Living small

During a cross-Canada trek Steph Wetherell stumbled upon a community of people who have built their own tiny homes. What are the advantages of living small?

A few years ago, if you’d asked me if I could live in a 200ft-square house, I’d most likely have laughed at you, picturing the Everest-sized mountain of belongings that I’d accumulated over the years. But after decluttering my life and downsizing to a rucksack for a cross-Canada adventure, I discovered a community of ‘tiny home’ dwellers on a small island off the coast of British Columbia and fell in love with the idea of a different way of living.

Their beautiful wooden homes are built on trailer bases to allow them to be moved place to place; think caravan, but handcrafted and individually designed. Tiny home life comes with no mortgage, no foundations and no commitment to staying in one place. But what’s it actually like to live in such a small house, and why exactly do you need a hammock above your bed?

Max & Heidi

The first tiny home dwellers to open the doors of their micro-house to me were Max and Heidi, who have been living in their quirky 200ft-square house for just over two years. They built the whole thing themselves (albeit with a little help from their friends) for around £700, and every nook and cranny echoes their eccentric personalities. The fact that it ended up being a little shorter and a touch taller than they expected makes sense when you’ve spent more than five minutes with Max.

And the hammock strung above the bed to dry nettles, toy figures balanced on wall boards, and the homemade cider stashed behind the loft ladder seem perfectly natural when you’ve seen Heidi’s creative side in action.

I chatted to them while they worked in the garden, clearing land to plant their season’s worth of vegetables; our conversation punctuated with the rhythmic sound of shovelling. From my seat (a handy tree stump), I was captivated by thehandcrafted exterior of their house, each section built from different materials that Max salvaged from other projects and places on the island. “The more you can take someone’s trash and turn it into your basic living requirements, the lighter you’re living on the Earth,” he said.

When I asked what was hard about living in such a small house, Max paused, leaning on his rake for a moment before answering solemnly, “Having dance parties.” Heidi laughed, agreeing. “So true. There’s really only enough room for a solo dancer.” In a brief moment of seriousness, they admitted space and storage does pose a challenge for them as they grow or forage much of their food. But this is a challenge they appear to relish as their tales of 200 squashes above the bed and tomato plants hanging in the living room indicate. 

“I think that this fall was the first time either of us said ‘Gee, it might have been nice to make the house four feet longer’,” Max admitted. “But we’re happy in here. Everything works for us. And it’s still evolving.” Heidi agreed, concluding, “I love that it really reflects us and our personalities. Maybe that’s easy to do on a small scale.”

Steph Wetherell is a travelling farmhand, writer and photographer, currently living in the beautiful mountains of British Columbia.

See more of these unique spaces in iPad issue 3 of Ernest Journal, available to download now.