Renting in Southern California is getting more expensive for Kristen Codey and her husband every year. They eventually want to buy, but they – and many others in the area – can’t afford a typical house in their current neighborhood. So they’re looking for other options and asking themselves: Are Tiny Homes Worth It?
“I like the whole minimalist movement, living debt-free and being good to the environment,” she said. “I saw tiny homes on a TV show, then I watched a documentary, and then I started researching alternative living situations because California is so expensive.”
Codey is eager to learn more about tiny houses, which many loosely define as homes that are smaller than 600 square feet. Many other prospective homebuyers may be wondering about that as well. So, we talked to a tiny home expert who has lived in her 480-square-foot house for more than a decade to answer some of them!
Keep reading to hear why Codey and so many others are considering ditching the idea of conventional-size digs, and how some are downsizing into smaller spaces.
Where Can You Build or Own A Tiny Home?
California, where Codey lives, has some of the strictest housing restrictions in the country. So she’s not sure where she’s allowed to park a tiny home on wheels or build one on a foundation.
That’s why it’s important for prospective tiny home buyers to go to their city or country office and verify where they can own tiny houses and what restrictions there may be, said Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell. She’s lived in her tiny home for nearly 11 years.
“If people are going to build, they need to check with local the municipalities and see if there’s square footage requirements because of fire codes,” she said. “Some of them have other requirements for utilities.”
Fivecoat-Campbell and her husband built their 480-square-foot home on a 10-acre property in rural Arkansas, and she writes about tiny-home living on her blog, Living Large in Our Little House.
How Much Money Can Tiny Homes Save You?
Codey said the first appeal of tiny-home living is the money she would save on buying her first house, and the money she’d save on everything from taxes to utilities.
“The things I would want in a regular house – like new appliances and hardwood floors – I could have in a tiny house, because it’s more affordable to upgrade a smaller space,” she said.
Since moving from her 1,100-square-foot foot home in Kansas City, Fivecoat-Campbell said she’s saved a lot of money.
“Our real estate taxes were about $2,000 per year, and now we pay about $300 annually,” she said. “Our electric bill is about $60, and we have no water or sewer bills because we have our own water source and septic tank. Insurance is also a lot less. A lot people get into this to be debt-free.”
She also saves a lot of time, since her cleaning chores are minimal. She said it only takes her a couple hours to clean her space from top to bottom, while it used to take her days in her bigger, conventional home.
“We are always doing something outdoors, whether it’s boating, hiking or fishing,” said Fivecoat-Campbell. “We like to be outside, and we don’t want to take care of a big house.”
“We just love the financial freedom, and it allows us to do other things we love,” she added.
How Do You Downsize Your Stuff?
A bookworm and fashionista, Codey knows it will be tough to downsize her book and DVD collections, and to say goodbye to most of her wardrobe once she moves into a tiny home.
“I think it will be hard, at least at first, to get used to living in a small space,” she said. “Most of our living space will be a fraction of what we have now.”
And Fivecoat-Campbell knows the downsizing struggle well. When she first moved to her tiny home fulltime, she had to choose what heirlooms and personal items to bring and which to leave behind, since only so much would fit inside the new space.
“Everything has to be useable, or you have to love it so much that you can’t part with it,” she said. “We had to get rid of a lot of clothes, because there is no room for extras. I think I had three closets full of clothes in Kansas City,” she said.
Fivecoat-Campbell suggests that new tiny house owners invest in offsite storage until they settle into their new, small space.
“Some people get into this lifestyle, and they just realize it’s not for them,” she said. “Hang on to your stuff, and see what happens. We did hold on to everything for a year and rented a storage space. Other people might want to do it too.”
Are Tiny Homes Worth It to Everyone?
When Codey talks to friends and family about living in a tiny home, they try to talk her out of it. But she thinks her personality is perfect for the micro-living lifestyle.
“I think you have to have a certain mindset,” said Codey. “I’m ok with small spaces, and I make the most of them. I don’t think it would be different than a studio apartment.”
Fivecoat-Campbell said anyone thinking about tiny home living should evaluate what he or she wants from their space – whether it’s just a place to lay low between vacations or a space where you want to easily entertain and host guests often.
“If people are big collectors and have a heart-wrenching need for stuff, or if they have a big family, they may feel cramped,” she said. “They should reconsider a tiny home until circumstances have changed.”
If you have more questions about tiny home life, check out Fivecoat-Campbell’s book: Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband, and One Remote—Plus More Stories of How You Can Too.
Photos by Kevin Peiper, from the upcoming Reader's Digest book Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote‹and How You Can Too. Used by permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc.