I first saw Chris and Malissa Tack at a PAD Tiny House Basics Workshop, where a rotating slideshow displayed beautiful photos of the tiny home on wheels they designed and built themselves. I remember Malissa calmly chiming in on highly technical building issues, despite describing her pre-tiny house construction experience as having once built a napkin holder in high school that “turned out horribly”. She and Chris looked like my peers, but they’d taken on an emotional and technical challenge that baffled me.
That workshop was the first tiny house event I attended, and I looked at everyone there curiously: college students, parents, retirees and others had all gathered to spend their weekend learning how to build their own tiny houses on wheels. What motivated these people so strongly, I wondered, to not only to move their life into a house that might be 100 or so square feet, but to also build it themselves? Like Malissa, many of them had little experience with construction. How could this ever work?
Rent, Buy…or Build?
But it worked pretty darn well for Chris and Malissa Tack. They began their tiny house in early 2012, carefully photo- and video-documenting their build process to contribute to what was (at the time) a small group of blogs and websites on the subject. And almost all of those were by single people, not couples. They continue to blog about their life in the house after a few years of living there, and now offer house plans and layout concepts they’ve worked out along the way.
I visited Chris and Malissa to learn more about the story behind all their photos. Why did a tiny house seem so right for them that they learned about design and construction from scratch, just to build one themselves? Where did they gain their confidence and inspiration? And how does a married couple, who both sometimes work from home, keep from killing each other in 140 square feet? This abridged and edited highlight of my visit with them skims the surface, but you can learn more about their story in my Life in a Tiny House ebook.
Chris: We both grew up in Michigan, spent most of our lives there and then moved to New York City, where rent is high, everything’s crowded, and you have small spaces to live in for a lot of money. So [living in a tiny house] didn’t seem so far out there, especially after seeing some of my friends’ apartments and studio apartments, and how tiny they were. Millions of people live in New York City, and in other big cities around the country, so it’s not that crazy.
Malissa: In other countries, in our space, they sleep 20 people. It’s “out there” for the people who aren’t exposed to it. It’s not the norm. It’s not what you grew up with. That’s kind of where the shock factor comes in. But knowing that other people are able to live in spaces much smaller than this, it’s not shocking for us.
Chris: It challenges the social norm, without a doubt. So many people are just so shocked –
Malissa: But then they go through it also. We have a friend who recently moved to San Francisco. His apartment was a closet space – his bed fit, and that’s it. So he learned to adjust to that. Different things start to become more natural.
Billy: When you first got interested in tiny houses, was there anything else you were thinking about doing instead to solve your housing issues?
Chris: We didn’t really have any other options that we’d thought about, other than knowing that we didn’t want to do a 30 year mortgage. We had suggestions from various people – “Why don’t you just buy an RV and live in that?” Which was not an option for us, because they’re not built with materials that are meant to be used on a daily basis.
Malissa: We wanted a home feel, also, not just a recreational vehicle feel. We’re not going camping, we’re living in our space. Before this we were kind of moving… We were in college for four years, then we moved to New York City for two years, then we decided, maybe every two years we’ll move around a little bit. But when we landed out in Washington we were like “Okay, this place is amazing, so we’re gonna stick around a little bit longer.” But where we were located, apartment-wise… We were paying at the top end for a bottom location kind of apartment. We were feeling almost a little insecure about where we were located.
Chris: We didn’t feel extremely safe. One of the things that really hit home to me was finding out that one of my friends was paying less for his monthly mortgage payment than we were paying in rent. That was really an eye opener, when we realized that. But again, we didn’t know if we were settled here.
Malissa: That’s why an apartment worked for us…but it wasn’t working for us. So the tiny house combined all the options into one, that worked perfect. We can put our house on a trailer and take it where ever we want to go.
Billy: What has living here allowed you to do that you couldn’t have done otherwise?
Chris: It’s allowed us to travel more, to pay off student loans more quickly. We have more income, because we’ve cut our expenses so much.
Malissa: It’s allowed us more free time, because our expenses are so low. It gives us the option of working full time or freelance. It’s a huge money saver for us. That was one of the biggest things that was like, “Go! Yes!” And then resource-wise, also, being able to shrink our footprint and only use what we need, and become a little more conscious of that.
Chris: We’ve been able to meet tons of amazing new people that we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Malissa: And we can say we built a tiny house! [Laughs]
Learn more about the Tacks at The Tack Tiny House Blog.