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Tiny Houses on Gizmodo & Top 4 Tiny Living Objections

Any time tiny houses make it onto a non-tiny house blog the comments turn to “oh, I could never do that.” When The Tiny Life Infographic that Ryan Mitchell published early this year made it to Gizmodo on Monday, September 2, 2013, the comments began pouring in. The same old objections came up in several ways.

  • Permitting is just impossible.
  • This is only feasible for one person.
  • I couldn’t fit all my stuff in it.
  • Why not just get an RV?

I thought I might take a minute to readdress these objections. Living in a tiny house is not an untested theory. I have been doing it comfortably for over a year and I know several other tiny house dwellers that have happily downsized as well.

Infographic courtesy of The Tiny Life.

Infographic courtesy of The Tiny Life.

I encourage you to read my thoughts on these subjects below:

Permitting. So, yes, I won’t lie and say that this is the easy part of tiny house building or living. Permitting and zoning issues are probably the most difficult part of the process. It is also probably the number one question I get asked and I would think that others do as well. I get emails almost daily asking about permits in specific cities all across the US. Unfortunately, I can only answer these questions one way: “I don’t know.” Building codes are different from municipality to municipality and can practically change when you cross the street. The only way to know what is permissible in your area is to talk to your local government. However, the most helpful tool available right now is Cracking the Code by Ryan Mitchell available here.

Image courtesy of The Tiny Life.

Image courtesy of The Tiny Life.

Occupancy. “If I were single I could live in a tiny house.” Again, this is not a one size fits all answer. However, if you are even remotely interested in tiny house living as a couple or a family I can say it is quite possible as long as you can change your entire mindset about space. There was never a question that Matt and I would be doing this thing together. 120 square feet seemed like a reasonable size. And I can tell you with absolutely authority that I do not feel cramped or claustrophobic in the tiny house when we’re together. In fact, being in larger spaces seem strange to me now. We are not the only tiny house couple or even tiny house family. Check out Smalltopia and Tiny r(E)volution for more insights.

Photo by J. Andrew Flenniken

Photo by J. Andrew Flenniken

Stuff. Yes, if you move into a tiny house you will not be able to keep your collection of over 1000 books. Or your complete set of Star Wars action figures. Or all of your antique furniture. That is just a fact of tiny living. Once again, this is a complete change of the way you think about posessions and if you can’t transition to fewer things then tiny living may not be the right answer for you. However, once you realize that your feelings toward your things are a psychological attachment then you can begin to rethink your relationship to them. Donate your books to the library so others can enjoy them. Sell your action figures. Give your furniture to other family members so the heirloom pieces can be kept and passed down.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

An RV. Often people ask about RVs and why someone would spend all that time building a tiny house when they could just buy something off the lot. The only answer I can give is that it is a matter of personal preference and taste. If you want to go tiny and living in an RV make sense to you then, by all means, buy an RV. However, most tiny house people wanted something different. In our case we were looking to build a home on a permanent foundation on our mountain. An RV would have been impractical and impossible to get to the site. We built tiny because it seemed like something that just the two of us could manage together. It is exactly what we wanted.

photo credit: RVWithTito via photopin cc

photo credit: RVWithTito via photopin cc

The audience of a site like Tiny House Talk is going to be very different than that of Gizmodo. If you’re here you probably have a general interest in tiny living. So what are your thoughts on these typical objections to tiny living?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Maggie
    September 3, 2013, 1:04 pm

    Permitting I think would be one of the toughest things because the IBC(Internatinal Buiding Code) states what sizes certain spaces need to be while tiny houses don’t comply with this. Im building on wheels so it’s not something I’m worried about. Though finding a space to put it in the city is tough because if I try I’ll probably get a ticket eventually and kicked off the land. Most cities have their own codes about this that basically says you can’t live in an RV in the city limits. I’m sure some cities are more lenient than others. While we are not really RVs I think we fall into this. I think this code is more to keep out undesirables.
    In terms of occupancy I agree it is a mindset. My partner lived in trucks for 5 years off the grid he’s a vet when it comes to living tiny. I see my tiny house as living in my own personal style of luxury. Everything is going to be just the way I want it and size isn’t an issue because I have everything I need and want(it helps to be an interior designer).
    Stuff. What is important to you? Some people just can’t live without lost of stuff. I’m looking forward to a simpler life that will free me so I have more disposable income. Having stuff is expensive.
    People ask me all the time why not just get an RV? Well #1 I’m a designer and so I want to take this opportunity to exercise my designer muscles and create exactly what I want. I don’t like the quality of RV’s and generally it’s not something that you can make improvements like a house. Generally they just keep just getting more run down I think. Where a house with real window is something I can change and replace or go out and paint my siding as I would change my hair color. Though I’ve seen people do great things with RV’s I want a house, a real one- on wheels.

  • alice h
    September 3, 2013, 2:50 pm

    I just got the most disappointing news that my local bylaw enforcement is going to start cracking down on new non-compliant structures, which totally trashes my tiny house on wheels plan. I had hoped to get mine up and running well before but as usual got stumped by lack of cash. There is a 13′ Boler trailer in place now but it’s way too small for full time living the way I want. That leaves buying an RV, which is way cheaper but a lot less satisfying. Also not totally safe from bylaw interference as technically you’re still supposed to hook up to a septic system with an RV even if you have a composting toilet and good grey water system. However, the less your place looks like a full time real house (even if it is on wheels) the less likely you’ll get “the visit”. If I could afford a septic system (about $25,000 in my spot) I would love to build a small house on a foundation. I can get a decent 26′ to 30′ RV right now for about $3,000 to $5,000 and start living in it right away. Building a tiny house on wheels would be about $15,000 to $20,000 but would take several months and it might end up having to go elsewhere or be sold. The house on a foundation would end up being around $75,000 to $100,000 with the septic system. With only about $9,000 saved up by the end of this year I guess my options are pretty limited, barring a fortuitous but unlikely windfall.

    As far as space for all the stuff I want to have with me my 8×20 tiny house on wheels design would have worked well. The RV option less so though some configurations are better than others, especially the higher bed lofts and rear kitchens some have. You can replace the dinette with a small drop leaf table and do some other alterations to make the place more spacious. You can also close in the space under the bed loft outside and make a good storage area. Aesthetically RV’s can be a big disappointment but some can be painted, or if you luck out you might find a cool vintage one. The climate here is mild, rarely get a freeze in winter so the lack of insulation wouldn’t be as big an issue.

  • Alessandra
    September 3, 2013, 5:17 pm

    For me, the RV was never even an option for two reasons: aesthetic and insulation. I don’t like the look of them, whereas the mini-house designs I’ve seen I’ve adored. I also like the idea of being able to build my living structure with my own two hands, from the design on up.

    A mini trailer house for me would be a practice project, something to build for grad school until I know where I would be living, can buy land, and build a mini tree house 😀 I’m only waiting to build my mini house until I know where I’d be going to grad school, so I can research the local ordinances.

    Stuff has never been an issue for me, except craft supplies. I’ve always had a “what is the purpose for this” mindset and don’t like useless trinkets.

    For me, the biggest question has been pets. I’m currently trying to find a mini house/community near where I live in Topeka, KS, so I can get a real life gauge on if it would be space enough for my indoor-only cat. As much as I love mini houses, my cat takes precedence!

    • Molly
      September 3, 2013, 6:19 pm

      There are lots near Lake Perry for sale for very little money where the building codes are different. Some people live there year young while others just camp on the weekends. I saw one on Kansas City’s Craigslist page for less than $1000. If I were ready to build a tiny house I would have bought it. If you end up going to grad school in KC Lake Perry is not a terrible drive, but it is farther away than from Topeka.

  • Rhonda
    September 3, 2013, 8:09 pm

    To keep it simple, fallow your heart. It’s not what someone want it’s what you want.That’s what’s wrong into world we try to fit in with the Jones when they got and can care less. So if you like the tiny houses do it if not DON’t

  • September 3, 2013, 8:40 pm

    Everyone seems to think you “build” a TH and “buy” an RV and as such you can’t be creative with the RV option. It’s just as easy to build an RV so I don’t get it. Build one and add all the insulation you like.

    I’ve been living in an RV for 15 years, I built it then decided it was too large and rebuilt it. It’s currently parked on land in TH mode and has been for a year but I can pick up and leave at any time.

    All the concepts and ideals are the same with RVs and THs, it’s just the emphasis on moving, RVs are designed to move all the time, THs just occasionally (if at all).

  • Doc
    September 3, 2013, 11:35 pm

    Out of order, here they are…
    why not an RV? Insulation aside, living in these a few years you will find they dimply disintegrate one piece at a time. By design they are made for occasional use not full time. The fixtures, the fit, the quality of materials used, the appliances chosen do not compare to the tiny homes featured here and elsewhere. Granted, not all tiny homes meet that standard either nor are all RVs “cheap”. Some have fit, finish and fixtures that are quite high end, for a price. Some into seven figures. May as well have a mortgage.
    “Only one person, can’t fit all my stuff” I will lump together. You can do anything you can put your mind to. This whole world , until the mid century america, has built tiny. Families have been raised tiny for centuries. Yours could too. Stuff. Your stuff is just stuff. Is it valuable? Yes, to you. If you don’t think so, ask anyone who has ever had a yard sale how valuable their stuff was. What’s important to you can change in a moment. Just ask a fire victim, a person with a life altering disease or any number of life’s other changes. The last thing they think about is the stuff. We can get by with much less if we choose that. It just may not be for you on either count.
    Finally: zoning, that’s what it really comes down to. There really isn’t a community that has greeted tiny homes with open arms. They are too small for foundations and on wheels they become an RV that you can’t live in. As far as camp grounds, that is a huge expense. And yes, you have to move every couple weeks. Inconvenient if your camping. How much more so if you “live” there? So in most cases we live in a friend’s yard and hope we stay under the radar. Until we Change the zoning. Run for local office. Make change happen within the system. Or we are relegated to trailer parks, if they’ll have us! Some will only accept commercially manufactured homes.
    Thanks for your contributions here Laura.

    • bob henry
      September 4, 2013, 8:05 am

      My tiny caboose is now livable with all appliances and furniture in place. I have the land paid for and am only awaiting the final closing. I have been informed the zoning varience I am requesting will most likely not be allowed. So all I can do is place the unit on the land and live elsewhere except for occasional “camp outs” I fully intend to be a hugh thorn in their side until I finally wear them down with appeals and a few well placed e mails to the mayor and others in positions of authority. The caboose is an 8 x 20 tiny house on wheels and by their own admission is not an RV and not a mobile home and most certainly not a foundationed home so I am an unknown entity and the zoning people don’t seem to like unknown entities so for lack of a lable I have become an RV (even though they tell me it is not because of being home built rather than a commercial unit ). Now as an RV I have to have a campground to place it in , as you can not live in an RV full time unless you are in a campground. So my ground must become a campground but it is in an “industrial corridor” and does not fit the designs of the city fathers even though an aged mobil home park is a stones through away. GO FIGURE ???? The build was 10 times simpler than the maze of zoning hurdles.

      • Doc
        September 4, 2013, 4:05 pm

        Have you explored the avenue of historic place, structure or building? Just a thought if there is an historical society or a train group near you they may help get a designation. The other possibility, not attractive to all, is a mobile home park that is sometimes allowed in that location type. Hope that helps get you in your house.

  • Cahow
    September 4, 2013, 7:34 pm

    Well, I’m going to ask, “How TINY is tiny supposed to be?” Alex has featured tiny homes from 78 sq.ft. to a very favourably received home that was 800 sq.ft., so I doubt that many people would find it too terribly difficult to downsize to 600-800 sq.ft. unless they had some serious swag.

    Laura listed these four reasons why people hesitate to go down in size:
    ◾Permitting is just impossible.
    ◾This is only feasible for one person.
    ◾I couldn’t fit all my stuff in it.
    ◾Why not just get an RV?

    I’m going to use a Shot-Gun Effect and address THREE issues at once. The RV doesn’t apply to my answer.

    How do you go tiny, for more than one person, and have complete zoning approval? Simple. BUY A USED HOUSE!!!!!!

    Seriously, fellow tiny house fans, WHY pay for 2013 labor and material costs when you can find a magnificent tiny home through Tiny House Listings for $13,000…on five frickin’ acres of land?????????????? Tiny homes that are in situ have 1) Worked out all their kinks and settling out; 2) Been bought and paid for with 10-60+ year’s old labor costs; 3) All ready passed every zoning requirement; 4) Have septic, out-buildings, a road all going to the site. And the ones that are still “camps” with no insulation and an out-house? Well, then THIS is the perfect chance to ‘make it your own!’

    As an architect, I constantly scratch my head and wonder WHY someone would go through the pain-in-the-arse trouble of finding a trailer, finding friends who have building experience, paying for materials at 2013 costs, taking your valuable hours on Earth to scavenge for windows, doors, door knobs, etc. Is it some uncontrolable urge, like salmon’s swimming upstream, to MAKE something of your own that goes beyond laying down a welcome mat and applying some fresh paint?

    I deal with this compulsion every day of my life with my clients. A $2 million dollar home that just had $500,000 worth of “improvements” done to it will sell, the new person will hire me, have my company rip out almost everything they just bought on a turn-key property, and have me put in $750,000 worth of THEIR “improvements.” Perfectly flawless granite counter tops go OUT so perfectly flawless NEW granite counter tops can go IN. Wickedly expensive appliances and bathroom fixtures get torn OUT so wickedly expensive appliances and bathroom fixtures of a different colour can go IN. It makes me sick to my stomach but hey, I earn my living from it and have hauled everything I can use to friend’s and my own cottage to recycle and enjoy. I still love, adore, and use daily a stove, frig and horrifically expensive outdoor furniture set that was TOSSED INTO THE TRASH 30 years ago, at one of my client’s homes, because they “didn’t want to call The Salvation Army”. My gain, certainly not their loss.

    This week, on Tiny House Listings, there have been some crackerjack properties with cute-as-a-bug tiny homes under 400 sq.ft. Not one of them was higher than $35,000 with most under $16,000 WITH acres.

    There’s not a day in my life that I’ve lived in a new home. Some were 20 years old, one was over 128 years old and our current one is 8 years shy of 100 years old. It used to be a grocery store in the 1920’s-1960’s. Pardon me, but isn’t a huge part of the tiny house movement about leaving a light footprint on this planet and Reduce-Reuse-Recycle? Unless you’re Deek and have an almost 99% recycled tiny home, using NEW wood, plumbing, windows, etc., seems so utterly wasteful. ~shrug~

    • Maggie
      September 4, 2013, 11:46 pm

      In response to Cahow.
      Its the wheels thing. I want it on wheels. I can then take my house anywhere…If I’m sick of living somewhere or don’t like the neighbors or want a change of scenery I can take my cute as a button house and move it elsewhere.
      Though I think you are somewhat right about a tiny house with a foundation. I think if people want it attached to the land they would be smart to try to find one already there. You would probably have to do a lot to it to make it efficient but its easier than building from the ground up. But then…you have a mortgage. People build tiny houses also to save money without getting a mortgage. I will have to pay land rent when I move my tiny house to its destination but no property taxes, mortgage and only minor utility bills. Oh by the way I’m going to live on a land co-op so no real landlord either just a group of people working together to live in harmony with the land. I’m hoping to have less hassle this way. We will see.

      • Cahow
        September 5, 2013, 8:41 am

        Hi, Maggie. Thanks for your response on your particular dream and why you’re choosing a tiny home on wheels vs. fixed to a foundation.

        In response to that, a great portion of the Tiny House Listings that I’ve seen these past 2 weeks have been turn-key tiny homes on WHEELS, some for as low as $5,000!!!! That is absolutely within the parameter of affordability, from what I’ve read on this site from others.

        Regarding this quote of yours: “But then…you have a mortgage. People build tiny houses also to save money without getting a mortgage.” No, you don’t necessarily have a mortgage for a $5,000 to $16,000 tiny home if you’re saving up for it, as I’ve read, again, from what so many tiny home lovers are doing. Yes, if it’s immediate gratification you’re after and you’ve got $9000 saved and MUST HAVE that $16,000 tiny cabin in the woods, but then that’s the price you pay for NOW vs. LATER.

        Alex just sent out a blog posting this week about a woman who’s outgrown her tiny house and now wants to sell it. It took her SIX years to construct it, she lived in it for TWO years, and now it’s on the market. I don’t understand the savings in that plan; she’ll never recoup either the time nor money that was put into it. By the way, it took only 18 months to build the Empire State Building in 1930-31, and was finished about a month ahead of schedule and $5 million under budget.

        Hope you find your Piece of Heaven for your tiny wheeled home, Maggie!

  • Kimberly Hills
    September 5, 2013, 1:04 am

    I don’t know alot about permitting and zoning requirements. I am only 19 years old though and it’s very hard to aquire the information let alone put it into practice for someone my age. People just don’t take you seriously. But, in theory my plan sounds feasible. Take a used manufactured shed, and convert it into a house. You already haveto stick it on a foundat ion in most cases anyway. The thingI am strugg lingwith is how to convince the people in charge that it isnot utterly crazy to consider using it as a home instead of storage. IIt’s cheap, easy and convenient. The prices people are talking about for tiny homes seems really exaggerated to me. I can buy a used storage sheds for right arounda thou sand bucks. The necessary construction to convert it can’t cost more than 5,000. A septic system can be self installed if you justta kethe t ime to learn how. I just don’t understand why people think it’s so impossible for someone with low income. I’m broke as dirt. I knowif I ju stsave and do a litt le at a time and utilize my resources well than I can really make this happen. When I think about gettingthe job , building the credit, and working my ass off for 30 years to pay off a house that is WAY too big for my needs, and probably needs work to make livable anyway, I just don’t see it happening. I honestly think that you haveto lo ok at it through the eyes of younger people to understand. Our options are just limited. This is what we have to work with. And as far as the zoning and permitting is concerned, maybe changes need to be made in order to house future generations. The way things are now, I don’t think anyone my age can even consider buying a traditional home. It’s just not an option.

    • Cahow
      September 5, 2013, 12:03 pm

      Hi, Kimberly. Well, you’re right about one thing, people YOUR age of 19 years old can’t consider buying a home because most are in their 2nd year of Uni and are concentrating on that part of their life. Even the G.I.’s that came back from war were in their early 20’s before the G.I. Bills of the ’60’s.

      But, owning a home with NO mortgage is completely do-able, if a person plans and brings others along on the plan for support. My DD has a friend the same age as her (23 y.o.) who found a group of like-minded individuals to all save money and become debt free. They rented a huge 6-bedroom home in an average neighborhood that isn’t fancy and found 12 other friends to share each room. The rent is $1800 a month, split 12 ways = $150.00!!!! They only got Wi-Fi, not cable, since you can stream so much on tablets/laptops nowadays, so expenses come to about $180 each when gas/electric/wi-fi is figured in. Half of the people are living there with their partner, so they have a room to themselves that they can go into for privacy.

      Between my daughter’s friend and her fiance, they are saving $3,200 per month of what they used to pay to have separate apartments with separate bills, even though they stayed at her apartment 90% of the time. They figure that in 2 years time, they will have $76,800.00 in CASH in their joint savings account, which is more than enough money to buy a tiny house that is complete in every way, on a good amount of land…with money to spare. In the meantime, they just keep looking at listings throughout the United States to compare prices and what areas they can get the most out of their money. They both work for the same company, different stores, that is located around the globe and provides 401K plans and free health insurance, too, so they can live anywhere their hearts desire.

      My best friend and her son also came up with a wonderful idea. She is selling her house to him and his fiancee when she retires in 5 years. The “kids” (both 25) are saving 100% of the money they would spend on an apartment + utilities and giving it to my friend to place in a savings account, so they can pay off the $17,825 mortgage in 5 years time. They began this project 3 years ago and in the meantime, because both the son and future daughter-in-law know they will OWN this home outright, they have been taking all their spare time to improve their future home with upgrades. The beauty of this is, this is Mathew’s childhood home and neighborhood, great schools, he’s investing in his future and by time my friend retires and they get married, they’ll be completely set up and debt free!

      So, there are ways to own without a mortgage and be debt-free, too. You just need to be creative. 🙂

      • Alex
        September 5, 2013, 12:18 pm

        LOVE these stories, thanks so much for sharing..

        • Cahow
          September 5, 2013, 12:40 pm

          Thanks, Alex! I come from old Pioneer Stock, the kind of folks that said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”, so very little stops me on my way to my goals.

          Even my dear husband and I lived with his cherished mother-in-law for the 1st two years of our marriage so we could save up a bloody fortune for our first home. 🙂 In 2 years time we had over $100k saved up from our three jobs! The blessings of that is that when my MIL retired, she sold her home and rolled it into a 3 flat with us: one floor rental income, one floor for her and one floor for us. She was independent until the day she passed but we’d jointly go to stores together, shop together, do laundry for her, etc. We did all maintenance in her home and the entire building, and the rental unit was putting money back into our savings account since we bought the 3-flat outright with cash.

          It breaks my heart but also makes me shake my head when I read post after post after post at other sites, where people are ALL saying the same darn thing: “I want to find like-minded people to buy land, set up a commune, community garden…” but not a single one of those mook’s takes the initiative to DO ANYTHING BUT POST COMMENTS AND DREAM! Come on, people, if you can find people to join a book club or rent a room from you, are you telling me that 3 single moms with kids can’t pool their resources, find a large home in an average neighborhood and join forces? Everyone wants SOMEONE to do the homework for them but are unwilling to do the hard work themselves. Find some students, find some moms, rent a home, split the bills, see if you all get along. If you do, find some land, draw up contracts, buy the land, build your tiny homes and community garden. DONE! DONE! & DONE!!!

          It really is THAT simple. We have bidding wars on our rental unit in Chicago and several of the students we’ve rented to have gone on to buy their own condo from the money they saved up living with us. If you aren’t looking for a place in a very high end neighborhood, there are tons of homes/apartments in just.plain.neighborhoods. that go for cheap! It can be done and dreams can be achieved but you got to get off your arse to achieve them.

    • alice h
      September 5, 2013, 4:34 pm

      Make sure you know the rules for your area before installing your own septic system. In my area you aren’t allowed to, you MUST use one of the approved installers. Money grab? Yup, but it’s the local law and it does protect a somewhat delicate island watershed. If you were lucky enough to have a septic system in place before they changed the law a few years ago you’re grandfathered in until you need to replace it or do substantial repairs. I could put in a slightly cheaper system if I was willing to cut down all the trees but that kind of defeats the purpose of having a nice spot in the woods and would cause a lot of erosion problems.

      Age has nothing to do with getting information – local laws and bylaws are a matter of public record and an internet search should yield results. You can usually go to a public library to find the info if going online is a problem. Just polish up your research skills and go for it.

      Who cares if people take you seriously anyway? Some of the best ideas came from people that nobody took seriously at the time. As long as they don’t throw obstacles in your way just keep on going with a smile as if you know something they don’t, because you do. You know you can get it done. Everybody’s options have some kind of limit or other, you just have to figure out a work-around. I will admit getting older can often make you more wily (and cantankerous to boot) but some of us need that because we don’t have as much energy to put into side tracks as a younger person might.

      If you can’t get where you want to be right away then just start working in that direction. You’ll get there eventually or maybe discover a whole new plan along the way. Cahow’s idea of getting together with others is a great way to go when you’re just starting out or any time.

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