Tiny Home, Big Wilderness

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Tiny houses are becoming increasingly popular as homeowners seek a simpler life, free of mortgages and clutter. While there are some difficulties to downsizing, many innovative designers create structures that appear cute and comfortable while remaining well-equipped for sustainable living.

BTRtoday gets a first hand account from Sarah Josey, who lives in a tiny home trailer for half of the year in the Alaskan wilderness with her husband Kael and their dog Sulley.

Sulley and Sarah, photos courtesy of Sarah Josey.

BTRtoday (BTR): When did you build your tiny house and what was the process like to build it?

Sarah Josey (SJ): I haven’t built my own tiny house, I’ve just lived in several.

BTR: Were they all in Alaska?

SJ: Two of them were. One was in Colorado.

BTR: What was it like living in them? Why do you think people are so obsessed with them nowadays?

SJ: I think people like the idea that they have a house that they can take with them if they want to go somewhere else. It feels more like a regular house and looks more like a regular house than a trailer does or something to that degree; it’s more comfortable and homey. But they can still move it when they want to move.

I also think it’s the allure of just being able to have a place to live that’s less expensive than a traditional home–nobody really wants to have a mortgage for the next 30 years. The idea of having a place that you can live thats all yours and you own it outright, I think that’s really appealing as well.

BTR: So you’ve lived in several tiny houses, did you move around in one of them or did you hop around from tiny house to tiny house?

SJ: Yeah, I hopped around from tiny house to tiny house. The first one was actually a studio above a garage, in Netherland, Colorado. The second one was a hand-built, off-the-grid home that some friends of ours here in Alaska built, which actually had a hand-built solar powered propane stove. We went to that one last summer and it was amazing and beautiful.

That was probably the most quintessential tiny house that people think about. I’m currently living in a trailer. A 1960s camper trailer. So I’m still living in a tiny house, but it’s not a tiny house like [the ones] people all want to build and imagine with the cool rooms and awesome wood shelving on the inside. It’s very much just a 1960s trailer, but it’s a house and it’s tiny.

BTR: Is it essentially the same— living in a trailer as living in a tiny house? Or besides the outside appeal are there any huge differences?

SJ: No, not at all.

BTR: So a tiny house is basically just a trailer.

SJ: Yeah, it is. Exactly.

BTR: With that, what are some of the not-so-great things about living in a tiny house?

SJ: The biggest drawback for me is that I live in the tiny house with my husband and my dog. The biggest drawback is not having a bedroom door. Even just one place I can go to be away from my husband. I mean, I love him, but I think we all need a little bit of personal separation sometimes.

The biggest downside to this life is he likes to sleep in on the weekends and I like to get up early and make coffee and read, and I think I’m being really quiet when I’m heating up coffee in the morning, but I’m probably banging all the pots together. It really is just a matter of figuring out how to move around in the space a bit better. Keeping yourself organized is really important because if you have something out of place it’s taking up a lot of space, and just moving around and negotiating in a tiny little space is different than when you have a whole house to hide things away in.

BTR: But there’s also probably a lot of positives, like getting to travel. Have you gotten to go anywhere cool with the tiny house or with the trailer?

SJ: When we travel, we don’t really take it that much. I suppose we would take the trailer, but if I was living in one of those tiny houses that someone had built-built, I wouldn’t travel with that because those are so heavy and not aerodynamic, and they don’t do well long distances on the road. We also have a camper van and we took out the seats in the back so when we do road trips we just road trip in our van and go see cool things.

There are definitely some huge advantages. You really learn what things you actually need in life and what things you don’t. I thought it would be difficult to transition into living in a tiny house, I brought more clothing than I needed and it’s funny because you just kind of go, “Oh, well really I only need these four shirts; what’s the point of having more?”And I have to do laundry more often because if the laundry builds up it just takes up space. So you don’t need as much clothing. It’s pretty freeing.

Last year when I left the tiny house and went back home to my big house, I had so much space and it takes me forever to clean. My trailer takes me two minutes and that’s about it.

BTR: How did you first decide that you wanted to move into a tiny house?

SJ: It just kind of happened by accident. The first one we lived in was the studio apartment above a garage in Colorado. And that was just what we ended up finding. That was a pretty big space, bigger than most of the tiny homes.

Then there was the cabin we lived in last year. My husband is a wild firefighter, he works here in Alaska in the summer and I just come for the portion of the year so I can spend some time with him and not be in a different state for six months every year. We were looking for a place to live and some friends of ours who live here full-time had built their own houses. We have a lot of friends who have built there own homes.

BTR: They’re also tiny homes?

SJ: Yeah, I mean, they’re tiny by necessity. What a lot of people will do down here is they tend to build themselves a small little cabin, and once they have their small little cabin they start working on building their bigger home because when you’re hand-building something like that and trying to do it all out of pocket it takes years, like it’ll take someone 10 years to build their home. So a lot of people will build a small cabin to live in while they’re building a bigger house for their families.

I have one friend who has two kids and right now their kids are really small so they can all live in a small house together, but once the kids get older they’re going to want their own bedrooms, so they’re slowly working on building a bigger house. So the first tiny house we lived in, our friends were like, “Why don’t you come live in our guesthouse?” So we moved into the guesthouse, then as payment we built them a new outhouse.

BTR: That’s awesome. It’s cool that you can kind of grow with the house.

SJ: Definitely, that’s something that happens a lot–up here anyways. People start building then they’re like, “let’s build a shed” or, “let’s build a greenhouse.” It’s a fun life. It takes some getting used to, but once you get used to it, you enjoy it.

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