At ATWS we’re interested in challenging the norm of debt and spending. In our column, “Living Tiny” we focus on people who have gone to (what some would say) extreme means with their living situations to get out of debt, save money and live a simpler life. Today we have a tiny house tour with Leah. She’s a freelance artist and homesteader and tiny house builder living in Kentucky. Take it away, Leah!
Hi! I’m Leah Nixon. I’m currently sitting on my tiny house porch in rural Kentucky, watching the rain fall and waiting for my boyfriend Kelsey to come home from work. Kelsey is a metallurgist at an aluminum plant. We live with our two dogs, cat, two goats and a handful of free-range chickens. Obviously the goats and chickens don’t share the tiny house, but the dogs and kitty do!
So much about tiny living appealed to us. We are DIY people. I am also very drawn to the low environmental impact of tiny houses. We both enjoy the freedom of being able to build something without the government telling us how it needs to be done. The tiny house allows us to live with nature in a way that a bigger house wouldn’t– I’m almost always outside. We have fewer things to worry about because we have fewer possessions. I’m someone who loves finding treasures at thrift stores, and saving jars for repurposing, and finding cool rocks or other objets trouvés, so having not much space for things cuts down on the clutter! We still need to figure out a few more things to make the off-grid living super comfortable, but right now it’s like super cushy glamping, and that’s fine with us.
We started building our tiny home last summer. Because Kelsey was finishing up grad school, and I had just finished up a really great year-long art gig, Kelsey didn’t have much time to build, but I did. I designed the whole house. I framed the walls and hand-built the windows. (I don’t necessarily recommend building your own windows!) Kelsey designed and welded the aluminum trailer himself, and he did a lot of the heavier lifting such as the roofing and putting the walls up. We even built our own door. Designing and building the tiny house is one of my favorite art projects to date. After moving the house from South Dakota to Kentucky, we added on a large covered porch.
We started living in the tiny house before everything was finished (again, maybe not recommended because we had problems with water leaks.) We moved it from South Dakota to Kentucky at the end of August 2014 and we have been living in it ever since. Winter was a bit tough because we didn’t have a good chance to insulate it before winter came. It’s still being built, really. We haven’t finished insulating it or putting all the inside walls in yet.
Our home is 25′ long by 8.5′ wide and has a slant roof that is 10′ tall at the highest point. When you walk into the house there is a small area for shoes, coats, keys, etc. A bit further in is our “dining room”, then the kitchen under the loft. After the kitchen, the house expands into our great room. The great room is flooded with light because we chose to use twin-wall on a large portion of it. The great room is floored in Astroturf which gives the whole house a very nature-y vibe. The rest of the house has dark wood floors. The galley kitchen is one of the larger tiny house kitchens I’ve seen (8′ x 8′). It has a full-sized sink, and a chest freezer (which kind of doubles as a fridge) that rolls out from under the counter.
The tiny house also now has a porch which is nearly as big as the tiny house, and it’s allowed us the space for a washing machine, recycling, tools, more clothing storage. Although, we have had to move some things out because we still have too many things! We’re always in the process of downsizing! Our tiny house doesn’t have a bathroom inside. We have an outhouse, and either shower at work, the gym, or in the summer, we can shower outdoors.
Our house is a work in progress, but I love it. It’s kind of the missing link between most American houses and camping. It’s jungle-like, and definitely not a perfectly tidy tiny house, but it’s a work in progress and we aren’t afraid to experiment or mess things up a bit. It’s developing its own personality the longer we live in it.
We didn’t have a ton saved up for the house, so it was built paycheck to paycheck. Rough estimate, the house cost us $10,000 to build, including the solar power, but really I should have been saving ALL the receipts so I had a better idea. Our house is now sitting on a single acre, on the most beautiful lake, and Kelsey will have paid off the land in a year.
It did cost us more than we thought it would to build our home. So many little things add up and building materials aren’t cheap. But compared to buying a pre-built home, or having someone else build it, it definitely cost much, much less.
The most surprising cost to the tiny house has been trying to figure it all out. We had a 100lb propane tank that had a leak and lasted only 3 days. We’ve bought two different freezers because the first one was two big. Some things we bought for the tiny house and haven’t even used yet. The alternative energy (solar panels and batteries) is more expensive than I had anticipated too.
We haven’t saved much money living in the tiny house yet because there is so much initial investment. But in a year when the land is paid off, we will own our whole house and the land, which not many 27-year-olds can say.
I normally wake up and make myself a cup of coffee, tend to the animals, clean up the house a bit. I go to a fantastic small-town athletic center and do yoga and DanceFit two mornings a week, so I shower there. After that, I’ll come home and work on any commissions that I have (outside on our porch), or work on the tiny studio I’m building for myself, or work on a project in the tiny house. I usually take the dogs on a run to the mailbox sometime in the afternoon (it’s about a mile away from the house.) Then around 5 PM I start of dinner. I’m an avid cook–I’ve recently figured out I can bake in the BBQ and it has changed my life. Kelsey comes home around 6 pm, we eat, trouble shoot any problems around the house, or he will chop wood while I wash dishes. We snuggle with the dogs and go to bed– probably earlier than normal people do because we are more in-sync with the daylight since we live outside so much.)
The weekends are our precious time to do homesteading projects together, like working on the water tanks, or building things or gardening.
My favorite place in the tiny house is the day bed. It is luxurious to have a space to just take a nap or cuddle with the dogs. It has a lot of great natural light because it’s surrounded by windows. We recently installed a projection screen and have a nifty little LED projector so we can watch movies from the day bed as well (not that we watch very often.) And from the day bed you can see through the rest of the house, which is awesome.
My favorite part of the tiny house is the amount of creativity involved. I have rearranged the house significantly three times. So many people have this idea that the floor plan has to be all figured out before you even can screw two 2x4s together, but it’s definitely not true. Our tiny house is in flux, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The worst part is that we haven’t insulated it super well yet, so it was pretty cold in the winter. We also don’t have our battery bank or water situations fully figured out yet, so it’s a bit hard to leave the tiny house for a few days and not worry about the freezer turning off or our plants not getting watered.
Advice for other tiny house wannabes? “Do it!” You can sit around and think about things and plan things all day, but the best part is acting and actually doing something. We could have done things cheaper if we hadn’t been so concerned about weight (or if I hadn’t been so focused on making things look like those beautiful tiny houses on Pinterest.) So if weight isn’t an issue, go to your Habitat Restore, find some awesome, cheap windows and start turning your dreams into a real space.
I also would suggest to focus on making your house weatherproof above all else. And put skirting on the trailer before winter comes!
You can follow Leah’s tiny house progress, animals, and other adventures on her Instagram.
Would you ever consider building your own tiny house? Talk to us in the comments!
P.S. Looking to declutter and minimize? CLICK HERE to learn about the Fearless Minimalist Guide