OKtiny.com – A Tiny House Journey

What Happens When You Fail?

I’m all too familiar with failure (and even wrote a short book about one of my failures). If you’ve ever reached for your dreams or tried something “different” you’ve probably experienced a difficult failure as well. At the very least, you’ve experienced some kind of failure on some kind of level during your lifetime.

Two of the problems with dreams can be that we set not just unrealistic expectations, but an unrealistic timeline for accomplishing those dreams.

Setting unrealistic expectations isn’t a massive problem if you subscribe to Norman Vincent Peale’s idea of shooting for the moon because even if you miss you’ll be among stars.

But doing that isn’t being intellectually honest. It’s likely one of the reasons so many New Year’s Resolutions fail. Not for lack of want or positive thinking, but for lack of structure and plan. Interestingly, Mr Peale’s ideas were never accepted by the mental health community. (For good reason. But let’s not focus on that today.)

How To Beat Unrealistic Expectations

What can you do instead of setting unrealistic expectations?

Well, break down the unrealistic expectation into chunks of easier-to-reach expectations. You might even go so far as to break them down to daily tasks.

Let’s say you want to build a tiny house and you know it’s going to cost you $36,000. Now let’s say you want to save this money in one year. This is your unrealistic expectation. To break it down means you need to save $3,000 per month. To break it down further it means you need to save just about $100 per day. Now let’s say your earnings, after taxes, are $120 per day. You’ve just learned this goal will end in failure. Even if you “shoot for the moon” and save 50% of your paycheck (difficult, but quite doable) you’ll be only 60% of the way there.

You have three options in this case. Earn more to save more. Cut expenses to save more. Or recognize that the best idea is to reset your expectations. If you save $60/day it will take you 600 days to save $36,000. It sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not even two years. And you’ll feel better about consistently reaching your savings goals (daily, weekly, monthly) instead of consistently failing due to unrealistic expectations.

What About Your Tiny House Build Timeline?

Another goal you need to set with your tiny house is not only how to afford it, but how to build it. If you’re building it yourself you need to find a place to do the build. Will you need to save all of your money, buy materials almost all at once, rent a build space, and spend a few months working hard to get it done? Or can you buy materials over time because you already have a free space to build so you can go as the budget allows? Or maybe you have some combination of both or something else entirely.

There is no right answer.

But there is a right answer for you.

And this is where I failed on my own tiny house build.

How I Failed Our Tiny House Build

I’ve been heading down the path to living tiny for years. All the way back in 2009 I sold almost everything I owned except what fit in a backpack and began traveling the world. I am a big fan of minimalism and I’m mindful of not owning things that end up owning me.

I originally had the plan to begin my own tiny house project after I watched the progress Tammy and Logan made on their tiny. The idea has stuck in my craw since then and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it happen while also balancing a normal life.

Anyway, in 2012 I settled in Poland. If you’ve ever been to Europe — or most big cities in the US — you know that apartments are not large. My biggest apartment in Poland was 50m2 (~540 square feet) and the smallest I had was about 30m2 (~320 square feet).

That’s not quite tiny house size, but it proved to me that living small was not only doable, but preferable. The problem with a lot of small apartments is they are not designed well. A tiny house is designed with every space utilized.

You may know that I got married in Poland. (!!!) The process to moving with my wife back to the US was long and tiring since she is not a US citizen. (US Immigration was slow enough. I’m saddened and scared at how it will be with the new administration.)

Anyway, we finally got to the US in late June of 2016, and we had a few different ideas about how to live tiny right away. We started looking at buying a used RV. (At first I tried to get us an RV sponsorship so we could do a road trip just so we could see how we liked it. That didn’t work out.) After checking out RVs, and prices, and everything that goes into owning one we ultimately decided against it.

My original idea, before we ever moved to the US, was to buy a piece of land with friends and/or family and use that as our build space and home. This ended up being unrealistic for many reasons besides just the costs involved. Was I supposed to force my wife to drive an hour per day to get to work just because it’s cheaper to buy land outside of the city? (Right now she can walk to work and boy is that convenient.) And what about me? I love cities! Am I really going to enjoy living where I have to drive 20-30 minutes just to buy groceries?

Once I stopped lying to myself the answer to this whole dilemma became more clear. We need to live in a city, either in an RV/van or in a more “traditional” tiny house. Each has its own benefits, but for me there is something that I think is non-negotiable: I want to build it myself. (Even if that’s taking a box truck or Sprinter and turning it into a home.)

That presents other challenges. One being the housing code. Which is why I donated $100 when Andrew Morrison and others were working on the International Code Council’s Tiny House Appendix. It passed!

Great! I think the ICC Appendix will be a nice step for those of us who want to live in cities. But it’s only the first step. And it all begs the question …

Are We Still Building A Tiny House?

The short answer is, “yes, definitely!”

The intellectually honest answer is, “one step at a time.” We’re no longer setting unrealistic expectations about this and if it takes X amount of years then so be it. But we are doing two things to make this a reality:

  1. Saving money. I think it may end up that our best bet is to buy a house with a big enough piece of land to put a tiny house and then to rent out the main house. But whatever we eventually do we need to save money, so we’re saving money.
  2. We moved into an apartment (near Raleigh, NC for my wife’s job) and, in an effort to learn some of the skills I’ll need to build a tiny house, I’ve been learning woodworking. So far my work isn’t great, but I’ve built two small side tables, a little bookshelf, and I’m almost finished with our queen sized platform “pallet” bed. Learning to build and design with wood is going to suit me well in the future and it’s also really fun. (Although wood is expensive!) I’m hoping I’ll build up my skills enough to be able to sell the stuff I make. But, again, one step at a time.

There are a lot more details to this story, but I’m at over 1,300 words here so I think it’s best to save it for another day.

What about you? How are you tiny house goals coming along? Have you had to reset expectations?

16 comments… add one
  • Don’t feel bad, be tenacious! i am a disabled 61 yr old woman, who is now (finally) living full time tiny in my THOW that I built myself. I estimated it would take me 6 months, It took 2 years. I am still discovering things that work and don’t. What doesn’t work, I change.
    What is my best tiny house building skill? Not giving up! so when things go south, sit back on your heels and think “Well, THAT didn’t work, so, what should I try next?”
    Failures are a valuable chance to learn.

    • Thank you, Dani! I love your attitude! Congrats on moving into your tiny.

  • You only fail at something if you fail to learn from the experience! My goal is to finish my THOW by the end of summer. I am on schedule, but only because I thought I waaaay overestimated how long it would take. Keep moving forward, you can do it!

    • True that. And congrats on being on schedule and almost being ready to move into your THOW!

  • I congratulate you all on your dreams.
    I particularly agree with Dani that our greatest resource is tenacity.
    I recently bought a small home in a better than average neighbourhood, but I have a half an acre of property, with a stream, trees and on a bus route.
    The house is adequate, but not worth investing money, a place to live, save money and plan.
    The dream is to pay off the small mortgage, knock down this house, and get another small mortgage to build ourselves a modest but well planned home, then pay that mortgage off fast.
    My son shares my dream and now that I am a widower, will likely be the next owner.
    Live the dream and keep the focus.

    • Thanks for sharing, Will. I like your plan and congrats on putting it into action.

  • I really appreciate your update and the comments about failure. The only real failure is never even trying. If we try, we always get something out of it, and move a little further along. At first all I wanted was to build THOW and hit the road. Then I thought I wanted to move into the country. But ultimately, like you, I realized that I deeply value my community, in a small city, and don’t want to be car dependent for basic needs. I also have beloved pets, and they don’t like to travel. I still want to plant fruit trees, but now I’m thinking more about tiny houses in the city on larger plots of land. Sometimes it feels like a compromise, and sometimes it feels like a dream. But I’m still embracing the “I wonder what will happen” perspective and will see what unfolds.

  • PS I’m about to finish a two and half year track in a carpentry program. It’s definitely been one step at a time. It was inspired by wanting to build a tiny house, but now it’s become a new passion and career track! When I got bit by the tiny-house-bug, I didn’t know I’d get all that out of it!

    • Oh, wow. That’s interesting. Can you share more information about this carpentry program?

  • Karol,
    Yesterday a pastor friend shared an awesome message that “Waiting Time is not Wasted Time”. I needed to hear that. My hubby and I lived in our 125sq ft. Tiny House for a year and a half. For the last year we have been actively building a 300sq ft Tiny House that our family, (three generations) of carpenter/contractors, thought could be finished in 3 months. Well, life happens and as disappointing as it can be, the yet to be finished THOW is not a failure. The failure would be if we give up and never finish. Going for the finish line even if we trip up along the way is what we need to do. Technically we should be able to move in within the month by working on week ends. But I have learned in this year that setting finish dates truly defines “hope deferred makes the heart sick” so determine to enjoy the journey, be thankful for each day and know that you will reach the finish line at the right time.

    • Thanks, Deeanna. Congrats on building and nearly finishing your new tiny house!

  • It’s good to hear from you again, Karol. I wanted a tiny house since Jay Shafer was on Small Spaces, Big Style, or whatever it was called, about 10 years ago. Even though I have my tiny house, at present, I’ve moved and haven’t yet found a safe space to park it again. At least, it’s mine, and I know that I’ll be living in it again soon. Take your time, and imagine, very realistically, how you like to live. My home is 24′ long, to accommodate my soaking tub, because I decided that I didn’t want to live the rest of my years longing for one. My house is perfect for me, and it doesn’t look anything like Jay’s house, because that’s not how I can sleep (above) nor bathe. I needed windows all around, and I have them, although the cost took my breath away. I actually built floor plan #63. lol It took several years, but it’s perfect. You’ll get there, too.
    I’m now working with a committee to build a tiny house village here, for people in need of affordable housing that can’t find it here on the island. I hope this works out. I have high hopes.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jane. Congrats on building the tiny of your dreams. I hope you find a new place to park it soon.

  • Olá from Portugal. It’s so good to read this post! Me and David, my husband are going trough a similar phase. We want to build it so bad maximum until the beginning of March that we just noticed how stressed we were. Still enjoying though!
    But the important thing is to love what we are doing and keep coming back to the reasons that made start this project.
    Lots of love and it would be amazing to follow your adventure!

    • Hi Raquel, nice to see folks from around the world here! Thanks for your support.

  • THANK YOU for such inspiration! When my build started about a year ago things were going pretty much as planned. Then “life” started happening… too much life. 5 months ago my daughter and I were caught in the south Louisiana flood that devastated much of this area. Mom had a major health issue, had to move out of her home of 50 years, I moved my tiny from Texas to Louisiana (after the flood) and things have gone far differently than expected.

    Prayer, friends, a great support network (in person and on-line) is so important! I’ve thought of selling my tiny in it’s current state and starting over down the road. Somedays it feels overwhelming but the minute a conversation begins with anyone about tiny living…. the excitement and creative juices flow again. Not sure if I will be able to finish her anytime soon. That’s up to a lot of factors over which I have no control. Meanwhile I still dream of finishing the THOW and living in it full time. I LOVE tiny house people, the movement and Lord willing maybe the reality at some point in the near future.

    The best laid plans sometimes go right and sometimes get de-railed a little. Ya just have to keep going and I SO admire what you have written here! It has given me a much needed to boost to keep going. Peace, blessings and many prayers for your tiny house future!


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