Why I'm Glad My Tiny House Fell Apart

If you know me from my episode of HGTV's "Tiny House Big Living," you know that in 2015, I moved into a 160 square foot tiny house on wheels named "Sweet Caroline."  You may remember it as the one with the rooftop deck, the one with the purple front door or most infamously, the one with the collection of 150 shotglasses that had to be worked into the design plan.

But, if you know me from my blog post, Buyer Beware, then you know that also in 2015, I had to move out of my tiny house.  (If you don't know the whole story, here is that blog post.)

But, no matter how long you've been around the blog or how much you know about my journey, I'm guessing you don't know this... I am glad that my tiny house fell apart.

Say what now?

Yes, I said I'm glad that my tiny house fell apart and here's why.

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First of all, even though the experience was frustrating, exhausting and stressful (in the midst of me trying to heal from adrenal fatigue, no less), I learned a lot from it.  In fact, I speak a lot about this topic now at tiny house festivals and will be approaching my next THOW build with an entirely different mindset as well.  Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned:

  • Not only is it okay to speak up during the build process, but you should.  During my tiny house build, I would occasionally get messages from my builder telling me that he had miscalculated the measurements and suddenly, the size of my pantry was cut in half or my sofa was going to be an entire foot shorter.  And every time, I would just agree and not really speak up because I didn't want to be "that" customer... the b****y one, the one that caused trouble.  Whereas, now thinking back, I realize I had every right in the world to speak up - this was my house and my savings that we were dealing with.
     
  • It is helpful to at least have an idea of the basics of how a tiny house build works.  From the very beginning in my original build, I said "If I wanted to get my teeth cleaned by a dentist, I wouldn't do a bunch of research to figure out how to properly clean teeth before I went, just to make sure he was doing it right.  I would trust that as a dentist, he knew what he was doing."  And that the same was true for my builder.  Except, look where that got me.  If the tiny house industry had been a little more fully developed (even to the point that it is currently), then I may have been able to do that more successfully because there are a lot of true, quality builders out there to choose from.  But, the industry was still just starting up in 2015 and because I chose to go with a new builder, I shouldn't have put 100% blind faith in him knowing what he was doing.  Yes, I didn't (and still don't) want to learn how to build an entire house myself, but it would've been helpful for me to at least know how some of the basics of framing, windows, HVAC, plumbing, etc. work, so I could stay up to speed with what he was doing.
     
  • You should always check references before signing with a builder.  Now, of course, in my case... I couldn't.  Because I knew going in that I was his first customer.  As I've said many times before, I felt pretty good about this decision because as a new builder, he was willing to work with my small budget.  And I felt that I was helping him out as a new up-and-coming builder by bringing the publicity of HGTV with me.  But, because there was no one to ask about his previous builds, I had nothing to go off of.  You should always check with a builder's previous customers (and if they don't have any, then I dare say, move on...), as well as any other references like suppliers, vendors or even bank references.  This will help you to get an idea not only of their building quality, but also their responsiveness, attitude, efficiency and trustworthiness.
     
  • It is better to take your time, then to dive in headfirst.  Now, this is a tricky subject for me because as you probably know, I am all about the "don't wait to live" mantra.  So, when I was planning to do a tiny house, it was very important for me to actually go ahead and do it, and not just get stuck in the phase of talking about it.  It was the inspiration from my mom's passing and the entire basis for my new life perspective, so I didn't want to wait.  But, even though I didn't want to wait to make the life change, I still could've taken a little bit more time to do the actual research and build.  I was just so excited and gung-ho to live tiny, that I sort of got ahead of myself.  Next time, I will take more time getting to know the builder and planning out the house before I sign on the dotted line.
     
  • Overall, the experience should be about me and not them.  Now off the bat, that sounds like a really pompous statement.  But, let me clarify.  Back then, I sort of fell automatically into this mode where I just went along with whatever my builder told me - if he said we had to change a material, we changed it.  If he said the couch was going to be shorter, it was going to be shorter.  It was pretty much all about him telling me what we could and couldn't do and that was that.  But, looking back, I realize that I should've taken more control of the situation.  This is my life, my house, my money... so, instead of me constantly trying to adjust my needs and wants to fit into the builder's mold, I should find a builder that can meet my needs and wants.  It's like trying to put a square block into a round hole.  You don't just keep shaving parts of the block off to get it to fit.  You go find yourself a square-shaped hole.

I'm also glad that it fell apart when it did because I had only been living there for a few months.  In fact, I had to spend the entire first month after the house was delivered in a hotel.  Had things not begun to fall apart so quickly, I may have ended up in a much worse situation.  Even though it was again, very sad, frustrating and stressful to live through, it could've been worse if I been there six months or a year before the issues started showing and then found myself stuck and out of warranty.  Ironically, the fact that it started to come apart so fast turned out to be a blessing because things didn't drag out longer.

My tiny house falling apart is also interestingly enough how I met a lot of amazing people in the tiny house community.  Although I'm sure I would've met many of them eventually anyway, I ended up making a lot of awesome connections in the community as a result of me traveling around and giving my "buyer beware" presentation.  Because of this, I was also able to get to know a lot of talented builders first-hand, to establish relationships with them and to set a foundation for my next build, long before it even happens!

And last but certainly not least, I'm glad my tiny house fell apart because it gives me a chance to do it again.  Because there was nothing about the tiny lifestyle itself that I didn't like.  I wasn't claustrophobic, I didn't regret it and I never missed any of my old stuff.  It was just that I got a little tired of cleaning up dirty water off my kitchen countertop every time it rained or having crickets crawl across my ceiling an inch from my face while I was trying to sleep.  So, I most definitely would love to do it again and in a weird way, sort of get to hit the "reset" button and start over.  And because I learned what things I did and didn't like in my first house, it also gives me a better perspective of how I want to do my next build.  For instance:

  • I will do the door on the longer side of the house instead of the short one, so the living space stretches out to each side, instead of front to back.
  • The couch needs to be comfortable.  So, not only will it be long enough and wide enough for my long legs, but it will also be a real couch (or loveseat), not a bench!
  • Although my tiny closet was cute, I want a more functional system for storing clothes next time.  

So, even though I obviously wouldn't have chosen to go through the stress and the chaos that was my first tiny house, in the end, there were many blessings that came out of it.  I may have gotten a few sour lemons, but hey, you know what?  You toss some strawberries and oranges in there and add a little wine... and you might just end up with a pretty sweet sangria.

Until next time, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!

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P.S.  If you want a copy of my free "Choosing a Tiny Home Builder" checklist, click here!