Downsizing can help you live a simpler, more uncluttered lifestyle, by moving into a micro apartment, tiny house or by living that van lifeOpens a new window in your browser.. Here are a few things you should know before you get started.
1. Why make the move to “micro”?
Many micro living enthusiasts choose the lifestyle for the financial benefits. The average tiny home costs a fraction of what a traditional house might cost.
That's one of the reasons Jenna Spisard decided to build a 165-square foot or 15-square metre home on wheels when she was in her mid-20s. “My partner and I were unhappy living paycheque to paycheque, and we were both ready for a change,” says the blogger who became a star of HGTV’s Tiny House, Big Living. “We decided to build something that would be affordable to live in on the road and travel around,” she explains.
Other people downsize because they simply don't need all that space (and the stuff that fills it).
“I was so young, so I didn't have a connection to my material belongings... I didn't need to get rid of a lot of clutter,” says Spisard. She adds that at first, the lifestyle choice was about “freeing her finances.” But as she's travelled through Canada and the U.S. and met a community of people who live in tiny houses, RVs and vans, she's learned the value of minimalism and living an eco-friendlier lifestyle.
And while environmental reasons aren't always a consideration for those deciding to downsize to a micro home, many find that reducing their carbon footprint is an added benefit. For soon-to-be retiree Patricia, building a 22 by 8.5-foot or 7 by 3-metre wide home on Vancouver Island was about “living sustainably, but also as an affordable retirement [option].”
Once you're clear about your reasons (which might be more than one), it's time to get started.
2. Consider: What kind of micro home is right for me?
There is no formal definition for a tiny house, according to theTiny House Vancouver Meetup groupOpens a new window in your browser.. The organization typically defines a micro house as a property that's less than 200 square feet or 19 square metres and a tiny house as being 200 to 500 square feet or approximately 19 to 46 square metres. In comparison, a small house is built upon a permanent structure and is typically 500 to 1,000 square feet or 46 to 93 square metres.
When deciding which option is right for you, the Tiny Home Alliance of Canada advises “write out what you want your home to have, where you would like to live (think: climate) and what message the style will reflect. From the outside and inside, it has to work for you and your life flow.”
Your budget may determine your next step. Some people want to build a DIY tiny home. To do so, you don't even need a construction background, says Schapdick. Building his 2-storey house, which was 100 square feet or 9 square metres, felt less intimidating because it was on a small scale. The cost of all his materials was about $35,000, which didn't include labour.
The Tiny Home Alliance of Canada estimates that to build a “safe, modern, tiny building with all (or close to) regulatory compliances,” the average cost is $100 to $350 per square foot or per 0.1 square metre. This number assumes you're using new materials and not repurposed ones, as many eco-conscious people do. Manitoba resident Stevie Quinney, for example,built her home out of shipping containersOpens a new window in your browser..
Many people find it simpler to buy pre-built tiny homes. “Expect to pay between $75,000 and $160,000 CAD before taxes and delivery for turnkey units,” estimates the Quebec company,MinimalisteOpens a new window in your browser.. Costs can vary by size, insulation and appliances.
Next, you'll have to decide if you'll want to live off or on the grid. That will also determine your utilities. In either case, it's possible to have solar panels. “Many tiny home owners choose to adopt the minimalist lifestyle in order to live more sustainably,” Blake Williams writes inPicking the Best Solar Power OptionOpens a new window in your browser.. The pros of having a grid-tied solar system, he explains, is that it's the cheapest option for solar energy, you can add solar panels gradually with the grid taking care of the rest and you can even get paid for the extra electricity you generate.
3. Planning your zones
Before you donate all your possessions, sell your traditional house and build or buy your modest home, be sure to have a basic grasp on the zoning and legalities.
If you're going to live in a micro apartment or a tiny house community, you don't have to worry as much about zoning laws, because these homes are already established. This may be a simpler option for first-time micro livers. Those who want to experiment with the lifestyle might even consider renting an existing lot in a tiny home community for a month or so to give the lifestyle a spin before fully committing to it.
But if you dream of living out in nature as many tiny home owners do, with the woods, lake and mountains as your backyard, “You have to have a plan around where this house is going to live,” says Schapdick.
For this reason, many in the tiny house community put their homes on wheels, which means they're subject to regulation by provincial transportation ministries. But that doesn't mean you can just plop your home anywhere.
“If you want to live in 1 permanent place, you have to know where that's going to be,” Spisard says, noting that, “We're not reinventing the wheel. People who live in RVs have been doing it a long time. Tiny houses fall into the same category.”
In 2015, Spisard toured Canada from the U.S., venturing from Maine to Nova Scotia, through New Brunswick and Quebec, then on from the U.S. West Coast to British Columbia and the Yukon. “It was definitely a novelty,” she says of her travelling home. She recalls that people were very nice, letting her park on their property. Now that the tiny house phenomenon is more well-known, regulations may be on the horizon.
“There are several citizen groups across Canada looking to start/develop eco-villages or tiny house communities,” the Tiny Home Alliance of Canada states, noting that by-laws can be created at the onset for specific housing. Here's a list of current tiny house by-laws in Canada.
The Tiny House Advocates of Vancouver Island (THAVI), which was founded in 2017 to work with local governments to make tiny houses a legal and acceptable housing option, advises, “Make sure that council members in your municipality know that you want tiny houses to be recognized as a legal housing option.”
4. Sharing a small space
You don't have to downsize your family or Fido in order to live in a smaller space.
Patricia's cat, Callie, shares her Vancouver Island home. The litter box is hidden in the bathroom, and there's a special pet door for Callie to go in and out of the house. If you're planning to live with pets in your tiny home, consider recessed litter boxes, installing a catwalk and converting other nooks and crannies into hiding spots for your furry friends. These space-saving strategies can make your home more comfortable for all inhabitants, whether human or four-legged.
Schapdick would love to live in his small house full time, but co-parenting a daughter in the suburbs doesn't allow for it at this time. But she's the reason he built his tiny home in the first place.
“I wanted to spend more quality time with my daughter — camping, hiking and fishing like I did when I was a kid,” he says of his 2-storey small house.
Micro living with others requires a bit of compromise. “You have to respect each other's personal space,” Spisard says, pointing out that it can be good for relationships, too. “You can't build a wall like you do in a big house; you have to talk about things.”
Whether your reasons to switch to micro living are environmental, financial or otherwise, start with these basics and you can live large, especially when your home is small.