Houses and Happiness: Does Size Matter?

For many people, home ownership represents success and a stepping stone into adulthood.  But for those who find it difficult to finance a conventional home, being part of a culture that praises, romanticizes, and even expects home ownership can cause feelings of inadequacy and isolation.home

Despite the potential downsides of society’s infatuation with “bigger-is-better” houses, I think it is a reason for the success of tiny houses, which provide an affordable path to the benefits of home ownership and being in control of one’s living space.

And yet, our society discriminates against and sometimes forbids people from living in unconventional dwellings such as RVs/campers, shipping containers, yurts, and the like.  Ironically, these homes are not that different from how people have lived for centuries: small, simple, sufficient.  In fact, bigger is not necessarily better: one recent study (Foye, 2016) found that moving to a bigger house only temporarily increases housing satisfaction (and actually might lead to later declines in happiness).  Importantly, “upsizing” had no effect on people’s overall ratings of their contentment with life.  The results mean that if your current home is adequate, then a bigger one won’t make you any happier in the long run.

If you’re feeling pressured by the cultural compulsion to have a big fancy home, remember that happiness doesn’t depend on house size!

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Accessory Dwelling Units: A Pathway to Legal Tiny Houses?

I’d like to call your attention to some recent happenings regarding tiny house legality!  As you may know, tiny houses are not exactly legal in many places, especially if they’re on wheels.  But one way that tiny houses could become legal (and advantageous) additions to communities is by treating them as accessory dwelling units, where each tiny house shares a lot with a regular single-family house.

What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)?
An accessory dwelling unit is a small, self-contained secondary house on the same property as a main residence.  They are also called accessory apartments, in-law apartments, or guest cottages.

What good are ADUs for municipalities?
– Increases tax revenue
– Minimizes subsidies required for affordable units
– Maximizes use of existing infrastructure & town services
– Keeps growing and aging families together!
– Preserves existing housing/historic structures

Who benefits from ADUs?
• Homeowners  – gain passive income from renting out an ADU; provide housing for elderly family members or young adult children who are saving up for their own home.  Busy homeowners may benefit from the unique skills or services of a tenant who lives on-site but independently (e.g., pet care, yard care)
• Middle-income tenants – provides greater diversity of housing options
• Local businesses – employee housing
• Real estate firms – rental stock
• Residential contractors – remodeling
• Lending institutions – home improvement loans

Who typically chooses to live in ADUs?
•  “Empty nesters” who no longer need a large home but want to keep living on the same property (they can live in the small easier-to-maintain ADU and rent out the main house).
• Younger singles/couples who want an affordable, high quality alternative to renting without committing to buying a home.  An ADU provides integration with the neighborhood that apartment complexes typically do not.
• People who travel often or who want to live in a particular town but do not need a large home.

How are ADUs built?
– Build an addition onto an existing home
– Convert a garage or barn into a free-standing cottage
– Design an ADU into new construction

More information here:  http://www.mass.gov/…/smart_growth_toolk…/pages/mod-adu.html

EXCITING NEWS!  Three towns in Massachusetts – including Northampton (urban) and Pelham (rural), are undergoing case studies for ADUs!  Basically, these communities are allowing ADUs to see if this model for zoning bylaws should be adopted in other towns across Massachusetts.

Here is the urban case study for Northampton:
http://www.mass.gov/…/smart_g…/pages/CS-adu-northampton.html

Here is the rural case study for Pelham:
http://www.mass.gov/…/smart_growth…/pages/CS-adu-pelham.html

Whether the tiny house ADUs are allowed to be on wheels or foundations-only is up to town zoning boards.  As we learned in our meeting with a local building inspector, it seems that foundation-built tiny houses are the easiest to make legal because towns want to have a stable tax base and it is easier to regulate permanent structures.

 

LASTLY: my friend Sarah and I created an infographic summarizing the benefits of tiny house ADUs as part of our involvement with the Millennial Housing Lab.  If you are involved in tiny house activism or if you want to talk with your local officials about allowing tiny houses, feel free to share the infographic!  It highlights the key info in this post but in an awesomer format  🙂

http://www.millennialhousinglab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Tiny-Houses-For-Massachusetts.pdf

Let’s hope that through these initial test cases, people see the reality of what it means to have tiny house ADUs.  In the abstract, some people have concerns or misconceptions about the consequences of allowing tiny houses in their community.  I’ve heard things like, “tiny houses are like chicken coops – one might be ok but I don’t want my neighborhood to turn into a trailer park!”  (Stereotyping tiny houses as being inferior-quality or low-income/student housing is a huge generalization and mostly inaccurate by the way!)  If done properly, it seems that tiny houses can be very valuable, beautiful, and – if you wish – discreet assets to the community!

How could you personally benefit from living in a town that allowed tiny house ADUs?  We would love to hear in the comments!

 

 

Cat Hacks for Frugal Felines

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We’ve had our fluffball Zuko for almost 2 months now!  Truth be told he thinks his name is “Floofer” since that’s what we call him due to his fluffiness …

Anyways, I wanted to share some ‘cat hacks’ for anyone who is considering going tiny with their feline family!

Save money by making your own toys.  We learned that cats appreciate novelty over quality, but it’s not necessary to FullSizeRenderspend a fortune on new toys.  For instance you can cut up cardboard toilet paper rolls to form a ball and put catnip or a bell inside.  Paper bags, string, wild bird feathers…anything can be a plaything.  Sylvester’s favorite toy is the laser pointer while Zuko loves plastic springs (they bounce around and make noise rolling on the floor!).  We rotate the toys daily and put them in a dedicated drawer after playtime.  You can see Sylvester testing our homemade sisal rope scratching post, which is so much cheaper and stronger than a store-bought one.

Choose the right flooring.  If you have pets, invest in durable flooring from the start.  We have cork in our loft that is very scratched up from kitten claws, unfortunately.  I imagine that vinyl, hardwood, or ceramic would be good for pets.IMG_1446

Outside time.  It didn’t take long for Zuko to learn to love his harness!  A small investment for the peace-of-mind of supervised excursions outside.

Unscented litter.  To me, scented litters are more noxious than the smells they’re trying to cover up.  Keep the box scooped and you won’t need perfumy-litter anyways.  Even in a tiny house 🙂

Pet bed?  Zuko has a comfy fleece cat bed, but the majority of the time he sleeps zukosinkon the couch, in the closet, on top of the cabinets, or in the bathroom sink… at least while he’s small enough!

Quality food.  Good nutrition saves money on health in the long run.  After a lot of research, I jumped on the raw feeding bandwagon and learned how to “make” cat food!  I say “make” because I simply add egg yolks, fish oil, and vitamins to chubs of raw meat/bone that I buy frozen at the pet store.

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Homemade vs. canned food – he has good taste!

The bone is essential for calcium and very finely ground.  He gets regular canned food too, but he definitely prefers the raw stuff.  Best of all, it’s surprisingly economical and eco-friendly (no cans or kibble bags to dispose of).  If you’ve ever bought cans of cat food, you’ve noticed that most varieties, especially the grain-free ones, are at least $1.30 per 5.5oz can.  For homemade, it’s 90 cents for the same amount!  I mix up a big batch, freeze each day’s portion in individual plastic containers, and put one in the fridge every night so it defrosts in time for breakfast.  Even with a tiny freezer I can store 10-15 lbs of cat food in addition to our human food.

One of the best ways to save money on pet food is through variety, so you can buy whatever’s on sale.  It is also better for the pet’s health to rotate between different foods than to eat the same thing all the time.  I’ve noticed that benefits of the mostly-raw diet include almost zero shedding, good appetite and weight, and small odorless poop (yes really!)

In the end, having a cat in a tiny house isn’t much different than having a cat in any other house.  Cheers to our Floofer, who really puts the “home” in “Rose Home”  🙂

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The Top 10 Myths About Tiny House Living

After living in our house for nearly 8 months, we’ve learned that expectations about the tiny life are often not equal to the reality.  Take our first-hand experience: here’s our countdown of Myths & Facts About Tiny House Life!

Myth 10: “A door that is mostly glass basically functions as an extra window, right?”

FACT: Yes, this is true but with one downside: at night the glass attracts moths and bugs, which fly in whenever you open the door!  And since it’s a tiny house…well, once a bug is inside you’ll know it’s there.  With a screened window or opaque door you rarely will have this problem.

Myth 9: “I’m worried about keeping the house warm, so I should splurge on insulation and a powerful heater.”

FACT: Keeping a tiny house warm is easy.  Although many people choose spray foam or SIP panels, unless you’re in climate zones 6 or above you don’t need high-performance insulation.  It might be cheaper, even in the long run, to go with a mid-performance toweldryinginsulation.  I actually recommend slightly undersizing your heater – you don’t want to cook yourself out of your loft every time your oversized heater turns on!  On those rare extra-cold days you can always add supplemental warmth.  Remember that cooking, electronics, solar gain, and even body heat all add up.

Myth 8: “When building your house, it’s ok to move in during construction once it’s livable.”

FACT:  Personally we recommend waiting as long as possible to move in, at least until after everything you deem essential has been completed.  If you wouldn’t live in the house forever without “x”, then don’t move in before “x” is finished.  Because the longer you live in the house, the less and less likely you’ll make progress on it, at least not very quickly.  This leads to the next Myth…

Myth 7: “You can always upgrade/finish it later!”

FACT: Yes you can, but will you?  We learned that the smaller the project (like installing one piece of trim or touching up some paint), the longer it will take to actually do.  Once you move in, finishing the last 10% of the house will probably take as long as the first 90%.  We still have plenty of little improvements left to do.

Myth #6: “In the bathroom, you don’t need a fan as long as you have a window.

FACT: I cannot stress it enough, if you have an indoor shower then you need mechanical ventilation in the bathroom to get rid of the steam.  Even with a window open, air circulation in a tiny bathroom is poor.

Myth 5: “I will change my habits once I ‘go tiny’.”

FACT: You’re the same person no matter where you live.  If you’ve always been messy or had a habit of collecting stuff, chances are a tiny house won’t change that.  If you like to entertain, you’ll still host get-togethers at your tiny house.  If you’re happy in your marriage, you’ll probably stay happy.  On the flip side, remember that a house cannot fix what is wrong with our lives or our relationships.

Myth 4: “I’m going to travel around a lot with my tiny house!”

FACT: While it is possible to tow a tiny house to new locations, moving something that big is difficult, slow, costly, and somewhat risky for the structure and other drivers.  A handful of people do travel frequently with their tiny homes, but usually they have lots of towing experience, a heavy-duty truck, and/or their house is very tiny.  Honestly, an airstream or RV is the best bet if you plan to move regularly.  Even though our house is on wheels, we hope to move it not more than once and will definitely hire a professional.

Myth #3: “Painting trim and wall paneling once it’s inside and nailed up is easiest.”

FACT: Paint and stain things OUTSIDE.  Painting things once they are in place is risky.  Tiny splatters get everywhere no matter how careful you are or how many drop cloths you put down (tried it).  Plan on lots of painters tape and clean up drips immediately.   The benefit of painting inside is that you don’t have to worry about debris or rain messing up the paint while it dries.  We learned that bugs like checking out wet paint so be watchful of this.

Myth #2: “It doesn’t really matter what primer you use.  You only need one coat anyways.”

FACT:  Even though you’ll never see primer in your finished project, it is important.  If painting knotty pine, be sure to apply several coats of BIN shellac primer to seal up the knots.  Especially on light colored paint, the resins from knots will bleed through eventually – even when using 2 coats of high quality paint.  We skimped on the BIN for some boards and had knots bleed through our white paint.  Boy is it ugly.  For regular priming (wood with few knots) we like Kilz or Ben Moore.  We tried a cheap generic primer and the coverage was not good, so you get what you pay for.

….And the #1 Biggest Myth of All….

“A tiny house is so much easier to clean than a regular house!”

FACT:  While it is true that there is less physical area to clean, things get dirty way faster than in a regular house (especially with our new kitten).  Dust and messes get concentrated in a small space instead of diffused around, so you’ll need to clean more often but in shorter bursts.  Bedding also seems to get dirty/gritty faster – maybe because the bed is on the floor or it’s easier to track in stuff?  Due to the tendency for higher humidity, you also have to be vigilant about noticing if mold is forming anywhere.  Living tiny makes you stay on top of picking up.  We can’t delay taking out the trash or leaving dirty dishes because the house will start to smell.

Cleaning a little bit every single day is the key.  For example, we sweep every day, wash bedding once a week, and dust all surfaces about twice a month.  A swiffer or small vaccum is helpful for getting fine dust and hairs that escape regular sweeping.

Hopefully this post gives you some insight about the rewards and realities of living tiny!

 

Our New Kitten!

Meet Zuko!

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He’s a 4 month old Siberian kitten.  Siberians are large semi-longhair cats known for their doglike personalities.  They love being near people and are inquisitive.  Best of all they are low-allergen, which is good for me since living in a tiny house would only exacerbate my cat allergies!
IMG_1278.JPGI was worried that the tiny house might be too cramped for an active kitten, but he seems perfectly happy.  He loves simple toys like paper bags, drinking straws, and feathers.  The litter box fits perfectly between the fridge and the wall so it is unnoticeable.

Zuko is already a pro at navigating the stairs and loves hanging out on the edge of the loft.  When we’re in the kitchen he enjoys watching us from the “catwalk” atop our cabinets.  There are so many things to climb on and toys to chase around that he gets plenty of exercise, and every evening we have a vigorous play session.  He likes hunting moths and mosquitos that get inside, which is good except when it happens at 1 AM!

Zuko is slowly getting to know the resident kitty, Sylvester, who lives with Nate’s momFullSizeRender-1.  Sylvester was unsure about the baby at first but every day seems more comfortable.  The kitten is totally unphased and tries to invite Sylvester to play, so hopefully they will be buddies in no time  🙂

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How to Be That Happy Tiny House Couple

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I recently read an article entitled, “How Do Couples Live in Tiny Homes Without Killing Each Other?”  If you’re going tiny with a significant other, maintaining a happy relationship is an obvious goal.  In truth, it’s easy to survive in a tiny house as a couple – the real challenge is thriving and growing your love.

Instead of focusing on how couples can avoid negative outcomes when living in close proximity, let’s talk about how relationships can flourish!  Early on, it is wise to start preparing your relationship and expectations.  This is especially true if building the house together.

Tiny House Benefits for Couples Include:

  • Getting better at resolving disagreements efficiently.  Door-slamming and quiet-treatments won’t work!
  • Living tiny means being a team player and intuitively sensing your partner’s needs.
  • When working on the house, you will gain a better understanding of yourself and each other when dealing with stressful situations.  It’s good practice for future life IMG_1081challenges.
  • For some people, a smaller house results in less stress about money, reducing this common source of relationship tension.
  • A tiny home is not a death sentence to a couple’s social life!  Our table fits up to 6 people.  Entertaining is totally doable.

In terms of actually living with your partner, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You can’t be weirded out by seeing them naked around the house.  There simply aren’t doors to shut.  You have to get dressed somewhere and usually the bathroom isn’t convenient or big enough.
  • Be on the same page about cleanliness.  Any messes becomes amplified in a small
    space.  If one person is a neat freak and the other has a high tolerance for dirtiness/clutter, there could be problems.  Our approach is to have the division of
    labor be “fair but not equal.”  This means assigning responsibilities based on each person’s strengths and predilections instead of dividing up every chore 50/50.

    • For example, I am in charge of all laundry and Nate takes the lead on propane fill-ups and fixing stuff.  For daily chores we are both conscientious about pitching in equally.
  • Some people need lots of alone time, which can be hard to come by when you’re never more than ~20 ft away from that person.  Encourage them to set aside time for themselves (read here for our tips about creating psychological distance and specific advice for introvert-extrovert couples).
  • Talking about relationships in a tiny house isn’t complete without bringing up the topic of sex.  It’s unfortunate that this has historically been taboo to discuss, yetFullSizeRender-1
    many people are concerned about how a small bedroom in a low loft might affect this part of their relationship.  Ceiling height does impose some restrictions, but it’s easy to get used to.  A cozy loft is great for cuddling, encourages less clutter, and stays warm in winter.  You can install a wall-to-wall curtain for extra privacy.

Small Homes Are Not A New Trend

Many people have said to me, “I could never live in a tiny house with my boyfriend/husband/etc!”  I agree that sure, a tiny house is not for everyone.  It is a unique way of life and might require some sacrifices, physically and psychologically.  But the belief that it would make your happiness or relationships suffer is only true if you let it be.  There are thousands and thousands of happy couples living in RVs, simple cottages, studio apartments, etc.  For the majority of human history, families have lived and thrived in intimate dwellings.  In the grand scheme of things, what we think of as the “average home” has not been the norm and in fact may have negative consequences like too much debt.  Having a large home with multiple rooms does allow for greater physical space and privacy, which some people feel is necessary to be happy and comfortable.  However, a small house can achieve similar feelings with the right layout, planning,Lovebirds-GettyImages-510427100-58d005853df78c3c4f3b36e3 and a little adaptation.  Then the challenge becomes paring down excessive material stuff!

Conclusion.  Living tiny with someone else means being patient, self-aware, and working through challenges together.  For us the rewards are worth it.  If you have a happy relationship before downsizing, chances are it will stay that way or grow even stronger!

We will have some exciting news next week… Rose Home is about to get a whole lot cuter with a new fluffy addition…

“Where Do You Poop?” Tiny House Toilet Tutorial

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Many tiny houses use composting toilets, which are especially great for off-grid dwellings.  There are many different types: some of the commercial models do the composting inside the actual toilet (and are therefore very large).  Other units separate the liquid waste from the solids, which cuts down on odor and makes it easier to empty.  There are lots of options!

Our toilet is a bucket filled with sawdust that we get at a local lumber mill.  It may seem primitive but this set-up is cheap and saves water.  It’s crazy how much clean water gets wasted in conventional toilets!  The composting method can eventually turn human “waste” into fertilizer for trees and flowers.

How does a sawdust toilet work?

Our toilet is the same size as a conventional one.  Basically you pee into it like normal, but put toilet paper in the trash.   Nate empties the bucket into a compost pile in the woods about twice a week.  Then he rinses out the bucket and refills with shavings.  Yes, this is Nate’s chore!  But he’d take toilet duty over laundry and changing the sheets any day, so it’s a fair trade 🙂

So, what about poop?  The short answer is that we do not poop in the tiny house because we want to go longer between having to clean and empty the toilet.

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Bathroom storage

Because of our self-imposed no-poop rule, there is some timing involved to ensure that #2 happens when we’re out of the house.  Sometimes we use the bathroom in the “big house” nearby.  We occasionally use the “big house” for other things like the oven, laundry, and watching movies on the giant TV.  We’re lucky to have our own little home and privacy, yet still enjoy the comforts of a “regular” house.  We definitely could live totally isolated in the tiny house if we had to, but there’s nothing wrong with sharing some amenities with family and helping them with things in return.  So it’s a win-win!

When we are more settled in our careers, we hope to find our own land for the tiny house.  In the meantime it is in a good place!