What's it really like to downsize your life and build your own tiny house? We asked someone who's doing it.
Welcome to Living the Dream, a Livability.com series about people who made their big dreams a reality – and the places and communities that made it possible. Do you know someone who’s carved out a unique lifestyle or business in a small town or small to mid-sized city? We’re always looking for great stories. Email our editor for a chance to be featured!
Today we’re talking to Alex, a frequent traveler who is undertaking a big project: building himself a tiny house so he can live off the grid.
Name: Alexander Kingsbery
Location: Portland, Oregon
Occupation: Bartender, Photographer, Traveler
When did you first become interested in tiny houses?
The idea of a tiny house came to me right after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and stayed with me through my next thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. The plan really took off in 2015 when I sold a three-bedroom house full of furniture, set out on a two-month road trip in New England and then moved 2,349 miles across country to Oregon.
What appealed to you about the tiny house lifestyle?
What appealed most to me was the idea of decluttering my life. Lifting the weight and burden of material goods and heading towards a much simpler everyday life. All of this stemming from living out of a backpack six months out of the year and really seeing how little we actually need to survive and even thrive.
The chance to save money on rent and save toward further travel is also another huge draw. Rent is steep anywhere you go. Saving for a house is near impossible. The idea of taking on a huge debt and paying it back over 30 years just does not appeal to me and I hope to avoid it.
With a tiny house, you don’t only save on rent though. Not having space really limits what you can purchase and you really have to be smart about it. The entire lifestyle really appeals to me.
What was the first step you took when it came to making this dream a reality?
The first step was to come up with a design I wanted to use (using a 3-D program), get a materials list and put together a budget. From there you save as best as you can. I did end up taking a small, low interest personal loan to get the trailer. My advice is to read, read, read – do your research as best you can and know your limits on what you realistically can do.
What’s the ideal lifestyle you’re working toward? Being totally nomadic? Having a tiny house in one place and traveling often?
My ideal lifestyle would be owning a small farm and living off grid as much as possible. I would love to share the property with other tiny house owners. I look to travel often as well but not with the house itself. Moving the tiny house from time to time will happen over the next few years as we stay in various locations such as RV parks, backyards etc., while saving toward purchasing some acreage. I would really love to own five to 10 acres of land, with a community building on the property along with a shop. The community building really appeals to me. One of the biggest obstacles for tiny home owners currently is where to place your dream home once built. I would love to provide that solution.
Are you hoping to be off the grid? If so, how do you go about prepping for that kind of life?
Initially I will be setting up to live on grid only. While living here in Portland metro I will need to be set up like an RV as I rent spaces to park and live. In the future I am looking to go fully off grid. Solar is in the future as well as rain collection, permaculture and animal husbandry. Eventually I would like to even build a more permanent small structure on site.
How does your current location affect your goals and your process?
My current location is in the city, in Portland. I am building in my driveway which does not offer much space to move around and even less security for my belongings. I am using some local wood, but for the most part I am building new. I have a close friend of mine lending advice along the way. The community around me does stop by often and lend moral support but for the most part I am out here by myself building away.
How will you go about choosing your locations when you can live anywhere?
The locations will still be chosen where work can be found. Currently I am in Portland but I do see a move to Nashville in the future. I just love the fact that I will be able to up and move whenever and not have to U-Haul a thing!
What is a misconception many people have about tiny house living, or something that has surprised you as you’ve embarked on this journey?
Most people that stop by will ask a million questions about my home and then in closing say they could never do it. I think everyone can and should at least downsize somewhat. Most surprising to me is how much thought goes into every aspect of a small space. I have spent years fine tuning my design to fit as much as I can into my home while keeping things at a minimum clutter-wise. By far the hardest part of the build is coming up with innovative ways to store what you do have.
Any tips you’d give to other people interested in building their own tiny house or giving this lifestyle a try?
Most plans come with a materials list and very detailed plans. Save yourself time and effort also money and just buy pre-made plans if you choose to build your own tiny house. Build with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS). They will save you time and lots of it. Ask for advice as often as possible. Take your time. Get things right the first time and you will save yourself tons of time and money on fixes.
Go into this lifestyle knowing what you are giving up but also what you are gaining. Think hard if this is something for you. Have a place to put your house set-up. A lot of headache comes in finding a place to put your beautiful build.