Tiny House Lessons for the Rest of Us
There is one thing we all know about tiny houses: They are adorable!
I had the great privilege of sitting down with Leah Nixon (one of my Instagram friend-crushes: @tinyhome_maker) and talking with her about her adventure building and living in a tiny house.
Today we’re going beyond cute and digging into five life lessons the rest of us can learn from the tiny house lifestyle.
The Story Behind Building the Tiny House
When I asked Leah when the tiny house movement started and what it was all about she laughed and said, “it started at the dawn of civilization-seriously!” She told me how people have been building and living in homes they’ve made themselves all throughout history all around the world. To Leah, living in a tiny house seems natural: “birds build nests, people should build their homes too.”
She explained that the modern tiny house movement started with a guy named Jay Shafer, who rebelled against building laws created in the 1980s that required homes be a certain square-footage. Shafer built his tiny house on wheels in order to get around the restrictions. The movement began as a rebellion against consumerism and the idea that paying a mortgage for 30 years should be normal, along the belief that it’s impossible to build your own house. At heart it’s a really a rebellious movement, but is disguised as this super cute and cool thing. (Shhh!)
Leah and her boyfriend Kelsey Fitzgerald were inspired by Shafer’s vision and their own passion to protect the environment, and decided to take on the challenge of building their own 25’ x 8.5’ x 12.5’ tiny house and living off the grid (aside from internet access) on a small lake in the woods in Kentucky. She said it basically feels like glamping day in and day out! She also recently finished building a tiny art studio for herself, which sits on top of a 8’ x 13’ snowmobile trailer.
Now might be a good time to come clean about something: I don’t like camping and we don’t recycle (…yet, I’m ordering a recycling bin soon I promise!) Honestly, I don’t foresee me and my brood saying goodbye to air-conditioning and indoor plumbing anytime soon. But even though this lifestyle choice seems a little too extreme for me, there was a lot I learned and was inspired by just from talking to Leah about her experience.
Lesson # 1: We are all capable learning and doing more than we think.
One of the things that I was most inspired by after talking to Leah was her curiosity and courage when it comes to learning and taking on daunting projects.
Leah was a studio art major with a concentration in painting. When she started this project, she had literally no carpentry skills aside from one shop/sculpture class she took freshman year of college. Building a tiny house meant she had to learn as she went. She taught herself (with the help of Youtube) how to use virtually any power tool, and has gotten physically stronger from lifting boards. Leah also learned about electrical wiring, plumbing, and everything related to off-grid living.
Her most recently acquired skills include: how to use a chainsaw, how to drive a car with a tiny studio (still working on the backing up part), and changing tires.
When I asked her how she was able to do all of those things she said, “Mostly it’s conquering the voice inside you that says 'you shouldn’t be doing this,' or 'this is too difficult to learn.' I still go through that, but with each thing you learn it builds confidence and is totally empowering.”
Lesson #2: Appreciate the little things
For Leah, living off the grid makes her appreciate all types of weather. When it’s sunny, she is thankful to have power. When it rains, she is thankful to have water.
She is forced to live a slower life. Going on a run/walk with her two dogs is one of her favorite parts of her day. Because so many distractions have been removed from Leah’s life, she is able to see the beauty of changing seasons and unique wildlife right outside her door with fresh eyes.
Having less makes it easier to really enjoy and appreciate the things you do have.
Lesson #3: Embrace process over perfection
One thing that makes tiny houses interesting is that on the one hand, they are meant to go against consumerism. But on the other hand, you get on Pinterest and all the tiny houses you see are [Leah's words] just. So. Perfect. It can be hard even for Leah not to play the comparison game.
At some point in the tiny house building process, she decided to accept that their tiny house was different than what she was seeing online and that was okay. Embracing this reality inspired her to share her tiny house, not just when it was finished, but in the journey of creating it all along the way too.
Part of her mission is to prove that anyone can do this, even if they don’t have a lot of money or they don’t currently have the skills. It’s more about the process of learning, and relearning, and sculpting the space in which you live. The process for her is more exciting than the end result.
Lesson #4: Boundaries are good.
It’s funny to me that someone who lives in tiny house would refer to themselves as “a bad minimalist.” But Leah said that even though they live in a small space, she knows her own tendency to spread out and fill up whereever she is with stuff. For her, having the restrictions of such limited space forces her to restrain herself from buying things she doesn’t need and be content with what she has.
Leah explains, “Boundaries can feel limiting, but only in a near-sighted kind of way. We are never going to be limitless, so I guess we need to figure out what is most important to us and draw boundaries to help us remember those important things. I’m pretty indecisive, so I welcome the guidance of boundaries.”
Lesson #5: It’s okay to be different.
Leah and Kelsey have decided to live in a way that radically goes against modern Western culture. They were attracted to the idea that life shouldn’t be about making money to pay for a house and paying for things to fill it: Instead they wanted to focus on making their lives about doing things and loving people. They have chosen to question the norm and live lives that are, well, different.
I'll let Leah finish the thought:
“It’s freeing to decide what is important to you, stand up for what you hold dear. The environment is important to me, so I’d rather smell a bit more than other people than take a daily shower that I find unnecessary. Living out in the middle of nowhere, and not having a job with co-workers I see everyday, makes this a little easier; but I’m totally content with wearing the same clothes for five days in a row. When going tiny, I threw away 90% of my makeup/toiletries, and I haven’t missed them since. Being a woman and getting into the building side of things maybe makes me a little different too. As much as I am a woman, I also enjoy the more traditionally 'masculine' elements of creating our tiny home like learning how to use tools, and not being afraid to lift heavy things or doing dirty work. Allowing myself the freedom to love the things I love has allowed me to do all the crazy things I have done!”