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Tiny House Big Sky: 2.5 Years Living Tiny in CA and MT

Meet Derrick and Kelly: They’ve been living in their DIY vintage-and-antique-filled THOW now for 2.5 years. They’ve moved it three times, and lived in both California and Montana, taking their home with them.

Living tiny has allowed them to tackle their debt and still enjoy amazing vacations like a 3-week trip to Europe! Altogether, the materials for their tiny home cost around $35,000, and nearly 60% of them were recycled or reclaimed, which makes their home super unique.

We got to interview the couple (@tinyhousebigsky) which you can read at the end of the post, and Tiny Home Tours did a fantastic video tour of their home about a year ago, which you can watch as well. Enjoy!

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Huge Ranch, Tiny Home, Big Life!

You’ll notice the sink sits in this vintage dresser.

Does it get cuter than a teal oven? I think not.

Their guest loft/lounge sits above their living room.

They really maximized the space in the stairs to their main loft bedroom.

Their clothing storage, brought to you by IKEA!

Their vanity area is a blend of reclaimed materials.

Not an inch of wasted space over their washer/dryer unit!

Kelly reupholstered this couch herself.

Guest loft, ready for someone to come stay.

The happy couple has been married for six years.

Now THAT’s a view! Breathtaking.

Interview with Derek & Kelly:

What are your name(s)?

Derek Campbell and Kelly Pipe-Campbell

How many people (and animals) are living in your tiny house?

Derek and I and our large dog (Ella) and our cat (Louise)

Where do you live? How long have you lived tiny?

We currently live in Clinton, Montana and have lived in our tiny for 2.5 years

What do you do for work? Or do you travel full-time?

Derek mainly does construction and we both work on our family farm, growing fruits and vegetables and tending to our herd of 65 horses. We travel as much as possible, but don’t take the tiny house with us.

Why did you decide to go tiny? What are you hoping to get out of living tiny?

We decided to go tiny for several reasons. One was to be able to escape the limitations that renting or owning a large house can demand financially. We were both sick of our 9-5 jobs and felt as if we were watching life pass us by, a life that we didn’t necessarily like. We wanted to be able to have more experiences than items. We lost several people close to us in 2016, and it really jolted us and made us take a closer look at our lives to make sure we were really getting the most out of things. We also were planning on moving to California for a few years before Montana so it really made sense to have a home that we could take from one place to the next.

We are hoping that eventually, we can pay off all our debt and truly be financially free. We are certain that by living tiny, which limits our purchases and decreases our bills, we can achieve this. We hope that we will be able to travel and teach our children that there is more to life than material items and a big house. We would love to show other people that “success” in life doesn’t have to be defined by the size of your house or the things that you own. We believe that “success” in life should be determined by your ability to not only have experiences but really get the most out of those experiences by being present and enjoying them with those you love.

How did you first learn about tiny house life?

We stumbled upon some of the first tiny house shows, such as “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Big Living” and were hooked pretty quick!

How did you build your tiny house or buy it?

Our tiny house was built by Derek and myself but we were able to consult with specialists/friends when needed.

Are you comfortable sharing how much your tiny home cost? What are bills/utilities like compared to before?

Our home cost $35,000 in materials. We did use some higher-end systems and finishes but used about 60% reclaimed material which helped! Our bills/utilities are dramatically less than before. We cut them by about 75% by going tiny!

How did you find a place to park and live in your tiny house?

We put an ad on craigslist and Facebook containing information about us and our tiny house. It took a long time (at least 3 months) but eventually, we received a message on Facebook from a gal that had some land for us to park on in exchange for work. After about 6 months, we moved to a tiny house community near the Bay Area in California (Park Delta Bay), which we had seen advertisements for at tiny house festivals and Craigslist. We were there for about a year and a half until we settled in Montana about 3 months ago.

Before going tiny, what was life like?

Before going tiny, life felt like we were in autopilot at times. We were constantly stressed about money. We had so many possessions that didn’t serve us. We were renting a 1500 square foot house that we hated. It never felt like where we were supposed to be. Now when we get back to the tiny house, it really feels like it’s our “home”.

Is there anything from your old life that you miss?

We definitely miss our friends from Washington. Derek’s kids still live in Washington so tough to be so far from them. Other than that, not really!

What benefits are you experiencing after going tiny?

We were able to take a big trip to Europe last year. We were able to live pretty inexpensively in the Bay Area, which is very uncommon! Without the tiny house, we would have never been able to live in that area of the country and spend some quality time with our friends and family there. We definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable going on a 3 week trip to Europe! We have also been able to easily chip away at our debt even while I (Kelly) explore different job opportunities. We are so proud of our home, which is something very new to us as well!

What about some challenges?

Living here on our family’s ranch things are muddy and dusty. It’s been an adjustment learning how to keep the tiny house clean because we don’t have a “mudroom”. We also have yet to experience winter here in Montana….I’m sure there will be some challenges! Also, even though the house is easy to clean, it gets dirty and cluttered very quickly, so you have to always pick up after every activity. Lastly, our house ended up being heavier and more of a beast then we had planned, so towing it is more of a chore and then we would like it to be. So, we don’t take it on vacation with us as we had hoped to do.

What makes your tiny home special?

We really tried to fill our home with things that make us smile. I really love antiques and repurposing things so I think the decor makes our tiny home special. We have two very old dressers instead of cabinets under our sinks, we have a headboard as decoration, we have antique lighting and a huge, butterfly stained glass. Our shower is a horse trough and our rain head is a galvanized bucket! It’s the unique and one-of-kind DIY items that make our house stand-out.

What is your favorite part of your tiny home?

I’d say we just love the tiny as a whole. Everything works together because it was so meticulously planned out. For example, we spent hours deciding on the EXACT placement of a window, down to the inches, so that when you sit on the couch you have a perfect view of the landscape outside. It’s those things that give us such a feeling of comfort when we are spending time inside our home, which is also what we love about it.

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in going tiny?

If you are having it built, be on top of your builder. Make sure your house is exactly what you want. Don’t just trust them to decide things. Tiny houses HAVE to be individualized from the layout down to the systems. Everything in your home has to work how you want it to, because most things within your house you will interact with on a daily basis, if not several times a day. You can quickly get frustrated even if it’s something as little as a cupboard that opens the wrong direction. This is why we spent so much time planning EVERYTHING, about 4 months!

If you are building it yourself, make sure you know what the requirements are in the county, city or state that you will be residing in. Every city has different rules about required certifications and building codes. Ideally, you would know where you are parking BEFORE you build, so you can build it to the specifications that are outlined in that area. Even some privately owned RV parks have their own rules so double-check with them first, even if you are only staying a few nights. Third party certification companies, such as Bildsworth and NOAH, should be able to guide you on codes for jurisdictions and also offer more than just RV certification for home builds, such as additional required certification in your area. We built our house to both RVIA codes and residential codes to cover our bases because we didn’t know where we would end up.

Despite these things, don’t be afraid to go for it. Life is way too short to be confined to a way of living that you don’t like!

VIDEO: Rustic Tiny Home Built to Homestead

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Our big thanks to Derrick & Kelly for sharing! 🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.
{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Claude
    August 27, 2020, 6:01 pm

    Quite excuisite tiny house in a beautiful setting.

  • Diana
    August 27, 2020, 6:31 pm

    Nice place but the video is way too long. No offense but leave out your personal details about wedding pictures etc and just hit the primary points. Talking slow and giving all the details is too much to sit through.

  • Francine
    August 30, 2020, 3:27 pm

    One of my favorites decor wise. Just stunning.

  • Sherry
    April 5, 2021, 4:29 pm

    Oh just beautiful and I would be thrilled with something like that for me and my dogs. Out in the country with trees and grass and birds and wild creatures would be heaven on earth.

  • Victoria Banaszak
    April 11, 2021, 12:13 am

    This is so cute! I love the sink in the dresser and of course the stove. So much personality.

  • Rosie
    April 11, 2021, 6:50 pm

    Bravo!!!! Luv your colorful interior. The fact that you used a dresser for your kitchen sink is a brilliant idea. Anyone who uses every space available, are my kind of people and inspiration! Well done!

    • Natalie C. McKee
      April 12, 2021, 9:40 am

      Yes I just love an efficient design!

  • Roger
    September 27, 2023, 6:56 pm

    You guys did a wonderful job on the house, so inviting. I love antiques and how you used them!

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