As real estate and rent prices continue to rise, some Charlotteans are looking for alternative ways to build wealth and put down roots.
Ryan Mitchell has lived in a 150-square-foot tiny house in south Charlotte for seven years. It cost roughly $35,000 to construct the home and buy the solar panels necessary to power it (he’s not on the grid and instead uses the panels and batteries).
After that initial investment, he now pays less than $40 a month in housing expenses. This includes water, propane and taxes (he pays the taxes of the friend whose land he lives on in exchange for parking his tiny house there).
It’s certainly not for everybody, but for Mitchell it works.
Mitchell calculates the move into his tiny house has generated $100,000 in savings. He’s also been able to work his way through his bucket list.
This includes living in Croatia and Australia, traveling to the United Kingdom and Germany for several months, doing two six-week road trips around the U.S., and paying off his approximately $30,000 in student loans in four years.
The idea of tiny house living first occurred to Mitchell after seeing a picture of a now-friend’s tiny house online.
It was 2009 and tiny houses weren’t nearly as popular as they are today, but the idea intrigued him.
He had just graduated with a Master’s degree and was working in recruiting when he was unceremoniously laid off. This left him evaluating his spending and long-term financial plan after realizing exactly how much of his income was going to housing-related expenses.
Determined to find a way to reduce that line item on his budget and intrigued by the concept of tiny house living, he started a blog, The Tiny Life, to catalog his ideas and inspiration. Two years later, he bought the trailer his tiny house sits on for $2,800 and started building.
Mitchell had no design or construction experience to speak of when he kicked off the project. He relied solely on books and online resources, plus design plans someone else had passed on to him. He built on the weekends while balancing a full-time job and continuing to live in his SouthPark apartment. He completed the build in a year and a half, with only a few minor hiccups and a two-month break due to staggering summer temperatures and a bout of frustration.
Though tiny house culture is certainly more prevalent today, it still makes Mitchell stand out in some social circles.
He says when new people find out about how he lives, a flood of questions begins. “It’s usually like ‘do you have a bathroom? Do you have internet? A TV? Air conditioning?’ That kind of thing.”
The answer is yes to all of the above.
The only elements of a regular-sized home that Mitchell’s house lacks are a dishwasher, microwave and freezer, all of which he purposely declined to have installed to discourage reliance on unhealthy foods. He doesn’t have a washing machine either, because he hates doing laundry and would rather pay someone else to do it.
Though his tiny house has drastically changed Mitchell’s financial life, this isn’t his permanent home. He anticipates being able to retire at 40 (though he’ll still take on special projects and work on his website) and he’s purchased land near Asheville for that next phase of his life.
For those who are contemplating joining the ranks of the tiny, Mitchell has some advice.
(1) Get clear on your goals. Think about what role a tiny house might play in your future plans. It’s easy to assume that tiny house living instantly provides a debt-free, stress-free life, but this isn’t necessarily the case he says.
(2) Put Post-It notes on the door of every room of your house for a few weeks. As you enter or exit the room, write down what you actually do when you’re inside the space. Are you really scrapbooking in your designated crafting room or is it just collecting junk?
Even if you’re not looking to move into a tiny house soon, if you feel like you’re drowning in stuff sometimes (hi, me) these strategies for moving toward minimalism feel useful.