It’s been a strange few weeks, to say the least.
I’ve had to remind myself more than once that I owe nothing of myself or the details of my life to anyone on the Internet – nice people or mean people. You all leave comments, and then go about your business not thinking much of my own life. And nor should you! I don’t spend a lot of time thinking of other people’s decisions in my own day-to-day business. I have my own life to lead.
I still feel compelled to write down and publish the long list of reasons we won’t be living in our tiny house. For posterity, for my own sake, and really for anyone who has a genuine, sincere interest in our continued story. And maybe some of these points might help some of you in your own tiny house journey.
Many people think we’re selling our tiny house because it was stolen from us, and that we’re letting fear dictate our lives. (Anyone who knows us in real life finds the idea that Casey and I let fear controls our lives endlessly humorous). In reality, the theft was more of a tipping point than some singular catastrophic event that upturned everything.
1) We just can’t do this anymore. People who haven’t been through the process of building anything, even a so-called “tiny house”, simply do not understand the realities of construction. I only half-joke that the thing that makes tiny building so difficult is that there is just enough space to finally get a partial handle on whatever step of the process you are undertaking – and then that step is over. You never build up any momentum to carry the task out faster and better. Because the space is so small, it’s time to start from square one on the next step of the process before you even reap the benefits of having mastered the previous step. It’s not very satisfying to work this way. People say: “Oh, you’ve come so far! You’re so close to finishing!” No, we really, really aren’t. We’ve been “so close” to finishing nearly every month for the last two and a half years.
2) Where would we put the house now? There are many indications that the area in which we live had to do with the theft. I won’t go into details, but despite some VERY lovely neighbors, we also have some not-so-lovely neighbors, and to put the house back where it was parked seems to only invite the theft or damage once again. Some idiot asked me on Facebook if my apartment was broken into, would I just break my lease and move somewhere else? And the answer is: absolutely I would, if I thought the location of my apartment had something to do with the theft itself. This is so bleeding obvious I can’t believe he asked it. Welcome to the Internet.
We spent a long time looking for land that would allow a tiny house to be parked on it, and I have no desire to go back through that process again. Also, now that we have an apartment very close to all the places we need to be, it’s made me realize how nice it is not to face a 50 minute commute each way just to get to civilization. The unfortunate part of tiny houses is that the one place you can be relatively assured* no one will call the local zoning boards on you is the countryside. And living in the countryside means you have to enjoy driving unless you plan to spend all your time at home.
*I say “relatively assured” because Jonathan had issues even in the countryside. He ended up not living in tiny house, either. A lot of people (people who stand to make money off the tiny house movement itself) say things like “If you build it, the parking space will come.” This was the cavalier attitude I took at the start of the process. Once we started the build, we began to look for a place to park it. We looked at RV parks and were turned away (no homemade trailers allowed), we looked at unrestricted land that was way too big and too expensive, then we finally found a small rural neighborhood that seemed fine just to have it turn out that our house was stolen…all this to say that if you are thinking of building a tiny house on wheels, weigh the risks. If you can afford to build a tiny house and like being adventurous with the idea that you’ll find a place to put it “later,” by all means, do so. Otherwise, sincerely do your research before jumping in feet first to an expensive, time-consuming build.
3) The potential for theft. This is a small reason, but a reason nonetheless. I just can’t live wondering if my tiny house and its contents is going to be there when I get home from work or from play. Despite the new anti-theft measures we’ve put in (boots on the trailer, and a mega hitch lock), I just can’t. Once I had a stomach bug and happened to eat chili and noodles right before the symptoms started. Cue vomiting up chili and noodles all night. Despite the fact that technically the chili and noodles did not cause my illness, it put me off chili and noodles for life. All this to say: I’m not blaming the tiny house. But I still associate it with theft. For anyone reading this deciding on their own build, I’d say the only location I’d feel comfortable parking my house is in the suburbs somewhere: in someone’s backyard, behind a fence, with many, many neighbors around, and preferably some large trees that grow back over the tow-path. But then I’d have to live in the suburbs, and that’s just not for me. Also, finding a suburb like that is easier said than done. Dee Williams, in her super-progressive, liberal, Washington state town STILL had to get a special variance that allowed her and only her to be parked there, in that very particular space. If you have the stomach to go through a process like that, more power to you.
4) Our lifestyle has changed. The build was initially going to be 4-6 months in length. It’s taken 2.5 years, for various reasons that aren’t anyone’s business, but really came down to time and money. Since it’s taken so long, our lives have changed. We simply need more space – not for living, but for our businesses and creative endeavors. Our property had a little cabin on it that we were going to use as a studio. We can’t live on that land any longer for safety reasons, so the thought of having to come up with a solution to another accessory building in a new location is just too much. It’s ludicrous, when we could just have a larger apartment (650 s.f.) that’s already constructed (!!!!!) with plenty of space for our needs.
5) Our priorities have changed. Our main goal has always been to live in a place where we can be car-lite or car-free. Coincidentally, the week before the tiny house was stolen, we came up with a solid plan of where we want to live (next, anyway) without a car. The plan was three to four years more living in the tiny house, then moving elsewhere to a city where we can be active without a car. The house was stolen, and suddenly it looked like our plan could be moved up on the timeline.
6) I’ve spent the last 18 months trying to decide if I’m a country person or a city person. The answer appears so obvious to me now, I feel a little silly even asking the question. I hate driving and I love museums, libraries, public transit, good food, biking trails, parks, and concerts. Period. That makes me a city person at this point in my life. I realize now that I was actually spending the last 18 months trying to convince myself that I was okay living out in the middle of nowhere. I’m not okay with it at this point in my life.
7) I don’t want to compress my expectations any longer. Some people live in a tiny house because it truly makes their lives more simple, yet it gives them space to do the things they want to do. I realize now that the tiny house had reached a point that it was restricting our lives and our expectations. Again: it took us further away from city living and honestly, it put me in a mindset of not just extreme frugality (which is great!) but of extremely low income-making. Maybe I’ll expound on this another day, but essentially I convinced myself that making an exceedingly small amount of money was good enough for me, and it isn’t. I was trying to shrink my life and my goals. I was feeling a little suffocated. I’m not saying having a tiny house does this to everyone – it was just doing it for me.
8) A tiny house is not the only answer. Some people seem to think that not living in a stick-built, tiny house on wheels means “giving up the tiny lifestyle.” I realize now how silly I was to think a tiny house was the only way to live simply. It’s not. I don’t even know what living simply means, to be honest with you. Building a tiny house and trying to live in one in 2015 means you are a pioneer. There aren’t enough of them yet to have changed public perception, zoning laws, or local codes. There is huge risk in living in mostly uncharted territory. And we need people trying to do it! I just can’t be one of them. My energy needs to be spent elsewhere. Fighting the tide is not simple. It is easier to have a mortgage and a 9-5 job than it is to live in a tiny house and be self-employed. Depending on how you look at it, the former is the real “simple life” in 2015. A case can be made for both sides.
To “not fight the tide” doesn’t mean we are off to live in a 6,000 s.f. house in the suburbs (though there is NOTHING WRONG with that if you do; it simply doesn’t fit for us). It means we are channeling our energy elsewhere, toward goals that mean more to us.
We are not giving up. We are not fickle people. I think giving up would look like staying with our build even though we know it can’t work for us any longer. For us to say: “Okay, we came this far, even though every fiber of our being is telling us this is no longer the direction we want to go, we need to see it through no matter the cost” would be giving up in my book.
We are constantly re-examining where we are going and what we are doing, and I think that’s what makes us awesome. So many people continue to commit to things that are no longer working for them, and end up on their deathbed wishing they’d taken more risks. Even though this process has been almost nothing but stress and pain, I’d rather be sitting where I am now, having tried to build a tiny house and deciding it wasn’t for me after all, than to have never tried at all and be sitting around the rest of my life doodling floor plans in the margins and wondering if I was ever going to take the leap.
ADDENDUM: I just went back to read Jonathan’s post (mentioned above) from years ago, and the similarities in our situations are eerie in many ways. This sums it all up for me, almost to the letter:
“Even if I win, I will still be next to a neighbor who hates me. Even if I win, I will be 10 miles away from the nearest grocery store. Even if I win, I will be both physically and socially isolated, far enough away from everyone nearby to where visiting me is inconvenient, but not far enough away to where I’ll be compelled to seek out new things. I’ll be in an area in which the population is politically and ideologically at odds with my own morals and values. I will, in essence, become a hermit here.”