According to Wikipedia, the Tiny-House Movement – also known as the Small-House Movement – is an architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. A residential structure of under 400 square feet is generally considered a tiny home. The Tiny House Movement promotes financial prudence, economic safety, shared-community experience and a shift in consumerism-driven mindsets, which seems to align pretty well with all the things that we’re talking about here on GetYourFILL.
Today, we’re very fortunate to have with us Pat Dunham. Pat is the Tiny-House Advisor. She will help you to both figure out what you’re gonna need in your tiny home as far as getting rid of your stuff and helping you cull out all the accumulated detritus of a lifetime and she can even help you design the home and figure out what kind of nice-to-haves and special little storage solutions and stuff will make your tiny home much more livable and comfortable for you.
So thank you so much, Pat, for joining us today.
Chris: Welcome to the GetYourFILL podcast. Can you just give us a little bit about your background and tell me how you got involved in the Tiny-House Movement.
Pat: Hi it’s Pat Dunham. They know me as the Tiny-House Advisor and I really got started many years ago when my whole family living in Connecticut would take our boat out with however many children we had at the time and we’d go from Connecticut all over to Long Island Sound and stay there on our boat on an island all weekend and we loved it.
Back home in Connecticut, we had a 72-foot long house 5-bedrooms, 2-stories and the kids would be at one end of the house going, “He’s hitting me” and I’m on the other end going, “You kids quit it.” I’m sure parents that can register to them. Well, on the boat we be so together and playing games and no problems and no fighting between the kids or anything. It was wonderful. And so along the way, we said: You know, why don’t we just get a bigger boat and live full time, so we did. We got a 55’ tri-cabin motor yacht. We moved out of that 5-bedroom house, emptied it – so I know a lot about downsizing – and we moved from Connecticut to Florida and lived for several years with six children on a boat. After that, a few years later, we built a 46-foot sailboat from a bare home. Most of the children had left home by then, we just had the youngest ones still with us, and we cruised the Caribbean, went to Cuba and all, so that’s where I got really started in tiny living.
Chris: And I think boats and RVs and those are a nice model for a tiny home using every inch of space.
Pat: Yeah, the boats especially. They are masters at using up space and beautiful carpentry and what have you, as opposed to the RV even though they’re good but boy, the boats really have it. I tell everyone, visit the boat shows you’ll get great ideas.
Chris: So tell me about the Tiny House Movement, how did it sort of catch on and who were the pioneers?
Pat: The Tiny House Movement really is all caught on, oh gosh, 20 years ago, really when a man by the name of Jay Shafer, built this tiny, little house, a masterpiece on wheels. And along the way people started going: Wow, this is awesome. I can do that. And the housing crash in 2008 really put a push on this because people lost everything, including their homes, and they started to realize, well maybe there are some other answers to our housing problems.
Chris: There are challenges associated with living in a tiny home. Why do you think that they’re so popular and the people are able to kind of overcome those challenges?
Pat: The biggest challenge that people face, is where to put them because every single – even within a city – if it has different neighborhoods or different municipalities and different things all, everywhere in the country, every little one is different, some will allow it some won’t. Well, even if it’s in the same city. This is changing and more and more people are lobbying within their communities to have tiny houses approved because they’re so popular, and frankly, they’re very needed for affordable housing and the reason a lot of people are wanting to go tiny is they’re starting to recognize that they’re only using a fraction of their current home.
I mean, people don’t even use their dining rooms, they have guest rooms that they never use and I could go on and on and they’re paying taxes and utilities and taking care of and insurance and everything on these big homes and they have, in many cases, to work two jobs to support the Big House.
Chris: I think you believe that it’s not just that less is good but less is actually better.
Pat: Well, I, I feel that way, I know that the majority of the tiny house community all over the country and even the world feels that way. Initially, you would find these tiny studio apartment, 90 square feet, 150 square feet in places like New York, Boston, Paris, all the big cities where housing is hard to come by and incredibly expensive. People started there. Japan has been that way forever in very small spaces and so people are starting to look at all this and say, Wow if they can do this, we can too. That’s really, I believe, where the Tiny House Movement started and now it’s just huge. Some of these tiny house events have 60,000 people show up to view the Tiny Houses and stand-in the line and go in every one and see how they could live that way. Getting back to our own homes, people don’t use a fraction of their house.
I tell you what they do use – their garage is full to the brim. Their cars are sitting out in the driveway because all their extra stuff that they can’t stuff inside their house is in the garage.
Chris: It’s funny, I work with some people who are trying to right-size. We wanna get rid of our huge home and move closer to the city where there is more going on, but we need to have a place we can put our 12 foot table, this huge dining table that just in case the kids come and wanna have Thanksgiving and I thought God with the money you’ll save, you can take everybody out to a great restaurant.
Pat: Yeah, absolutely, and I think more and more people are doing that. It’s rare that anyone uses their dining room table, or the guest room really. It’s just-in-case. You know the minimalist movement has really taken on and helped that.
Chris: It’s true and it is hard to part with things, but doesn’t it feel great when it’s done?
Pat: Oh yeah, and you know… A lot of people think… Well, I’m gonna save this for the kids. Trust me, they don’t want it. Ask anybody… And as a matter of fact and there have been programs talking about how Goodwill is turning away stuff because they’re getting too many donations because the kids don’t want any of it. So people are bringing their China and what-have-you to Goodwill and they don’t want it because they can’t get rid of it, even practically for free.
Chris: Right. I go sometimes to auctions where they do estate sales and all these big pieces of furniture, really beautiful, well-made furniture, are going for $15, $10 nobody wants it. Things have changed.
Pat: Lot of people wanna know who’s going tiny. It’s quite interesting. The college kids coming out of college with college debt. They can’t afford even an apartment, let alone to purchase a house because they’re loaded down with thousands of dollars in debt. A lot of them have been living already for years, in little tiny dorm rooms, sharing them with someone else and so they are seeing themselves going tiny and of course they like to travel, so the ones on wheels are nice. Some of the college graduates, they spend a year or two after they leave school, traveling with their suitcase so they start to recognize, wow, we’ve been living for a year or two traveling to Europe and all over with a suitcase and so it’s really easy for them.
The senior citizens. And by the way, the majority of the higher number of people going tiny in the senior citizen area are women, they’re recognizing also that the kids are gone, they don’t need the big house and all the expenses. Even if the mortgage is paid, they’re still spending thousands each month on insurance, utilities, upkeep, lawn care, and all that. Some of them aren’t going tiny necessarily. I know a lady that’s in real estate herself, I believe her house was 2300 square feet, she moved to a 850 square foot condo and as she puts it, she’s in pig heaven. She loves it. It isn’t necessary that they might go into a tiny house, but people are really downsizing big time all over the country,
Chris: What’s the definition actually of a tiny home?
Pat: It’s usually considered 400 square feet and under, and a lot of them are 200 to 300 square feet. And the thing about that is that it’s what fits you and the majority of the builders that are building them, they have models that you can see, you can visit them at Tiny House events, and go tour them, and speak to the builder, or even a lot of the owners will bring theirs and share with the public.
And so, you can ask all these questions. But the majority of builders, even though they’ve got this beautiful model, they will customize it to your needs.
And that’s kind of where I come in because the builder is usually very talented, really knows what he’s doing. However, I’m into, what I do is help some of the builders with their ideas and when they go to shows, I point out to them: put hooks by the doors with a leash and some keys on it so people can see wow, I can see where I could put my stuff and that sort thing. And so when someone’s designing their tiny house, the ladies in particular, they feel the need for a larger closet, if they feel the need to have a certain wardrobe. In particular, for work. Even the ladies that go to Sunday service, they figure that the other ladies in the congregation are going to notice if they have the same outfit on… But the funny part if you or anyone on this call, thinks about it, watch what other people are wearing, at the church or at work or whatever and frankly you will not remember that they wore it next week, anyway and so it’s kind of interesting to keep that in the equation.
Chris: Unless it’s a really unique or unusual item, I would never remember. I can’t remember what I wore yesterday.
Pat: And this is true of most people, it really is. We just have so much more than we need.
Chris: It’s true, I wear the same few outfits, it’s just that I have other crap hanging there. Just in case.
Pat: And you know what’s interesting about that is that we have this stuff hanging there, and all the other stuff is there but we hardly ever use it, And it’s so easy to have a simple wardrobe, the gray and the black and the white and then you add your jewelry and your scarves and take very little room up and you look like you’ve got ten different outfits. When you think about people like Steve Jobs, who’s not with us any longer but he wore what he referred to as his uniform, he probably had five t-shirt or five pair of pants, it wasn’t like he had to wash them every night, but they were the same outfit. And there’s a lot of people that do that exact same thing.
Chris: So how much should we expect to pay if we you wanted to go on to a tiny house?
Pat: That’s a really good question. And there was something just today on the internet, that commented about the prices seem to be going up and they’re bigger. I think that’s true of any building and everything, and it has a lot to do with – like there are 40’ Tiny Houses and they run over $100,000. And a lot of times those are for the people who can, number one, afford them and generally they’re for the person that just came out of a 5000 square foot house. So it’s really hard for them to go way down. I’m not saying they don’t, I’m not saying they can’t, but it’s a bit of a struggle for people like that.
And yet there’s another house that is being sold today, it’s called the Core Solution and that one is $28,000 and it’s got a downstairs bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a nice big shower. It has everything but they range from all different prices, and so people can look and see what’s in their budget and what size and what amenities they really need.
Chris: So you’re designing it basically, they’re all custom?
Pat: No a lot of them are just… People are very happy with the model… They go in and they say this is perfect for me. I know the Core Solutions is not customized. You can customize your own, but the majority of the builders offer customization. They have their models, and you can see them online or visit them in person, but if you look at that and go… Gosh, I love this kitchen and I love this living room but I need a bigger closet. So, these builders are very talented and they know how to move things around to give you the bigger closet and maybe eliminate something else that is not important to you.
Chris: And your role, you mentioned before that you’re kind of consulting with the builders, you also consulting with the purchasers.
Pat: Yes, yes when I speak at a lot of the tiny house events all over the country. And actually my topic usually is: Living well in small spaces, including tips and solutions for storage ideas.
I do help people that want to downsize, they want to downsize, they want to declutter, they wanna figure out what happens with the heirlooms that are so hard for them to part with. So I help people with that, like any organizer or someone that’s doing decluttering. At the same time, I am an advisor or a coach or a consultant for people who are trying to design their own home and there’s lots of people that are building their own and they’re even drawing their own plans.
And so these are the people that I work with: is this person a gourmet cook and needs certain tools to continue to be a gourmet cook? There are people who feel the need to have a full-size, 4-burner, stove and same thing with a refrigerator. If you’re living way out in the country and you only go to the store every few weeks, well, maybe you can use a bigger refrigerator but if you’re near grocery stores – I love my 10 cubic foot, it’s a 2-feet wide and 5’ tall and it has a freezer and a refrigerator and I have it stuffed a lot of times, but I’ve never not been able to put something in that refrigerator.
One of the things I tell them is: take a piece of tape and cordon off your counter and see if you can do all these chores that you normally do in that smaller space. That way you can tell how big of a counter you’re gonna need in your house.
And here’s something: I know the builders wouldn’t love me for saying this, but speaking all over the country, I usually a have a booth that people can come over afterward and talk to me and ask questions and so forth and I’ve only met one person in three years that wished they went bigger and the majority of them that do say anything about space, they’re like… I could have gone smaller. So that’s important, and as a matter of fact, speaking of that, I tell people when you first move in, you will feel a little overcrowded. You feel a little bit stuffed, there’s too much stuff. That’s okay, because downsizing becomes addictive. After you’ve downsized – whether you’re in a studio, efficiency, a tiny house, an RV, a boat – you will continue to start to notice there’s things you aren’t using, that you don’t need. And after a while, you’ll feel like… Wow, look at all this space we have.
Chris: It’s true.
Pat: Before I forget: it just came in my mail yesterday. Not sure why I get it, but I get the AirBNB magazine and I don’t have AirBNB, but I do have seasonal rentals but somehow I get this in the mail and the cover said: Dream big in a tiny house. Today there are more than 14,000 tiny homes on AirBNB and between 2017 and 2018, the number of guests staying in tiny homes more than doubled. Most of our guests choose the destination first, then they find a home but with tiny homes, the home is the destination.
Chris: Interesting, so they’re curious and they want to stay in a tiny home.
Pat: And of course, we recommend it, we, any of us in the Tiny-House Movement tell people, Hey, go rent a place for a few days or a week. We need to understand those that the majority of those places aren’t meant to be lived in full time because you just show up with a suitcase.
So they may have smaller closets and way smaller galley or kitchen areas, because you’re not gonna use that, so you’ll notice that a lot of these rental tiny houses don’t have as much as you might in your own home.
Chris: Are you seeing use of containers in tiny homes? Is that a different type of movement?
Pat: No, it’s considered part of the tiny house movement and it’s really just what people want or it has to do with price point. They’re incredibly dirty. There’s almost always, just about 99.9% of the time, built on a foundation because they’re heavy and hard to move.
Yeah, but they’re definitely an option that lots of people are interested in. And we had a tiny house event this past week, and we did have two container homes and we put a lot of effort to make sure we got them there. They were able to bring them in on a trailer but people were like… We wanna see a container home. So there’s a lot of interest there too.
Chris: And what are your thoughts about a mobile versus a stationary Tiny Home?
Pat: First of all tiny houses are real houses, as opposed to say an RV and they are a lot heavier, they’re more costly to move than an RV but for people who really wanna live in something that they’ve been able to customize, to have that closet, to have that galley area, kitchen area that they want that wood, in most cases, tiny house.. But there’s loads of people that put them on wheels just so they can move them once in a while or once a year.
People like visiting nurses, and people that have jobs that they may get transferred across country, they wanna be able to just, hook it up to the truck and go and there are people that just rent a U-Haul and tow it. They don’t necessarily need a very expensive truck unless they’re traveling all the time.
Chris: Okay, interesting, how about financing your tiny home? Is that even an option?
Pat: Well, everyone is working on it real hard and it appears to be momentarily that it’s gonna come through. A few of the tiny house builders offer financing, like half down and pay the rest in payments or whatever their options are. The tiny-house industry and the tiny house builders and everyone have been working feverishly to make sure that they have financing for the tiny houses and insurance, things like that, insurance isn’t that hard. You have an army of people that are working on this to help the Tiny-House Movement.
Chris: It seems like it’s just because it’s an unknown thing, because you can finance a car, you can finance a house whatever, it’s just that they don’t know. It doesn’t have a category that they understand. What do you think is the issue?
Pat: I think that’s true. They’re just not into it, they don’t know what they’re even looking at or hearing from someone when someone calls them. It’s interesting though, I haven’t figured this one out – the RV, the metal RV, and they’re wonderful and everything, but they’ll finance them. I’m not what the deal is.
And they’re not nearly built – they’re not built at all like a tiny house in that regard, and so but I guess they are thinking: How are we gonna find it if we need to get our money.
I’m not clear on that at all, I should be but I don’t know a good answer for that.
Chris: Well, just like with the laws is like why you can’t have one everywhere. It’s just a new thing that people don’t know how to quantify it, I think
Pat: People do not understand that a tiny house is not – or even a tiny house community – is not gonna take away from their value of their home. So that’s an area that has been a challenge for some areas and communities. What’s happening is, the people are coming forward talking about tiny houses for the homeless and the veterans and those are all very worthy causes and so they’re working on finding real estate locations that would fit for them and in many cases, that group of people, they’re looking for a community or a property that is near services and is very often not in someone’s residential neighborhood if they’re worried.
Around the country, practically, although, boy, more and more cities, Ohio, California, Atlanta, Georgia, is really embracing the Tiny House Movement because one of the things it’s offering is affordable housing, because everywhere nowadays, your policemen, your nurses, your hospitality workers, teachers, they cannot afford to buy a house number one, and infrequently they can’t even afford the rent.
And so this is where the Tiny House Movement can help so many people and that is the biggest reason that so many people are gravitating to smaller houses, whether it be tiny houses on wheels or whatever. The city of St Petersburg near where I live, they approved, over three years ago, tiny houses in backyards. They have to be built on a foundation, look a little like the house upfront and be attached to the house’s utilities. They’ve been doing it very successfully, no problems whatsoever.
Chris: Yeah, and that’s it. It’s just a matter of time.
Pat: It is. I tell the people that are a lot of people are like, “Where am I gonna put it?” And I’m like, hey, my opinion is: build it and find a place – whether it’s in someone’s backyard, which, may not be legal in a lot of places, I might add, but… Or if it’s in an RV park, where they allow them because it’s just a matter of time that communities all over the country, I totally believe, are going to accept tiny homes as a normal living situation.
Chris: You designed your home, right?
Pat: Mine is a stationary house. It’s attached to a carport. It was there when I got the property 20 years ago. It had electric, plumbing and everything, but it didn’t have sheetrock. It was just, I used it for laundry, like a laundry building for the main property, and so I just put the sheetrock in and that’s it and there’s a ton of them in my area, but I don’t know how many of them are legal in comparison to mine is on the tax records. And it was there, I guess, as anything else.
The city of St Petersburg is requiring them to be built on a foundation and by the way, they’re known as ADU, Accessory Dwelling Units and that’s becoming very popular all over the country because people can bring Grandma in. They’re calling them granny flat, they bring in grandma and she’s right on the property, they can take care of her and save thousands dollars in the nursing home. The college kids coming home some college kids with big debt, they can stay there. Some people have been able to rent them out on Airbnb, some people have moved into the tiny house in their own backyard, and rented out the main house. So it helps a lot of people financially.
You had originally asked about why less is more and that’s a big, big thing where there’s a gentleman in the tiny house industry, very well-known, his name is Andrew Bennett. He’s a short man, a lovely man, everyone adores him and they call him the Tiny, Tiny House Man. He’s done the TED talks, he’s a partner in the Core house that I mentioned earlier and he has a quote and I should have written it down but it has something to do – it opens availability to do other things because if you’re putting all your money into your mortgage, your house, your interest rate, your insurance, everything, you have hardly anything left for anything else. Whereby the people that go smaller whether it’s a tiny house or just the smaller home, they have way more money and time. The two partners, the two husband/wife whatever. They don’t both have to work in many cases, where with the big house, they both have to have a job, some people have two and three jobs and they have no time or money to do anything else.
That’s another really big beauty or thing of Tiny House Movement – that these people are living life. They’re living their life, not just working to live, they’re living and just having a great time, they go on trips. A lot of them have children, particularly the school bus conversions – they’re known as Schoolies, by the way – and they’re gorgeous. These people do beautiful work converting them and some of them have three and four children with them and they homeschool in some cases, some of them may park and just put the kids in school and then move around during the summer. Imagine the lifestyle these children have of seeing the entire state. But my biggest thing that I found with our children and I know this is true of these others that move around with their children, whether it’s a regular RV or whatever they’re noticing that they’re close and they have conversations and the kids are playing outside, they’re not all sitting in the room upstairs in the big house on their tablets or whatever you call them.
Chris: Yeah, anybody’s got to, as in their phone or whatever. It’s coming full circle, I guess.
Pat: Yeah, it is because you think about it years ago, now I’m in another few days, or so, I’m gonna be 79, and so I was born in 1940, so around the 50s, and early 60s, houses were way smaller.
I mean, they had the one-bath and usually maybe two bedrooms, even if they had four kids, they piled them all into the extra bedroom and everybody was fine. And had little closets ’cause they didn’t have big walk-in closets back then and everybody was happy. They were comfortable and now they just think they need everything else to live and be comfortable and they really don’t. So you have to squeeze the kids into a small bedroom.
Twin beds take up half the room. They have the framing that was fixed out, the mattresses are three feet wide and here’s the interesting thing: our battleships the army/navy/whatever battleships and submarines, for years, and now they’re just widening them a little recently, they’ve been 24 inches wide by about 6 foot, 3 inches long.
And these are grown men, and now I’ve been hearing that some of them may have gone to 28 inches, just probably following the way the big houses are going but the thing is that that’s been that way forever. So if a grown man can fit in that, then you can easily fit children in a much smaller width bed, whether it’s in your home or certainly in your tiny house. So that’s another area that people can just save space and everybody’s happy.
Chris: Fantastic Pat, thank you so much, I love your little catch phrase, by the way: Living cozy, not cramped.
Pat: Yeah, yeah because you can…
Oh, you know another thing people ask me, they ask me about pets in a tiny house, and I think it’s on my website. That was just by the way, if anyone wants to know it’s TinyHouseAdviser.com, and also top right, you can click on to get my newsletter which you don’t get that often, I don’t inundate you with lots of information but right there you can get a free copy of my small book. I’ve been working for years in the big one, but at least the small ones done, you can get a copy of that. But getting that interestingly dogs or pets they love living tiny, they can’t walk by you without getting petted, and so they love it. The internet is full of stories and things that people can look at and learn from that.
Chris: Pat, thank you so much, this has been so informative and fantastic. So if people wanna reach you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Pat; They can email me: Pat@TinyHouseAdvisor.com. They can go on my website which is TinyHouseAdvisor.com, and they’ll see my house, by the way, and my phone number is 727.224.9771.
Okay, well, thank you so much for having me on your call.
Chris: I’m so glad we met at Podfest.
Pat: And I hope this is help a lot of people, and they’re welcome to call and I do 20-minute consultations for free just to get an idea of what people are looking for and everything, and then I can go from there to help them.
Chris: Excellent, thank you so much for that Pat, thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.
If after hearing Pat speak, you feel like you would like to consider becoming a tiny homeowner. Please check out Pat’s website at TinyHouseAdvisor.com. You may want to have her come and consult with you, speak at your event or just share with you some pearls of wisdom that will help you along your journey.