Today I’m excited to feature my new friends, Seth and Maggie. Seth and Maggie are currently preparing for tiny house living. One of the questions I often get asked is how we downsized. I’ve talked a bit about downsizing before, but it’s good to get the perspective of others who have done the same. Since we didn’t work with a contractor, I’m also really interested in the process of planning and building a tiny home. Take it away, Seth and Maggie!
My name is Seth Campbell and my wife Maggie and I are from Worcester, Massachusetts (about an hour outside of Boston). I tattoo, paint, and draw for a living and my wife is a Marketing Coordinator for a local plumbing manufacturer. We were living in a 1,000 sq. ft home before we started the downsizing process, and after a year of selling and donating our possessions, we now rent a room from our family while we prepare for our [tiny house] build in the spring of 2016.
Why did you decide to start your tiny house journey?
The initial decision was home ownership and financial reasons. We always wanted a home to call ours, but we both are travel bugs, so we were always moving houses and apartments every few years. Traveling for conventions and such only fueled our desire even more. It just seemed logical: lower cost of living, more free time for us to hang out with our dogs, the freedom to take our house with us if we want a change of scenery, and a smaller environmental footprint. Not to mention the health benefits; living small will allow us to work less, thus alleviating much of my back/hand pain as a seasoned tattooer and much of my wife’s stress from her 9-5 job. Everything about going tiny made so much sense, it was stupid not to do it.
How have you saved money to build your home? How long did it take?
First we started looking for ways to decrease our expenses, and we started by eliminating any luxuries such as Internet service, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. Then we started downsizing and selling our stuff online and at flea markets. Everything we sold was considered extra income and went directly into our savings. Lastly, we moved out of the house we were renting and into a single bedroom in August of 2015, which saves us almost $2,000 per month.
After that, we began looking for ways to budget our income. We’d never been good with saving money before, so it was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. We came up with a system that works really well for us; my wife only uses her bank account to pay the monthly bills and we pay for everything else with the cash that I earn. We consult each other on every purchase, which helps us keep each other in check. We only keep about $100 in our wallets for groceries and gas, and the rest of our money is kept in an envelope for any unforeseen expenses until it’s time to make a savings deposit. We like to deposit in chunks of $500 so the envelope doesn’t ever get too big. In the past 13 months, we’ve accumulated over $20,000 cash in savings.
If you feel comfortable, we’d love to hear some numbers. What is your budget?
Before we settled on a comfortable budget, we had to decide what our “needs” would be. We decided to have our tiny house be 100% off grid, without the option to plug ourselves in or hook up to city water and septic, which meant we could save a bit of money on plumbing and electric. Instead, we wanted to put our money into making our home and comfortable and beautiful as possible. We figured a budget between $25,000 – $30,000 would be acceptable to build to our needs without having to compromise the quality of building materials or appliances we have in mind.
Did you hire an architect? How did you design your tiny house?
We didn’t hire an architect; we went through a local contractor [Charbel Najem, CEO of Capstone General Contracting] that to our luck had recently built a tiny house not too long before we contacted him, so we were able to slightly modify some plans he used for the previous build. Many factors went into the design, including our budget, our pets, our heat source, our plumbing needs, our electrical plan, and our own personal tastes. Together with our contractor, we were able to design our floor plan in no time at all.
I’d love to hear more about the process of working with a contractor. How did you find him/her?
We were referred to him through a friend of ours. When we decided to go ahead and pursue the tiny living lifestyle, we read that it’s important to talk about what we wanted to do with anyone and everyone that would listen. We got a lot of leads that turned out to be dead ends from friends and family before we finally found someone. A friend and co-worker referred us to a local contractor that had recently been on a tiny house TV show as a builder, so we lucked out. He was right under our nose, a ten minute drive away, and already had experience building tiny. He was able to work within (and even under) our budget and show us many possible options (some we hadn’t even considered), all while still keeping our initial vision in mind. It was a very easy and pleasant experience, more so that we thought it would be.
How are you planning on downsizing your possessions?
By the time we both agreed that simpler living was for us, we had unfortunately just signed another year long lease at the 1,000 sq. ft. house we were renting. Instead of waiting an entire year and wasting time/momentum, we started downsizing right away. We used this extra time to our advantage by turning our old junk into cash. We set up shop at flea markets, yard sales and on Instagram. We also sold some things on eBay and to people advertising in the Items Wanted section of Craigslist/the local newspaper. Everything else that wasn’t sold before we moved was donated to charity and thrift stores. In that year, we were able to downsize from three floors of living space to a single bedroom of belongings.
What advice do you have for other people who are beginning their tiny house journey?Everyone’s situation is going to be different, but it is extremely beneficial to read other people’s stories and journeys of living tiny. You never know what you’d be able to take away from someone else’s experience and use for yourself. For us, it seemed like most tiny house stories we came across were from the perspective of a well-seasoned homeowner; we couldn’t find many people documenting all the steps they took along the way to get there. That’s the main reason we have chosen to offer our experiences at such an early stage; as time goes on a lot of these resources may be lost or forgotten.
It’s also important to remember that It isn’t an overnight process, it’s takes time, sometimes a lot of time. Read, research, and be vocal about what you’re doing, and eventually, you’ll find a process that works well for you.
Wow, what a journey! I’m so impressed by Seth and Maggie’s ability to save and downsize. To see more of their progress, you can follow them on Instagram @bespin_tinyhouse and on their personal pages; @Sailor_Vegan and @CloudCityTattoo. Thanks so much, Seth and Maggie!
Do you live in a tiny house, Airstream or RV? I’d love to feature you! Reach out to me!