- I spent a year talking to people who built, renovated, and lived in tiny homes.
- Their tiny homes ranged from cottages and sheds to a renovated bus.
- It’s made me realize the true appeal of tiny homes is that they let people live how they want.
I’m no stranger to small spaces: I was born in Singapore, and I’ve lived here my whole life. We are a densely populated, land-strapped country, and most people here live in close quarters, sometimes with multiple generations in one apartment.
Even so, the tiny house movement feels far removed from my own reality. Sure, Singapore has some tiny-home hotels — including one made out of shipping containers — but tiny living still hasn’t really come to this part of the world quite the same way it has to the West.
It’s partially for this reason, because I feel personally disconnected from the trend, that I was so interested in interviewing people who have committed to the lifestyle. Over the course of the past nine months, I’ve profiled more than 10 people, from the UK to the US, who have decided to go tiny.
We talked about their motivations, their compromises, and their budgets. And over and over again, they told me that tiny homes are really all about freedom.
Preserving history, weathering the pandemic, and going with the flow
One theme that came up over and over again in my interviews this year was that tiny homes give people the chance to live the way they want.
For some, that meant preserving history.
George Dunnett, a 28-year-old Scottish homeowner I spoke to in July, told me he decided to renovate an abandoned cottage because he felt it was a pity that the place was left to crumble in his village. His community took notice.
“They all said the same thing: that they’d always thought it was a shame the building was left unused and that it was nice to see someone local and young do something nice with it,” Dunnett said.
For others, it was about connecting with a community.
A Portland-based homeowner named Whit Scott told me about how passionate he was about restoring a bus with history and ties to the local community.
Scott spent 10 months converting a double-decker bus into a tiny home Airbnb in Portland. The bus used to be part of a popular local food truck called the Grilled Cheese Grill, and Scott even kept some of the original murals that were on the walls.
“I really like a lot of the Portland history that the bus has, and so I’ve decided for now to keep the ‘Grilled Cheese Grill’ sign up front,” Scott said.
Stefanie Fisher, a former realtor, told me building her tiny mobile home was a way to stay sane during the pandemic. After she completed the build, she traveled around Washington and Oregon with her dog, Ralphie.
“I get together with other van people, and I get invited to stay somewhere with them. They’ll say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go camping. Do you want to come?’ And I just go with the flow,” Fisher said.
Homeownership, exactly the way they want it
The dream of homeownership is becoming increasingly expensive — and often, increasingly elusive — for people across the world. In this climate, tiny living isn’t always a choice; for some people, it’s an inevitability, and a difficult one.
But the common thread across nearly all of the conversations I had this year was that for many people, tiny homes present the opportunity to realize the dream of homeownership on their own terms.
One of the most striking examples for me personally was Katy Krebs, a mother of two from Texas who spent $16,000 turning an old shed into a home for her family. The family was saving money for their forever house, and she figured the old shed would make a good housing solution in the meantime.
The shed was completely unrecognizable by the time Krebs was done with the makeover, and she made the space her own.
“I wanted a farmhouse sink, I wanted shiplap walls, and I could have them in my tiny house. You can live a nice lifestyle and still live tiny,” Krebs said. “You don’t have to spend a whole bunch of money just to achieve it.”