Real Life in a Tiny House

I did a shoot recently of Jill and her husband Corey on their land out toward Norman. Jill and Corey live in a tiny house - a legitimate tiny house - that they built themselves. Jill's not a crazy person or a lunatic hippie or anything weird, so it just got me thinking - what possesses a person - a newly married couple - to do this? To make the move, for real? These things are taking over HGTV like wildfire, yet I just have a hard time believing the hype. But Jill and Corey had a tiny house before tiny houses were cool. So I sat down with Jill to ask - do you really enjoy living in this thing? Do you go insane in here? How do you make this work logistically, and what does life in a tiny house really look like?

It's all about a minimalist lifestyle

I shouldn't have been surprised by Jill's answer. "It's all about a minimalist lifestyle," she said. So how did she and Corey begin the transition from a normal "starter home" neighborhood to a 408-square foot cabin, secluded off a dirt road with acres to roam?

"It was more of a process. We just weren't happy. Here we were, newlyweds, living in this nice little neighborhood in a newer home. We should've been so happy, but we weren't. It was stressful. We had an extra bedroom, so I bought a guest bed because that's what you were supposed to do. It got used maybe once or twice. I constantly just felt like I had to buy stuff to fill rooms."

Feeling unfulfilled and restless, Jill and Corey considered their other options. They toyed with the idea of a mobile home, both deeply desiring to have land and space to breathe. They both knew that eventually, they'd want to build a house and return to their country roots. They kept seeing glimpses of tiny house life on TV - how happy the people were, how simply they lived. And then they put their house on the market. And it sold it two weeks. 

"We definitely did not expect our house to sell that quickly," said Jill. "We put our things in storage and moved in with Corey's parents, but we had to figure something out." They kept on coming back to the idea of a tiny house, and with nothing to lose, they decided to go for it.

"Everybody came together and helped us out. Family and friends helped us with electricity and plumbing, we got supplies from Lowe's and Home Depot and even scraps from friends' projects. There weren't very many left over materials, at all. Nothing went to waste."

When all said and done, Jill and Corey took five months and spent $12,000 in total to build their tiny house. Using plans they found online and tweaking them to fit their own designs, they labored over the cabin and made it a perfect haven. With 288 square feet in the bottom living space and a 120-square foot loft, the house feels larger than the numbers make it sound. You can take the grand tour without moving ten steps, but honestly, the tiny house doesn't feel tiny at all. Any fears I had of claustrophobia were quickly relieved once Jill showed me around, and for just over a year, she and Corey have lived under the same small roof without any urges to bail.

Living life, simply

When it came time to move their belongings out of storage and into their tiny house, not everything could make the trip. "We opened up the storage unit and honestly, I'd forgotten so much of what was in there. I just thought- this is so dumb. Having all this stuff that means nothing. We picked out what meant the most to us, for sentiment and for function, and donated the rest. I had a friend coming back from the Peace Corps and it was so nice to be able to help her out, getting started with what she needed. Obviously this lifestyle isn't for everyone; it may not work for some people, but getting rid of our things, living for experiences instead of living for stuff - it just makes things easier and allows you to focus on what matters."

Jill says that having an active role in building their house made her appreciate living in it that much more. "You know, it's so nice to say, 'We're mortgage free. We're debt free. WE built this. WE did this.' There are little things - challenges - like not having a washer and dryer (Jill's parents live nearby and happily share their laundry facilities). Probably the biggest is not having a plan for what we'll do about our living situation in the future. But for now, this works, and we know that whenever we have kids and need to re-evaluate, we'll figure it out as we go. We'll definitely build again, and we'll stay small."

The tiny house way of life, Jill advises, is not for the faint of heart (or for anyone who lives to shop). "It is HARD. Adopting this lifestyle wasn't easy. Now, whenever I get something new, I have to get rid of something else because it literally cannot fit. You have to ask yourself every time, 'Is buying this really worth it?' You HAVE to say no. And if you forget you have it, you probably don't need it."

Less house, more home

"Living in this tiny house has made our marriage stronger. Corey and I have gotten even closer. We're able to travel, we're able to spend money on experiences and things we want to do, and honestly, not buying more things and more possessions all the time is so refreshing. We just spend time together. I have a garden, we have pastures all around us, we try and live off the land. It's fun."

They say that love grows best in small spaces. Seeing Jill and Corey's love for each other through the camera lens was all the proof I needed.