Many people are skeptical that tiny homes can work for romantic couples, let alone families, which are still rare in tiny house demographics. While we know intellectually that it’s common for families in other parts of the world to house multiple generations in close quarters, most Americans seem to think it’s pretty out there for a family to live in a tiny house.
That’s part of why I wanted to talk to Candice, who immigrated to the United States from China 14 years ago, and now lives in a tiny home she built herself. Her mother, Baoying, lives with her as well, and was instrumental in helping her build. An adult mother and daughter sharing a tiny home was pretty rare as far as I’d heard, but I assumed their cultural expectations about personal space might be different than what I grew up with in America. And they were different – just not how I expected.
Necessity: The Mother of Invention
Candice and Baoying had plenty of space in China – this is the smallest place either have lived. But after years of renting rooms in other people’s houses, it’s also the most space Candice has had in the U.S. that truly feels like her own. That was the other reason I wanted to visit Candice when Dee Williams told me about her: her house sounded extremely creative, and she very literally has made it her own.
She has a digital projector and pull-down projection screen that’s larger than the televisions in most “big” homes. She enclosed part of her roof in netting, made it accessible by a cat door near the ceiling, and installed high shelves nearby, so her cat can get outside independently when she’s asleep or away. And she has an incredible, openable skylight in the sleeping loft that you can stick your whole upper body through to watch the moonlight shine or the rain fall.
Candice’s mother sleeps in the loft, and Candice has a truly tiny bedroom on the ground floor. The house was part of Candice’s plan to house both of them affordably in a rural area outside of Seattle, Washington, since the senior apartment they applied for hadn’t come through. On paper this could sound like a grimly practical situation, but meeting Candice and Baoying, it was anything but. It’s not their ideal housing arrangement – Candice mentioned she’d prefer to build her mother a separate tiny house, so they could live side-by-side. But they were both warm, funny, generous, and extremely thoughtful about everything the house has made possible for them, and in which ways it has improved their lives and perspectives.
When I visited, Baoying had just returned to America and the tiny house from a long trip back to China, and shared her fresh reflections about how living in the tiny house was different from her life in a 1,200 square foot condominium in China. Baoying speaks limited English, so Candice translated her thoughts for me, except the English line attributed to her below, which was her own. This abridged and edited highlight of my visit to Candice’s house shares some of her amazing story, but there’s much more in my ebook, Life in a Tiny House.
On attending a tiny house workshop that encouraged her to base her design on what she loves:
Candice: I’m thinking, “Oh, I like to knit. Oh, I like my cat. So I need to find a place I can knit, and also my cat can be with me… I’m just trying to collect everything that makes me happy. Everything! Like the pushable skylight. That’s how I started in my construction… I need to have a stove. I need to have a skylight. I want to have a movie screen. I want to have this, I want to have that.
When people talk about tiny houses, it’s about downsizing, it’s about getting rid of stuff. But me, it was about adding stuff, just collecting everything I like and cramming it into the house. Couple things I couldn’t cram in, I had to let it go. And the rest is what you see. So that’s how I designed this. I just made a list of everything that makes me happy, and then tried to find room for it.
On living with her mother:
Candice: You have to get along very well. We have no other place to go. We applied to senior apartment, [so] my mom could have her own space. That’d be much more pleasant for her. She’s not as hot as me about this tiny house… But with the time going by, she feels she likes the tiny house.
Especially when she visited China. She had a three bedroom condo in China. [Candice laughs] This is true: before she leave here, she was very happy. [Impersonating her mother] “I’m going to China! I don’t have to be so cramped in this space.” She was happy: “Ha! I can go home, turn around, and not worry about hitting things!”
But how she feels was different than how she imagined when she went back to China. When she went back to China, she looked back at tiny house pictures and kind of missed it. I was worried about my mom coming back, but she actually feels good. She said even though the space is small, it’s alright. She showed a picture to friends of my tiny house.
Baoying: Chinese friend say, “Beautiful, beautiful. Very good.”
Candice: Momma say, in China, we think, “This is normal, this is way life should be.” Now my mom come back and she compared [the tiny house with the concrete housing typical in her area in China]. She said putting people in these concrete blocks is not a good life.
Now she thinks the advantage a tiny house has that a big house doesn’t have is, number one, you can move your tiny house. Second, we should take less from the earth. Instead of building bigger and more and bigger and more, we should appreciate nature, and try to take less. She thinks a tiny house can contribute in that kind of way.
The number three benefit is the economy. Because it’s a huge pressure in an economy, and living in a tiny house, you can feel less pressure on your shoulder. It doesn’t cost that much. That’s great.
See more photos of Candice’s inventive home at her site, Little Tiny House.