Jenna Spesard shares the story of how and why she and her partner, Guillaume, decided to build a tiny house and take it on a giant journey.
My story is not the typical American Dream. The words reckless and unusual have been used to describe my minuscule home. My lack of routine, my disregard for normality, even my priorities are sometimes considered illogical or eccentric.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to have a normal life with an expensive apartment, debt, and a debilitating work-life balance. I used to be unhappy. That was before I became a part of the Tiny House Movement, a social movement that inspires people to downsize for financial stability, environmental awareness, and the ability to have more time and freedom to pursue their dreams.
Three years ago, I was living in Los Angeles in a large apartment full of beautiful furniture, a big-screen television, and my extensive wardrobe. I enjoyed purchasing pretty things and filling my life with them. I worked long hours at a tedious job to pay off my college debt and satiate my lifestyle. I lived paycheck to paycheck. When I discussed my future, the conversation was usually about next weekend’s social events rather than my five- or 10-year plan. Yet, back then, no one thought my lifestyle was unusual. No one said that my financial priorities were reckless. No one told me how illogical it was to spend a third of my life melancholy at work. This was just the cost of being an adult. It was normal.
Sometimes I would ask myself: Is this what I’m going to do the rest of my life? Work. Sleep. Work. Sleep. Pay bills. Never have any savings. Drag myself out of bed every morning for a job I was dispassionate about. What happened to my goals? I went to college to be a writer, but I didn’t have time to write or enough money to quit my job. It was as if I was part of a race that I had no intention of winning, so I was running in place.
My partner, Guillaume, was working as an Industrial Engineer but, like me, he was frustrated at work. Sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week was slowly killing him. Guillaume is happiest when he’s working in nature, and the striking photographs he creates are a direct result of his emotional state of mind. I see that now, but at the time, we felt miserably stuck.
Together we were spending more than $2,000 a month on rent. We were commuting more than two hours to work each day. We had college debt, three vehicle loans, and expensive social lives. We needed to make a lifestyle change or continue down the road to despondency.
Two years ago, we learned about the Tiny House Movement. We were tired of paying for a lifestyle that we didn’t want. So the idea of living minimally struck a chord. We rapidly started selling our possessions and saving for a tiny house on wheels. I was excited to quit my job and focus on writing, and Guillaume was antsy to leave his 9-to-5 to pursue photography. We moved into a spare bedroom at Guillaume’s uncle’s house and sold our three vehicles. We dreamed of traveling around with our tiny home, photographing and writing about our adventures. The idea was intoxicating. The only problem? We needed to build our tiny abode.
Six months later, Guillaume quit his job and started our backyard construction project. I continued working during this time to fund some of our expenses. On the weekends, I would help Guillaume build and blog about our endeavor. We balanced precariously on ladders, attaching our ridge beam, rafters, and roof. We crawled under our tiny house trailer, securing pipes and drilling holes for drainage and ventilation. We collected reclaimed materials and borrowed tools. We bruised our fingers, knees, and (especially) our egos as we went from novices to halfway decent carpenters.
We weren’t just building a tiny house; we were challenging ourselves to rethink the idea of home. I managed to fit my shrunken wardrobe into a locker-sized closet. We opted for a small shower instead of a full-size tub. We decided on a tiny refrigerator that would force us to eat fresher ingredients. We had to balance our needs versus our wants, keeping in mind that these sacrifices would gain us financial freedom.
Six months ago, we finished the tiny house and had enough savings to finance a one-year road trip before settling down somewhere. Before our trip started, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company contacted us. They had been following our blog, and offered us part-time jobs that we could do on the road. Guillaume was hired to host weekend tiny house construction workshops, while I was hired to write the company newsletter. With some of the financial burden lifted from our shoulders, I quit my job, excited and confident in our decision to redesign our lives. We began our giant journey, traveling around North America with our tiny house, in early September 2014.
Five months ago, I was in Nova Scotia, hiking around salty stone cliffs and admiring beautiful lighthouses. Four months ago, I was dancing to bluegrass music in the Smoky Mountains. Three months ago, I was strolling through the regal gardens of an old Carolinian plantation. Two months ago, I was aboard a fishing boat in the Florida Keys, peering over the side with a net in hand, searching for lobsters. One month ago, I was drowning in confetti, beads, and laughter in New Orleans.
I am finally passionate about what I do every day. I’m constantly surprised, inspired, and motivated by our adventures. And, best of all, Guillaume and I are documenting our journey through my writing and his photography.
I know what you’re thinking: Why not just buy a regular RV and hit route 66? We wanted a house carefully molded to fit our new lifestyle. One that we could travel in and still have roots. One that we’ll continue to live in when we stop traveling. And a house that could inspire others to live within their means. We used to be servants to a lifestyle that we didn’t want, but the tiny house was our crystal slipper, one that fits snugly and has changed our life forever.
I’m still paying my college loan, but now I’m paying it off more rapidly. I’m still putting money away for retirement, but now I’m putting away more. I still have money to eat out occasionally or to buy a new sweater when my old one tears. My tiny house lifestyle, even with travel, is half as expensive as my Los Angeles lifestyle.
As I am writing this, I am actually back in Los Angeles. But this time, as a tourist. It’s strange to visit my old life again. I do miss my friends and parts of my old, comfortable routine. But I do not miss cleaning my huge apartment or paying the bills. I do not miss my old job, nor do I miss struggling to make my college loan payment. I don’t even miss my belongings.
Living in 125 square feet might sound restricting, but it’s actually quite liberating. Traveling to a new location every week might sound reckless, but it’s enlightening. Our tiny house has changed our perspective in a positive way. Guillaume and I did not need a big expensive house, thousands of belongings and debt. What we needed was financial freedom and the ability to pursue our dream careers. The tiny house gave us that. We like to say we’re challenging the American Dream, because if living tiny is abnormal or reckless, I’ll happily embrace the bizarre.
What do you think, Grownups? Had you heard of the tiny house movement before reading this article? Would you be willing to sell your stuff and live tiny for a while if you knew you could fund the trip while you’re on it?