CASPER, Wyo. — Travis Johnson pulled out two wood planks nested against the wall and assembled the dining room table as his wife, Kim, dished steak and sides onto plates in the kitchen.
Farren, 4, occasionally popped the top of her head over the loft to look over her family and their 360-square-foot house. Kim called her to dinner, and the girl stepped down a narrow, hidden staircase and reappeared in the main room. Corbin, 7, left his drawing on the living room sofa and took two steps to his seat at the table.
In October, the Johnsons moved from a 2,800-square-foot house into a tiny home in west Casper, just across the street from the tiny home of their friends, Marty and Stacey Mittelstadt. The two couples shed much of their belongings to just the necessities. But they said they don’t miss the stuff or the extra space.
For them, tiny home living offers simplicity and financial freedom to focus on what’s most important. They spend less time on housework and buying things and more time traveling and just spending time with one another, they said.
“People move into tiny houses for a whole array of reasons, and for us, it was about enjoyment of life,” Travis said.
The Johnsons couldn’t sit together for dinner when they first moved into their tiny home. At two small tables, they missed their tradition of eating together. So Travis built an addition to the home’s pull-down table/desk a couple of weeks later.
They’ve made a few other small tweaks and adjustments in their small home, and it’s all been worth it, they said.
“Sometimes it’s about getting creative,” Travis said.
The family had many reasons for choosing a tiny home, but most of it came down to simplicity. They wanted more time for what’s important, like teaching their children skills, including gardening.
“We just figured if you can live simpler on a daily basis, you can just do a lot more in general,” Kim said, “There’s just less worries.”
Dinnertime and the rest of daily life haven’t changed much, and adjusting has been easy, they said.
However, they have learned that it’s important to clean up right away, Kim said. Clutter builds faster and impedes the function of smaller, multi-use spaces and objects.
So they wash dishes after dinner to use at breakfast. The sofa pulls out into the couple’s bed, which they stash in the morning to make way for the family room.
They’d been preparing for life in a tiny house for the past few years.
They explained to Farren and Corbin that they can’t take everything — just their favorite stuff. So a corner bin in the family room houses his Legos, while she piles dozens of stuffed animals in the “pet net” above her bed.
The couple’s favorite original artworks decorate their home, along with some nautical pieces hearkening to Travis’ time in the U.S. Navy.
“We’re by no means minimalist. I’ve got a lot of stuff,” Kim said.
But they’ve downsized significantly, and they don’t take new purchases lightly.
“Do I really need it? Am I going to use it? Is it going to make me happier or make my life easier?” Kim said. “Now I really think about things before I buy them. Even the littlest stuff, I’ll ponder it before I buy it.”
Many items in a tiny house have multiple purposes, like a handmade coffee mug that’s useful and decorative.
“It’s like quality versus quantity,” Travis said. “Maybe I can only have four cups, but they’re going to be the coolest four cups.”
There have been a few challenges, like storing even minimal clothing for four people, Kim said. But they don’t miss dressers and closets since Travis added some more drawers and shelves behind the hidden staircase along with rope and carabiners to hang outdoor gear.
There are a few items in storage that won’t fit in the house for now, like Kim’s great-grandmother’s jewelry boxes from World War II in Japan.
The biggest thing Kim has given up is her home gym, but there will be room for it in a shed they plan to build this summer. In the meantime, she works out early in the morning by a dim light with a few weights she keeps under a bookcase by the front door.
Being quieter in the morning is another small adjustment. The home was built with sliding bathroom doors that block the light, and Travis added magnetic lights in staircase cubbies so they can choose clothes without waking the others.
The kitchen is on the large side for a tiny home — an important feature, because Kim likes to cook and bake. Travis built shelves above the counter for the most-used kitchen items, like her cookbooks.
What they’ve gained outweighs the minor challenges and adjustments, Kim and Travis agreed. They expect others are waiting for them to soon be over the idea of a tiny home, but they have no qualms so far. They’ve even fit 12 people in the house for a birthday party without feeling cramped.
“It’s comfortable. I feel good here, it feels normal,” Kim said, “There’s nothing I’m wishing I had. I have everything I need.”
LESS IS MORE
Marty and Stacey Mittelstadt give what they call “the 20-second tour” of their tiny home from the front door. To the left is their kitchen and narrow staircase with a climbing rope, leading to the loft master bedroom. Marty gestured to the right, where a small living room contains all the basics along with a ladder into a guest loft.
The couple gave away most of their belongings and found they had extra space when they moved in July 2016 from a 2,700-square foot house into their rustic, 260-square-foot home they designed and built. They too say adjusting has not been an issue for them.
Now they have more money for pastimes they enjoy, especially traveling around the world. Their recent vacations include Italy, Croatia and the U.K. for month-long stays. They also like to mountain bike, Nordic ski, snow shoe, backpack and kayak.
With smaller utility bills and few purchases, the couple has a lot more money for those experiences.
“Experiences, that’s what I would chalk it up to,” Marty said.
They also enjoy the feeling of freedom in having just what they need without being as caught up in consumerism, Marty said.
“When you move to a tiny house, everything you keep has some meaning,” Marty said.
Family photos and a few small travel souvenirs are among are some of their favorite belongings. Stacey scanned albums of family photos and gave most of the originals to their three grown kids.
Their daughter’s interest in tiny houses planted the seed for the couple. Marty and Stacey watched television shows about tiny homes for inspiration to build their own. They also helped build the Johnson’s tiny home next door before the family moved in. The Johnson’s wanted a tiny home, but had never been in one until the Mittelstadts built theirs, Travis said. They were certain it would work for them afterwards.
The space’s creative design uses vertical spaces and plenty of windows give it a roomy feel. There’s even a skylight above their bed to see the stars at night. They can watch their chickens along with deer and wildlife through their front door and windows overlooking the mountain.
People often have a lot of questions for them about their lifestyle.
“There’s two types of people, they either think we’re cool or we’re crazy,” Stacey said.
One question they’re often asked is how they haven’t killed each other yet, Stacey said, laughing with her husband.
“I thought, that’s kind of odd, don’t you want to live with your spouse?” Marty added.
The couple has been married nearly three decades and raised three children. She’s a teacher and he’s a firefighter. They plan to retire in a couple of years and she may teach internationally, so a tiny home makes sense for the long-term too, she said.
“I don’t think there’s anything that we don’t have in a traditional house,” she said.
There’s even plenty of room for their Australian shepherd and three cats that come and go. Fifteen chickens and two ducks live in a coop on their property. They give fresh eggs to the Johnsons next door and plan to start a garden for fresh produce this year, they said.
The couple hosted Thanksgiving dinner with their three children and their significant others, and they had plenty of room. There’s just one tight spot between a kitchen counter and the stairway where people have to shuffle by one another, Stacey said.
They’re often asked if they’d change anything about their home.
“I don’t think we would change anything,” Marty said. “It was a fun build. It has its quirks, but I built it and I enjoy it; I enjoy being here.”
Stacey said people often ask if tiny home life is like camping, which has always been one of her and the family’s favorite pastimes.
“I guess it does feel like camping,” she said. “You don’t have as much cleaning to do, and you don’t have as many worries as you do in a big house.”
But mostly, they agreed, it just feels like home.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com