The Joys of Living Small: 3 Families Share Their Tiny Houses

When it comes to house size, Americans like to live large. But more and more couples are downsizing to radically small homes -- and they've never been happier.
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"We're free to be flexible."

Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith, both 35, from Yreka, California, share a 128-square-foot home.

Ten years ago Tammy and Logan were newlyweds striving for upward mobility. Their 1,200-square-foot apartment in Davis, California, was crammed with stuff. They also had $30,000 in student-loan debt. Logan was a Ph.D. student in physiology; Tammy worked for an investment firm. She commuted an hour each way, logged 10 hours a day in a cubicle and earned $40,000 a year. "I knew I was lucky in many ways," she recalls. "But I was overweight, grouchy and dissatisfied."

In 2005 they both had a mini-awakening. Tammy quit her job and became a counselor for abused women (a job she loved even though it paid less than her old one). To economize they moved into an 800-square-foot apartment and sold one car.

Shedding possessions felt so liberating that when Tammy got a better job in Sacramento, they moved into a 400-square-foot apartment and sold their other car, relying on bikes or public buses. Then they heard about a website called the "100 Thing Challenge" and quickly enlisted, paring down their belongings to 100 items apiece. "For marital harmony I stayed out of Logan's stuff," says Tammy, who found it hardest to part with books. She consoled herself with an e-reader while Logan converted his CD collection to digital MP3 versions.

Within five years they paid off their debts, saved $25,000, and moved to Portland, Oregon. By then Tammy had reinvented herself as a freelance writer and photographer, and she and Logan were both champions of the tiny-house movement, particularly the minuscule houses built by Portland Alternative Dwellings. In October 2011 they poured their nest egg into one of the company's tiniest models, a trailer-mounted cabin that, at 8 by 16 feet, is smaller than most parking spaces.

Tammy and Logan have no interest in being landowners so they've taken advantage of their micro-house's tow hitch and the pulling power of a borrowed pickup. For a year they moored in a friend's backyard. Then, when the lab where Logan worked shut down, they migrated to Northern California, where they helped out on Logan's parents' ranch. But they couldn't find paying work, so the couple hauled their house to the city of Chico. Recently they returned to the ranch.

The couple's minimal expenses help them weather long periods of spotty employment, and their mobility frees them to follow their instincts. In exchange, they accept certain inconveniences: When the cabin feels too crowded, they head for a library or coffee shop; when a sponge bath in the cabin's single sink won't do, they shower at a gym.

Tammy concedes that she and Logan are far from average, not just in their stripped-down seminomadic lifestyle but also in their near-constant togetherness. "The privacy thing just isn't an issue for us," she says. Nor is parenthood; they decided early on to remain childless. Still, Tammy thinks families of any size can learn from their example. "When Logan and I were in debt, we argued a lot about money. Now we have less to fight about and more to be grateful for."

Continued on page 2:  "Our stuff was taking over our lives."

 

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