Tiny houses and letting dreams evolve

Last weekend I went with Military Dollar to the VA/DC Tiny House Festival, despite being someone who does not want to live in a tiny house. Conceptually they’re super interesting! But they’re not for me. Mainly when I think about tiny houses I start feeling claustrophobic and restless, and I’m not signing myself up for that! Why am I so anti-tiny house?

Let me count the ways

Some of this feeling stems from the fact that I can’t imagine paring down my belongings to the point where they wouldn’t be overwhelming in a tiny space. Things change but I don’t foresee myself becoming a minimalist anytime soon; part of that is me fighting a constant uphill battle against my genetics and family history, and part of it is because I am always the mom in the group who has painkillers or a bandaid or other useful things in her purse. Being prepared for multiple scenarios requires having extra stuff on hand!

Remember my newly-cleaned desk? There’s a lot of extra decorations on it solely because I enjoy them. This isn’t exactly the kind of personal style (my closet looks like this, too) that works well with tiny living

Caution: low clearance

Some of it is just plain old #tallpersonproblems. I don’t want to wake up in the morning and constantly bash my head on the ceiling or risk doing so if I forget not to sit up (I slept in the top bunk for most of my childhood—plus my bed was lofted most years in my dorm rooms—and it’s nice to have the head space now to actually be able to sit up in bed!). I don’t want to have to duck down constantly under doorways or areas that otherwise separate space.

Sure, not all tiny houses are inhospitable to tall people, but the phrase “tiny house” evokes a sense of a space where I don’t have room to move around freely. As people who make the mistake of standing too close to me in barre classes quickly find out, I take up space.

I’m not even an amazing chef

But a major reason I couldn’t do a tiny tiny house? I need a full-sized kitchen (if that makes me high maintenance, so be it!). Or at least one that comes close to full-sized. I am not willing to live in any type of dwelling where a mini fridge is my only temperature-controlled food storage option or where I don’t have an oven (sorry, microwave ovens won’t cut it for me.[*] Okay, I’ve never owned or really used one but that’s also because they always seemed pointless when I had a perfectly good oven that would actually fit all of my food in it).

One of my biggest complaints about my current apartment is the lack of counter space. I don’t need a massive and gorgeous, HGTV-approved kitchen, but it would be nice not to need to use my kitchen table for auxiliary meal prep space if I’m doing something ambitious or complicated (making lasagna comes to mind here).

I don’t want a huge house, but…

The apartment my roommate and I share is somewhere between 800-900 square feet. Even without her room, that’s still way more space than I need. I think I could comfortably live in about 400-500 square feet, depending on the layout, but that’s a far cry from some tiny house footprints of 120 square feet!

So let’s just say I was going in pretty skeptical when I decided to go to this festival. But being a skeptic personally doesn’t mean I’m not curious about how people make that lifestyle work for them (plus it was Mil$’s last weekend in DC and I wanted to spend time with her since I won’t see her until FinCon now). Don’t get me wrong, tiny houses are fascinating. And I’d never seen one in person, so this was the perfect chance.

Sometimes saying yes to things you wouldn’t normally say yes to is awesome

Okay, it was so cool! There were tiny houses, vans, campers, skoolies, and one larger place in particular with two lofts that even I wouldn’t classify as too small. I will never be able to live comfortably in somewhere as small as 120 square feet. But we saw some tiny houses that didn’t make me want to run away screaming.

Our favorite was a renovated school bus.

It was gorgeous, very light and airy (it helps when your walls are primarily composed of windows that can all open!), can sleep six, I did not feel like I was going to hit my head on the ceiling, and best of all, there’s a fantastic kitchen! He very deliberately built it for community and for hanging with friends and family, and that was very obvious walking in.

This is a school bus! (??!!?) Go look up Michael’s blog and Instagram for better photos

Michael, the owner of the bus, has a blog, which you can find here. He spent 9 months and about $30,000 on the bus, and his monthly expenses now (including student loans, which I no longer have!) are about $1,000. After talking to Michael and his sister for a while, I was ready to quit my job and move in to that bus right away. If I were building one for myself I’d do some things differently (not that kitchen though, omg ?) but this really got me thinking.

Have I been converted?

After going to the festival, I still maintain that I wouldn’t want to live in a tiny house permanently (small, yes. Tiny, no). But I would definitely do it for a limited period of time.

I want to travel a lot in the future, and tiny living while traveling would make a lot of sense. Taking a year or so to live that #vanlife (or an RV. Or a skoolie!) would be a fantastic way to be able to travel and reduce my housing expenses (although the low gas mileage of those options is appalling). Living in a van would be extreme, sure, and I wouldn’t want to do it forever (or wait too many more years for it. I’m not sure #vanlife in my 30s would be nearly as appealing!). But it would also be an adventure, and would be worth testing out for a bit. I’m also willing to sacrifice my living space in order to make my dream of extensive travel happen.

Leaving the festival half-convinced to build or buy my own skoolie was pleasantly surprising, and has gotten me thinking the past few days about my dreams and their evolution.

From white picket fences…

I used to have the typical white picket fence dreams; I grew up in the suburbs where a 3- or 4-bedroom house and a yard was the norm. I lived in a house like that and obviously my life looking like my parents’ one day would signify that I, too, was a Real Adult.

A while after I moved to DC and into my lovely neighborhood, my dreams changed. DC is full of gorgeous rowhouses with cute little yards, and I walk by plenty of them every single day. Who needed a huge yard in the suburbs that required a bunch of upkeep when you could instead live in a beautiful rowhouse in a walkable neighborhood?

Originally I took this photo (back in Jan 2016) to document how this was the most snow I’d ever seen at one time in my life. But that’s not the point in this post: look at how beautiful those rowhouses are!

My dreams have since changed again. For one, as someone who’s been living in an apartment ever since graduation (and was in dorm rooms all four years of college), I have to think there’s a lot to be said for not having to share walls (or floors/ceilings) with your neighbors. That definitely rules out rowhouses! I also don’t need or want all of the space that would come with either the rowhouse or the white picket fence ideal of home.

…to FIRE?

I don’t have a clear idea of what I want my living situation be in the future (and hell, at my current rate I don’t see myself owning a house anytime soon ?‍♀️). But that’s okay.

A lot has changed for me in the last year and a half since deciding to pursue the FI path. While my job and apartment still look the same as they did back then, my finances and priorities have shifted. There’s no telling where I’ll be in even another year and a half.

FIRE (or even FI) is so far away at this point that planning for a hard and fast vision of what that’ll look like is absolutely pointless. And basing this vision off my life as it currently looks is partially wise but also pretty foolhardy: I’m hoping in a few years to be earning lots more money, to be living elsewhere, to no longer be single, to have a better grasp on how I want to spend my time when I’m not devoting a lot of it to sitting at a desk on weekdays. There’s no guarantee any of that will happen, but I don’t think any of it is out of the realm of possibility.

Sure, I’m absolutely planning for FI on my own. But ideally I’ll have a partner on this wild journey I’m taking. My FI path would then shift to include my partner’s dreams and our shared vision.

So for now I’m painting the broad brushstrokes but none of the details. So much has changed for me even recently in terms of what I think I want out of life that there’s not a lot of point in filling in the details prematurely. And sure, it’s hard to work towards a goal when you don’t know what exactly that goal is. But I also want to work towards a flexible idea of what FIRE will look like. I don’t want to stubbornly hold on to a very specific dream, only to find when I finally reach it that it’s no longer what I want.

Tiny sparks of ideas

As for tiny living, I think I’m more interested in what the lifestyle itself means than the actual signifiers of tiny house life. I love that many tiny houses are sustainable and built to be off the grid either permanently or partially; there weren’t shipping container houses at the festival, but I can definitely see myself living in a house built out of them. I love the sense of freedom that not being tied down to one place signifies, even though I’m not sure I’d want my residence to be fully mobile. There’s freedom in being able to physically move your dwelling around, but also freedom in not owning a ton of stuff.

And lastly, tiny house living is a lifestyle outside of the norm. If that doesn’t also sum up FIRE, I don’t know what does.

[*]I might’ve written this part after talking to someone about the efficiency they have available for rent in this neighborhood, and me deciding it not having a full kitchen (“there’s a mini fridge and there’s space for a toaster oven”) was a dealbreaker…

20 Replies to “Tiny houses and letting dreams evolve”

  1. I’m so excited you got to see some tiny houses in real life! I really wish we had a festival closer to us so I could do the same. I think there are a lot of things that are appealing about the tiny house lifestyle, even if someone isn’t interested in the actual dwelling. I’m honestly surprised that more FIRE people don’t go the tiny house route. It seems the logical financial choice for something like that!

    1. It really does! $100k for a house, or $350k minimum for an apartment around here? Forget it! But sub $50k sounds so much more doable and I don’t actually need a ton of extra space that would come with a house or a larger apartment.

  2. That school bus is awesome – I so want it! I reckon I could easily live in that!

    And I love your approach on the evolution of future plans – mine are always changing slightly, but the core theme of travel remains.

    1. I absolutely fell in love with that bus when we walked in haha. Yep, there’s so much to do and see in this world and I can’t fathom settling down somewhere for an extended period of time at this point in my life.

  3. Wait to the efficiency units in your city not have common kitchens?? But I am absolutely with you on needing a full kitchen. Ours is small and narrow and too small for us, but it’s livable at least. That schoolie kitchen is bigger than the one we had in our first apartment!

    And the whole point of FI for me is a hedge against changing dreams in the future. My life at 30 looks so different from what I would have imagined at 20, and I’m certain 40 and 50 will look different than I expect now. FI means we can be flexible with those changing dreams.

    1. I’m not sure if that’s a thing or just something about this particular efficiency. I honestly don’t think we have that many efficiencies in the city in general.

      Yeah mine is liveable but frustrating. The second I move somewhere with a larger kitchen I’m going to be spoiled for life!

      Hah we just had this conversation about how important hedging for changing plans/wants/dreams/circumstances is. I’m glad you’re on the FI path and will have that flexibility even if it’s not now <3

  4. Such a bummer I should’ve went to this!

    I totally think I could live in a tiny space for a couple years but like you I wouldn’t want that long term.

    There’s nothing wrong with changing up FIRE plans! I find that it’s probably much better to take a flexible approach to what your FIRE life will look like as so so much can change over the years-even once you are FIRE

    1. Hahaha I told you you should come along! Maybe next time (which is not a thing I thought I’d ever say about a tiny house festival! ?).

      Yep, one of the things I value most about the concept of FIRE is flexibility, so it would only make sense to have a flexible FIRE plan!


    2. Gas mileage – I’ve been giving this some thought, and while the gas mileage of a skoolie is truly abysmal, I think the fact that you can move your house to where you want to be offsets it. You wouldnt be living 30 miles from your work like so many people do every day. Plus, if I were going to do this I’d almost certainly have a bike or moped in a little “garage” in back, so all of my around-town travel would have very little effect on the environment. And you are saving sooooo many carbon emissions by living tiny. I think if you aren’t traveling town to town constantly, this is actually not a bad ecological choice.

    3. Let me tell you, as someone in her thirties who has been sitting at a desk for most of the last 14 years, #vanlife sounds AMAZING.


      2. You’re totally right. If I were going to be constantly traveling it would be something like #vanlife which would at least get better gas mileage. If I had a mobile tiny home I’d be parking it for long stretches of time.

      3. Haha good to know this might not just be a passing fancy of mine that I’ll be uninterested in in a few years!

  6. If I ever did a tiny house it would be of the mobile kind. Same thing but with wheels. And I’m very inclined to do that one day. That school bus is amazing, but I can’t help to think how loud it is and the horrible gas mileage. Modern RV’s are quiet and utilize space very well and probably get better mileage. But kudos to that guy for his creation, it’s beautiful!

    1. Isn’t it? I wouldn’t have something exactly like that (and among the other skoolie problems you listed, I still get nauseous thinking about the many, many hours I spent on school buses in elementary and high school and I’m not sure I’d be able to live in one!) but this was definitely a good point to jump off from. Because now I’m actually considering something I wasn’t just a few weeks ago!

  7. My mom and I almost went today! It’s in Denver right now! Tiny Houses make me feel weird, but I have wanted to live in a camper for quite some time. I thought about doing it when I move to Pensacola, but then I worried I’m not experienced enough to survive a hurricane down there in a camper. Still, the small life calls to me!

    I don’t think I could do it forever though.

    1. At least with an RV you’d be able to evacuate before a bad storm? That would definitely worry me though!

  8. I love the idea of a Tiny House! Having 4 young kids is not an option for me right now, but down the road I would absolutely LOVE to live in a tiny house.

    I am not sure if there is something out there like this or not, but I wonder if doing some traveling in a Tiny House would be good to get an idea if you like it. Like a Tiny House AirBnb or HomeAway?

    If you know of one, let me know!

    1. Hah yeah no way I’d move into somewhere small with 4 kids! Ooh that’s an interesting idea. I don’t know anything like that but it’s worth researching.

  9. Ahh, the tiny house movement. That’s what got me interested in living more simply, and then the FIRE community! Their allure is amazing. I don’t need much space, and their affordability makes it easy for me to reach my goals of owning property.

    1. Right? I love so many things about the movement, even if I’ll never be fully converted to living in something actually tiny!

  10. Getting to see all those tiny houses sounds awesome! We have downsized a couple times and are downsizing again soon. I needed baby steps when downsizing! I am embracing minimalism more and more but I don’t know that I could live in a tiny house, especially now with a 1 year old. My husband would LOVE to attempt RV life one day and I am willing to give a shot. It’s funny how are views and ideals change over the years. Love that you have an open mind!

    1. Baby steps are most definitely how I’ve been approaching my decluttering. It never seems like I make any progress, but then again I wouldn’t be able to just get rid of half my things in one fell swoop, so little by little is the better approach! A one-year-old would definitely make tiny living difficult, but it could definitely be fun to try RV life later!

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