Building a Tiny Home, Large Life - Simplicity and living with intention are key

Published on Wed, 06/28/2017 - 4:25pm

Here at AcreageLife, we’re big fans on the emerging movement of “tiny homes,” purpose-built structures that resemble regular stick-bolt homes, but are often just a few-hundred square feet in size. Tiny homes are more than just small dwellings, and they are finding widespread use as country getaway homes, replacing aluminum-sided travel trailers, RVs, and mobile homes.

Because they appear more “home-like” than trailers, there are even tiny home parks—formerly RV or trailer parks—springing up to become attractive residential vacation communities.

According to the Small House Society ( there are manufacturers in nearly every state, catering to those who want a permanent structure, as well as those craving a mobile lifestyle sans aluminum.

While some offer multiple designs from off-the-shelf, factory-made components—not a bad thing—anyone really keen on the idea can, and probably should, build their own.

Let’s take a look at one proponent who has gone all-in on living life with a tiny house.

A big life?

Ryan Mitchell lives on 32 expansive countryside acres in Charlotte, North Carolina. That credential alone would paint a picture of a multi-million residence with 17 rooms and nine bathrooms. Oh, how wrong that image is.

Ryan’s abode is a “tiny house,” a residence of about 350 square feet.  (That’s about equal to a good-size country kitchen.)  In his home, he has a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom. That’s it, and for him it’s perfect.

“People rarely walk into a space that so much design applied to it, so much intentionality.”

—Ryan Mitchell,

Finishing graduate school, Ryan, 30, landed a good job as a recruiter in a company’s Human Resources department.  He was following the pathway of many of his classmates—renting a nice apartment, buying a car, acquiring toys, and paying off student loans.  It was a good job, but not one he loved. Then the 2008 recession began.  And, then, it got worse.

“One Friday, the owner of the company walked in and said, ‘Everyone, we’re closing the company and today is your last day of work.’  It was a big wakeup call for me. “

In mind, if you're a smart, educated, and hard-working person you should have some semblance of job security. That belief was shattered that day, he says. “I swore to myself that day that I would never be in that position again.” That feeling, that uneasiness never left.

“I started looking at my budget and realized that half my income from the new job was going toward housing—rent, utilities, insurance…So I asked myself a crazy question:  If I could eliminate this one item, housing, the win would be huge.  I had no idea how to get rid of that item—housing—but I knew if I could get rid of it, it would be worth it.”

Researching and brainstorming, he encountered the nascent movement of tiny houses—not many people were doing it, but it struck a chord with him.  Simplify your life, quit the clutter, and define what you will do with the extra time and money not spent on living a hectic 21st Century life.

Ryan applied himself, built his own tiny house and eventually quit his “fill-in” job to focus on the movement. In just a few short years, the found himself living the life he envisioned.

Better still, he has been able to check off things he wanted to do:

  • Travel to many countries, including Croatia, Hungary, Belgium France and others
  • Taken extended weeks-long trips to New England, the Pacific Northwest, New England, and even spent several weeks at a beach
  • Spent more time with family and friends
  • Paid off loans
  • Work the hours he wants, and on something he loves—tiny houses

Living in a tiny house means casting off the daily grind rat-race to focus on living

Helping others see the light

Ryan has been able to parlay his simplified life into a website, books, talks, and organizing or attending tiny house conferences.  His blog/website, is chock full of guidance, tips, hints, tricks, and essays on how to achieve simplicity in life and achieve greater happiness.

Today, Ryan spends his day writing online content, writing and selling books, and organizing tiny house conferences, talks and meetings.  His goal of is “getting people into tiny houses and equipping them with the tools and knowledge” for a happier life.

The key is realizing that you are committed to the life you want to lead, and not being dragged off course by toys and unnecessary expenditures.  “People who actually do it, some may call them stubborn, others may call them optimists,” Ryan has observed.  “There is just something in them that helps them push forward in the tough times.”

Build your own tiny house, build your life

For those who have tumbled to the idea of simple living with a tine house, they want to build it themselves, Ryan has seen.  “If you look at who’s actually moving to tiny houses, it’s not tradespeople. It’s the banker, an accountant, or a housewife.  People who you would never think in a million years would want to go tiny, (these are) picking up a hammer and building a house.”

And to that end, he has shared his experiences to act as a guide.

What are the crucial steps?

  • Get clear on your why.  Why are you doing this?  “When you get to the end of the process you may find that tiny houses are not for you, and that’s totally fine.”
  • Get help with design.   It’s important to figure out what you do with your life and mapping that to your design of your tiny house. 
  • Determine your overall budget.  Once you have figured out the design, you can spec it out. “ My suggestion is that people do this with cash, so they can save up and do it in chunks.”
  • Find your land.  “Where are you going to put this thing?  It doesn’t mean you have to own the land.  Where I live, I don’t own the land, I barter for it, basically. I have 32 acres that I’m on and I’m inside the city limits of Charlotte.  And I don’t have to pay any rent for it, which is nice.”

Then it’s time to buy your trailer and start building.

A tiny life by the numbers

Are you convinced that the tiny life is for you?  Here are some numbers to consider.

Planning and building the tiny home yourself, part time:  One year.  Why so long?  In a word, it’s “intentionality.”

“People want a home that’s beautiful and well-designed and also doesn’t break the bank.  There’s a lot more attention put towards aesthetics. When you walk into them, you just feel so comfortable (in a tiny home).”

How big should a tiny house be?  According to Ryan, 250 square feet per person is a typical size.

Cost of self-building a tiny house:  A self-built home will start at about $10,000 and go up to $40,000 for top-of-the-line with premium fixtures and materials. “I recommend people bring in an electrician and a plumber because they are critical systems and often have special tools and knowledge. I have a standing seam metal roof and it’s easier to hire that out.”

Price of living a life you enjoy:  Priceless.