I (Hannah) have had several people recently ask me questions about living in an unfinished tiny home. I finally sat down and replied to someone with a really long email about the whole experience.
If you are considering moving into a tiny house that is not yet finished, perhaps you should read this. Or not. If someone had tried to tell me this information (oh wait… they probably did), I/we would not have listened. We wanted/want to live our own adventure – hard times and all.
Without further ado, a story about living in an unfinished tiny house as told in a reply to a question via email from Hannah’s perspective (Ryan may add his thoughts later on).
Good to hear from you! I’ve really enjoyed the Tiny House community on Instagram.
Ok. “What was it like to live in an unfinished tiny house?” This is gonna be long. Prepare yourself.
When we first moved in, we ONLY had the bedroom built. Like, just a 10X10 (or so, I don’t remember exact dimensions right now). Pics on website, on “Tiny House and Wedding Update” blog post or the “Our Tiny House” page. We eventually finished the entire exterior, but this was while we were living in it.
A tiny bit of back story: we got married in April 2013 and a week before we were married the housing situation we were planning on moving into together, fell through and we were forced to scramble last minute to find a place. We found a month-to-month rental place that was 240 sq feet (great practice for Tiny living). We knew that in July 2013 we either had to make a year commitment to the rental place, or find somewhere else to live.
Around the beginning of June, we found a great deal on a gooseneck trailer that we bought. So our thought was to start building immediately and move into it at the end of July when our lease was up.Everything worked out: we found somewhere super close to where we both worked to start building. An amazingly sweet elderly woman had a few acres right in the middle of Golden CO (where we lived at the time) and allowed us to park the trailer (and all of the extra stuff that comes with it – turns out building materials take up a LOT of space) and start building.
We did get the bedroom somewhat livable before moving in..meaning it was framed with plywood and some tarps to keep out the rain. VERY basic. We ran an extension cord out from her shed to charge cell phones, laptop, and power tools, and kept water bottles around and used her hose to refill. But we didn’t have room for a kitchen, it was just the bed. She allowed us to keep our clothes in her garage, so that became our closet. We didn’t have any food storage options, so we just went to the grocery store every morning for breakfast, fast food (ugh) for lunch and dinner. We’d come back to the tiny house after work and work on it in the evenings before bed. We showered at my office which was like 2 miles away and used the bathroom at a gas station close by.
The lady whose land we were living on eventually took pity on us (I believe her words were, “no one should have to live like this”) and invited us to use her kitchen and bathroom. So at that point we were basically living with her, without living in her house. She allowed us to use part of a fridge and freezer space, kitchen to cook meals each day, and bathroom to use and take showers in. This significantly improved our quality of life, as you can imagine.
The building process took us SO much longer than we anticipated. We moved in in July, and I was under the impression that we were going to have the whole tiny house down before winter.
October hit and the temperature started dropping significantly, especially at night. Although we did make significant progress, we didn’t have electrical wiring or insulation done yet. Tragically, the elderly woman passed away very suddenly, and her family decided to put the house and land on the market. For 2-3 months around that time, we lived in friends basements, guest bedrooms, and cheap hotels around the Denver area. We decided to move to a tiny mountain town 4 hours south of Denver at Christmas, and moved the Tiny House down there as soon as the family sold the place.
Overall – yes, I can honestly say that I am slightly scarred from the experience of living in the tiny house before it was complete. There may have been other factors involved with that time period being difficult, like we were VERY much newlyweds, basically moving into a shed after being married for 3 months, living a “3rd world country experience” yet still trying to keep up with our “1st world” jobs and community. Or the fact that when we were dating and first married we had like $300 and had no idea what we were doing as far as building something this enormous – did I mention that our tiny house is HUGE? Like 250 sq feet. Needless to say, it made me feel fairly unstable and made both of us stressed out in general, not having somewhere to just CHILL and recoup. To be living in a construction zone, always having SO much to do: that list only gets longer and involves more money.
All that and I still say this: I really hope that this doesn’t scare you away from building a tiny house or even living in it unfinished.
I know that for who my husband and I are (we’re both firstborns) we needed to do this. If you are even considering building a tiny house, I feel like you will understand this somewhat. Even if it causes some scarring :) you can heal from it and learn a ton.
Where we are at now:
The tiny house is still down in the mountain town on some other friend’s land, in the unfinished state we left it in. It is PACKED full of building materials. We basically ran out of money and realized that we needed to spend a few years being a tad more strategic in planning our future. We moved back to the Denver area, took great jobs, and are living a fairly focused life just working and planning for the future. My husband works 7 days a week in the oil field and he has 1 week off every once in awhile so he is planning on going down there every so often to finish the house. We still have high hopes of finishing it, and we just realized that we had to be a bit more strategic if we wanted to remain sane :)
Advice (take it or leave it) for those considering living in an unfinished Tiny House:
– Work on finishing the inside first. That’s what you’ll be living in. If the outside just has tyvek for awhile, and it looks like crap, but you have electricity, insulation, drywall and a bed and chair (:sigh:) and the inside can be a refuge for you, it will help you keep going when you feel overwhelmed.
– If you do move in without electricity and water, and its basically like a shed, simplify your lifestyle. And by that I mean cut out as many extra activities as possible. I don’t know if you work, or how much, or if you are super involved in your community, or hang out with friends a ton, or have your own business, etc… but the more of these “other activities” you can temporarily cut out during the time you are building and are forced to live a highly rudimentary lifestyle, the better. Almost like meditating or something, just make your focus the tiny house for a little bit. I think that if I would have been able to do this, I MAY have enjoyed the process a tad more. If I could have just woken up each morning, not had to think about how long it would take me to actually be ready for the day (grab clothes from garage, go to store get breakfast, drive to work take a shower, awkwardly have wet hair and toiletries at work…etc) but just wake up, enjoy living a slightly “pioneer-ish” lifestyle for a few months.
– Have a back up plan. If/when the tiny house takes longer than you anticipate, have a backup plan in place so that its not this extreme pressure to complete the massive project before the first frost or something. We both didn’t handle that pressure very well, me more so than my husband. I think the unknown for me was almost unbearable. Not knowing how long I’d have to live like this was really difficult. If you set deadlines like, “if we don’t have the inside livable by November 1, we are moving into this apartment.” That way, when things get hard, you can just tell yourself, “Hey, I got 2 months of this and then we’re either going to be living in a functional tiny house, or this other housing situation.”
– Passion vs. Practicality. I read an article in the paper that talked about 10 ways passion could kill a new business. Basically, that emotions can block logically decision making. We just wanted to build this freaking house and at times this basically stopped us from creating a realistic timeline or putting a plan in place. So, for your overall health, be willing to set aside excitement for the finished product for like a few days, and maybe talk to some people in your life that you trust to help you come up with a practical plan for executing this fun project.
Questions for those considering moving into a tiny house that is unfinished:
– Where are you located?
– What’s your story? Are you married? Single? Do you have kids?
– Where do you work? What is that environment like?
– What is your background in construction? (for the record, mine was NOTHING when we started)
– What kind of budget that you are working with?
– Whats your timeline?
– How did you get involved with tiny houses?
– How have the people in your life responded to your dream of building this tiny monster? ;-)
Hope this helps somewhat, and I’m super pumped for you guys who are building or thinking about building!
If you are reading this and you are considering building a tiny house, or if you are considering moving into an unfinished tiny house, tell us your story! We would really enjoy connecting with you.
And if you’re ever in the Denver area, let us know. We’d love to have you over for tea :)
What a great post! My husband and I have been building our tiny house since July 2012. We thought it would take four months. :-)
We moved in with my parents because we didn’t want to have to pay extra money to sign a shorter lease. And after all, it would only be four months, right? Ha! At the time, we were learning to be self-employed (and had been married for just over a year). A perfect recipe for a high-stress situation: newlyweds, low income stream, self-employment, living with family. We are still living with my parents, and have gotten over most of the guilt by trying to help around the house as much as possible (they won’t let us pay rent). Our money situation has taken a turn for the much, much, much better, and we will be moving our house to our little piece of land soon. Our goal is to be living in it by mid-November, but I’d be happy if it was any time before 2015.
This part: “We just wanted to build this freaking house and at times this basically stopped us from creating a realistic timeline or putting a plan in place.” I completely relate to this! It’s only been very recently that we actually wrote a LIST of things to do. And to stop thinking in terms of “if we can’t finish it all today, why even bother?” And instead just do a little here, a little there, as time allows. It’s made all the difference coming to the end of our project.
Thank you for being honest on your blog! It’s sincerely lacking in a lot of the tiny house posts people write.
Haha! Oh man, after looking at your blog – we have so much in common! I am super pumped (aaaaand slightly jealous;-) for you guys to move into the tiny house soon!! The pics look awesome!!
The overwhelming, never ending list of things to do is super overwhelming. In fact, since we aren’t even near the tiny house, we haven’t even thought about this for now :) I know that you are right though, every little thing definitely help and moves you closer to being finished.
AHHHH!! But don’t you just get SO excited about the idea of living somewhere super cozy (AND debt free)?? To have everything important to me within a couple hundred square feet. I love it.
Thanks for sharing a bit of your story! Looking forward to following you guys and celebrating with you once the beast is complete!!
Thanks for sharing your experience! We’ve talked about building a tiny house. We’re currently in a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 kids. One of the things that puts me off to building at all is I know it ALWAYS takes SO MUCH LONGER than expected. We’ll have to see what the future holds though…
It’s so true! We seriously thought that it would take like 4 months max. One thing that would help speed it up is to hire people to help. Not only would it keep you accountable to work on it, but having even one extra pair of hands (especially if they know what they are doing) is SO valuable! I know its totally doable, but definitely hard to fit into an already slightly full life :) Good luck and let us know if you ever end up going with it!
This has been very eyeopening and informational. I am a single, 22 year old female who is saving to build myself a tiny home. I want to be finished and moved in by the time i am 25. Given that I am in Southern California I know that I have a huge advantage over many Tiny Home builders. Moving in before it is completely finished is not nearly as scary as finding all the people I will need to help me learn what I need to know to build it. I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT BUILDING A HOUSE! I am eager to learn though and open to practicing with anyone who will let me help with their house. If you know anyone in or around San Diego building a Tiny Home please connect us and to you I say thank you. Thank you for being real about this creative but very exhausting process that I am preparing to embark on. I truly hope to meet you and so many like you in the near future. Big Dreams are never easy but I have given up on so many dreams, this will not be one of them.
Rosie! So excited for you to start your Tiny House adventure! While I (sadly) couldn’t find specific people in Southern Cali to connect you with, there are SO many resources available now: building plans, workshops to learn building skills, and great support from the Tiny House community! I’ve heard SO many stories about people who had no idea what they were doing when they started, and they just learned along the way. One great resource is the Tiny House Magazine (if you click on the pic of the Tiny House on the sidebar, it’ll direct you). They have stories that connect you to other tiny house people, as well as resources that will help you figure out what you need to get going. Another great resource is Tumbleweed. They actually have a workshop coming up in March in Las Vegas, maybe that’s not super far for you! Anyways, good luck on your tiny house endeavors! Keep us updated!!
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