After my Austrian and I got out of the restaurant ownership rat race, we decided to go tiny. New dreams were materializing where the restaurant dream had been. I wanted land where I could grow a garden, where we could build a modest but interesting home on a foundation. I also wanted to take some time to finish one of my books and see if a publisher would be interested. Living in a tiny house was a means to an end for us. At least that’s how it started.
Surprisingly, living tiny started to change me. When we went tiny, I designed a 1,200 sq ft dream house. After six months of living tiny, I took out my pen and paper again and designed a 900 sq ft dream house. A year later I designed an even smaller one. Along the way we were realizing that living simply agreed with us, we were enjoying the many benefits, and the dream began to change.
We still wanted to find land and build a house, but not 1,200 square feet. Maybe not 125 square feet with no loft like our first tiny home. Perhaps a home that was a slightly more relaxed version of our current space with the addition of special luxuries like a lovely bathtub, a masonry heater (like the Kachelofen my Austrian remembers from his youth), a nice closet. All of that still adds up to a rather small house, and it sounds wonderful to me.
Living simply in a tiny house also has some very palpable financial benefits for us. With no mortgage or rent payment, there was a difference in what was required each month. At first we didn’t notice much change, but over time we realized that we had some breathing room financially. After a while we saw our savings account grow. We took a Dave Ramsey class and read a book by Helen and Scott Nearing that inspired us to live debt free. In time, we purchased a rather interesting and rare vintage Mercedes-Benz we wanted, (wanted not needed) without a loan.
Later on, we purchased another truck without a loan as well and donated our really old one. Those were surprisingly stress-free auto purchases. Living tiny and refusing to use debt has made a huge difference for us. We are happy to recommend this life to anyone.
There are some other dreams as well. I have dreamed of being a published author for more than a decade, and I already have a number of books partially written. Living tiny gave me the opportunity to take a creative writing class at Stanford and to take other classes with some of my favorite authors as well. It has given me a little extra time here and there to spend with super cool women who taught me important skills.
In time my dream of becoming a published author came into sight, and if you have held my first book in your hands, you already know how that turned out. Is living simply really a sacrifice when it help make long held hopes and dreams possible? I wonder how you would answer that question after you’ve achieved a dream you care about? Living tiny has made it possible for me to see my dream of being a published author come true.
Living tiny has taught me gratitude. Gratitude is one of those secrets to a happy life that they don’t teach you in school. Marketing convinces us that we need stuff, but living with gratitude teaches us to want less. It really is a game changing mindset that is one of those little secrets to happiness. And when I start to feel poor, I pull out the gratitude and tank up on the many blessings in my life.
Generosity changes everything. Living tiny has enabled us to be more generous with ourselves and with others. Recently friends invited us to lunch. We joined them in their beautiful home for a lovely lunch. It’s not that uncommon to take one’s lunch hour to meet a friend, but in this case I glanced at the clock after the meal and it was nearing 4:30 PM, and we’d sat down at noon. We were having such a delightful time with our friends around a table of delicious food. We lost all track of time. Living tiny makes it possible to be generous with our time and in other ways as well. My Austrian helps out in a variety of situations, car trouble, a downed tree, baking bread for a group that gathers for a meal each week. Living tiny allows him to be generous with his time.
We have had some opportunities to be financially generous as well, and it has meant so much to be able to step in and quietly help out or meet a need here and there. Nothing gives a surge of energy and Light like being present and able to help behind the scenes when a need arises. Generosity is absolutely invigorating and addictive and having a taste of it will only make you want more. There is no more powerful antidote to materialism than generosity.
Dominant culture teaches us to hoard, grab, and keep everything we can. The truth is that we are far happier when we’re letting it all flow through our hands to people and causes that matter. In fact, when systems are in flux around us, and important causes lose funding, we can step in and make a very real difference. We can’t help if we live right there at the level of our income. We are taught to purchase everything we can afford, and we are taught we “deserve” more than what we can afford… leading to financial difficulty. But if you pay as you go and live on significantly less than you make, you’ll be able to make a powerful difference in some very difficult situations. And that matters. Generosity matters.
There was a message all over the place in my Mennonite community as a kid–bumper stickers, posters, shirts, etc. It was “Live simply so that others may simply live” and it was everywhere. That made an impression on me. Growing up Mennonite may have predisposed me toward simplicity. And maybe there’s just something in my blood as the descendant of quite a few Mennonite pastors. Then again, maybe there’s just something wonderfully intoxicating about shrugging off conformity to live an authentic and simple life.
Whatever the reasons, I loved the idea of going tiny. I read all the books, watched all the documentaries and daydreamed about building our own place. But once we took the leap, I found tiny house life to be pretty challenging. There were times when it was really frustrating to want space I didn’t have. And there were times I hated it, but we got creative. We found solutions. We adapted. I grew to love it and love it fiercely. And now I don’t want to ever go back to normal. (Simplicity is our normal).
The truth is, we base our sense of need on what we’re used to. “I need this big house because…” But my experiences living in a tiny house have taught me that you can change what you’re used to – and it will dramatically change what you need. If you want to live gently in the midst of abusive and oppressive world systems and be less manipulated by savvy marketing – need less. The way to need less is to make big bold changes in what you’re used to. Don’t be afraid – there is liberty on the other side of those big changes. And liberty feels good. Liberty feels really. good.
If you’d like help in your own journey to simplicity, here are some helpful resources: