Lesson 1059 – The Zen of tiny houses


This weekend, I attended a Tiny House workshop put on by the Tumbleweed people (who are arguably the biggest name in the tiny house movement (and yes, there is a movement.)) Tumbleweed houses are small structures built on trailers so that they can be moved. (Think an RV that feels like home.)

As anyone who follows my Facebook page (or who knows me personally) can attest, I have been lusting after tiny houses for a long time. I blame it on having read My Side of the Mountain when I was young – from that point on I always envisioned myself living inside of a hallowed out tree. (Of course, I could equally blame it on having 6 kids who are all home for the summer, but I digress.)

I could do it, if I wanted to – became my early survivalist’s mantra.

Even though I love all things tiny (have you seen my Amazing Mama Lego Hen?) I signed up for the workshop determined not to drink the cool-aid. A friend of mine had previously warned me about her experience taking it about 2 years ago.

They focused too much on reclaiming materials. Moisture is a problem they didn’t address. And ultimately, at the end of the weekend the 2 simple questions she had remained unanswered: (1) Do you have a list of what states/counties your small houses have been successfully built, and (2) What, if any, are the kinds of problems folks have encountered with Building Dept folks when building your small houses?

Hmmm, just as in any kind of movement, there are always people whose goal it is to make money. I put on my best unbiased hat and set off to the hotel ready to uncover the truth. Intrepid journalist Wendy, at your service.

What I discovered was a well-organized two day workshop provided by people who not only talk the talk but also walk the talk.
Art Cormier presented the majority of the workshop. He built and lives in his tiny house in Louisiana and brought personal experience after personal experience to the table. He started off with the story of when his daughter would come home to visit for the weekend in the “big house” and they wouldn’t see each other until it was time for her to go back. It was an empty experience.

But when she now comes to visit in the tiny house, they can’t help but interact. Sure one (the daughter) might want to sleep later and is awoken by the other getting up and going to work, but guess what? That’s the essence of living together, instead of going to our separate rooms, we need to learn how to get along. We need to learn how to interact.

Everyone who attended the workshop got a workbook of the slides where we could take notes as we followed the presentation. In a few areas, the slides were slightly out of order from the book, or Art spent some time flipping forward to something that helped explained a topic better, but that’s a minor complaint as the information was eventually explained.

References, books, and resources were gloriously provided (I’ve since ordered 3 books that had been suggested to me over the two days) and Art made use of a drawing program where he drew things like the wall structure, window orientation, and how shingles go together. This mama hen now knows about R values are and the difference between flat butt, rabbeted, and on top with regard to trim.

Much to some of the attendees dismay, we did *not* pick up a hammer the entire weekend. I hadn’t expected this, but apparently several people did. When talking about the wiring aspect, one attendee piped up that “it would have been good to allow us to do this part hands on.”

Trust me, as someone who has seen an uneducated person get BLOWN across the living room floor because he didn’t know the configuration of the fuse box (full current comes at the top.) I had absolutely no problem with not being shown how to wire anything.

“Although you can do it yourself,” Art kept wisely emphasizing, “you probably want to get an electrician and a plumber for those parts of your build.”

Sounded like good advice to me.

Zoning was covered. For the one slide on the subject, we were told that zoning codes varied from State to county to town to neighborhood. It was up to us to do our own research. Fair enough.

Moisture was covered again and again. Spaces are left in the walls, vents are placed on the sides of showers (the loft is above.) Flashing is applied everywhere. Nails are used properly on the roofs. With a tiny house, moisture *can* be a problem, but not if it is anticipated and the house correctly designed beforehand.

Reclaimed material was covered and it just wasn’t emphasized. Although you can use all the reclaimed materials you want for the interior, it’s best to stick with newer materials for the shell. Tumbleweed’s houses are designed by building engineers, everything is put there for a reason,. You don’t want to mess too much with something that’s been proven to work.

I was sitting next to a woman, Beth, who desperately wanted to build her own house. She had pointed me to a competitor’s site who had trailer’s for roughly $2,000 cheaper.

“Well, why wouldn’t you go with that?” we both thought.

But after the discussion of why the Tumbleweed trailer was designed the way it was (weight balances, flashing on the bottom not on the top which gives you an additional 4 inches of space. I have to admit, the Tumbleweed trailer sounded like a much better deal, even for the extra money. Again, it’s designed by engineers for a very specific reason, everything on it has a purpose.

Another person at our table was a contractor who builds houses. When we found out that the building plans for the tiny houses ran about $600 during the workshop and about $800 outside the workshop, Beth and I blanched. That’s a lot of money for plans.

“Hey Andy,” we said to our new best friend, “take a look at those plans and tell us what you think.”

Andy came back telling us that they were some of the best plans he had ever seen. “They cover everything,” he said, “totally worth it.”

Beth bought her plans the next day.

The workshop is intensive, it’s two days of a lot of material (broken up by one good time at the hotel bar) If you didn’t get the answer to your question, it’s because you didn’t ask it.

It was a weekend surrounded by like-minded people, and while you (me) may not be ready to take the plunge to start building a tiny house right now (I’m still on the fence about when to start) after a weekend of sharing stories and meeting new people in this community, you begin to realize that tiny house living is not just about living in a smaller area. It’s about recycling your lunch container and refusing a bottle of water because you don’t want to use the plastic. It’s about giving away a book you just finished to a new friend because you don’t *need * to hold onto it anymore. It’s about having discussions over about how “things” are like “time thieves” and how they anchor (weigh) you to the past and how, in the end, less is more. It’s about connecting.

So here it is, my biggest zen take-away from the Tumbleweed workshop –

You don’t have to live in a tiny house in order to start living in a tiny house.

Art being a good egg.

Art being a good egg.

Two thumbs way up for the Tumbleweed crew. Job well done.



Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

Also, join me on Facebook to find out more about the flock (children and chickens) and see some pretty funny chicken jokes, photos of tiny houses, and even a recipe or two.

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5 responses to “Lesson 1059 – The Zen of tiny houses

  1. Sarah

    Great post, Wendy. A lot of food for thought. I’ve always wanted to move bigger and bigger. This gets me to begin to look at “why?” Thanx.

  2. Suddenly Jamie (@suddenlyjamie)

    Love this write-up, Wendy. I wish I could have shared the day with you. I’d be willing to bet you brought some extra flair to the event. Like you, I’m not ready to build a tiny house just yet, but I love being able to dream and fantasize about this possible future. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  3. glynnis lessing

    great post and I love your conclusion.

  4. Dominique

    Hello from the Lakes Region in NH! We are a family of 2 kids and after having lost our home to foreclosure, our dream is to build a tiny house. I like your website. Nice to meet you!

    • Wendy Thomas

      Greetings, always glad to hear from another Granite stater. Please let us know of your progress toward getting a tiny house. I’m all ears on that one!


      On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 11:26 AM, Lessons Learned from the Flock wrote:


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