Tiny House Living 101

If you’re considering reducing your carbon footprint in a significant way, as well as greatly simplifying your life, consider looking into tiny house living. However, you should be prepared to condense your lifestyle into a space as small as 500 square feet (or even smaller!), so be forewarned that the decision isn’t for everyone. You’ll need to figure out where to put your clothes (and which ones to get rid of, as well), prepare for considerable cooking and cleaning adjustments, and be aware that you’ll need to go without some luxuries, like a garage and a large kitchen.

Of course, you could always opt to live in a luxury van that doubles as a tiny house—but on wheels. You just need to be able to afford it. But, admittedly, it would be pretty nice to be able to pile in your vehicle, head wherever for the weekend, and not need to worry about lodging options once you get there. One of the most viable ways into the tiny house lifestyle is opting to move into tiny house communities, since the zoning and coding issues no longer hang over your head. Then there’s the example of Spur, Texas, the nation’s first “tiny-house-friendly town.”

If you have a goal of not only downsizing but also reducing your dependence to fossil fuels and civilization, in general, consider going “OTG,” or off the grid: according to Good, this term is defined as “living without any dependence on the government, society, and its products.” The first step is to establish food independence, beginning with implementing food systems in phases over a few years, focusing on permaculture-based approaches to living sustainably and integrating various systems like water, shelter, and energy. Jason Knight recommends Practical Permaculture, by Dave Boehnlein. You’ll also need reliable sources of water, electricity, and income to be sorted out in order to ensure your OTG efforts aren’t for naught.

If you need a little inspiration for tiny house living, check out Mini Motives, a blog by Macy Miller, an architect by training who designed and lives in her own tiny house with her husband and two children. And if you want an example of a community that successfully lives off the grid, take a look at this BBC report in pictures about Tinker’s Bubble, a self-sustaining community living OTG in Somerset, England. They may inspire you with a few ideas of your own.

Zoning & Building Codes

There are two main issues, when it comes to legal considerations for tiny house building: lack of tiny-house-specific building codes—what you can build and how you have to build it; and zoning—where can you place your home, in order to make sure it complies with local zoning regulations? Beyond that, there’s the issue of minimum square-footage, as well as whether you want your house to be mobile or attached to a permanent foundation—the laws are different for each type of structure. A tiny house on wheels is legally considered a recreational vehicle (RV), while a tiny house on a foundation is defined as an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Also, some states have more tiny house-friendly laws than others.

Macy Miller discusses the challenge of finding a suitable location for your tiny home on her blog, here: she suggests looking beyond mobile home or RV park living, feeling out different neighborhoods, and either finding a friend with property you can park on or buying property of your own with a house you can rent out while you park your tiny home in the yard and live there for free. There’s also this interactive site made up of a searchable directory with notices for parking spaces wanted, for sale, or both.


Have you ever stopped to wonder why we all have so much ‘stuff’? Rather than continuing to grow and expand beyond our means, there’s an alternate model of downsizing and getting rid of excess possessions, and it could be the first step you’ll take toward living inside a tiny house. Before you’re able to live comfortably within a house that’s considered ‘tiny,’ however, you’ll need to get rid of all the excess objects that you’ve collected, over the span of your life—however long yours happens to be.

Garret Stembridge quotes Tiny House Blog’s Kent Griswold in saying, “There are those who have found that having all that stuff doesn’t necessarily lead to greater happiness… There’s a new movement afoot that says enough is enough.” Griswold also points out how easy it is for small or tiny houses to incorporate green building principles, such as solar energy. But before we get to renewable energy, it’s important to remember the importance of decluttering, first. Start by getting rid of objects only used occasionally (or never).

Derek Markham recommends a kind of trial separation: that is, try packing up as if you were going somewhere, putting necessities into a suitcase and everything else into boxes and hidden away, for a bit. This allows for a ‘trial separation,’ of sorts—which may make the transition less jarring and easier to deal with, before having to confront the real thing. You might also try organizing your possessions into daily ‘essential’ items and objects that are more sentimental or seasonal, for you. Markham also recommends attempting to rent or find convenient options for weekly for things such as washing and drying laundry, which can take place at a laundromat, rather than at home.

Sebastian von Holstein from Permaculture also suggests selling or donating at least one item a day, getting rid of your TV, and digitizing things like photos and bank statements so as to free up space for objects you really can’t live without. Von Holstein also recommends expressing gratitude on a daily basis, so as to remind yourself of the things that are truly important in your life—i.e. not your clothing or TV! Remember, also, other benefits to tiny house living, such as more financial freedom, simplicity, less environmental impact, and the potential ability to help out an aging or dependent family member.

Building Design Considerations

There are a number of considerations when planning out your dream tiny house. Would you like to build it yourself, or would you prefer someone else build it for you? Do you want something a bit more spacious, or are you aiming for as tiny as possible? From where will you source your building materials? Do you care if they’re new, or would you prefer repurposed parts? Nifty Homestead has a number of handy guides to navigating the construction of a tiny house, from start to finish, or there are a number of books available on the subject, as well.

Among the many designs and styles to choose from, for example, are houses on wheels, houses on foundations, earthen or cob houses, earthships, or even renovated school buses—the latter options more appropriately understood to be alternatives to tiny houses, rather than styles or types. Consider, too, your green building options, when planning your new home. Do you want to go all out and shoot for zero energy construction, or can you settle for energy-saving options such as LED lightbulbs, composting, and solid wall insulation, instead?

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The decision to transition to a tiny house-based lifestyle is not a decision to be made lightly. However, there are many potential rewards awaiting you, as a result, including a simplified existence, relative financial freedom, and a potential return to a focus other than possessions, as a result. If you think you can bear to part with your walk-in closet and elaborate shoe collection, you may be able to muster the motivation to embrace the tiny house lifestyle without regret or too difficult a transition. Let’s get tiny!


Image Source: Susanne Nilsson

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