completely self sufficient. I am hopeful that the in-law quarters will house my mother down the road. My son is worried about living in 452 square feet, but I sometimes think that I want to trade houses with him. I did not spend the extra money for the small appliances, but did get conduction burners and a convection oven/microwave. We live in the country, but unfortunately we have permits and things which have raised they cost to probably double due to permits and the fact that the building inspector did not want to approve anything without an engineers approval. Finding an engineer was a pain in the butt in the first place, but then all of the additions they have added make me question if we shouldn’t have just gone tiny. I love my house and we are only two rows up, but I look at it and sigh and can’t wait for the day it is complete. It truly makes my heart happy. We too have the funny looks and snickers when we tell people what we are doing, but once we get into a full blown conversation, it seems people understand our reasoning and then they want more information. I would love to have an earthbag home village with the community garden. The nice thing is people would only see grass hills as we are building a berm home. They all face south to use the sun, so we would only see hills. I just hope this long process is worth it. We are 40 years old and just emptied our 401K, 457 and 403B in order to pay for this home and be free of a mortgage payment. I have an excellent retirement where I work, but it is a bit nerve wracking to think we put everything we have into this and we have to hope and pray that it works. We will be able to save a lot of money by not having a house payment and so we will have to rebuild some of our retirement that way. We also grow most of our food,vegetables and meat. We will have a grow bed in our home, so I will have to see what we are able to grow during the winter months indoors. I love all the inspiration on this site and I just keep reading every day. I would like to see more furniture type ideas that double up to be something else. I have seen a few things, but I need help with storage. I am used to using storage shelves and not having to worry about space. I am probably all over the place, but this is the first time that I have posted. Thanks to you all for your inspiration.

      • Alex Pino
        November 7, 2013, 8:16 am

        Thanks for sharing De, very inspiring, wishing you the best.

      • Paul
        March 20, 2014, 3:54 am

        Your son son is worried about living in 452 square feet???

        Solution: Tell him to find somewhere else to live, and no, you won’t help him pay for it. Bet the attitude changes real, real quick.

        And, because I’m feeling so, so generous, I won’t charge you my usual consultancy fee… LOL

  • Daniel
    March 29, 2013, 1:00 pm

    Good ideas above… I would also add that it is important to decide specifically what you want to achieve. These goals will guide the decisions during the process because certain options are incompatible with the goals.

    My girlfriend and I are on a similar journey. Like Alex said, it is not an instant solution for us. In my case I have been renting apartments for a long time. My father-in-law threw out the suggestion one night of buying a very small apartment with my savings to stop the “bleeding”, meaning stop losing money paying rent every month. Taking on a small loan which could be paid off in less than 4 years was also considered ok because the monthly payment is not 100% lost like rent, even when taking into account the loan interest. Taking on a loan for a long period (for me that is defined as between 5 and 40 yrs) was not an option (since that locks someone into the rat race for decades as well). I loved his idea, and at the beginning I was thinking of saving the money I would have spent on rent for a few years, then selling the small apartment and using the savings to buy what we really wanted. I’m very thankful to have come into contact with the Tiny House Movement, because that showed me that in fact the first small apartment could actually be our final purchase. Then after it is paid off I never need to work full time again, and neither does my girlfriend. That is the exit from the rat race that we are targeting.

    We searched for a few months and found a great studio which is perfectly sized (and perfectly located) for us and our future plans. It required a loan which would take 3 yrs to pay off. That is our investment in the future : 3 years of being bound by a loan, then the rest of our lives without debt and working part time (the goal being working from home). We have no other loans, and very minimal recurring monthly expenses, so we won’t need to earn much money, which frees us to live and pursue our own projects. We always say “live full-time, work part-time.” We are a fairly young couple just outside of Paris, France. We are absolutely ecstatic about our decision and our trajectory into the future.

    A few years ago I had images in my head of buying a cute house with a yard in the French countryside. That option was set aside because it was not compatible with my girlfriend and I’s goals. What do you guys think about buying an apartment rather than land and a house ? That could avoid the problem with the bank (though I don’t know the details). If you are not currently saving money every month, what can you do to be able to start doing that ? Rent a smaller apartment (a “tiny” apartment) for less and save the difference in rent ? Live close to work and sell off a car (and get rid of its expenses : insurance, gas, maintenance) ? Stop participating in consumer culture (by not consuming and purchasing unnecessary things, and buying needed things second-hand) ? My girlfriend and I look out for ways to decrease our recurring expenses (utility bills, insurance, grocery shopping, etc). We plan to install a plug ‘n’ play solar panel which will provide about 50% of the electricity we use annually. That investment will cut our electricity bill in half for decades and pay for itself within a few years. If we didn’t install the panel we would be losing money through our utility bills for the decades after the panel paid for itself. We also have talked about maintaining our own vegetable garden (in a community garden close by) to reduce our grocery bills. We eat healthy to avoid giving ourselves preventable western diseases (no, the USDA food pyramid/my plate is not healthy… if that is a surprise check out the film Forks Over Knives for starters) and avoid the recurring expense of medications which tens of millions of Americans have.

    I hope all that helps πŸ™‚ I look at it like a puzzle… it is solvable, and you can do it, the only question is the path you will follow to get there.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 8:59 am

      Some really awesome thoughts here Daniel thanks for sharing. I like your saying, “work part-time, live full-time.” It’s true, we all are going to choose our own paths. A small apartment/condo is definitely one way. It’s what I’ve been doing. I work from the apartment and my girlfriend’s work is only like 3 blocks away. It’s really convenient and we don’t have to use a car everyday.

    • Cahow
      March 30, 2013, 12:31 pm

      Daniel posted: “What do you guys think about buying an apartment rather than land and a house ?”

      Well, Daniel, I think that’s bloody brilliant! Think of the millions of people who live in condos or townhouses that specifically want one to avoid any and all land care. They may have grounds that look like The Tuileries Gardens but all they have to do is pay the HOA fee to have it look like that. (off topic: I love Paris! I lived and worked there in 2001, for a year!)

      Owning land is such a romantized idea. But, if you even own an acre, you better have a strapping buck of a kid (or husband) if you have a push lawnmower, or you have to commit to buying a riding lawnmower and then have a large storage shed for the rakes, shovels, leaf blowers, snow blowers, wheelbarrow, pruners, leaf bags, gas cans, spare spark plugs and of course, the riding lawnmower, itself.

      It’s grand fun when you’re under 50 but as old age sets in, are you REALLY going to be on top of the maintenance required to own ANY sizeable tract of land? In the country, you can always tell when a senior is living in a house because the shrubs climb up over the windows and the grass turns into pasture land. Then, they retire or die, the house gets gutted and the next generation moves in, to repeat the cycle again.

      Here’s an alternative thought, Daniel, and it comes from my own life. When my husband and I sold our 3,000 square foot home, we bought a 3 bedroom condo in a 3-flat in an Up & Coming area of Chicago. (I already owned the cottage, prior to marriage.) It’s a straight 3 mile bus ride to DePaul University, so we used our excess furniture to outfit the place, rent out 2 of the bedrooms to college students, and use the 3rd bedroom as our “Tiny House” in the city. By having the condo furnished and renting to Out-Of-State students, we have 100% of our mortgage payment paid and 2/3’rds of the utilities (we pay for Internet/Cable). So, when we need access to the city (an hour’s drive from Michigan) we live for virtually FREE!!!! at our condo, have our mortgage paid by someone else and pay $150 bucks towards Comcast, which we use extensively when we’re there.

      By vetting the students and picking ones who need 2-4 years of housing, our turnover is minimal, to say the least. They are required to clean the place bi-monthly so even when we’re not there, the place is well-cared for and tidy. Plus, it’s always nice to visit with the students when we go into town for work or pleasure. So, if you think about it, the students and we are living the “tiny house” lifestyle with each of our own bedrooms, and then we have the common rooms we share.

      I know this won’t work for everyone but since we have 3 grown kids plus 6 grandkids, ourselves, we’re used to always being surrounded by the Next Generation and quite like it. Just some random food for thought.

  • Amanda Ruth
    March 29, 2013, 1:29 pm

    I would also add “try it before you buy it” to the list of advice as the ideal solution for you may not be exactly what you think it is! In my case I was convinced I wanted to convert a cargo van into a stealth RV so I could travel the country and not pay campground or hotel fees. But for various reasons I couldn’t get a decent loan a van. So I converted my SUV instead. It was much smaller and wasn’t ideal but I got to try stealth camping and full time traveling. Guess what? I didn’t like it!! I never got used to sleeping in parking lots like the people who do this swear that you will. I also didn’t like having to move around so much as it is a huge time suck. I’d rather pay the campground fees and stay put for weeks at a time. So if you’re going to pay the campground fees anyway it makes sense to have a bit larger vehicle than a cargo van. Now I am SO THANKFUL that I couldn’t buy that van. In a tiny house situation maybe that means you think buying land and living in the country will be great but you’ll end up wishing you had just rented someone’s backyard in the city instead. So you could see if you could rent a house in the country to make sure you’ll like it. Or maybe you can downsize to a small apartment to transition to tiny living while you save to build a tiny house. Thought provoking article Alex!

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 9:03 am

      I like the stealth camping idea, have always wanted to do that. You’re so right on TRYING before you go all the way.

      I think it would be so worth the cost to even buy a plane ticket to fly somewhere and stay in a tiny house that’s available for rent just to make sure you like it first.

      Even if that costs you $1000 to do something like that, it’s way better than completely changing your life and realizing what you had was better for you!!

    • Cahow
      March 30, 2013, 12:34 pm

      You are an exceedingly wise woman, Amanda Ruth. You’d make a great friend! <3

    • jerryd
      March 30, 2013, 3:32 pm

      Stealth camping is mostly for traveling, not living full time. Now free camping is another story but that is usually done in the country, water and plenty of public/legal sites where one doesn’t have to hide.

      One good way is being a property guard as many businesses or even homes would give a free spot so someone is always on the property.

      Another is doing festivals/events and either as a customer or vendor can be a great way to travel in a tiny home and even make money working like 30-60 days/yr. With parks, friends and family you can live nearly free.

      • Alex
        March 30, 2013, 3:58 pm

        Well said, thanks Jerry!

  • March 29, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Great question and great feedback, Alex.
    I think you hit all the primary nails on their heads. When Matt and I decided to downsize and simplify we started considering how much space we really needed. We knew we didn’t need our big house so we sold, donated or otherwise got rid of the excess stuff we owned to fill the large space. Then we sold the house. We were very fortunate that even in a down economy our home was purchased. Then we moved into a 800 square foot apartment in a high rise in North Atlanta. Matt began to work from home but my commute was cut a little bit.
    Moving closer to town also allowed us to walk to things that we liked to do.
    Once the tiny house was completed we finished our downsizing project only keeping what we really felt we need. Though, I will tell you now there are still boxes in our barn that we could easily go through and purge again.
    Because we sold the house and rented a small space I was able to cut my bills quite a bit. I was able to pay off what credit card debt I did have and we could start the tiny house adventure debt free.
    I really like Sylvia’s advice about getting land with a small house on it that can be rented after the tiny/smaller house is built.
    Good Luck! It can be done.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 9:04 am

      Thanks Laura glad it resonated with you!

  • Cahow
    March 29, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Alex: I had NO idea what I was “walking into” when I clicked on the link of your latest post. (NOTE: My next comment is NOT directed at >you< but regards some folks in the Tiny House Movement!!!) More likely than not, I ~sighed~ and thought, "Okay, here comes yet another quote from Thoreau and more 'Moonbeams and Buttercups' about livin' FREE! & EASY!" if you just reduce your square footage, " as if 100 sq.ft. solved all of lives problems.

    THANK GOODNESS that I was very pleasantly surprised and happy and delighted that you wrote a brilliant response, filled with solid advise, a great game plan, personal examples and no silly slop about "bare footin' in the daisies" and "livin' free."

    Everything you wrote about is the hallmark of an EXCEPTIONAL PARADIGM on how to "Live Life Within Your Means", which sounds so incredibly simple to achieve but very few people do NOT until they've hit the financial wall, and then they are FORCED to downsize because they lost their job, got evicted, chose the wrong career or are just burnt out on society, at large.

    I'm one of the lucky ones. I know I am truly blessed. I was raised by immigrant grandparents from Scandinavia that came to America as babies and "didn't have a pot to piss in." Their individual parent's log cabins burnt down (collectively) 3 times, destroying 100% of everything they carried over to America. Between oil lamps, candles, wood stoves and open fire places, FIRE was the #1 enemy of settlers, not counting the Native American Tribes they were displacing.

    My Granpa stayed on his family farm, selling himself out as a Hired Hand in his spare hours and saved every Buffalo Nickle. My Gran hired herself out at age 13 as a professional cook and pastry chef and roomed with 15 other girls in a "Widow Lady's" home. By time they married in 1920, both Grandparent's had a tidy Nest Egg to buy a small dairy farm from a retiring farmer. They had NO CREDIT, they SAVED UP THEIR MONEY, they BOUGHT ON LAY-AWAY, or they DID WITHOUT. Period. End of Story.

    They raised me from birth to 16 years old in an old farm house on the Canadian border with NO PHONE, NO ELECTRICITY, and NO CENTRAL HEAT. Coal or wood heated the main floor, you froze/cooked on the top floor and kerosene lamps lit the house. We milked 60 head of dairy cows, had chickens, ducks, raised hay and rye and life was good. Water was pumped from the hand pump out the back door and an outhouse and bedpans served us until the 1960's when "Modern Living" finally came to our county in Northern Minnesota.

    So, I grew up living 100% the Frugal, Tiny House lifestyle. I owned it, so I feel I can comment with confidence. While ba-zillion of Baby Boomer kids were parked in front of TV's, eating meals from aluminum pans and zipping around on Schwinn Bikes, I was eating my Grandparent's home grown and canned/cured/smoked meals, learning to identify wildflowers and native fauna, and riding a pony on the dirt roads.

    So, when I say that "The Rat Race Follows You From Cradle to Grave", I ain't kidding! Any "Townie" that thinks that living out in the country is 1)FREE; 2)EASY; 3)SIMPLE is utterly delusional! Getting up at 4:00 a.m. to hand milk cows and then doing it again at 4:00 p.m., with NO DAYS OFF, is the dictionary definition of Rat Race! All weddings and funerals in our town were planned around calfing, butchering and milking times. My Granpa and Uncle came into the house exactly 3 times a day: breakfast, lunch and supper; the rest of the time, they were outside, doing work in temps from 100 degrees to 32 below zero. My poor Gran, like all farm women, were trapped INSIDE the farm house, baking 6 loaves of bread per day, making every meal from scratch, doing laundry with a crimped board and cleaning the house, tending the garden, and taking care of their kids/grandkids.

    Do you see where I'm going here? City Folks lived in apartments and worked in mills and had a single day off. Country Folks lived in a house, worked the fields and had NO DAY OFF! At least if you worked in the city, your factory/office job had heat that you didn't have to chop to warm yourself. Probably plumbing, too. You didn't have to butcher, process, grow, harvest, render and can your own food; you bought it at the grocery store.

    Your inside job was rarely impacted by the weather, whether or not it was a too wet year or drought. I don't think too many office workers are impacted by Black Leg, Bloat or Calf Scours. Or Black Point, Bunt or Cottony Snow Mold on their Rye Crop, which is a farmer's income. Then there's Tomato Horn Worms and Cabbage Worms on your home crops. Yeah, right….country folks are all "livin' free and easy and the good life." Not.

    If your crops failed you went in debt. You borrowed for the next year's crops/livestock. If that year failed, you went further in debt. Three bad years and you sold the farm at pennies per dollar.

    And PLEASE!, to any future responders: don't haul out that worn out hominy about "…our grandparents lived in a covered wagon and then a sod house…" to justify "simple & free." Those examples were an End to a Means, were NEVER meant for permanent dwellings and as soon as the immigrant could afford to build a one room house, they built it. And then added on and on and on and on until it fit the family they raised. NO ONE lived and died of Old Age in a Sod House, by choice.

    Now let's address the Goods & Services area. Sure, when you live in the country, you see a million stars and butterflies, neither of which you can eat or wear or earn a living from. So you need a town, for the canning supplies, sugar, cloth to make your clothes, a screw driver…you get my drift. Town was 40 miles away, one way. 80 miles round-trip. You better be dang sure that you got SUPER GOOD at making lists because if you were half-way home and *pinged* your forehead, muttering "Darn! I forgot to get the —-!", then you didn't get it until the next trip into town.

    Have a medical emergency? Better hope that the coffin maker had your dimensions or that you could live with the nickname "Stumpy." If you fell off the hayloft, silo, or got stung by a hornet's nest, it was You & Your Maker until someone could get you loaded into the back of the pickup truck and unload you in town. Throughout his own life, Granpa lost 3 total fingers on both hands because they couldn't get into town fast enough to save them.

    So, when I read from frustrated folks who have lived ON THE GRID their entire lives, maxed out their credit cards under their own power, don't upgrade their education or skills to get better paying jobs, dreamily post on sites about how "Country living in 150 sq.ft. will solve ALL MY PROBLEMS!", I just shake my head and mumble, "Good Luck." Perhaps if you're single, under 30, have a lover live with you, and can nimbly ride up & down hill with a wicker basket on your bike to pick up produce at the Farmer's Market, life will seem like a dream….for a while. But, things in your tiny home will wear out or break so you will need to get into town with $$$$, clambering up & down the hill for that pail of water will get old the 2nd year, having diahhrea and needing to climb up and down the ladder from your loft 20 times a day to reach your sawdust bucket….really??? If all of that is Livin' Free, I want NOTHING to do with it!

    Life is a series of compromises. Wanna live in the Country? Better be prepared to drive and have a MAJOR support system! Wanna live in the City where Life's Necessities are at your finger tips? Better be prepared to pay more for your living space but your "support system" can be nothing more than the local cab company, on speed dial. NOTHING in Life is Free except Sunshine and Oxygen. Even if you're living in a tiny home on wheels in someone's back yard, SOMEONE is paying the taxes on that land and the Water Bill, Electric Bill, Gas Bill, etc. That is NOT "Free!", that is renting, even if it's a Barter System. Some parts of the U.S. still have cheap acreage, but even that costs money, as does the propane tank, water filters, and the endless wear & tear on your car, driving back and forth to town. Sorry, there's no bus or cab in the country; if your car breaks down, you're Ship Outta Luck!

    What it boils down to is this: What do you have more of: Time or Money? If you have a great income, then buying a jar of applesauce for $3.00 at Whole Foods and having the evening free to spend with your kids/sweetie/ or reading is worth it. If you have no income or a poor income, than spending the entire day canning apples that are windfalls because you can't afford to buy bushels from the market is worth it. There is NO "Best Version" of Life: it's simply a trade off of how you want to spend your time on this planet. For those few of us who are deeply and passionately in love with our jobs, there is NO "Rat Race". As the adage says, "Find something you love to do, and you'll never work a day in your life." No lack of or addition of square footage is going to make someone happy. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant in both the City & Country. Even the Amish, who are the epitomy of Simple Living have massive Abuse Problems, and you can't get more "simple" than Amish! (Just read any ads in The Budget and you'll see what I mean.)

    To Live Well & Simply, a person only needs to read Alex's post again, or visit an elderly person in a rest home and ask them about The Great Depression. "Make Do or Do Without." "Reuse, Reduce, Recycle." "Don't Live Outside Your Means." "Waste Not, Want Not." <<<these were all credos that I grew up with and took to heart. Maybe, instead of living in a shed in someone's back yard, more people had just listened to their Elders when they were younger, they'd be a lot "richer" and "freer" in the end run.

    Oh, and although Thoreau wrote some great essays and books, he only lived "simply and free" by the gifts of his family and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was Emerson's land where Thoreau built his shed, a mere 1.5 miles away from his own family, not some frickin' wilderness. Thoreau went into town, daily, to sit at the local pub and gossip. When not living in his shed, he moved into the actual house of Emerson, to help out as a tutor and gardener. For most of his adult life, he worked in a pencil factory. When he traveled, he stayed in proper homes of friends, not a shack in the woods. He wanted to own or lease a farm but was too restless to commit to one.

    Thoreau wrote well. But was he a Trail Blazin' Off The Gridder who lived off the land and skinned bears with a buck knife? Naw, he was just a dude that needed to escape living in town so he slept and wrote in a shed and then he didn't. As John Updike wrote about Thoreau in 2004: "A century and a half after its publication, Walden has become such a totem of the back-to-nature, preservationist, anti-business, civil-disobedience mindset, and Thoreau so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible." Nuff said.

    • sharon
      March 29, 2013, 5:11 pm

      Cahow- fabulous! Love your essay.

      • Cahow
        March 29, 2013, 6:09 pm

        Dear sharon: You are beyond kind with your words. I had to have both my husband and dearest friend read my response prior to posting; I didn’t want it to come off as “Bustin’ On Someone’s Dream.” But, there is a HUGE difference between Dreaming and being a Dreamer. To Dream, a person sees the impossible and plans to make it possible. A Dreamer creates mythological scenarios and then is shattered when the dream doesn’t match reality.

        I feel so deeply saddened when I read posts from people who are desperate to erase their past mistakes and think that living in a small square footage will solve their problems. The most tragic posts I’ve ever read were at official Off The Grid websites, where thread after thread were created by people saying “I’m 18, quit school, Hate The Man, and want to live off the grid!” or “I’m a single mom, hate my minimum wage job, have 2 kids and want to live simple and free.” They were all posting for Help: they wanted/needed someone with money, credit and an established farm to take them in and essentially “baby them” while they suntanned and picked petals off of daisies. They had zero experience in building, cultivating or “doing without”, as they wrote in their threads. What it really boiled down to is, They Wanted to Escape. And living in a shed in the woods sounded great….if your postal address was The Magic Forest.

        There are SO many ways that a person can gain money and get out of debt! Alex listed incredible points, above. You can also:

        1) Get a group of like minded people together and rent a house or large apartment, and have your rent costs down to $275/person. Insist on living in San Francisco or Manhattan? Well, then too bad for you!

        2) Skip cable and internet; you can go to Starbuck’s for that!

        3) Relocate to an area of the United States where employers are BEGGING for workers! I can’t tell you the amount of businesses that have bellied up in my area of Michigan because there is NO workforce!

        4) Can’t move or don’t want to move? Look into interning at an animal hospital or florist or landscaper. Get on-the-job training from them and work up the ladder. I start my employees off at $10/hr. Each year, they receive a raise, depending upon their skill set. My top employee makes $25/hour. He owns a house. Paid in full, cause he moved in all his relatives, they contributed to his mortgage and now at 34 years old, he’s living mortgage free!

        5) Move back into your parents! Do their bidding, help out around the house. Bank every cent you can after paying off your bills. Save, Save, Save! Leave a happier and wealthier person.

        And so on and so forth. Live in a tiny house, live in a Small house, live in a BIG house…heck…live in a doll house, if it makes you happy! But quit thinking that less square footage = happiness. Happiness = Happiness, and that begins and ends within the square footage of your soul.

        • Louise
          March 29, 2013, 8:30 pm

          Cahow, You didn’t stick pins in anyone’s dream balloon, you only told the truth. I’m a Florida native, and have seen countless people migrate here “to start over” because of divorces and lives gone wrong. They bring the problems and mindset with them, and them call the locals stupid rednecks when we cease to help them.
          Running away never solved anything; it takes assuming responsibility for the mess you’re in, forgiving yourself for those mistakes, and moving forward. And the dream of easy living in the country is a joke. I worked harder on my farm than any 9-to-5 job. This is 24/7 up to my knees in drowned chickens and cow poo during hurricanes and floods. Yeehaw.
          After a severe illness, I advertised for help from those young off-gridders and you nailed that one, too. I got replies from ex-cons whose relatives were desperate to get them out of their own homes, spoiled brats mad at their aging mommies for finally cutting off the bank account, and the dreamers who couldn’t even get gas money together to get here.
          Finally took in a single mom who wanted better things for her four young kids (very long story). They have their own place on my property, the kids are learning chores, and the young woman’s sense of responsibility continues to amaze me. She never whines, and says there are no free rides, no easy way out. She takes online college courses, helps me around here six to eight hours a day, and spends quality time with her kids.
          THAT is the way to get out of a rut or a bad place in your life: show some initiative and take responsibility.
          Good girl, Cahow!!

        • Cahow
          March 30, 2013, 11:53 am

          Louise! Oh, how I LOVED your response!!!! Glad to hear from TRUE Country Folks who know how gall-dang hard it is to live a Country Lifestyle and that’s being ON the grid! Off The Grid and it’s ten times harder.

          And don’t get me started on youngin’s that “claim” to L.I.V.E. in a Tiny House in the country, when they are only living there during the Summer months and move into a standard home with quadruple the square footage once the weather turns brisk. That’s called C.A.M.P.I.N.G. (with a hard structure) and folks have been doing that for centuries. Those structures were called Hunting Cabins or Summer Cottages, where you roughed it and got “back to nature” but when the first leaf fell, you were back to central heating and indoor plumbing. ~shakes head~

          I call the romanticization of country living “The Walton Effect”. Mind you, not WALDEN, as in pond, but WALTON, as in the TV show of yore. You know: everyone is downhome and jolly, there’s a pickle barrel in every store, shopkeeper’s are willing to give you endless credit and you sip spring water (or moonshine) on your porch swing, looking at the Disney deer walk across your property (which has NO HUNTING signs posted, of course!)LOL But then, in reality, the deer eat all of the garden that the groundhogs left behind, your spring dries up because some developer built a “Second Home” development on the 60 acres that surrounds your land, the 2nd Home people file petitions to have you stop raising chicken because of the smell and the rooster crowing at dawn, the well you dug needs to be redrilled because the water table has dropped due to drought, your porch swing needs sanding and painting, and NO ONE takes credit or has a pickle barrel, any more, due to health code violations. ~snort~

          It’s just the reverse migration of what happened during the early parts of the 20th century when all the farm kids wanted a “better life” so they all high-tailed it into the City, only to end up living in tenaments, working in sweatshops and becoming a statistic for tuberculosis. (this sadly happened to my relatives that left the farm)

          It was heartening to read, Louise, that my impression of the vast majority of potential off-the-gridders was spot on; all you have to do is read between the lines, or in worse case scenarios, actually read IN the lines where you can tell they want to just escape debt and responsibility. Bravo for finally finding that nice Mum with 4 children and putting those kids onto CHORES!!! My husband and I only have a small property so we have no space to offer to anyone but ourselves; only an acre with a shed (that NO ONE lives in, by the way, except the garden equipment). πŸ˜‰

          I truly have enjoyed reading everyone’s responses and hearing from The Peanut Gallery of people who live & breath the country life, whether On or Off Grid and ‘tellin’ it like it is’. Cheers to ALL of you!!!!

        • sharon
          March 29, 2013, 9:08 pm

          Cahow – I know what you mean…. I grew up on a small farm, we cooked on a woodstove, raised our own food, etc. Its easy to romanticize the simple life, but it is HARD WORK!

        • Cahow
          March 29, 2013, 10:23 pm

          sharon: How you must cherish those memories of your childhood! Ah, woodstoves…where the “thermometer” was the cook’s hand, waving in front of the oven door, her skin used as the gauge for correct temperature. That’s some mad crazy skill, I tell you! (P.S. I love my digital stove ~blush~)

        • jerryd
          March 22, 2014, 12:21 pm

          Come on Cahow, don’t hold back, tell us what you really fell!! ;^D

          I agree TH living is variable. For instance I work at home building large things from EV’s, TH’s, 34′ trimaran so I need space both under roof and ground.

          But it’s how one does it that counts. And depriving oneself shouldn’t be part of it. I live in a 12×12′ cabin, the only space I heat, cool and live in very comfortably.

          Yet I have another 1000sq’ of sheds, roofover areas that cost little but allow me to save much energy, costs and make a living from.

          So I do consider myself a TH person even with my home, sheds/workshops, 2 cabins, a 14′ sailing/power, row, fishing, etc skiff, an EV MC, EV Trike MC, CommutaCar EV and other cool things. No depriving here.

          But I could only gets these by smart buying and not wasting as I have got them all on $700/month. Though by building them myself with mostly used parts.

          TH is a way of life, not wasting things, but enjoying them because one isn’t working to buy new stuff. Plus income taxes, working expenses, etc to make that money.

          Instead buy investments, things that go up in price, not lose value. For instance the first US hybrid car, the Honda Insight was hand made from Alum and get 70mpg +. It’s at it’s lowest value now and will only go up in value. So enjoy it while you own it at it’s very low running costs, then sell it and it pays you for driving it, not the other way around.

          I buy 20 yr old tools, etc because you can’t get the quality anymore plus they cost less than the new junk. Yard sales can be your friend.

          So I see TH’s as an attitude of smart use and not wasting to allow far more time for fun, family, helping others, exploring, etc vs working your azz off for useless bubbles, fashion, pricey cars, etc.

    • Stephanie.
      March 29, 2013, 8:42 pm

      I really enjoyed reading your perspective!

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 9:14 am

      Cahow I enjoyed reading that SO much. And I appreciate the praise. Really glad you liked the article. I loved your essay. Thanks a million πŸ™‚

      • Cahow
        March 30, 2013, 12:04 pm

        Right back at ya, Alex! You run an amazing site and more than anything, I’m beyond impressed that you actually allow different perspectives on the topic of Tiny Houses and how much “grid” someone desires in their life. Too many bloggers/youtuber’s delete ANY comment that isn’t all “glowy-glowy” regarding the original poster or, if your comments are posted, your feet are held over the flames by people who refuse to see the reality of a situation and don’t want ANYONE posting bubble-bursting posts.

        To wit: there’s a youtube video of a young, comely gal living on a sailboat and preachin’ “off the grid” lifestyle. The VAST majority of responses are “1) You’re hot! I’d sail with you any day!; 2) I want to run away and live on a sailboat, too!; and 3) Bravo, Girl! You’re living the life and doing it off-grid!” The extremely few people who are posting “1) WHO paid for the sail boat?; 2) WHAT about docking and moorage fees?; and 3) HOW do you earn a living?” are slaughtered for daring to ask such questions.

        So, a giant THANKS!, Alex, for really offering people a place to praise, question, & dissent, without shutting down the conversations because they don’t always agree. πŸ™‚

  • Charlotte
    March 29, 2013, 5:45 pm

    I’m not sure what you mean by “on the way to how it ought to be.” Out from under bills? Not dependent on two jobs? Owning your own place. Or totally Living off the grid? If you live in Alaska and know any off-grid folks, you KNOW that is more work than most people can handle.
    Running a farm or ranch is also not the idyllic dream most envision. It is very hard work, and you’re at the mercy of weather, equipment breaking, animal illnesses and accidents, your own health problems…and property taxes.
    And altho you didn’t mention your age (family of four indicates young folks?), it may make you feel better to know that people in their 50s and 60s are also asking the same question about relieving their burdens. Look at the headstart you have over us oldsters! πŸ™‚ No matter what your goal, The easiest and hardest thing to do is get rid of your bills.
    No cable, no cell phone(s), no new car (always buy used) and for gods sake get rid of the credit cards AND pay off the balance (two different things entirely) . Limit yourself to one debit card that has a daily limit. It will amaze you how many times you start to use it, then remember, oops, not today. If you must have a cell phone due to commutes, do not ever sign a contract, get a throw-away.
    Most people are not willing to get rid of all these things, even tho their life and finances will improve drastically within two years. They don’t want to work overtime to pay off the credit cards, don’t want to do without, don’t want to tell the kids No to all the new techno, but they want financial freedom.
    If you are among the rare few that are responsible and can free yourself and your young family from the “treading water” cycle, you will be so proud of yourself when you finally have some choices about where to live and where or how to work. Nothing happens overnight (unless you win a lotto). Remain focused on the fact that with your sacrifices now, you’re freeing yourself from a rat race, from no choices, from bondage to credit card companies, from accumulating a bunch of useless junk that puts money in everyone’s pocket but yours.
    Cutting back NOW will reward you with an easier, enjoyable life. Yes, it’s hard to do, but I managed at age 50 after a very self-indulgent lifestyle. Major health problems put me out of work, with a ton of bills. It took five years, working with creditors and banks, but I’m okay now, and much much happier just to sit in the sunshine with my chickens, without Ebay, AT&T, the fancy cars and all the garbage that meant so much to me, before the illness. It’s good just to be alive.

    Don’t give up, and best wishes.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 9:20 am

      Great tips Charlotte and thanks for sharing some of your story with us. Powerful stuff. Thanks!

  • Bumpathena
    March 30, 2013, 4:21 am

    I moved to alaska a few years ago myself and understand what you’re going through. What part of Alaska do you live? I know in Anchorage there are many trails throughout that can take you to where ever you like to go. As for rent in Alaska it can be quite expensive even for a tiny apartment, house, or cabin not to mention the utilities up here. Take advantage of your location to save money. I have a lot of cowokers take time off to hunt and fish so naturally I’ll volunteer to work their shifts in exchange for some of their catch. Fish all winter long, hunt, pick berries all of which can be family activities. As expensive as it is up here, there are a lot of inexpensive activities you can do with your family, you just have to look for them. Take advantage of the sales up here. I have bought candles at 90% off at Michaels. Put whatever money you were going to spend at full cost away and build up a cash reserve for your property. Outside of Anchorage there are several areas where land is unzoned and you can do pretty much whatever you like as I have seen many put a basic shed from Home Depot or Lowes on their property and use it as a cabin. Scavage Craigslist for items for your cabin. Hit up habitat for humanity restore, they have many items they need to reduce so they will have them for nothing. If you live in the Anchorage area and need a cabin idea I suggest taking a walk around Lake Hood. Whatever you do, the best advice I can give you is: Since Alaska is a harsh place to live, build a network of friends and take lots of vitamin D.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 9:21 am

      I don’t live in Alaska, it’s one of our readers who sent in the question but still good! Thanks for the awesome tips/ideas! πŸ™‚

    • Cahow
      March 30, 2013, 12:39 pm

      “…and take lots of vitamin D.” Bwhahahahahahaaaa! GREAT post, superb advise, and recommending craigslist? Priceless!

  • alice h
    March 30, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Reducing, preferably eliminating, debt is a prime prerequisite for living well. Some things are worth taking on debt for, some are not. You have to decide if the time you’re selling to achieve the objective is worth it to you. Another thing to concentrate on is evaluating and upgrading your skills. Practical, transferable skills that you can use for employment or barter. Enthusiasm only gets you so far. It may be possible to move to an area with cheaper living costs if you have skills needed in that area. Do your research. Sometimes smaller towns and villages offer cheaper housing but it may be offset by fewer amenities and higher prices for other things. What can and can’t you live with or without? Trying before you commit, as mentioned by a previous poster, is a great idea. Above all, be realistic about what you want and how you can achieve it. Cahow and others have made some excellent points. Dreaming is fine and dandy and can be a great motivator but delusions will definitely set you back. Understand your own limiting factors and either accept, change or find a way around them. No need to be a total Pollyanna but don’t become bitter and discouraged over something that isn’t working out. It may be that you can’t do what you set out to do originally but you might find an alternative that suits you better or at the very least that you can live with.

  • Anne Ross
    March 30, 2013, 9:52 pm

    Another great book is ‘Your Money or Your Life’. This should be required reading for anyone with financial issues, goals, or problems. It really drives home what we trade off/give up in order to aquire what society pressures us to have/how to live. It’s quite eye-opening. I read it years ago and it changed my life. I recently visited my older brother in Chicago, and I was struck by how much “stuff” he and his family had (Hummer H2, large, empty house, cable tv, Sirius satellite radio, etc.) I was traveling the country after having downsized drastically and I felt sorry for him because I had such a sense of freedom and I wanted him not to be tied down to a job he admitted was frustrating for him. He and my sister-in-law are so “caught up” in how their life looks to other people that they remain in jobs that they hate just to save face. I highly recommend this book to everyone that asks me how I live on so little just so they can get an idea of the mindset that allows me to truly enjoy my life after struggling for so long.

    • Alex
      March 30, 2013, 11:00 pm

      Thanks for sharing that Anne. I think we can all relate to that. I’ll check out that book too!

  • sunshineandrain
    March 31, 2013, 2:49 am

    Ditto to everyone! It’s all great ideas and info and the “tried and true.” All of your contributions are how I (and anyone else can) have no coal, natural gas, etc., or water (I have a well) bills (I do have an electricity bill; I have savings started in the bank for solar though), no mortgage, no car payment, good gas mileage vehicle, no cable, a pay-when-you-use-it phone, no credit card or debt, and I’m saving for the replacement of my four-year-old laptop I use for work (at age five, the maker considers them antique).

    I love living on my farm and working off the farm. I grew up gathering eggs, feeding the chickens, cleaning and cooking chickens, feeding the hogs, making hams and sausage and ribs, planting, weeding, harvesting, canning, all sorts of vegetables and fruits and meats. It was WORK and it was the best life with a family among whom to share the chores. Now, I do grow some tomatoes and keep a few chickens for eggs, but that is about all the farming chores I have time to do.

    I love seeing the sky brilliantly lit with stars at night and hear the coyotes, owls, tree frogs, bull frogs, crickets, locusts, hawks, songbirds, etc., symphony or lullaby, depending on what time of day it is. For me, the drive into town is my time to wake up slowly, pray, listen to radio preachers and arrive refreshed and ready to work. The drive home is my time to breathe, relax, blow off steam (talking out my troubles of the day), sing loudly with the radio and arrive home refreshed and ready to love on my dog and cat, fix our dinners, take my dog for a walk on the farm, watch the chickens chase bugs at sunset, or do what ever I want for the evening and be lulled to sleep by nature’s lullaby.

    I will build my Tiny House, 162 sq ft not counting the 8×7 loft, as I go. I already have the trailer and several other components waiting for installation. I have lived in a 188 sq ft trailer for 14 years. I recently lost everything in a wildfire, but will soon be back on my farm in a 180 sq ft cabin. I live in such a caring community. I have had help to get re-established from several directions and greatly appreciate all of it.

    As I age, I may move my Tiny House closer to a small town so I can walk or bicycle to town.

    I say, make it (Tiny House, small house, houseboat, etc.) fit for you. And come here to share ideas, thoughts, insights, finds, etc.

    Thanks Alex, for blogging Tiny House Talk.

    • Ruth Koson
      March 31, 2013, 10:40 am

      This question is a question that many have asked me and I love all of the responses. Here is a quick version of how I did what others are wanting to do. As I write from my shed, I have often referred to myself as a Thoreau in female form! I have always seen that statement as positive being that he is my favorite author and if someone uses him with negative connotations then they are simply wrong as he was a genius who found what so many seek. Many have found healing in the woods and there should never be anything negative about that. Those that reflect it in a negative tone are either jealous or not intelligent enough to see what they can’t! Don’t worry about what others think because if you do then you will drive yourself insane as it is impossible to please everyone to their specifications. I have learned now as a 48 year old female that living for yourself and who you are and your desires are more important that trying to keep others around you happy. Bottom line! “Live for yourself” “Love Yourself”

      It took four years for me to do the following: I found cheap land and bought a five acre parcel in the outskirts of the forest in a little area referred to as Mount Prairie Hollow wildlife preserve. I made sure that I got land with no restrictions, so I could do what I wanted. Surprisingly, it was also only a few miles from the river! It was important to have access to electric since I did not want to live off grid so I purposely found land that had an electric line on it! The land also came with a shared community well however, I do not use it. I put in a shallow well tank and keep it full by buying water and I have a portable tank that I use for collection. So, I have electric and water on land that I found through a private person who put it up for sale $11,000 below what the local real estate man would have listed it at. This man financed it and I paid it off in two years and seven months by breeding labrador retrievers from a good line and sold my puppies for $500 and got it. I flipped antiques and collectibles and whatever I could find to flip and make a profit on. I also want to add that I looked long and hard for this land as these kind of deals can be found. You have to do the work of looking and don’t be afraid to make offers on your terms which is what I did and three days after I sent my offer, the seller agreed and there was no penalty for early pay off.

      I brought my Tiny house “The Hobbit House” to the land trailering it alone on a boat trailer. This house is a very early J copy and may be one of the first as I was an extreme early bird in what would become a new movement in this Country never knowing that I was embarking in to a new movement. I used this as a retreat and lived off grid for awhile and collected my own water. I eventually hooked it up to electric and water and then brought in a 1967 Airstream that I also brought up from Big Pine Key, Florida. I hired someone to dig a sewer pit and also connect the airstream to electric. I have converted it to the Mother of all outhouses!
      At this point, I moved my son up and I lived in the Airstream and he took over the tiny house. He started off his freshman year of High School living in the Tiny house. While living in the airstream and realizing that I needed more space because I sell antiques and collectibles from store booths and online, I expanded and brought in a portable building that was a repo. I gathered tongue pine and groove boards from the mill and got the boards that would have been throw a ways as they were not “cut right.” I insulated the portable building and hired a man to do the electrical. I stained my boards and my once portable building that was a repo is now a little cabin which suits my needs perfectly. I made a little kitchen and even put in a toilet so I would not have to walk to the outhouse and knowing that I was getting older, I needed to prepare for the natural aging process that each of us must endure. Everything that I used was from salvage and recycled and I got it free or cheap. I plan to trim it out with tree limbs that are lying around on my land, but am waiting for better weather to help them dry.

      I then (Thoreau) found a storage shed and connected it to my portable building. I insulated it, hired the wiring done and then I put up cheap bamboo like tweed that is only $30.00 a roll which was an idea that I obtained from living on the island for 28 years! I obtained an antique Victorian bedroom set from my sister and found other antique pieces that were cheap or salvaged and now have my cabin in the woods. It is small, but suits the needs of the family and we gather together just like any other family.

      This was never really planned but I had been watching property in this region of the Country for quite some time. After living in the very expensive Florida keys for 28 years, I can honestly say that I don’t miss the $3,000 a month rent payments or the $800 a month electric bills. I do miss the nostalgia of the old keys, but they no longer exist.

      I sold everything that I had or gave it away and only came here with my family only with what would fit in a small trailer or what I brought in the Tiny house or airstream upon travel. I do need to collect as I buy and sell, but I don’t keep anything. It is how I make money to support what I do. Many people are attracted to my lifestyle and how I chose to live. I have no mortgage or rent payment. My bills are minimal and I don’t need to work like I used to. We are happily settled on a little piece of land with forty years of untouched timber growth. Even my sister wanted to be here so she put in a tear drop camper from the fifties which is her retreat, but one could easily live in it and I must add that I also needed a little more room due to having two beautiful Labrador retrievers! I will give up anything material knowing that I am not taking it with me, but please don’t take the dogs as they are family!

      The process of downsizing takes time and hopefully some of the things that I have done and have shared can give others ideas on how to do it. I had three huge garage sales! I unloaded and now live tiny and simply and I did live in the Tiny house by myself for a whole summer and found it perfect for one person. My portable building is 14′ X 30′ and with the tongue pine and groove, I have made it structurally sound and should last the rest of my lifetime and maybe more! It was a lot of work and one must have enough desire in their hearts to do this. This life is very obtainable now and the land deals can still be found. I have fallen in love with this life and getting out of the rat race and each time that I wander out to an airport or city where life is moving fast, I see worry and stress on peoples faces. I don’t see serenity and I always look forward to coming back to my cabin that is now sitting next to my Tiny house where my sixteen year old lives and he loves living in the Tiny house and I am the Mother who makes sure that he comes to the main cabin to gather in our shared living room and kitchen in our neck of the woods and I have absolutely no regrets and so happy that I worked hard to obtain this because now, I am free from the entrapment that I see so many desiring to escape.

    • Cahow
      March 31, 2013, 10:41 am

      I love your passionate post, sunshineandrain. πŸ™‚ You write well and this was a joy to read and share your lifestyle. Best of luck with your new tiny home.

  • March 31, 2013, 9:15 am

    Great post, Alex! Yes! I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s book and the other one. When my wife and I decided to take our first step towards downsizing from our 1100 sq ft town house apartment to our current 600 sq ft apartment, it was a great relief for us also. When we started, I just took boxes and started loading them with all kinds of stuff to get rid of and dropped them all off to a recycling yard. The recycling yard man thought it was “Christmas” to him when I dropped off a “truck-load” of stuff. He was happy… AND so were we. So, go ahead and do it! Down size! You’ll be glad you’ve done it. We are now able to afford the things we want and for especially the tiny house we are building that many on Facebook are calling it a “luxury” model or a “mini-mansion”! πŸ™‚

  • Crystal Laws
    March 31, 2013, 10:35 am

    Thank you all for the priceless advice! My husband was going on and on this morning asking if I’d read the latest on Alex’s blog and all the comments? I had not, but his enthusiasm pulled me away from my busy morning chores and I took a moment to sit and read every comment; grateful I did.
    For years I’ve been harping on reducing, downsizing and getting off the hamster wheel most people consider life. We’ve taken many uncomfortable but necessary steps to achieve our eventual end goal of freedom from debt. We paid off our vehicles, though neither were new. We did without and sacrificed to pay down our credit card debt, *most of which came from updating windows, plumbing and all the necessary ills that come with the upkeep and restoration of a 1946 country home. Halfway through our restoration we were broke again, but refused to “charge” our way through the second half…vividly recalling the weight of the debt we carried the first half. We stepped outside the box, and did something that is difficult at times to do, we opened our home to a roommate. In some ways- we found an alternative way to downsize, and in this manner we could afford to button up loose ends, and finish our project. (We do much of the work ourselves, but construction materials are far from inexpensive) We are into the last half, doing the work as we can afford to, taking a deep breath- and remembering our goals. Being like minded and setting goals is very important; but putting them on paper and crossing them off as they are completed gives us a sense of forward motion. I would like to eventually downsize to 400 square feet, but in the mean time…I am using the space I have to the best of my ability. We are encouraged by the Tiny House Community, because the mantra seems to be “Jump off the hamster wheel, and start living”… which sounds very enticing to me. I can appreciate that caring for livestock, large gardens, digging wells, and building chicken coops is hard work, and that it will only come by the toil of my hand and the sweat of my brow if I wish to exchange my present life for the one I dream of, but it sounds like the life I want. I look forward to this adventure, and to disconnecting from the endless and life sucking cycle of outsourcing our lives in miserable jobs, to investing in our own future. In the mean time I encourage others to begin somewhere, and start today. It’s the little and continual steps that lead you to your future dreams.

    • Cahow
      March 31, 2013, 11:15 am

      Hey, Crystal! Happy Easter to you and all the other great contributors!

      Regarding this statement: “we opened our home to a roommate”, how did it (or does it) work out for you? Along with our small home we have a condo in the city that we rent out 2 of the bedrooms and we have the 3rd. We’ve been doing it for a decade now and LOVE the end result. When you’re done remodeling your 1946 home, can you rent it out, for the cash and use that money to bankroll your dreams? Many families can’t afford a down payment for a nice home to raise a family but can afford rent. Just something to think about.

      Amanda Ruth had a wonderful suggestion in “I would also add β€œtry it before you buy it” to the list of advice as the ideal solution for you may not be exactly what you think it is!” This is in regard to your mentioning “livestock, large gardens, digging wells, and building chicken coops.” Do you live in an area that allows chickens on your property? In Chicago and suburbs, there’s an entirely new set of codes that allow for hens to be raised in an urban environment. Also, are there community gardens in your area? There are many, many such gardens in Chicago, where the people in the neighborhood gained permission to crop-out vacant land and they are highly successful! There’s even relaxed codes for urban people to have active bee hives on their roof, tapping into all the flowers in the city. (and we have TONS of gardens in Chicago, proper!) Using Amanda Ruth’s suggestions, you could be with like-minded folks who can inspire or warn you of delights/pratfalls in these areas. For instance, one of my friends wanted to raise chickens for organic eggs but when she found out that after 3 years a hen slows down with egg production but can live to be 15 years old, she abandoned the idea. You either better get good at slaughtering your own chickens or end up running a Senior Centre for them! LOL

      But, you sound like one smart cookie who excells at doing her homework so I’m sure you’ll achieve your dreams. <3

  • Bill Burgess
    November 6, 2013, 12:18 am

    I find nothing wrong with Tiny Homes other than price for people who are young and Flexible enough for the adventure. But for seniors I feel the 200 sq.ft. per person barrier is very practical. I am soon going to be putting up some drawing for the Park Model format on the 4Fathoms Designs FB page that should open some options for people not wanting to live in a ” beer can”. Just a few Items downsized per unit will make a huge difference in quality of life. It’s an RV so all the things apply for finding a place to park it and the flexibility of space rent can be a good way to relieve responsibility of land taxes.

  • Elizabeth
    November 23, 2013, 11:57 am

    Alex, thanks so much for mentioning Dave Ramsey. I have done his “FINANCIAL PEACE UNIVERSITY” course through a local church (very minimal cost) and it taught me soooo much. I have paid off over $12,000 in personal debt in the last 18 months using what I learned from his teachings (and I don’t make a lot of money). I would highly recommend doing the course to everyone – even if your debt isn’t so bad. The course is one evening a week for 10 weeks and you can learn so much that is relatively easy to apply to your life.

    • Alex Pino
      November 23, 2013, 8:49 pm

      Thanks for sharing that Elizabeth so glad to hear how well it’s worked for you. I didn’t realize they taught some of his courses at churches, that’s really great.

  • Patricia
    November 30, 2013, 12:34 am

    See flylady.net to get organized and eliminate 15 minutes at a time.

  • Sharon
    March 19, 2014, 3:32 pm

    I have read every comment and loved the honesty! My motivations are a bit different. First , I have a great pension and no debt, (very low monthly living expenses) My reasons are for self sufficiency. This isn’t from a place of fear but a place of preparedness. I don’t want anyone to be able to take my place (renting), take my water, in an emergency the stores will be bare very quickly! I want to be as self sufficient as possible with a clean water source that is unmetered! Lots of cisterns & rain harvest for garden and animals. Growing and either canning, freezing or root cellaring the harvest. I like meat so I have animals and choose to free range them for the health benefits and because the animals have a better quality of life. I grew up ranching and know first hand that it is 365 days a year unless you have a community of extended family that is willing to share the life with you so everyone gets time off in rotation. All my vocations were always “essential personnel” and still needed to get in to work during inclement weather or disaster OR stay and not go home at all! and I worked weekends and Holidays. Off grid or on grid, ranch/farm life is a lifestyle not a party. It takes dedication , knowledge, hard work, money and back-up plans because nature is not consistent or reliable. In this day and age I just think it is a poor choice to count on our government to take care of us in emergency/disaster scenarios . I prefer to have my tiny space to myself, 280-400 sq ft . Due to my age and health I don’t do stairs or ladders! My “family” the other people who are on this Journey with me have their own little spaces. It kind of is like a tiny village, we are all in it together, we look out for each other, but have privacy! We share the load and all the responsibility. I’m blessed with good people in my life. Any way it is about love, personal accountability, living within your means and doing the best one can to secure ones safety, food and water source to insure a sustainable future, Learning/ sharing new skills and using a barter system just make sense. I’m also an artist and make art for our homes because it isn’t about suffering, or going without. We also have pretty flowers in the garden that have no other use than just to bring joy and a nice smell. Life is meant to be cherished, shared and enjoyed. We also appreciate fine craftsmanship. If we can we always opt for functional, useful, AND beautiful. We think the extra cost is well worth it. Why not derive extra pleasure from the things that surround you? My other reason for this lifestyle is to respect and restore Mother Earth. We take recycle, reuse, return to the earth very seriously. My personal pet peeve is I have NEVER understood why people would go to the bathroom in perfectly good drinking water! Just crazy to me! We make poopoo gas for cooking and heating. Takes a bit if work and about $300 ( one time fee for materials) for each house ! A much better alternative! What isn’t “harvested” from the animals is rotted/composted and returned to the land. We use EVERYTHING or sell it to someone who can. Just to let you know , this all is going on in southern Mexico because we are using materials ( tires, bottles, cans, paper, dirt etc.) and don’t have to worry about zoning for our animals or building codes! Also my pension goes WAY further. Life is hard work, but shared and joyous. (productive too) Being with people you love, finding joy and satisfaction is worth it all and how we have chosen to live on this Earth.! I know much of this wouldn’t work in the USA but still thought I’d share what is working for us.

  • Marsha Cowan
    March 19, 2014, 5:12 pm

    First, let me say that my first husband and I found ourselves and our children homeless several times because of the nature of the business in which he worked, building computer prototypes, most of which never made it to the market before the backers withdrew funds. So I know what it is like to be without and to make hard decisions, like giving up pets so my children can eat and have heat. Sorry, but in the larger picture, you have to do what is right and necessary, not what is kind. Those animals should have never been taken in if the person was always poor financially. Not a good choice. Then, one must absolutely get down to the basics to free the mind to think clearly. You cannot think clearly if you are always trying to juggle belongings and payments all the time. Sell whatever you can to pay off bills and get back to square one, then learn to walk or take a bus to where you need to go until you can get a bike or cheap car, then learn how to eat lentils or beans, and make your own cornbread to save money on food and still be healthy. Having only several good outfits saves much money on washing and is much appreciated by those who put you up temporarily until you can get on your feet. Once you get the job you want, or get to a place you can rent in a safe place, or are able to buy a tiny house shell, then you can reorganize your things and see what you want and can add without getting back into the same ole rat race. Everything I own right now is in a tiny 6’x6′ tiny house, yet when people walk in, they are immediately struck by the things and pictures I have everywhere that are keepsakes. My home is very warm and family oriented. But it takes a lot of courage to go through things and decide what is really a keep sake and what can be thrown away. Get real! If you never take it out and sigh over it, then throw it out. If it is really special, then it can be framed and hung on the wall or set on a shelf. Getting out of the rat race is tough. That is why so few people do it. So if it is what you really want, suck it up, quit complaining, and do something about it!

  • March 19, 2014, 9:05 pm

    I read “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” What it teaches you is how to become rich the way the already super-wealthy are doing it…rent-seeking and underpaying the labor of others. Yeah, if you own something and rent it out at a premium, you get to make money simply by virtue of having something someone else doesn’t have, and if the market will let you charge this humongous price for it, well, you get to do that and good for you. But isn’t that WHY some of us are trying to build tiny, to get away from that? And sure, if the market will allow you to pay someone not enough to meet need because that is all other people are paying so you can get away with it, great for you. But as I read that book, all I kept thinking was, “Yeah, but what about the effect on the OTHER guy?” And we here are mostly the other guy.

    What we need is an economy and a system of doing business that does NOT rely on somebody getting over on somebody else. Everybody needs and deserves to be able to just live.

  • Jess
    March 20, 2014, 3:52 am

    Dude… I’m so happy you brought up Dave Ramsey… I was gonna suggest him in my comment anyway while I was reading your post. Listen to his radio show ladies and gents… He doesn’t just talk about great ideas for saving money, but also great ways for making extra money where you can…

    • Alex
      March 20, 2014, 10:04 am

      Thanks Jess. I’m a big fan of his too.

  • Renee Martin
    March 20, 2014, 8:32 am

    I think that there is a huge blind spot in the tiny house movement. Sure, it would be a benefit to be able to live tiny and cheaply; however, it also comes with a huge upfront cost. The people who would benefit from this the most (read: the working poor) cannot access the 20k to build, let alone buy land. Minimum wage is the new norm, even with a college degree, so the constant mantra of sell your car, downsize and simplify as a solution, is not only misguided, it’s dangerous.

    I think that part of this is the ridiculous strain of individualism which runs through this community. Tiny houses will never go truly mainstream unless they are made affordable. They may be cost effective in comparison to what has become the average home, but that does not mean that they are affordable. If someone is worrying about how to feed themselves, they’ve got nothing to downsize. It’s classist to suggest that these vulnerable people should then examine their food budget because that is all they could possibly cut. It’s classist to tell them to eat rice and beans. These people are already dealing with food scarcity and going to food banks and soup kitchens to make up the short fall each month.

    Right now, the tiny house movement is only accessible to the young who have the benefit of affluent parents to help, or empty nesters who can invest the proceeds of their family home sale. Ironically, the people who would benefit the most, are those who are struggling to survive in the pit holes of hell like Walmart or McDonalds. The condescending attack on the poor, judgement and policing are an absolute turn off. They didn’t create the problem; they’re just trapped in it. Rather than tossing out meaningless individual solutions, we need to think communally and find ways of helping to finance these homes as a society. True change is not going to happen on an individual level and shaming people isn’t doing anything but hurting the movement. It’s a hard truth but it’s the truth.

    I plan to build my tiny home over the next ten years. That’s how long it’s going to take my husband and I because we have to build slowly over time to make it affordable for us. Even that slow rate is going to involve a sacrifice but at least I fully acknowledge the privilege of being able to do this, unlike the sanctimonious classist advice about how to downsize.

  • bevgary
    July 5, 2014, 6:29 pm

    Alsex: some good comments have been made.city folks wanting to leave the rat race :!! & country folks -telling you it is not all peaches & cream .!! so i will cut to the chase.i spent 15 years living off grid .the closest neighbor was 10 miles either way.one spot was 65 miles one way to town.the other one was 72 .the quote goes :life begins,where the blacktop ends.get a house gust to split the costs .!!find something that you can do from home to increase your income .hand made crafts & baked goods .find something that is in desperate need. for where your living at .!!do not over price the item but do not give it away either.you have to cover product cost .plus a small % mark up for labor 2- 5 is enough to start with .as sales increase increase the percentage /profit.i am curently working with two work from home business.you may give my email out .then i will know that those that responed opt ed in for future messages.gob bless have a good day

  • Alli
    August 8, 2014, 10:12 pm

    I think the main thing is to follow your dreams…and that is different for everyone. For some it is a tiny house, off-the-grid, for others it is “traditional” housing (depending on your definition of that) & all the millions of different variations of those things. Some people like a lot of stuff, some like some stuff, others like almost no stuff: to each his own! πŸ™‚ I think the main thing is to do what is right for YOU (even if everyone thinks you are crazy) & no one can decide that for you. For me, a lot of it has to do with loving what you do (could be more than one thing) & loving where you do it & having the freedom to do it when you wish to do it. Every “problem” (or opportunity) has a solution, it is just-as many have said before-you have to look at it from a different perspective to see the unique solution (think outside of that box)! Amazing dreams come true-even if you are the only one to see & believe in it until it sees the light of day. May everyone’s best, most amazing, dreams come true & may everyone enjoy their lives in their ideal home (whatever & wherever that may be)!

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