Homes to Love
When I first started building my tiny house three years ago, I didn't have land or even the prospect of it. But I craved a home, so I started the process of building a mobile home with the hope that I'd find somewhere to live in it when I was ready. Prior to this I was moving around a lot, helping on permaculture farms and traveling. In the process, I culled my possessions over several years. Every time I returned from a trip with only a backpack of essentials, I realized more and more that I didn't need those things that I'd lived without for months on end. I guess deciding to build a tiny house was the final move towards living with less; the things you're attached to become less important and the space their absence provides becomes the thing you crave.
Tiny House Dimensions
A tiny house is generally agreed to be a dwelling less than 400 square feet, whether on wheels or a foundation.
A project is born.
First, I bought my trailer, which was a brand-new caravan chassis I found on eBay. Then, I made it road-worthy and registered it as a tandem trailer. Next, I put it out into the universe that I needed to find a block of land for $35,000, as that was all I could afford without having to get a job just to pay a mortgage. The next week, I found my land west of Melbourne, Australia, and a few months later I moved my house there.
I designed and built the house myself using around 80 percent recycled materials. I hunted down doors and windows from eBay, Gumtree, and local buy, swap, and sell groups. Once I had them, I was able to start drawing up my framing — which I did, very simply, on graph paper; no fancy computer skills needed!
Once I had my design refined, I used as much recycled timber as I could find and purchased the rest from a local timber mill, which saved me almost three-quarters of the cost. I had a friend help me with the framing, as I'd never done it before — but I have been an earth builder for seven years now. I work with SuperAdobe, an earthbag technique developed by Iranian-American architect Nader Khalili, who created the Cal-Earth Institute in California where I studied. In fact, while working on projects in Australia, the US, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina, I stumbled across tiny house projects around the world. The more I looked at tiny houses, the more it seemed to make sense as an option for me.
My entire house (including the chassis, a small solar-powered fridge, and solar panel) cost less than $10,000 to build. I now live here with my partner and our golden retriever-Labrador cross, Saffron. Luckily, she has short hair — tiny house, big dog! We've been here for almost a year now.
The response you get when you tell someone you live in a tiny house is always exciting. You can see a twinkle in their eye when they see someone doing something they themselves would love to do! Tiny houses allow us to step off the treadmill of the mortgage trap and step back into life. And we can all live without a mortgage if we just change our habits — the main thing it comes down to is wanting and needing less stuff, using less power, being conscious of how much waste we create, and being willing to deal with it ourselves.
We compost our food waste, burn paper things that we can't compost, recycle or reuse cans and jars, and make bricks for building out of our clean soft plastics. We simply shove the soft plastics into a plastic bottle with a wooden spoon until they're rock hard. You can fit almost two months' worth of plastic in one bottle depending on your food packaging and buying habits. This ends up being a "building brick" in the SuperAdobe walls, and after render is applied you can't see them.
Entertaining in a Tiny House
The experience of living tiny with a partner has been incredibly positive in our case. We love the house, how it feels and functions, and the fact that it's so simplistic. If we need space, we just go outside. When one of us is sick, there's the bed and the couch where we can rest. It's quite handy sitting in a kitchen and being able to reach whatever you need, so endless cups of herbal tea are never a bother! In fact, we often have friends pop in for a drink.
If the weather is bad, we will most probably have our mini wood stove on and we can fit about six people in the house comfortably with steaming cups of tea on laps. If the weather is nice, we entertain outside, but we do find that people prefer to be in the house because it's such a lovely space.
There are just so many amazing things about living tiny: being warm, taking five minutes to clean the house, not having enough space to endlessly accumulate more things, and the simple convenience. It also seems to invoke the child within; living in a compact and cozy space reminds you of being in a treehouse as a kid. The biggest challenge is that you can't easily buy new things. You might think, "Oh, that's a nice jacket. But then where am I going to hang it… OK, maybe I don't need it after all!" The one thing that we're missing is a deck, and that will be the next step because I love stretching and that's one thing that becomes tricky (but not impossible) in a tiny house.
The Simple Life
In the end, I think the house you live within should be a simple and attainable thing that doesn't force you to live beyond your means. The concept of a tiny house is an affordable and realistic option for housing, as it removes so many of the costs that people often go into debt to afford. And if you're considering going down this path but don't know where to start, just ask. There's a whole connected community of people out there who are doing the same thing. Ultimately, a home should be a launching pad from which you spring into the world and do things that you love — be it a job, a way of life, a craft, whatever! I think it's always worth remembering that life is to be lived, not worked.
This post was written by Emma Markezic. For more, check out our sister site, Homes to Love.