“Why don’t you just get an RV?” “I could never do that, it’s so cramped!” This has been the immediate response whenever I tell someone I’ve made the decision to live in a tiny house and adopt that lifestyle. I have come to realize that it does seem to be an odd declaration to make out of the blue, so I can understand the confusion. While the choice does appear sudden, I believe tiny living is in my blood. This is a story about how recent life events have caused me to reassess what is important to me and take an intentional journey to discover what I really value in my life.
My father had a natural talent for design and construction. He made his living as a carpenter and mason most of his life. When my grandparents gave my Dad and step-mother land as a wedding gift over 40 years ago, there was really no limit to what he could have created and built. It never occurred to me until recently – he built a fairly small, rectangular, non-inspiring box – made out of brick.
Now don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful home, and has a stone fireplace like I’ve never seen anywhere else – but overall it was simple, practical and semi-small. I wouldn’t exactly say tiny – but it could have easily been much larger. It was a 3-bedroom which included a decent sized master, a larger bedroom for my older brother and a room large enough for me and my sister to share every other weekend.
My Dad passed away suddenly in May of 2020 and it occurred to me that I never thought to ask him why he built such a small house. As a kid it did feel fairly large in comparison to my mom and step-father’s home (still another 3-bedroom), but I had pretty high expectations of my crafty Dad to have built a “mansion” of sorts. My father being the nature-oriented and old-school man he was, I believe realized, “less was more.” I am convinced that subtle message took root early and influenced my desire to go tiny.
It is always surreal when you’re a grown-up and you visit your childhood home, especially for me since I moved out of state when I was 19 and have never really been back for longer than a week at a time. Being surrounded by all Dad’s creations and tools (and junk) in his workshop and garage (and closets, and truck) after his death was very soothing to me. Yet it’s funny, even with everything he’s made over the years the “thing” that came to my mind was a note my Dad had written on one of the studs of the house before putting up the drywall.
Of course I took some of the beautiful pieces my father created over the years and some other mementos but that memory, which came to mind without any tangible object to trigger it, got me thinking; those memories aren’t gone or going anywhere. They are all right there, fresh for tapping whenever I need them.
The next life event(s) nudging me closer to a tiny life, was a visit to an old high school friend, and the news that my step-father was losing his year-long battle to cancer. Soon after we knew he wouldn’t have long, I made the plan to fly up in July to see him and spend time. Meanwhile, I had rescued a litter of kittens and spontaneously decided to deliver two of them to a young couple in Missouri (only about an 8-hour drive from my house in Alabama). Everyone said I/we were crazy but in my mind it was an opportunity for a little adventure. In addition to feeling great about finding homes for adorable cats, I got to see my dear friend’s dream come true. This girlfriend of mine has a gigantic estate in Missouri with a farm, animals, a fiance and a tiny house! I fell in love with how cute it was, and her entrepreneurial spirit to rent it out and give visitors an experience.
This was also the same friend that inspired an article I wrote a few years ago, about “clipping coupons and going to Paris.” She really taught me that it’s ok to have fun and be a little frivolous as long as you’re smart about it. I knew she would be the one person who would know the secret significance of taking a helicopter ride over St. Louis. It was a ridiculous amount of money for a 20-min ride and I felt absolutely no buyer’s guilt or remorse for spending it – I thought about both my Dads and knew they would approve of living in the moment.
I stayed in a pet-friendly motel outside of St. Louis where it was a little cheaper, and really enjoyed the cable TV since I haven’t splurged on cable in six-years – it was a real treat! Once I found the HGTV channel and put on the closed captions, I didn’t change it all weekend. What was playing on loop was Hometown and Tiny House Nation (you know where I’m going with this). The idea was slowly coming together in my mind, but the dots didn’t connect yet. I was thinking I’d love to just live in the middle of nowhere like my friend, where people care about you and think to check on you once in a while. I also thought it would be great if Erin Napier designed my house (but then I’d have to move to Laurel, MS). Then I remembered how I get bored – easily – and like to move around. It felt good to have this adventure and reconnect with that YOLO attitude, but it was quickly replaced with sorrow and a desire to make some sense of it all.
Although I got to speak with him via video on Father’s Day and several times after that, my step-father passed away just one day before my flight was scheduled to land to see him. It was tough, but as usual with these types of battles there was a lot of relief among us all that he was no longer suffering. His death started to nudge me in a different direction when it came to “stuff” – because much like my father, my step-dad had a lot of stuff.
A LOT of STUFF. He was a Marine re-creating his Vietnam War days with his memorabilia, photos, weapons – all the history. Definitely a lot of aspects that I love, but when I was sitting and looking at all his items, it was the photos and the stories and notes he wrote that mattered (not the “stuff”). I wasn’t glad I had all this to remember him by because just like my dad, I didn’t need it. On some level it kind of pissed me off. Not that he had left it for us to deal with or anything, but at the same time it got me thinking of my own junk drawers. I’m glad these things made him happy – but what I know is that he was truly happy talking about his memories to his friends and family and telling his stories – all intangible and priceless.
It was when I got back from his funeral that I started to really look into how I could adapt to the feelings I was experiencing. I knew I would have to be open to some non-traditional ideas in order to find my path to a new and intentional lifestyle. Will I accomplish “great things from small beginnings” by living a tiny lifestyle? The best way for me to answer that is to get started.