A Tiny House Was Someone Else’s Dream

I don’t usually write Op-Eds or articles that find me as the focal point. Truth is, I had almost written my entire other piece that was on a subject far removed from this. I was going to share with you the recent emergence of retro camper releases. Myself, smitten since last November with the Shasta Airflyte re-release, I thought it was a topic the tiny house community would really find interesting. But alas, as I was knee-deep in my due diligence on the Dub Box, I flipped over a few web tabs to Facebook. Truth is I was looking for a Direct Message response and instead saw at the top of my news feed a link to an article I had read well over a year ago about a young lady who chucked the American Dream in favor of international work and travel. The person who shared the link simply had as her status update “Not putting this out there as a formula. But reading it might inspire some other good ideas toward making ‘dream tiny’ into ‘done tiny.’ And like that, I had to switch my blog post.

I am neither rich nor will I ever be. I am not privileged (as it has come to be known) nor do I want to be. I am the proud son of a firefighter and a “school of hard knocks” mom. I have several brothers and sisters and we group up in a 976 sq.ft. home built just after WWII supposedly as a “starter home.” Newsflash! We started there and sort of ended there. It was just our home. My dad worked hard and did so at the expense of time with his family (and especially us kids). He held down two full-time jobs (as he was also a U.S. Naval Reserve) and did odds-and-ends gigs when they came about. He put $10/paycheck into a savings account for each kid. He saved change during the year and recycled Coke cans so we could go on vacation for 1 week each year. On those vacations we lived like kings getting to eat fresh donuts for breakfast, roadside hamburgers for lunch, and grilled ‘this or that’ for supper. We stayed in our *new to us* pop-up camper each time and even that felt like some sort of fairy tale dream.

At 16 years old I was invited to go to Japan on an international exchange. My momma and daddy somehow found the money to send me. I realize now that our meals of fried salmon patties and spaghettios as well as trips to the day old bread store were not because that food tasted so much better. They were secretly socking funds away so I could enjoy the whole process of going abroad and not once having to worry about money.

I never wore Nike Air sneakers. Instead, I wore plain Nikes and endured the taunts of my “friends” at school. Heck, I was no dummy. At night before bed I thanked God that I had shoes to wear. Come to think of it, I had a lot of creature comforts. Heck, there was a hardly a summer day go by that we didn’t get a single dip cone from Hardees soft serve (they used to cost just $0.25 in the South).

As I got older and started understanding more about money, financing, mortgaging, debt, the new American Dream, love, provision, and all that goes with it, I began rejecting the middle class (maybe even lower? I’m still not sure) values and zest for life I had grown up with. I wanted more. I felt I deserved more. My daddy had always taught me that hard work will get you everywhere. My momma always showed me that no one in the family was less than the other. We all had jobs and responsibilities and together we could prevail and thrive. But sometime around college graduation (first in my family to go and graduate, I was often reminded) my ideas changed. I wasn’t going to be happy unless I lived here, drove this, made this, and saw this, this, and especially, this! The grass was definitely greener on the other side and I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me from taking off my shoes and burying my feet deep into that soil.

By the time I was 30 years old I had started a company, made a little money, traveled extensively, built up a collection (86 pair strong) of un-worn Nike Air Flights, lived in New York City, and been named one of the future voices of the American Enterprise. But on the flipside of the coin I had also buried another company, maxed out an American Express and a VISA both, had to beg my folks to cover my rent for a couple of months, sold shoes on eBay to buy food, been divorced, and been told my ideas were old and irrelevant. For every up there was a down (or two) and I was quickly becoming bitter and disenfranchised. I could neither identify with the values my parents had taught me nor the life I had adopted. I was lost and I was living someone else’s dream.

In a desperate measure I lashed out at myself and everything in my world. I went polar opposite of who I was and I started making major changes. I sold all my possessions. I left New York City. I shut off my cell phone plan. I swore off dating and companionship in general. I was convinced that I was undeserving of anything. The story does indeed go on. I write all of this though because I see so much of myself in so many I meet in the tiny house world. I see people running away from an American Dream that just wasn’t ever going to work anyway. I see people displaying entitlement and shunning work using a tiny house as an excuse. I see people being bullied into living a life that is not their true heart’s desire. And quite frankly, I’ve had enough of it. I am writing all of this because I want to tell each person in the tiny house community:

It doesn’t have to be your dream unless it is your dream! 

I am coming up on 40 years old. I have lived in a tiny house on wheels. I have lived on the road in a travel trailer. I now live in a small house on a small farm plot. I am re-married. I have a daughter. I even have a dog! And I am so stinkin’ happy. I work hard each and every day. I hold down a 40-hour a week “day job”, take care of my responsibilities around our land and home, and pursue odds-and-ends jobs for a little extra money and to invest in my passions. I have learned when to slow down and even when to stop. I have learned to hug tightly, laugh loudly, and smile gently. I am not perfect though. Please don’t think that. But I am real. I am who I am. If you meet me at the Tiny House Jamboree or at the county auction – doesn’t matter – I am the same guy. And why? Because I am living MY dream.

All those years I was searching for me. In order to find me though I had to walk through a lot of hims and hers. I had to filter out everyone else’s dream to get to my own. And that is why I am writing this. I want to encourage you to live your dream. Maybe it involved a tiny house. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it involves traveling. Maybe it doesn’t. No one can decide that for you. No one can live that for you.

These days I hold fast to the lessons I learned growing up. Work is not the enemy. A man held back by work is. Sacrifice is not death. Consumption without thankfulness is. Success is not black and white. It is a myriad of colors that glow and fade with the passing of seasons.

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Timaree - June 29, 2016 Reply

Super article. Sounds like a lot of your dad and mom ended up ringing true after all but we all have to learn on our own. I probably won’t get a Tiny. I’d like to but since I am married to someone who would be miserable and would make me miserable in one, I’ll stick with the decent sized senior home we have at least right now. Maybe someday – no sense in giving up a dream outright. We can have more than one!

    Andrew M. Odom - June 30, 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much for your kind words. You are right. We all have to learn on our own no matter how long it takes! You are also right in that we should never give up a dream. There is comfort in our dreams.

Ali - June 30, 2016 Reply

Insightful, thank you.

Chris - June 30, 2016 Reply

Your closing thoughts hold a lot of wisdom that speaks of a maturity very few people get to experience.

I was originally drawn to the tiny house movement through its roots, which were recycling, reusing and working with your hands, in that mainly a tiny house was an item of thriftiness and handy work.

In the years since the idea first got started, it’s moved on to simply becoming a means to an end; a high profile lifestyle that is supposed to afford one the means to consume even more. An idea that is doomed from the start because of the fallacy at its core.

Long story short, I agree with you though. I think a tiny house for many people represents running away, in one form or another, for some, and getting something for nothing, for others.

The key to happiness is learning (and having) good character and having good people in your life that believe in you, if not more, than you do. Lifestyles are just illusions; they provide us with fast and also false friends. They feel good, but they also leave us vacant and hollow in the long run.

If you can be with people that love you no matter what, then it doesn’t matter what you do.

    Andrew M. Odom - June 30, 2016 Reply

    Chris, thank you so much for your kind words. It may be hard at times to remember but you are so right. Life is about relationship and sharing in those you care about.

Nancy - July 2, 2016 Reply

Best honest commentary on growing into the person you are that I’ve read. Bravo!

Lea - July 2, 2016 Reply

Excellent article. Congratulations for finding your way, so few of us do. I have been interested in and participated in alternative housing and living for more than 40 years. It is the relationships that are so important. I am retired now, and I am interested in a small place for myself and my dog (I am widowed, no kiddos), but I want a community of people and I am unwilling to just up and leave all the relationships I have developed over the years, they have so much value. So I am torn. My real dream is to slow travel the world, having a tiny or small cabin of my own is the runner up, and not a close one at that. Again, leaving people behind is so hard for me.
You sound so happy, and I was so glad to see someone addressing some of the issues I was seeing in the tiny house ‘fad”. I see the same things happening within the minimalist community. Again, thank you, wishing you continued joy in your life.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 3, 2016 Reply

    Thank you Lea for such kind words. I truly appreciate them. Keep following your dream(s).

    Christine-Anne Platel - July 3, 2016 Reply

    Lee, I also want community, so I’m creating a Small House Pocket Neighborhood (PN) where I live. The houses will be 400-1000 sf, on foundations, and arranged as a PN so we can interact with each other socially, and for mutual support. I’m hoping that all my close friends will give up their McMansions and come live in my PN. LOL! Seriously, I believe that like-minded people will want to live there, so we’ll have a great time. Check out my Facebook Group for inspiration to have your own PN where you live. All the best. https://www.facebook.com/groups/113929158956220/
    ANDREW: Thanks for sharing your experiences; and congrats on finding and living your truth.

Karl Berzins - July 3, 2016 Reply

Hey you,
Nice assemblage of words. The struggle is real for all of us and we apparently never know when to stop struggling. We’re celebrating 11 months in the bighouuse and find that its totally awesome but it don’t solve everything. We would love to see ya again maybe sooner than later. And remember “the grass might be greener but you still gotta mow it”

    Andrew M. Odom - July 3, 2016 Reply

    When is that tiny house going to be ready for guests? We’d LOVE to come and stay in the mountains and visit y’alls world and community. And you are so right Karl. You still gotta mow it! Blessings to y’all my friend.

Jan Kenney - July 3, 2016 Reply

Beautiful article! My thoughts as I was reading: I believe that we live in a world of our own design. Our “Dreams” may well come to us as much from decisions about the life we DON’T want, as from ideas that inspire us. Years ago I dreamed of a tiny life with no mortgage, no debts, and a minimal amount of “stuff”. I Purchased, and lived in, a wonderful teeny tiny house. I achieved all of the related goals over the next 5 years. Then, at age 62, I met my “Soul Mate”. Alas! My house (that I was planning to live in forever) was designed for one small person! I am now living a NEW dream…retired, married, and traveling full time in a 27ft. RV. Looking back, I see that past homes, past careers, even past husbands were not mistakes, but rather, stepping stones to my present, wonderful life! Each situation prepared me for the next step. Life is full of twists and turns. Dreams keep us getting out of bed in the morning…but are neither right nor wrong. They lead us only to the path we need to find.

I enjoyed reading about YOUR path to your current happiness. As I watch, and chuckle at, all the Tiny House shows…I think of the people who are, at the very least, on a path to a smaller footprint on the planet. I suspect that they will discover, as you & I have, that it’s the people we love, more so than the place we desire, that brings us HOME.

Andrew M. Odom - July 3, 2016 Reply

Thank you so much Jan. Dreams do get us out of bed in the morning…and what a comfort to go to sleep with, huh?

Jan Ostebo - July 3, 2016 Reply

I really appreciate this article as I am in my 40’s with no hope really, havent seen the bright light of success at all and wondering if it will ever happen for me. Knowing you went through this time in your life and you are still sane is beyond me. Good for you!

    Andrew M. Odom - July 4, 2016 Reply

    Don’t ever lose hope Jan. Being in your 40s is nothing. You are just getting a good handle on life. Moses was 80 years old and Aaron 83 when Moses led the people out of Egypt. Success can come at any time.

Lisa E. - July 4, 2016 Reply

I don’t resonate to this article. It is full of Right-wing memes that are held out as some supposed recipe for a good life (of sacrifice). I think this is baloney. If people are suffering, sacrificing or are stressed out, it is because of bad government. We have paid untold trillions into the government and they have squandered it on oil wars, global murder, turning islands around the world into military bases, a privatized prison system, rigged elections and a litany of other bad choices and behaviors. Instead of chasing what is best for people, we have been coerced into chasing what is good for a few people (Koch brothers, the Waltons, Sheldon Adelson, etc.,) and sold ourselves the bill of goods that suffering and sacrifice are honorable things to do. BS! I blame the churches for this messaging which spend more time in corporate beds (Faith Based Initiative) than in God’s arms.

We need to (1) hire better Congressional representatives (throw these evil doers our of Congress come November) (2) realize that democracy is not a spectator sport, (3) lose the political duopoly and open our political process to Third Party candidates so that all factions are fairly represented just as the forefathers intended (4) lose corporations as “people” and realize that the ends do not justify the means; this is just another excuse for intentional self-serving decision making, and (5) come together for our common salvation from these evil doers. This is by no means a comprehensive action list, but it’s a good start.

We also need to realize that the fight is not between Right and Left; between Republicans and Democrats, as they would have us believe. The fight is up and down; between those who would rule and those who will be ruled if the world doesn’t shake off its somnambulance and come together to fight a common evil. This fight is between up and down; between right and wrong; between good and evil.

This evil is a massive global power grab coming off a New World Order agenda in which there will be only one bank, and one power elite that the vast majority of We, the People, will never be allowed to participate in in any substantive way. And there is nothing special, honorable or Romantic about being locked out of our democracy or locked into being a disposable commodity akin to disposable stockyard animals. (Monsanto food producers has been trying to get a US patent on living DNA; that means plants, animals and your kids.) There is nothing honorable about being systematically looted (“Austerity”) and told we need to “be strong” and
view our ever depleting situation as a duty or as a badge of honor; this rubbish has been systematically and intentionally pounded into us for the last thirty to forty years.

Do I think this article/tale is somehow Romantic and therefore a model for us all? Short answer: No! But I do think it is very representative of the mindset we have had held up to us to follow. A mindset of the masses in abject poverty while 1-2% wallow in “obscene profits” (to quote Exxon Mobile). If a rich and comfortable life is good for them, then why is it not good for us? If it is attainable for them, why is it not attainable for us? If we are so well off with poverty and struggling then why the need for such organizations as Occupy, Wikileaks and Anonymous? Answer: Because the egos of the evil doers demand your poverty so they can tell themselves they own and rule it all. It’s just that simple.

As for tiny houses: I think the Tiny House Movement (THM) is a silver lining to a very black political and economic cloud. I thank the THM for opening up housing options for those who can’t afford to dream; lost jobs, no jobs, retirement accounts looted, phony foreclosures, bailout for the rich and not for those who needed it most, bankruptcy, student debt, looting insurances, rapacious rising prices of food and other consumer goods, etc. Having a place to go to sleep at night that is clean, dry, warm/cool with a place to shower and care for oneself is a social safety net that bad government has made very necessary. We are very fortunate to have all the THM leaders who have stepped into the breach and given us hope and an obtainable dream of our own.

    Andrew M. Odom - July 4, 2016 Reply

    Thank you Lisa for your encouraging words and dogmatic diatribe. I would like to point out that it is not the THM (since when did this become a legitimate acronym holding position as a proper noun?) that has opened up housing options. Such a task firmly resides on the shoulders of a number of individuals who have worked tirelessly to provide an alternative or a housing scenario. There is not a human being on the planet that cannot afford to dream. If we were to allow ourselves to be stripped of our dreams we would be left to a world void of imagination. It would be colorless, shapeless, and without soul. I am not sure of your argument. On the one hand you berate government and seem to propagate conspiracy theory and outright bitterness. But on the other hand you thank the THM leaders for providing something to find hope in. My wish for you Lisa is that you find the joy in simplicity and the joy within you and that you don’t allow bitterness to swallow you and penetrate your core. What is wrong with a bit of romance? If you strive for nothing, you lose all. Peace be with you Lisa.

      Lisa E. - July 6, 2016 Reply

      Don’t be condescending, Andrew. My take on things is based on some pretty hard knocks. Bitter about government? You bet. Have a look at the free pass HRC is getting; anyone else would be on their way to prison. I’m not a pie-in-the-sky person like you, but that doesn’t make me wrong. I don’t appreciate your patronization; it’s high and heavy handed. If you were as genuinely as altruistic as you would have us believe, you would have taken a pass on such an ad hominem attack altogether.

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