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Tiny fantasy or big mistake? Courtesy of Kristen Moeller
Tiny homes offer the escapist fantasy of having less: less square footage, less responsibility, and less stuff.
The idea has been particularly trendy in recent years. Tiny homes — which typically include any free-standing, single-family home that's less than 1, 000 square feet — have been the subject of countless Pinterest boards, articles, and blog posts, with many claiming they are the homes of the future.
But the reality of small living is not always easy, and often not cheap either.
Let's meet a few people who moved into a tiny home ... and then moved on out.
Joanna and Collin Gibson while building their tiny dream house. Courtesy of Collin Gibson
Joanna and Collin Gibson fell in love while he was studying in Canada. They got married soon after graduating from college, and 25-year-old Collin left his native Scotland to settle down with his new wife, 23-year-old Joanna, in Canada.
The easygoing pair moved to Stratford, Ontario, where Joanna’s family lived so that they could stay with relatives. They were debating whether or not to put a down payment on their own home when Joanna’s mother sent Collin a link to a small living website thinking it was just the sort of thing her creative designer son-in-law would find interesting.
“We started looking at Facebook, Pinterest posts, pictures, that sort of thing, ” Collin told Tech Insider. “And gradually over the space of a couple of weeks, we thought, this is crazy, we should totally do this.”
The Gibsons' 130-square-foot house while under construction. Courtesy of Collin Gibson
They ended up buying plans from Tumbleweed in 2010 and spent a year building their home. The Gibsons added their own designs and ideas to the plan as well, including a custom-designed pull-out couch where they could host any traveling guests. They also threw in more storage space, a filter system, a water tank, and more.
“We didn’t have all the money up front, ” Gibson said. “We had a certain amount of money, would spend that, and then take some time off from building it and go back to working to build up some cash. It was kind of on and off, but we built it over the span of a year.”
They bought property in a small community roughly half an hour outside of Stratford. Collin describes it as “one of those places where there’s barely enough buildings to constitute a sign post.”
Inside their new home, which cost , 000 Canadian to build. Courtesy of Collin Gibson
And at first, living in the Wee House was an adventure for the Gibsons. They enjoyed getting rid of all the things they didn’t need and living more purposefully with what they kept. They encouraged friends and family to come visit and even had a few visitors take them up on their offer to stay in the 130-square-foot home. It was a dream come true.
Everything was perfect until six months later when Joanna found out she was pregnant. This ground their Wee House fantasies to a halt.
“The small space for my wife during pregnancy was just a bit much, so we just needed to move into town, ” Gibson said. “And then some pretty crazy unexpected health challenges came and ran us over in 2012 and we ended up moving in with family. The house just became this thing that we were [literally] hauling from place to place.”
The couple found someone to buy their tiny home after a year, and made a slight profit. Courtesy of Collin Gibson
Between the pregnancy and surprise health challenges, the Gibsons realized that their beloved portable house on wheels required too much maintenance and energy now that they were dragging it from one family member’s home to the next. There was also no space for Joanna’s growing stomach and the pair’s growing family.
Though they still loved the tiny home, Joanna and Colin put it up for sale on their website. It took them nearly a year before they sold the house for , 000 Canadian — roughly , 000 USD — in 2014, making a small profit. They now live happily with their two kids in a 1, 000-square-foot home in Stratford, Ontario.
Courtesy of Jonathan Bellows
In 2009, then-30-year-old Jonathan Bellows had an overwhelming urge to build his own house.
The only issue: the zoning laws in his township of choice rendered his dream home illegal.
Bellows spends a lot of time on the road as a technician on traveling museum exhibits. He likes to work with his hands and when I spoke with him, he was steadfast about not wanting to live too extravagantly. He always wanted to get into construction, he said, and he was interested in living off the land. And as a single guy with just his beloved mutt, Barney, to keep him company, he figured building a tiny home was the perfect way to do it.
After doing some research online, Bellows realized a tiny home on wheels would suit him best. It sounded freeing to the single outdoorsman who didn’t want to feel bound to his hometown of Flint, Michigan. He envisioned buying a stretch of property so that he wouldn’t feel restricted or boxed in like he might in a trailer park.
Inside Bellows' tiny home, which cost $17, 000 to build. Courtesy of Jonathan Bellows
“I didn’t necessarily want to be tied down to any one location, ” he told TI. “When I saw a post on Tumbleweed Tiny House Company about tiny houses, it was a good compromise. I would be able to build a house and move it should I need to.”
The only problem: most townships in the part of Michigan where he lived had minimum space requirements of 960 square feet. Homes that were smaller — like his planned 130-square-foot dwelling — were illegal unless they’d been grandfathered in or were a part of a trailer park.
“I was aware of [the law], but the compulsion to build a house was so great that I went ahead and did it, knowing full well that I would have to address that issue later, ” Bellows said in an email. “I sort of took it on faith that people could be reasoned with, and that exceptions would be made for people like myself who showed an interest in sustainable living and who could demonstrate attention and care to their properties and would be a benefit to the local economy.”
He looked for land in a secluded area and attended town council meetings with pictures of his planned tiny home, asking if he could build it.
He said the council told him to check with other governing bodies, who told him to check with the council. He found it hard to get a straight answer.
So he decided to take the gamble and build anyway. One year and $17, 000 later, his 130-square-foot home was complete. In September 2011, Bellows bought four acres of wooded land where he and Barney could settle down. He thought since his house couldn’t be seen from the road and he would pay his taxes, he would be off the zoning board’s radar.
Bellows found a secluded wooded property with a small barn, pond, and plenty of space. Courtesy of Jonathan Bellows
But it wasn’t long before life out in the woods turned sour. Bellows said four months later, in January 2012, the township of Columbiaville placed a sticker on his window from the Code Authority informing him that the structure was illegal.
“The sticker residue is still there to this day, ” Bellows told TI. “They asked me to contact the city offices.”
City administrators told him that the law was the law and he was required to live in a minimum of 960 square feet — more than seven times the size of his house.
When I later called the township to ask about the incident, the building official I spoke with didn’t remember Bellows or his tiny home but confirmed that all townships in the area have a 960-square-foot minimum dwelling size.