By Alyse Nelson
Jon and Ryah Dietzen’s 3-year plan entailed getting out of credit card debt, establishing an emergency fund, finding work closer to home, and having more family time. Sitting in their 1,700 square foot house, they realized it would not be easy to tackle their plan. So they made a move most people would consider extreme – they converted a garage into a 400 square foot cottage.
Jon and Ryah Dietzen look into their renovated cottage – their home for 3 years. Photo by Royce Tillotson, used with permission.
The Dietzens remodeled a garage into a cottage. Here is the “before” shot. Photo credit Royce Tillotson, used with permission.
The plan started by selling extra possessions on Craigslist, insulating and dry-walling the garage, and staining the concrete floor.
A view of the remodeled space. Photo credit Royce Tillotson, used with permission.
Once the transformation from garage-to-cottage was complete, Jon and Ryah moved in with their two toddlers. The family of four has about 100 square feet of real estate per person – just one-tenth the average square feet per person for single-family homes today.
But instead of deprivation, the Dietzens have found many benefits to tiny-house living. “We realized after a few months how much time, freedom, and peace we were gaining by not collecting and spending our time taking care of more ‘stuff,’” Jon Dietzen told me. By choosing a smaller house, they found a better balance between work and home life.
Instead of weekend projects fixing up the yard and house, Jon and Ryah went outside their cottage, spending time with their children and their community. At first, Jon had a hard time with the shift, feeling less productive and spending less time (and money) at home improvement stores. Instead of pushing hard at work to afford a better lifestyle, Jon has learned to appreciate coming home and focusing on his family. He told me that they feel “like we have escaped some sort of crazy, frantic race for the ‘bigger, better, more.’”
A lot in a small space: kitchen island, living room, and a bedroom behind a curtain. Photo credit Royce Tillotson, used with permission.
They have only four cups and four dishes to wash in the evening – leaving more family time. Their space is small enough that Jon and Ryah were encouraged to get outside and help the community. With fewer demands at home, the Dietzens volunteered more – they sewed dresses for girls in Bolivia, helped the homeless in Tacoma, Washington, and donated extra food and clothes to needy families.
The Dietzens have seen many benefits to small-house living over their 3-year journey. They’ve slowed down their lives, leaving time to grow stronger relationships, a better community connection, a more peaceful lifestyle, and solid finances.
They recently moved out of their cottage, but the Dietzen family continues to live small – they moved into a two-bedroom place. Jon told me they “don’t want to go back to a life that jeopardizes the important balance” that they’ve found. The Dietzens prove that tiny homes can work even for a family of four, and that they’re not just for couples, seniors, or singles.
Bio: Alyse Nelson is an urban planner for a small town in Kitsap County, Washington. She is a Writing Fellow for Sightline Institute. This post is adapted from a full article published here: http://daily.sightline.org/2012/12/20/tiny-homes/