How much space do you need to be happy?
Meg and Dan Stephens, currently in Utah, live in a tiny house of about 150 square feet. Ivor Berry and his dog, Morti, live in a tiny house of about 120 square feet and are currently in Michigan. Life in a small space is different, but according to the Stephens and Berry, it can also improve life in unexpected ways.
The average size of a single-family home sold in the United States in 2015 was 2,520 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, there’s a catching trend that bucks tradition: tiny houses.
Exactly how tiny are we talking? Well, that’s up for debate. HGTV defines “tiny” as fewer than 600 square feet, but many tiny houses are built on trailer beds and are even smaller. The Tiny Home Builders website shows designs for tiny houses between 96 and 160 square feet, all of which are built on trailer beds.
While downsizing your home by 75 percent or more of your square footage seems drastic, these three tiny house owners say they have experienced positive changes.
It's important to note that those wanting to build and live in a tiny house should cooperate and work closely with local officials in order to ensure that they understand and stay within the realms of housing or zoning codes.
1. Learning to let go
Berry keeps his tiny house lightweight. The towing capacity for his vehicle is 5,000 pounds, which means his tiny house, along with everything inside, needs to stay under that amount. By moving into a tiny house, Berry had to let a lot of his material possessions go, but he found it wasn't as big of a sacrifice as it might seem.
"Like most people who force themselves into a minimalist situation, I've found that I don't need, or even really miss, much of the crap I had at home," he wrote in an email to the Deseret News. "It's amazing how freeing it is to not feel the need or attachment to all that stuff."
2. Becoming more environmentally conscious
Meg Stephens designed and built their house with husband Dan Stephens' help.
"The whole house, I designed it so that it runs on less than 20 amps, which is a standard exterior outlet," she said at a local Minimalism Q&A session. "It’s literally an extension cord." According to inspectamerica.com, a typical house is wired to use between 100 and 200 amps, depending on the size of the house and the types of appliances in use.
Berry designed his house so he could live "off grid" or disconnected from electricity and water for a period of time.
"I designed my house to be completely self-sufficient for about a week-and-a-half, at which point I run out of power and water — but I came up with ways to get around that and managed to stay off grid completely for almost four weeks," he said.
According to this Deseret News article, using less energy can cut back on emissions from power plants, among other things, which in turn benefits the environment.
3. Pursuing your passions
According to this New York Times article, job satisfaction does not depend solely on how much money you make. It also depends on how you feel about your job and what you do. Living in a tiny house, especially one that is mobile, has allowed Berry to pursue a different path that he is passionate about. Though his minimalistic style is different from the typical American's, he feels it allows him more freedom. He wrote that he counts himself lucky because, instead of working at a traditional occupation, he gets to travel and ski.
4. A greater appreciation for the meaningful things
One of the added bonuses of living this lifestyle, according to Berry, is he appreciates things on a deeper level. In addition to treasuring the time he has to travel and ski, he wrote that he has gained a greater appreciation for good friends, strangers who show compassion, the beauty of life and this world, and the little things that can easily be overlooked.
"One of my favorite memories was falling asleep next to a stream in Colorado with my window cracked, and waking up to see the sunrise with warm coffee — that is something that I'll never forget," he wrote.
5. Easier choices
"I don’t have to make any decisions when I get dressed in the morning," she said.
Like other tiny-house owners, the couple downsized their material possessions, including their wardrobe.
"I either am wearing a skirt or a pair of pants, and everything matches with everything," Meg Stephens said. "There’s none of this ‘black belt, brown shoes’ nonsense. I wear black and gray, and everything matches with that. It’s so easy."
Dan Stephens expressed similar sentiments.
"I found a sweater that I liked, and I got four different sweaters," he said. "Jeans, socks — all of my socks are identical. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I don’t have to match them. I just throw them all in a basket."
6. Getting out of debt
One of the biggest benefits for Meg and Dan Stephens was saving money and working on becoming debt free. Buying a tiny house, or building one if you have the skills, costs substantially less than buying a typical house.
"We paid about $25,000 for the trailer, the walls, the roof, all the appliances — everything," Dan Stephens said.
In comparison, information from the U.S. Census Bureau says the average sales price of a new home sold in April 2017 was $368,300.
"It is a tool that helps us accomplish things in our life," Meg Stephens said. "For us, it’s that we only pay $200 a month in rent, that we own it outright, that we’re not beholden to any mortgage company.
"We had massive student loan debt so, for us, this is really our get-out-of-debt scheme. We should be debt-free by the end of the year. My student loans were paid off in the middle of last year. We just have his left. Once we’re done with that, I don’t ever want to be in debt again."
According to this New York Times article, consumer debt has reached $12.73 trillion this year, higher than it was before the 2008 financial crisis.
7. Having a house that fits your needs
Tiny houses are often customized, and many are built with specific ideas and goals in mind. Meg and Dan Stephens demonstrate that it is possible to have a house with the amenities you want that also fulfills long-term goals.
“It has a full bathroom, a full kitchen, a king-size bed — which I demanded," Dan Stephens said.
All of that fits into their tiny house, and they didn't have to sacrifice their long-term goal of getting out of debt.
For Berry, living in a tiny house not only fits his needs for a mobile lifestyle, as a skier and traveler, it also fulfills the need to live life on his terms.
"Living in something that is not standard helps me feel OK to be who I want to be, instead of feeling oppressed by the image society in a big city tries to force on me," he said.