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!
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.
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?
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.
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…