I love very few things in life more than a good book. And books that teach you something– that’s even better! Today I’ve got my friend and fellow bad-ass tiny houser, Leah Nixon here to chat about our favorite subjects, books and tiny houses! Leah has built and designed her own tiny house and she’s currently working on her tiny studio. Leah’s recommendations are up first and then I’m chiming in. Take it away, Leah!
The Small House Book by Jay Shafer
Jay Shafer is known as the father of the modern day tiny house movement, and this book is one of the first I dove into on my tiny house journey. He does a very good job at going over the reasons for why he wanted to live in a tiny house (And why he thinks everyone ought to), and tells his inspirational story of how he built his own house on wheels, at the time, something that very few people did. He even goes into design and what he holds to be the perfect way to build a house, which is interesting, although I took it with a grain of salt.
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
You might know of Michael Pollan from his books about food “An Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “The Botany of Desire,” “In Defense of Food,” etc. This book, “A Place of My Own” is a look into the building process for his writer’s cabin. It is less a how to book, and more of a “how not to” book with tales of his follies and the design and building process. It was an enjoyable read, but perhaps not very informative.
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
This is, hands down, one of my favorite books of all time– ranking up there with Harry Potter, seriously! It is a magic unto it’s self, a guide, filled with golden nuggets of wisdom for the ages. It discusses the structure of things, from large (country, counties, and states) down to small (neighborhood, house, construction techniques.) Alexander is perhaps as firm in his doctrine as Jay Shafer is, but this is what makes it such a fun read. You can skip around, but the pattern is this: He poses a “problem,” discusses it, and then comes up with a rule that ought to be followed to create good design. It’s a bit of an expensive book, so I borrowed it from the library. Although I really ought to own a copy, it’s so darn good.
Tiny Homes Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn
This is just a downright cool book. Filled with plenty of great photos of a wide range of tiny homes– strawbale homes, homes on foundations, homes on wheels, modern homes, hobbit homes, mobile homes that are just big enough to sleep in, mobile homes from the very early days of cars. This book shares the stories of many people who are living in alternative small homes and it’s really eye candy as much as it’s just a breath of fresh, non-minimalist, air. These are real homes, that have been lived in and each one has a unique beauty.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I firmly believe that tiny house living isn’t just about the house. It’s about a mindset. That’s why I enjoy theory books like Essentialism. The premise of Essentialism is this: most people chase everything instead of chasing the right things. The right things are the things in your life and career that will make the most impact. Unfortunately most of the tasks that we do are unimportant. We need to weed our lives of the mundane tasks that add little to our happiness.
Initially, I was a bit disheartened by this premise. Even though I live a small life, the majority of tasks I do on an everyday basis aren’t essential! I recently revisited this book and I’m taking a more relaxed approach to this theory and it’s changing my life. Yes, I’ll always have some amount of “unessential” tasks, but paring down the unessential and focusing on the essential tasks I love is making me a happier person.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir
This book is very academic, but it’s worth reading if you want to nerd out or you can just get through the academic stuff. Here’s the gist: We all have a limited amount of “bandwidth” or the ability to make decisions. People who are poor, dieters and people who are busy all have limited bandwidth. Limited bandwidth is bad because it causes people to “tunnel.” When people tunnel, they can’t see all of the options available to them. They then make poor decisions. The poor decisions aren’t necessarily their fault, but instead, a problem of bandwidth.
So how do we give dieters, busy people and poor people more bandwidth? Well, dieters can be put on an easier diet– like the Atkins diet that only counts carbs instead of counting calories. Busy people need to take a “Sabbath.” One day a week to do no work. And poor people, well, that one is harder. Different things will work for different situations. For example, instead of being given S.N.A.P. benefits at once a month, the benefits could be broken up weekly. This theory could apply to tiny housers too. How do you give people who are poor budgeters more bandwidth? Lower their house payments. Bam!
The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
This book has been helpful in achieving my own goals– in tiny house living and in life. Leo presents the 3 “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) concept. It’s a proven concept I use to get stuff done, but also not get overwhelmed. It works like this: write down the 3 most important things that you have to do each day and complete them. Somehow my “MITS” always get done.
I also really like his suggestion to start (almost comically) small when achieving goals. Want to learn how to build a tiny house? First, learn how to hammer a nail. Then, learn how to screw a screw and so on until you’ve built your own home!
The Big Tiny: A Build it Myself Memoir by Dee Williams
Dee was one of the first (and most famous) pioneers of the tiny house movement. After she was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, Dee decided she needed a change in her life. While sitting in the doctor’s office, she read an article about a gentleman who built a tiny house and she couldn’t get it out of her head. The Big Tiny follows her story of building a tiny home, living in it and eventually teaching other people to do the same.
I think I live pretty small (188 square feet), but Dee truly lives tiny in 84 square feet. (That doesn’t count her loft/sleeping space, but still that’s super small.) Throughout this story I continually admired Dee’s courage. If I was a single lady, I don’t know if I would have ever taken the plunge into small living. I’d probably just rent an apartment and continue into the debt cycle forever. Dee figured out how to build an entire house by herself! She hammered and nailed and put up walls with a serious heart condition. She’s one courageous lady.
I enjoyed that this book wasn’t a how-to manual, but at times I was a bit bored by the stories of Dee’s everyday life. Her life in the tiny house was interesting, but I found myself skipping through some of the stories about her life prior to the tiny house. But let’s be real, my everyday life is pretty boring too. This book wasn’t a life changer for me, but it did inspire me to be more resourceful. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in tiny living.
The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne
The Good Life Lab doesn’t focus on tiny house living per se, but instead on self-sufficiency– a concept that I believe to be essential to tiny house living. The Good Life Lab tells the story of Wendy and her husband who leave New York City and move to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where they build, invent, forage, and grow everything they need for themselves.
This book is part memoir, part how-to manual and was one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read. Wendy’s attitude and zest for life is infectious. This book will make you want to drop everything and become a homesteader.
Tiny House Living: Ideas For Building and Living Well In Less than 400 Square Feet by Ryan Mitchell
Let’s get real, this book is a glorified coffee-table book, but I wasn’t in it for the tours of the tiny houses– although the houses are gorgeous and aspirational. The best part of this book is the worksheets, exercises and design tricks to help you build and develop your tiny home. I’m a hands-on learner so sometimes just reading doesn’t do the trick. The worksheets and exercises helped me to better grasp downsizing and figuring out what is essential for my tiny home.
Do you have any recommendations for tiny house books? Leave ‘em in the comments!
Melanie (and Leah!)
**The links in this post are affiliate, which means I receive a small profit if you click on and buy a book. Any profits go to the hosting of this site. Remember, you can also check out books from your local library!