January 7, 2020
Ethan Waldman is a leading voice in the tiny house movement and is widely recommended by tiny house experts as a go-to source for planning a successful tiny house. Finding himself in his late 20’s, working in 9-5 in corporate america, unfulfilled by life, he craved a more flexible lifestyle where he was not chained to a cubicle desk all day. After taking a month long sabbatical from work, going on over 800+ mile bicycle tour across multiple states, and couch surfing, tent pitching, and crashing in a few tiny homes along the way, he made a decision to embrace the tiny house lifestyle, quit his job, and built his own tiny house on wheels.
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"You know, from the place where I was working the corporate job, feeling kind of unfulfilled and just like that there was something else for me out there...
I realized that if I could own my own little house outright, that would give me a lot more freedom to freedom, to fail, freedom to try a business, try consulting, try whatever without needing to have a huge emergency fund, or a huge, huge runway…"
"I think just being inside and sitting at a desk all day didn't feel good to me. I love the outdoors. I love to ski and hike and bike and it just always irked me, sitting in the cubicle, not even near a window, but just like walking by a window and seeing how gorgeous it was outside…
I gotta I've got to figure out a way that I can reorganize my life so that I can prioritize these things a little bit more or reprioritize."
"...People kept coming up to Dan and I, asking us where we were going and what we were doing. And we'd explain and they would say this is going to be such a life changing experience for you. This is amazing. Your life is going to totally change.
But it wasn't until I got back one when I got home that I realized it wasn't that my life had changed. It was that I had changed..."
"I'd never been that great at saving money. You know, I wasn't like reckless, but it wasn't until I had a real, a real goal, just something that felt really important and really tangible that I was able to actually follow through on like radically saving money…"
"Well, I think that just the big reduction in, in living costs enabled me to experiment a bit more and not, you know, not put too much pressure on the new business, you know, to have to be able to cover the monthly nut right away…."
"I just think I see, I see a little bit of myself in all of them. It's very rewarding. I mean, there's nothing better than, you know, getting an email from someone, you know, a year or two after they've purchased your, your ebook saying, you know, look, here are pictures of my tiny house…"
"...but I didn't have to do that because, you know, my expenses had finally really lowered a lot that the house was done. I owned it outright. I had an amazing parking situation, so I was basically trading some technology coaching hours per month for a free parking spot for the tiny house. So, you know, my, my rent and utilities dropped from something like $1,500 a month to close to zero..."
"...I just created a Facebook page building the tiny and I just started sharing photos of the build kind of little updates that were much, you know, much easier and quicker to post. You know, by the time that the house was done, the page had about 15,000 likes. Just completely organically. I had, I had done nothing to promote it..."
"In life and business it feels less less predetermined. And the situations and what goes into everything is there's a lot more varied but, but yeah, I would say that I, I try to, what I learned from building a tiny house is to really think about the implications of a decision, not just right now but trying to think further ahead and say like, how is this going to affect the next project that I do and the next project after that..."
"...You can start on an, even if you never plan to live tiny and, and the benefits are, as you mentioned, you know, just a sense of less mental clutter when you, when you own less stuff and you, you, it, it really is less burdensome."
"I think that, you know, we, we've always been good communicators and we talk things through, you know, we're not the kind of couple that like goes silent for, for a couple of days after a disagreement. But yeah, the tiny house definitely does force a level of interaction sometimes because there really isn't, you know, there's no space where you can go to be alone though…"
"You know, my family was very supportive of me in doing this tiny house. I think that there was definitely a period of time where it was a very fragile idea for me. Where, like if, if there had been someone in my life close to me who was like a major detractor I might not have done it…"
"I think having a well designed space is a, is a luxury, you know, and it doesn't have to be big to have it feel relaxing…
You know, space does have its quirks. I mean, there's no, there's no perfect design for a tiny house space. There are compromises there. You know, there are times when we wish we had more space in the tiny house…
I think learning to live with those trade-offs is part of the reward of living tiny. And it's also why it's so important to do a good job planning it because you know, it is harder to rearrange and expand."
"...I think that the stress should be on discovering what is important to you and then trying to do more of that rather than, you know, following what's important to me..."
"…I was lucky because I graduated in Oh seven, and you know, I was able to get a job, you know, it, it was just the economic crisis was kind of just hitting the news. For, for those people of my age, I would say that, you know, people were, it, it kind of reshaped people's views of home ownership and that, you know, a mortgage was not necessarily a great thing to kind of sign on the dotted line for. And you know, we kind of watched mostly as our parents had their houses foreclosed or got really tied up in a lot of bad debt. And so I think that that influenced my decision to want to build and live in a tiny house. Just this, this idea that, that I own it outright…"
"I don't think that tiny houses are the future. I think that they are absolutely part of the future. But if I made that, if I kind of expanded that and made it more broad, you know, hopefully the future is that, you know, we can acknowledge that we've built homes way too large in this country for a long time. So normalizing the idea that you can live a fulfilling life and raise children and you know, do whatever it is that you need to do in, in a small house…"
"The problem is, is that we start looking at it as an investment and so that pushes us to, to buy what we think other people might want to buy versus what, what we think that we actually need slash what we can actually afford. And so the tiny house movement is kind of flipping that... It's like how can I do this as, as reasonably it's cost effectively as possible, but also how can I do this so that it will work for me, not for somebody else."
"...even though tiny houses are much more affordable than, and traditional homes, you know, coming up with 25, 50, $75,000 upfront is not possible for a large majority of people. So, you know, being able to afford a tiny home is, is a privilege in, in and of itself…"
It's a great question. I'm a systems nerd, so my answer to that question is that we have to look at the effects of our decisions, not just right now but into the future and thinking of what we do and the things that we build as part of a system rather than just just alone. I think when you start thinking that way, your decisions change and if more people can start thinking that way then the world could potentially evolve.
People have really become intrigued by tiny homes and the movement has really taken off. You have lived over 6 years now. How has your ideas and love for tiny homes changed since the day you picked up your utility trailer in 2012 to start building?
I would say that my relationship to the tiny house movement has changed and evolved over that time. You know, from the place where I was that you mentioned in the intro, you know, working the corporate job, feeling kind of unfulfilled and just like that there was something else for me out there. When I first found tiny houses, they felt like a real, just, it seemed like such a great opportunity. It seemed like the exact right thing for me at the time because my monthly expenses in terms of my rent, where the rent was the highest thing. And so I realized that if I could own my own little house outright, that would give me a lot more freedom to freedom, to fail, freedom to try a business, try consulting, try whatever without needing to have a huge emergency fund, or a huge, huge runway.
So when I made the leap, that's where I was with tiny houses. To continue the story, I it took a lot longer to build it than I thought it was going to. I went in just a complete novice. So some friends in the construction industry had suggested that a tiny house could be built in three to four months. And while that's realistic for a construction crew of professionals working putting in a full time day like a finely oiled machine, for a solo novice builder it quickly became obvious that that was not not going to happen. So three months turned more into to 13. And you know, while that was happening, I successfully made the transition from a full time corporate employee to a consultant.
I was able to kind of turn my nine to five job into a consulting gig which turned out to be just totally crucial for me just in terms of income cause I was able to keep working on projects and just put that money into the tiny house build. Which definitely went over budget from what I budgeted mainly because I realized that I needed to hire some professional help. And so I did end up working with a local carpenter slash kind of Jack of all trades throughout the build about one or two days a week. So that added some costs, but it really helped me learn a lot and also helped it actually get done.
Your leap into the tiny house lifestyle really started with finding yourself in your 20’s uninspired by life in the 9-5 corporate world and seeing your miserable life 10 years in the future. What was about that trajectory that left you seeking something else?
I think it was, it was multiple things. I think just being inside and sitting at a desk all day didn't feel good to me. I love the outdoors. I love to ski and hike and bike and it just always irked me, sitting in the cubicle, not even near a window, but just like walking by a window and seeing how gorgeous it was outside. I mean, I live in Vermont and I think it's one of the most beautiful places in the country. And it’s not like I was looking out on a strip mall. I was looking out on a gorgeous mountain, like packed with snow and, and just kind of feeling like, ah, I gotta I've got to figure out a way that I can reorganize my life so that I can prioritize these things a little bit more or reprioritize.
What during the bicycle tour across the country with your cousin Dan and couch surfing, camping, and staying in tiny homes opened your eyes to this lifestyle?
You know, the bicycle tour is kind of an interesting footnote for me. So for those listening, if you ever see a group of two or three people cycling down the side of the road and their bikes are just laid in yellow, usually bright yellow bags, hanging off the bike. That's bicycle touring. So you're carrying all of your clothes, food, tent, everything. You're carrying it on your bicycle. It's like backpacking on a bicycle. And you know, people kept coming up to me. Well us, I was with my cousin Dan, who I'm very close with. People kept coming up to Dan and asking us where we were going and what we were doing. And we'd explain and they would say this is going to be such a life changing experience for you. This is amazing. Your life is going to totally change.
And I kept on the bike tour being like, well, I don't feel like my life is changing. I feel really tired, hungry. But it wasn't until I got back one when I got home that I realized it wasn't that my life had changed. It was that I had changed. After being kind of self sufficient for 30 days and also just living with such a small selection of possessions that had been very carefully selected, really feeling like I had everything I needed. The life that I left and then came back to felt foreign to me and just to return to a house full of stuff. So the bike tour is kind of what maybe planted the idea in my head that I could be happy living with a lot less stuff.
Once you set your goal you made the tiny house fund on YNAB went into “hobo” mode, basically saving everything you could to make this a reality. Tell me about your dedication to making this happen.
Yeah. I'd never been that great at saving money. You know, I wasn't like reckless, but it wasn't until I had a real, a real goal, just something that felt really important and really tangible that I was able to actually follow through on like radically saving money. It was just a matter of not going out to eat very much or not doing extraneous shopping, just trying to save money anywhere that I could. At the time, something that I really found useful was that I set up a separate savings account within my bank and the bank allows you to make an instant transfer between accounts. If I went out and didn't order a beer, I would transfer $8 from my checking account to my savings account and kind of turned it into a game of paying myself. I'm paying for this tiny house each time that happens. And after the tiny house I found an awesome software called you need a budget or YNAB which I've used for years now and I wish that I had had it before, especially during the build because I didn't do a great job of tracking my costs through the build. And I think that if I had been using something like YNAB, I really could have potentially not spent as much on the build or at least had a better handle on where I was financially.
During this time you were also working as an entrepreneur and Technology Coach. How has living in a Tiny Home empowered you as an entrepreneur?
Well, I think that just the big reduction in, in living costs enabled me to experiment a bit more and not, you know, not put too much pressure on the new business, you know, to have to be able to cover the monthly nut right away. Because the monthly nut was a whole lot lower. And I would say that yeah, it also helped ease the transition because, you know, the consulting work that I was doing for my old company was different than the then the technology coaching, which was my kind of first business out of, out of [inaudible] after the corporate career. And the business felt promising but it ha, it had not yet reached the point where it could support me. So the consulting really helped ease that transition and I, I'm super grateful and, and I feel really lucky that I, I had a job where my position was pretty unique, so it, it was easier for them to just say, how about we just keep you on as a consultant rather than, you know, have to deal with finding someone do to replace you.
Now you have built a community and business around sharing tested tiny house insights and instructions from experienced tiny house owners, builders, and dwellers. What is it that makes you so passionate to help others with this?
I just think I see, I see a little bit of myself in, in all of them. You know, people, people come to the tiny house movement for, for a lot of different reasons. But you know, financial reasons are a major underpinning. Whether it's, you know, someone in their twenties who wants to own their first house or, or increasingly now people who are reaching the age of, or the, the age where they would like to think about retiring. And realizing that a tiny house can really stretch out the money that they do have. So I see myself in them. It's very rewarding. I mean, there's nothing better than, you know, getting an email from someone, you know, a year or two after they've purchased your, your ebook saying, you know, look, here are pictures of my tiny house. Like I started off on one of your webinars, or I started off by, you know, buying tiny house decisions. That's super rewarding. Mmm. And just a topic that I've found that I can stay interested in. Just talk, you know, staying involved in the tiny house movement because I, you know, I only built my one tiny house. I'm not a professional, tiny house builder. And so, you know, through, through writing and blogging and self-publishing the books and, and now more recently through hosting a weekly podcast about tiny houses. Mmm. It's helped me stay in touch with the movement and just there's a lot there. There's a lot of cool things happening.
For many entrepreneurs, financial freedom is a big driver. I think tiny homes are a way for people to realize financial freedom much sooner and for a lot less then they think they need. How was this true for you?
I would say that I was able to win the consulting work, you know, all consulting I feel like has its kind of natural life cycle. You know, companies go through good periods and bad periods and, and it's, you know, usually when, when for a bigger company, when they have a bad quarter or you know, the leadership changes, the first thing to go is like, alright, fire the consultants. Like they're very expendable. And you know, I had seen the writing on the wall that this was happening, but you know, I, I didn't love the work anymore, the consulting work and when, you know, it was clear to me that things were kind of drying up. I didn't have to go and hustle for more work that I didn't want to do. You know, I probably could have, you know, found some other managers in the company and pitched my services to them or gone to other similar companies and said like, Hey, I do this, but I didn't have to do that because, you know, my expenses had finally really lowered a lot that the house was done. I owned it outright. I had an amazing parking situation, so I was basically trading some technology coaching hours per month for a free parking spot for the tiny house. So, you know, my, my rent and utilities dropped from something like $1,500 a month to close to zero. I mean, he does cost something in the tiny house, but you know, call it a a hundred dollars a month averaged across the year for heat, electricity, and internet at the tiny house. And, you know, that's about it.
Yeah. I think one of the cool things is in the movement and kind of the community you run of tiny homes, there is this sort of return to like a bartering system. Like, I have a skill set. You had technology coaching this other person has a place for you to park your tiny home and you're able to trade those things without necessarily having to use money as they In Between of that.
Yeah. And you see that a lot in the, in the tiny house movement. You know, so there's this woman, Dee Williams who's one of the pioneers of the tiny house movement. And she actually lived in the backyard of an elderly woman for years and years. You know, the woman whose yard she parked in just really wanted some, some companionship and someone that she could interact with and, and help and, you know, D ended up helping her, driving her to doctor's appointments and those kinds of things. But, you know, it was a beautiful relationship where, where each person was getting something that, you know, it's hard to find.
So the Evolve audience is full of budding entrepreneurs and early stage founders who are in the midst of building their businesses right now. Tell me about how you started sharing your tiny house journey with others and attracting a community turned into a business for you.
Yeah. And that was not something that I expected would happen, but basically my, my tech coaching business, which was called cloud coach, you know, it was doing okay. Basically my, I love, I love technology. I love, I'm a good teacher, I'm patient, I'm good at explaining things. And so what I really wanted to do was coach small businesses on how to use the technology, kind of in their businesses to better serve them. And [inaudible] what I found was, Mmm, the businesses and people who were able to pay me, yeah. Really just wanted me to do it for them. They didn't want to learn it. They wanted it to be done for them. And the, the people who wanted to learn usually couldn't pay. And so, you know, there was a lot of bartering, a lot of barters going on. Unfortunately, you know, you can't, you can't pay your bills, however small they are, you know, with free yoga classes.
So what I ended up doing, what I found that a lot of people needed was, was websites. And so I started building websites for clients, but it wasn't kind of in my zone of excellence. You know, what, it was something that I could do, but I never felt that strong about my abilities and I didn't really enjoy the work. And so I was kind of going down this path of like following the money in my own business, which is something that I, I didn't feel that great about. I didn't want to do websites. And so when I started building the tiny house, I registered a domain, the tiny house.net and figured know like some people before me who had put out just amazingly helpful blogs while they were building like blogs that I would refresh multiple times a day to see if there was an update because they were like a month or two or three ahead of me in their bills.
And they were like, they were like documenting the process for me. It was amazing, you know, after the first like couple of weeks, aye just, there was no way I was going to keep up with the blog. I have immense respect for people who are able to document, you know, intense projects and write about them. Wow. They're doing them, but that, that person is not me. So what I did instead is I started, I just created a Facebook page building the tiny and I just started sharing photos of the build kind of little updates that were much, you know, much easier and quicker to post. You know, by the time that the house was done, the page had about 15,000 likes. Just completely organically. I had, I had done nothing to promote it and [inaudible] I was getting questions all the time from people about, you know, why did you choose this type of trailer? You know, what did you use for heat? What kind of flooring is that? Like, what are those countertops made of? Just questions, questions. And this was a time that there wasn't a ton of, of, there weren't reality shows. There weren't really any YouTube channels really. There just wasn't a lot of tiny house info out there. And so, you know, I set out on, on writing what would become my, my kind of signature resource, tiny house decisions.
Getting here you made some big life decisions. Your book is also called Tiny House Decisions. How do you approach decision making in your life and in your business?
Sure. well for tiny houses, I'll start there. Tiny houses though they're small are I believe more complex than larger homes. Because you, you've got all the same utilities, you know, heat, hot water, air conditioning, cooking, just all these things shoehorned into a much tinier space. And so fitting those pieces together really is a puzzle. And the decisions, I call it in the tiny house decisions, snowballing decisions. So like something that you decide, something that you decided and built into your house six months ago is going to affect, for instance, what kind of heater you can put there now because of how much space you've left or what pipes or what plumbing you've run to that area. And so I set out to create a really systematic approach to making these decisions based on my own experience. And then further resource or research, just basically to say, you know, okay, so you want to, you want to live in a tiny house. Like let's figure out some really big decisions, big questions first and then move from there. So it starts from, you know, should you do it on a trailer or should you build one on the ground? Should you build it with help or should you try it yourself, you know, it starts there and then progresses through the systems, you know, like heating and plumbing and then into the, the actual building techniques and materials. And then finally it ends with, with living.
Do you take the same approach to your life in business when you're making a decision?
I Wish! I mean, I think that what's nice about a tiny house is that, you know, as, as, as creative as you can be and you can be very creative. There is a very well trodden kind of path now that you can follow about a build. Whereas, you know, in life and business it feels less less predetermined I guess. And the, the, the situations and the, just the, what goes into everything is there's a lot more varied but, but yeah, I would say that I, I try to, what I learned from building a tiny house is to really think about the implications of a decision, not just right now but trying to think further ahead and say like, how is this going to affect the next project that I do and the next project after that. And I do try to bring that to my tiny house business, especially like when it comes to bringing new technology, you know, new platforms, new things, new ideas into the business.
When you downsize your stuff and declutter your environment I also find that it declutters your brain and gives you more mental capacity and clarity. How do you view owning things and crafting your environment?
I never got into the tiny house movement because I was a die hard minimalist. Like, you know, my wife and I both love to ski and you know, we have our, we have our outdoor sports that, you know, that requires gear. And so we, you know, we have gear, we have stuff. You know, I was never though, like I just have one black tee shirt kind of person. But I, I, I agree that that the process is really liberating and okay. What I like to tell people who are like, Oh, I want to build a tiny house right now, but I, you know, I need to save up money for the next two years. You can start on the downsizing process right now. Mmm. You can start on an, even if you never plan to live tiny and, and the benefits are, as you mentioned, you know, just a sense of less mental clutter when you, when you own less stuff and you, you, it, it really is less burdensome.
I think it helps you to really identify what you value in life as well. I mean, you mentioned you really love outdoor sports, so you're going to have all of that gear. Maybe I don't value that. And so I would be like, well that's crazy to have all that care.
Exactly. You can, there's no, there are no tiny house police or minimalism police out there. I mean, if you put your story out there on the internet, people will criticize you. But that's pretty much true for anything. So yeah, you can, you can do it as much or as little as you want. You know, we, we have to small sheds that live with our tiny house and have stuff in them. You know, I don't, I don't hide that. It's not for me, it wasn't about getting every, all of my stuff to fit inside of it. How has been sharing your story and kind of putting yourself out there online in terms of maybe being criticized or different? I feel lucky. I've gotten not a lot of criticism. You know, you, you see snarky comments now and again. By and large, I feel pretty lucky.
Possibly. It's because I don't have a YouTube channel. Youtube sometimes seems like it's the worst place for that kind of behavior, but no by and large, the people who reach out to me are, are wonderful and are, I'm thankful for what I'm doing. And just especially in podcasting as I'm sure you, you've found, you know, the people who listened to a show every week. Okay. They feel like, you know, they know you and then when they reach out to you, you can get to know them and it's, it's a great kind of relationship builder with your audience.
You married your wife Ann in front of your tiny home and 150 other people. How has living in a tiny home affected your relationship? Does it bring you closer together?
Yeah, well, I will say that we actually do not live in the tiny home anymore. Oh really? Yeah. so, so Anne, Anna and I met about nine months to a year before I started building. Okay. And you know, throughout the build, our relationship kind of got stronger and you know, in the middle of the build my housing situation, you know, I, again, I was trying to live as cheaply as possible and my housing situation fell through and see what she was like, why don't you just move in with me? And I was like, all right, let's do that. And so, you know, we have always maintained actually two residences, which kind of makes me blush because, you know, here I am, this like a tiny house person. But it has made sense for us to, to keep her condo, which is admittedly quite tiny as well.
That's kind of in the city in Burlington, Vermont. And then the tiny house is kind of out in the mountains, you know, where we like to play. And so we, you know, we have spent long stretches of time at the tiny house, you know, enough to say like, we know what it's like to live there. And we certainly could live there full time if we wanted to. Unfortunately some, the thing with tiny houses is they're not legal everywhere. Right? So it's, it's much easier to park out the, in the country from a legal standpoint, then it would be too do it here in Burlington, which is where, you know, she happens to, to work. So we kind of trade, we trade that. It's a trade off, you know, she's able to walk to work from where we live now, whereas the, the tiny house would be about an hour drive. And so there's, you know, there's like a lifestyle decision that we've made there.
Absolutely. Do you feel and the time, time stretches that you do spend there together, do you feel it brings you closer together just because of proximity of space?
Definitely. I think that, you know, we, we've always been good communicators and we talk things through, you know, we're not the kind of couple that like goes silent for, for a couple of days after a disagreement. But yeah, the tiny house definitely does force a level of interaction sometimes because there really isn't, you know, there's no space where you can go to be alone though. You know, when, when one person's up in the loft and the other person's kind of down in the great room, there is a separation of those two spaces, but you can still talk to each other. You know, if you really need space then you have to go outside.
Family seems to be a big value for you as you visit them scattered around the country and your parents even letting you use their barn as a construction site for the tiny home. What things from your family or growing up influenced you towards being an entrepreneur or living in a tiny home?
You know, my family was, was very supportive to me in in doing this tiny house. I think that there was definitely a period of time where it was a very fragile idea for me. Where, like if, if there had been someone in my life close to me who was like a major detractor [inaudible] I might not have done it. You know, I might've been able to be convinced of course, as I, as I built it and as it became more real, you know, the chances that I would have given up got much, much less than an approach to zero. Mmm. But that's an interesting question. You know, I think we spent a lot of time together as a family. We did a lot, we did a lot of these outdoor activities and things that we loved. You know, another one for me is his music.
You know, my family's very musical. I'm a lifelong musician and [inaudible] after our brief stint after college, you know, realizing that being a professional musician was a really hard road and, and led me to kind of not enjoy music when it, when I felt like I needed to pay the bills. Yeah. That was another thing that I, that I just wanted to have more time to be able to do is to play music and write music and record music. And all that stuff. So I think that it wasn't like my parents [inaudible] we're crazy. Like you must become an entrepreneur. They, you know, they'd be proud of me no matter what I'm doing as long as I'm happy. But I think that the way I grew up getting, you know, getting to do these fun outdoors things, getting to play a lot of music [inaudible] with the stark contrast of like, wow, you know, a corporate nine to five doesn't, doesn't feel like it leaves much time for that richer outside life.
Kind of the contrast between the two just led me to entrepreneurship and kind of like, well this is how, this is how I have to do it if I want to live that kind of life.
My background is in design, I got a masters in architecture, and worked 3 years in architecture before becoming an entrepreneur and still have a deep appreciation for it. You worked with an architect and did things like focus on finishes to really craft your space. How does having a beautiful and well designed space empower you and your life?
I think having a well designed space is a, is a luxury, you know, and it doesn't have to be big to have it feel relaxing.You know, the tiny house has a ton of windows, so it's just the natural light inside of the space is just, is amazing. And I think that, I think that humans need more light, more natural light than we get. And so, Mmm. Getting to go to the tiny house is so relaxing. Usually Anne will say it to me or just I'll say it to Anne like, Oh, it's so great to be here. You know, we sleep so well. It's quiet. You know, space does have its quirks. I mean, there's no, there's no perfect design for a tiny house space. There are compromises there. You know, there are times when we wish we had more space in the tiny house. I won't, you know, I would be lying if I said it's perfect. It's, it's like it's giant. It meets all of our needs.
Yeah. But I think learning to live with those tradeoffs is, is part of the reward of living tiny. And it's also why it's so important to do a good job planning it because you know, it is harder to rearrange and expand.
Do you feel a closer sense of ownership having it designed and then also you took part in the building process?
Yeah, absolutely. It's again a luxury to be able to walk into a space and say, you know, this was designed for me, or I had a, you know, I played a major role in the design. I was the client of somebody who designed the space for me. And then, and then having built it it's, it's an amazing, really rewarding feeling. You know, every time you, you know, every time you look at it, it's just, you know, it's something that you made. And so there's a, there's an enormous sense of pride.
You also highly value travel, the freedom of place, and the freedom of work, ultimately aligning your life with this autonomy to do what you want to every single day. Why is this so important and how can other people discover the values they should align their life around?
Those things are important to me. But they aren't necessarily important to everyone else. And I think that that the, the stress should be on discovering what is important to you and then trying to do more of that rather than, you know, following what's important to me. You know, when I, when I started in on this, I thought that I really wanted like location independence and that I wanted to be able to travel all the time and [inaudible] as, as the years have ticked by, you know, I find that I kind of don't want to travel as much. I, I, I really value being home and being comfortable in my space. Visiting family is, it is travel, but it's also very, it's very comfortable. You know, it's not, it's not adventure. And while I still one some adventures, I, you know, have evolved in the sense that I don't think I want it all the time. I don't want to be doing those kinds of things all the time. Cause there's, there's so much here at home,
It seems like a, a balance too of having that comfort and then you know, as an entrepreneur and you know, building a tiny home, doing quitting your nine to five, those are like risk taking things, but eventually you got comfortability out of those.
Yeah, definitely. And you get, I suppose you just get comfortable with that risk, that level of risk. I mean at this point I, I joke that I'm like unemployable. I'm not playable but I just never would want to work for somebody else. You know, I've, I've fully brought into the trade off. And you know, I of course I'm also lucky that my, my partner does have a traditional job and career. So you know, things like health care, we're able to get through through her and not, you know, I am not under any impression that like, Oh, I did this all by myself because there are certain things about my lifestyle that are enabled by, you know, the fact that I, you know, we get our health through my wife's work. Like that would be really hard if that wasn't.
You graduated in 2007 and went into the market looking for a job during one of the worst economic downturns in 2008. For younger people who are coming into similar situations now, how have you seen this shaping people’s thinking about owning a home?
Yeah, I mean I've heard, I've heard the class of 2008 like referred to as the last, the last class or something because you know, they graduated college in Oh eight and just, you know, went into basically the worst job market possible. You know, I was lucky because I graduated in Oh seven, and you know, I was able to get a job, you know, it, it was just the economic crisis was kind of just hitting the news. For, for those people of my age, I would say that, you know, people were, it, it kind of reshaped people's views of home ownership and that, you know, a mortgage was not necessarily a great thing to kind of sign on the dotted line for. And you know, we kind of watched mostly as our parents, you know, you know, had their houses foreclosed or got, you know, really tied up in a lot of bad debt.
And so I think that that influenced my decision to want to build and live in a tiny house. Just this, this idea that, that I own it outright. There's no, no bank that's gonna know, interest rates are going to change. No, you know, I'm not going to default on this and then have to give it up. I think, I think now interestingly, like the, the group of kind of retirees who are interested in tiny houses, I think that's the, the fastest growing group of tiny house dwellers. Yeah, I would, again, I don't have like actual data on this, but just based on, you know, who buys my resources, who is a part of my membership community. I think that that group is actually bigger now than the, than the millennials.
Why do you think that is?
Well, you see a lot of kind of millennials, you know, my age. Yeah. Doing tiny houses as their first home and then moving on. And so you see, you know, you see people living tiny for a few years and then either selling their tiny house or, you know, buying a small single family home and then using the tiny house as an Airbnb, a source of income. And yeah. [inaudible] Have no problem that I never, I never thought that I would live in a tiny house forever. My, my math was, you know, if I could live in it for three years, then I would have paid off. I think it was even two years. It was two years when I started in three years when the actual costs, you know, the costs went higher. But you know, after three years I'd covered my, I'd cover my expenses and it wouldn't matter what happened after that. The people who are going into this, you know, for retirement, they're like, I want to live here for the rest of my life or I want to live here until, you know, they have to take me off to a home. So they're approaching it much less as a stepping stone and more as like, this is my forever home.
What do you think the future of housing will look like and how could we be best house an ever growing population?
Great question. There's a lot of really promising things happening. When it comes to tiny houses. I don't, I don't think that tiny houses are the future. I think that they are absolutely part of the future. But if I made that, if I kind of expanded that and made it more broad, you know, hopefully the future is that, you know, we can acknowledge that we've built homes way too large in this country for a long time. So normalizing the idea that that you can live a fulfilling life and raise children and you know, do whatever it is that you need to do in, in a small house.
Because you know, even if a 600 or 700 square foot house is tiny by American standards, but is, especially going back to what you mentioned before about design, you know, a really well designed 700 square foot space can be ample, you know, really, really useful space. Poorly designed 700 square foot space could also be a complete waste of space. I mean, you know, this condo that I'm in right now is about 800 square feet and I would estimate that 400 square feet of it is a hallway that runs. It's a long narrow unit. So the usable space here is very tiny and is also a small percentage, but a really well designed 700 square feet could be fully utilized and just great. And I'm on a total tangent. Future of housing.
There are a lot of cities now that are coming around too tiny houses. Actually just a couple of days ago, the city of Los Angeles passed an ordinance that allows a tiny house on wheels to be considered an accessory dwelling unit. And yeah, it is awesome. And so this, the big future of housing that I'm focused on is, is kind of utilizing [inaudible] empty space, you know, behind our single family homes in the yards on empty lots. And the solution isn't just to have more developers who can come in with, you know, millions of dollars to convert the old school house into swanky loft condos or you know, take the abandoned shopping mall and redevelop it as a mixed use. You know, downtown space that does have its place. But I think that that housing tends to address the needs of those who are already kind of well off.
Whereas you know, a tiny house on wheels, if you build it yourself can be built reasonably for between 25 and $50,000. If you, if you hire it out, if you, if you buy a premade tiny house, you could spend anywhere from 50 to $120,000. I know there are parts of the country where you can buy a single family home for that much. But where, where I am on the East coast and the Northeast, you know, owning a home outright for for 60 or $70,000 is a whole new, just it, it unlocks the possibility for a lot of people. And, and what's needed is the laws to catch up to, to basically do what Los Angeles did and said, like, you can make a tiny house on wheels and ADU.
Yeah, a big part of it is, you know, codes and the laws actually around these. I mean you mentioned, you know, in your space now you have, you know, 400 square feet, that's probably hallway. And that's often for, you know, fire exits. And all of this other stuff, certain space that needs use. How could we better educate people and understand the utility of space and what we actually need? You know, kind of getting us away from we need this big old house kinda to utilizing space better.
Well, you know, that's an interesting question. I think that we get caught in a trap of [inaudible] of when we're shopping for homes that is, we start thinking about the home as an investment. And that's not a bad thing because that, you know, I bet, I'm sure I've, I've read some stat somewhere that like that is the most common investment. Four an American, you know, that's the biggest single investment that people make. And that's usually what people are counting on to retire on that, you know, the increased value of their home. But the problem is, is that we start looking at it as an investment and so that pushes us to, to buy what we think other people might want to buy versus what, what we think that we actually need slash what we can actually afford. And so the tiny house movement is kind of flipping that because a lot of people are doing this without taking out loans. So they're, they're basically spending their savings to do a tiny house, which puts you into a much different frame of mind. It's not like an investment thing. It's like how can I do this as, as reasonably it's cost effectively as possible, but also how can I do this so that it will work for me, not for somebody else.
Yeah. There's a huge element too of giving power to lower income people to enable them to have this. So how have you seen the tiny house movement or other housing situations kind of tackle lower income or even homeless?
I mean, frankly, I don't think the tiny house movement is doing that great of a job of it. Some of that is systemic and some of that is, is within you know, starting on the outside, you know, the, there still isn't really a great pathway to get financing for a tiny house. And you know, even though tiny houses are much more affordable than, and traditional homes, you know, coming up with 25, 50, $75,000 upfront is not possible for a large majority of people. So, you know, being able to afford a tiny home is, is a privilege in, in and of itself. Mmm. You know, within the tiny house movement there has been problems with, with inclusion and just, you almost see the, the same things that were happening in, in housing in the, you know, in the 19th or the, sorry, on the 20th century, that that works too, to kind of create inequities and prevent minority people from, from buying homes.
It's almost playing out again in the tiny house movement. And you know, I've interviewed jewel Pearson on my show who you know, as a woman of color who built a tiny house and has experienced a lot of, a lot of racism and a lot of, you know, surprisingly, you know, not been accepted in the tiny house movement. And so there's work to be done on both the systems, you know, the financing and the laws, but also, you know, within the movement, making sure that this is for everybody. There are some great nonprofits around the country who have, Mmm. Built tiny houses for veterans, tiny for people who are homeless people suffering with mental health issues. Mmm. They're a great model. And there are a lot of really promising, you know, applications there because when you, when you look at the nonprofit world and that kind of stuff, like the amount of money that gets spent is large. And so a tiny you know, giving somebody a tiny home is actually not that expensive compared to some of the other services that are provided.
Well, before I get to my last question, where can everybody find more about you and everything that you're doing?
Sure. everything is at thetinyhouse.net. That's where you'll find links to my podcast, which is tiny house lifestyle podcast tiny house decisions and it's all, it's all there.
How can we push the world to evolve?
It's a great question. I'm a systems nerd, so I like, my answer to that question is that we have to look at the effects of our decisions, not just right now but, but into the future and thinking of what we do and the things that we build as part of a system rather than just just alone. I think when you start thinking that way, your decisions change and if, if more people can start thinking that way then the world could potentially evolve.
Brandon is an entrepreneur, certified professional coach, and podcast host. His aim is to evolve the individual through education, entertainment, and philosophy so together we can ask the world's biggest questions, build businesses to solve them, & live fulfilling lives in the process.
The Evolve Podcast is focused on evolving the world through evolution of the individual. The show is a masterclass in life and business diving into the world's most thought provoking leaders and successful business founders to educate, inspire, and empower your success in leaving impact on the world. The interviews have dozens of five star ratings with hundreds of downloads each month. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.Leave A Review