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Building a life in miniature

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From the time I was little I have always been fascinated by miniature things.

I collected model horses, I adored little dogs, I made dioramas, and wrote stories about tiny worlds. My favorite cartoon was The Littles, about teeny tiny people living in the walls of a kids house. And I loved living in little spaces — small apartments I could maintain on my own always won out over shared larger living situations.

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Granted, I moved around pretty constantly for the 10 years post-college and pre-Roaring Fork Valley; I liked to brag about the fact that I could fit my whole life, including my mini-dachshund, into my compact car and move at a moments notice.

So to be honest, the tiny house movement came as no surprise to me, and I knew that at some point I would live in one. That dream came true on July 19 of this year, when my Tumbleweed Tiny House was delivered to my friend’s property, all 284 square feet of it.

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It took nine hours to slowly drive it over the mountains from Colorado Springs to its new home here, but it turned out to be the shortest part of the journey.

This leg of my tiny living journey started in April, when after two and a half years living on the move in my 40 foot RV I decided that it was time to pull the trigger on living in a small space that could be a permanent structure. My RV was a beauty, and I am grateful for the time spent and money saved while I got back on my feet after my divorce. But an RV is not meant for forever living without some upgrades I couldn’t afford, and the value depreciation starts day one. I needed something that would grow in value, while also being built to last. Step one was reaching out to tiny house builders who fit three criteria: 1) they either built in or would deliver to Colorado, 2) they would consign my RV or take it on trade, and 3) they had good interest rates and options for financing with little to no money down.

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That narrowed the field considerably, since I didn’t have the skills or time to build it myself. I landed on three choices: Land Arc out of Buena Vista, Colorado; Wind River Tiny Homes out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Tumbleweed Tiny Homes out of Colorado Springs. I lined up meetings and site visits with the Colorado companies and started looking at tickets to Tennessee.

I have to say, I was impressed with and really enjoyed meeting Brian at Land Arc, and he is doing incredible work. But from the minute I stepped into Tumbleweed, I was surrounded by support and by like-minded individuals, and it took less than an hour to know in my heart that this was the crew who would build my home.

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Steve gave us a tour and showed us five different models in various stages of completion. I chose a Farallon, and we were off and running within a week. I made two more trips to the dealership — one that lasted four hours as I got to sit with the design and build team and decide everything from how many skylights to the placement of the outlets. It was an absolute blast, and connected me to the process in a way I had ever expected.

Every inch of the house was built for efficiency, and with an eye toward being environmentally friendly. I chose a composting toilet — after RV life, I was ready to not deal with black water tanks anymore. The combination washer/dryer averages five to nine gallons of water per load of wash, compared the 25 to 35 gallons many typical washers use. Aside from the small footprint this also helps with mitigating the biggest issue to date with a tiny house that is still on wheels and not permanently on a foundation yet — water.

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Making sure you’re getting water, that your lines aren’t freezing, and that the grey water you produce is getting stored and removed has been the biggest headache to date. My tiny house was built to eventually be on solid ground — the entire structure is to Colorado code, and the trailer it is built on is a special design so that once the wheels are removed the structure can be lowered into a foundation lickity spilt and perfectly flat.

So no grey water tanks come with the unit and have to be installed aftermarket, large enough to handle a months worth of water (to keep it economically feasible to have it emptied only once a month — thank you to my RV septic service company), while being warm enough to not freeze outside of my house – after all, where would I put it inside?

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And underneath my house has become my storage unit, where my summer clothes live in the winter and where my Christmas decorations live in the spring. So I needed the perfect sized tank, heater, hoses…oy!

The lesson that I have learned from this has been a big one — that I was going through a somewhat extraordinary amount of water a month for one person. For someone who prided herself on being environmentally friendly, I never thought twice about letting the water run while I washed dishes or washed my face. Now I think about every drop, the length of my showers, and the number of laundry loads I do in a month.

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I have reduced my water usage easily by half in the short span of time I have been living in my new home. And honestly, that’s my favorite part of tiny living. The awareness it has brought to every inch of my life and my space is extraordinary; the efficiency with which I have to utilize my square footage prioritizes my life in ways that I never even imagined.

Okay; so, the question I am asked most frequently when I talk to people about the house is the one that keeps most people from being able to join this housing movement — where on earth did you put it? I am blessed beyond measure to have a friend who has a piece of property with no other pre-existing ADU, so the biggest hurdle has been cleared, for now.

The far greater challenge will be finding my own little slice of the world to put it on permanently. There are still so many building codes and laws in place restricting the square footage on homes built in most counties in Colorado. I could expand my home with a studio or garage, (it was designed for that very purpose), but I actually love the current square footage I am living in. My life has become so simple and lovely, and I hope that one day there is a permanent place for it in my beautiful Valley — because there is no turning back for me, now that I know the simple joy of living simply.

Lucky for me, it still moves. Hopefully, I won’t have to.

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