It was about three weeks and 800 miles into the bicycle tour when I realized that I wanted to build a tiny house. My cousin Dan and I had arrived in the sleepy beach town of Yachats, Oregon, on his birthday without much by way of a plan.

We ended up chatting with Steven at a local cafe after he covered a new Arcade Fire song for open mic night. After realizing we had a lot in common, Steven invited us to camp at his house and even offered a bonfire if we could bring some dry wood.

After a somewhat arduous nine mile ride uphill with a bundle of firewood strapped to my bike, we arrived at an even steeper driveway- so steep that we had to walk our bikes to the top. But when we got there, it was all worth it. Steven had converted a tool shed into a cozy tiny house, complete with a sleeping loft and kitchen. There was also an enchanting outdoor living room with a wood sculpted counter top, benches, and fire pit.

My mind was racing. When I put it all together—how much it cost to build and live there, and what that meant for Steven’s lifestyle—I was sold on tiny houses. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the only tiny house where Dan and I crashed on our bicycle tour, but it left the biggest impression on me. And while my own tiny house is much, much different than Steven’s, the tiny house lifestyle in which we both participate is an experience that we share.

Photo by Ethan Waldman
Photo by David Seaver

Here’s why I chose the tiny house lifestyle:

1. Freedom from debt

Having graduated from college in 2007 and securing my first “real” job in 2008, my first impression of the working world was seeing the effects of an economic downturn on people’s lives. I saw jobs being terminated, houses being foreclosed on, and lives ruined under mountains of debt. It was around this time that I started to question whether the dream of owning a house was really just a trap.

When I first crunched the numbers, I thought I’d be able to build my tiny house on wheels for $20,000, and there are many examples of people who have done it for under $15k. While my tiny house cost over $30,000 to build, I was able to use mostly savings and did not incur any debt throughout the building process. This means that I’ll turn 30 in March, and I own my home outright.

Photo by Susan Teare

2. Freedom of choice

The tiny house lifestyle is a life experience enabler. Sure, my savings took a hit, but since I’m not stuck with an expensive mortgage or rent payment,
• I no longer work full time, and have my own technology coaching business.
• I am able to fully explore other interests in life, such as playing music and learning to kiteboard.
• I can travel to visit my family, which is scattered across the US, without having to take “vacation time.”
• I can easily close up the tiny house, drain the plumbing, and travel for an extended period of time without having to carry a monthly payment, worry about renters, etc.

Way back on my bicycle tour, I realized that housing was one of the biggest emotional and financial roadblocks that was holding me back from attempting to live my dreams. The tiny house lifestyle has set me free.

3. Freedom from choice

The tiny house movement is first cousins with the minimalism movement. I think the biggest shared idea is that since our stuff winds up owning us (due to our powerful emotional connection to it), owning less stuff means less stress / anxiety / debt / unhappiness.

You certainly don’t have to be a minimalist to live in a tiny house, but the tiny house lifestyle kind of forces you to be one. But the secret is this: it’s really easy to be a minimalist when you simply don’t have space for additional possessions. The drive to acquire more stuff just doesn’t nag at me quite so powerfully, because living tiny makes my life feel full with much less.

In a way, tiny house living also represents freedom from choice. Building a tiny house is not easy, and requires that you make a staggering number of high-stakes choices in a short period of time. Anyone who’s ever built a house can identify. As I write in my book, Tiny House Decisions, building a house is like making a huge deposit in your “choice bank”. You have to make lots of decisions during the building process, but afterwards you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Tiny House Decisions

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Now that I’m happily enjoying the tiny house lifestyle, I want to help you achieve the same! That’s exactly why I created Tiny House Decisions. It’s a resource designed to hold your hand through all the decisions you’ll have to make while building tiny, starting with “is a tiny house right for me?”, all the way through moving in!

Update: Ethan has now written a compendium to his first book—Tiny House Parking: How to Find Safe, Practical, and Affordable Land for Your Tiny House. Awesome!