This post is by Billy Ulmer, author of the Life in a Tiny House ebook.
One of the biggest barriers to living in a tiny house is that it can be challenging to find a stable place to put it. Many tiny homes, especially those on wheels, operate in a legal gray area because the movement is so new that building and zoning codes haven’t addressed them yet. Every situation is different, but an unhappy neighbor or a curious inspector can often force a tiny house to move along and find a new place to park. The basic advice for tiny homes on wheels is to stay out of sight, be a good neighbor, and cross your fingers.
Everyone I interviewed who lives in a tiny house that could be asked to move had a different rationale for why they were comfortable with that, but I found Erin’s especially moving. When I first met her at a Tiny House Mixer, she explained that she wasn’t deterred because on a fundamental level, change is constant and nothing is forever. She loves her location, and if she has to move, she’ll just find another place to love. Her earnest advice to other tiny house enthusiasts was, “Be fearless.” My gut felt like it would be scary to choose a living situation that others could ask you to vacate, but as I spoke with Erin, I learned that it doesn’t feel risky when you believe the best about people.
“Be Grateful That Life Throws You Opportunities To Challenge Yourself”
She described how unhelpful the “us versus them” mentality was in all of life, and in this case especially. Erin’s many attempts to legitimize her little house with the city didn’t result in a stamp of approval, but it did strengthen her belief that “the city” isn’t something to fear. It’s just a group of people who are doing their jobs, and are being asked a question they haven’t answered yet.
Her perspective was so healthy that I had to hear more, but unlike most of the people I interviewed, Erin maintains no online presence for herself or her house. Partly because it’s more visible than many – just around the corner from a busy, mixed-use corridor in Portland, Oregon, not tucked away in a rural area or residential neighborhood. And partly because she’s a genuinely private person, which just made me want to talk with her more. I’m grateful to all my tiny house interviewees who maintain blogs and help grow the movement, but I wanted to hear from people who aren’t as comfortable in the spotlight, too.
I’m obscuring some of Erin’s details out of respect for her privacy, but if you’re a fan of her house, she enthusiastically recommends her builder, Abel Zimmerman of Zyl Vardos. This is an abridged and edited highlight of my conversation with Erin, but there’s much more in my ebook, Life in a Tiny House
Erin: Anyone who’s interested in living in a tiny house, who’s explored it even a little bit, knows that there are these challenges regarding the siting: Where they are, are they legal, are they not? Right now, we aren’t on solid ground in terms of legal ins and outs. So I had to just let that go, the idea of permanence.
Billy: Was there a phase where you thought, “I’m not going to do this unless I have a certain amount of control, or reassurance”?
Erin: I tend to be a little bit more cavalier about things like that. But my landlord, who was going to rent me the space, wanted everything to be buttoned up with regard to the city and legality, T’s crossed and I’s dotted. I attempted that – not for me, but for him.
And after many months of a lot of leg work, going back and forth to the city, I got more comfortable with the sense from the city that there’s nobody sitting in their office thinking, “I really hope that this girl doesn’t build a tiny house and live in it.” There’s nobody that’s against me. I knew that the spirit that was going into what I wanted to do was very much in line with the spirit of our community, and with our leaders in the city. I didn’t feel like I was violating any of that spirit. I mean really, in my heart of hearts.
Ultimately, I was able to bring all this information to my landlord and then I told him, “If I have to leave, I have to leave, but I’m willing to take the risk.” He said, “Okay, as long as you know and you’re comfortable with it.” He was looking out for me. He didn’t want me to go to all this trouble and have my heart broken. But moving a house is not heartbreaking. I’ve been through some heartbreak, everybody has, and it’s never something so silly as moving.
Billy: Did you feel like you had a comfort level with risk before this, or did it develop along the way?
Erin: I probably had it already, as a small business owner. [Laughs.] I’m philosophically-oriented. At the end of the day, we play these games and we explore different paths, like I play the Game of Life with my niece. I approach things like a challenge, or an assignment: for fun. Nothing can be forever. Yes, I’m sitting here loving my house. But I do not pretend I’m in some sort of bubble.
It’s fun to take risks. I mean, I’m not jumping out of planes. People do that. I’m not that risk oriented. But I can think back to times in my life when somebody suggested that I couldn’t do something, and it really gets me going. [Laughs] I think we all have that little bit of imp in us, that says, “Really? You’re going to tell me I can’t do that? You watch.”
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