Alexis & Christian spent nine months building their tiny house, and now they're in a middle of a two-year project capturing the stories of the tiny house community across the nation. There's a power in storytelling, and their goal is to contribute to a ripple effect of positive change through tiny housing advocacy.
Through their videos and blog, they tackle topics such as tiny house communities, legalities, building costs and parking. These are issues that we might not think about when we consider the option of living small, but these are the issues this community faces daily.
Square Feet: 130
Make, Model, Year: 2015 Self-Built Tiny House
Our DIY tiny house on wheels is 11 months old and took nine months to build. The general footprint and size is based off of Tumbleweed plans (Elm model), but after framing, we went in a completely custom direction.
Months Living Mobile: 11
Christian, my filmmaking partner and boyfriend, and I been living in and traveling with our tiny house on wheels full time for almost a year. We are full-time tiny housers, and my little boy stays with us part time.
Currently: On the Road
We are currently traveling across the US with our tiny house on wheels (THOW) in tow for our documentary and community outreach project, Tiny House Expedition.
What were you doing before you went mobile?
Before going mobile, I was working as an account executive at a marketing agency in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was itching to get back to my filmmaker roots. Christian was already fairly mobile, working as a freelance photographer and videographer. He traveled between North Carolina, New York and sometimes around the world. Christian has always been happiest traveling with a camera and a backpack.
Why did you make the change?
Post-divorce, I was in a transitional period of my life and looking for opportunities to simplify and embrace everyday adventure. The tiny house movement deeply resonated with me. It was a way of life that ditched the traditional script of our largely dissatisfied consumerist society for a life in a simple small space. It meant fewer things, more experiences and a better quality of life.
Through my extensive research of the movement, I was amazed by the many developing alternative communities and grassroots housing projects that were popping up all over the country. These vibrant projects creatively addressed modern housing issues, the need for sustainable living and the yearning for more meaningful lifestyles through tiny or micro housing. I had a major light-bulb moment.
The underlying purpose of our project is to spark community conversation, share resources and inspire positive community building to create more tiny housing projects, providing a sustainable housing solution for all. This is entirely a passion project. We believe there’s a power in storytelling. Our goal is to contribute to a ripple effect of positive change through tiny housing advocacy. More unconventional, quality and legal housing options are needed and desired.
What was the process like to move into your mobile home?
Beginning the downsizing process was a bit overwhelming. Christian, a veteran downsizer was a major source of support and coaching. He encouraged me to focus on one room at a time and start with the easy pickins in each room, the true junk items. Item by item and layer by layer, downsizing started to become exhilarating. The downsizing process enabled me to see and feel each item for what it was—either something that resonated with me and I loved dearly, something that was crucial to my daily living experience or something that was just taking up space.
My sparse belongings were stored here and there.
How did you build your house?
Construction was long and slow, but very rewarding.
One of the biggest challenges in the building process for a DIYer is first finding a place to build. Our good friend Tom, a master carpenter and general contractor, generously let us build on his property and use his tools. He also mentored us and helped us accomplish some of the most difficult aspects of the build, like framing. Later Tom and his wife, Johanna, created their own tiny house on wheels business, Perch & Nest, a tiny home and cottage company.
Christian’s favorite phase of building is the finishing work. He loves the details, and also has a great problem-solving skill set. Christian came up with many killer multifunctional and space-saving storage features and crafted a beautiful interior. Downsizing is a prerequisite of living tiny, but the effective use of space, to house your remaining things while maintaining a sense of openness, is crucial.
Also embracing your personal sense of style and tailoring your home for your needs is fun and exhilarating.
How did you fund your build?
We paid for the build through a variety of avenues, including our savings and by selling our downsized items at a flea market and at yard sales. About one-third of the cost was covered through sponsorships. Our labor and help from friends was pure sweat equity. We saved several thousands of dollars through use of salvaged and repurposed materials. One such item was salvaged tongue and groove paneling. With help of a group of friends, we tore these out of a farmhouse scheduled for demolition. It took eight hours to pull these panels down and remove the nails.
Top Go-To Items
Some of the most useful things we use everyday include our:
fold-down bathroom shelf over the toilet
How do you shower?
We shower in our luxuriously large 34” x 36” shower, lined with recycled, galvanized and powder-coated metal sheets. We have a great propane tankless hot water heater offering instant hot water.
Where do you park?
Wherever we can. Our tiny house on wheels is not fully off-grid capable, so we rely on plugging in and access to water. We can go a few days without water access, thanks to our 20-gallon freshwater tank.
We’ve parked at city and state campgrounds, RV parks, parking lots (at locations where we also held an open house and at Walmart, out of necessity), driveways and in tiny house communities we visit.
City and state campgrounds are often beautiful and less expensive than RV parks. If you have off-grid capability, you can score free scenic free parking on Bureau of Land Management land. Through networking online or with friends and folks we meet at events, we find free parking offers on private property. Many kind and generous folks have invited us to stay, for free, on their land. We met this lovely family while showing our tiny house at a home show in Phoenix, and we ended up staying on their property for a week and became good friends.
How do you afford to travel and live in your tiny space on the road?
Our traveling documentary project and mobile lifestyle is funded through a variety of means including small grants, sponsorships, crowdfunded contributions, donations for tiny house tours, merchandise sales (t-shirts, etc.), photo jobs completed on the road and our savings.
What have you learned so far from the people you have talked to for your documentary?
The greater tiny house community, or tiny house tribe, is a tribe in the purest sense—a collection of individuals sharing a common interest. Tiny housers are an incredibly diverse group including all ages and varied socioeconomic, political and religious backgrounds. Tiny house community means connecting over the common ground of tiny houses, but it's so much more. The house is the launch pad for a more connected, meaningful lifestyle.
We’ve found the community experience is where the magic really happens. This amplifies the benefits of tiny living to provide more sustainable, affordable, quality housing and more connected communities, oftentimes through a lot of good ol’ fashioned sweat equity and collaboration.
What are your hobbies on and off the road?
Exploring the great outdoors on foot or by bike, attending live events and saying "yes" to spontaneous invites from folks we meet on the road, like attending a rural bluegrass festival or an invite-only corporate meeting with Cirque du Soleil entertainment (believe me, it was amazing).
What has been the most rewarding thing about living small?
For me, tiny living is an expression of the essence of who you are; it leaves you with the items you most love and most need.
What is the most challenging?
As much as I love traveling and experiencing new places and people, sometimes our ambitious documentary schedule can be exhausting. It’s important to find time for quiet and stillness.
What is your advice to others who want to live small or hit the road?
Go for it. There is absolutely no time like the present to prioritize your well-being and embrace adventure. If you keep putting it off, it will only get harder to begin.
Start saving and research, research, research. How tiny is right for you? Is building your own house feasible? Access to available land, tools and a support group are crucial to success of DIY builds. There are many great online resources, YouTube videos and workshops. If you don’t know how to do something, ask an expert for advice or guidance. Do you want to travel occasionally or frequently? For frequent travel, we recommend going tinier, 20’ or smaller. The bigger the house, the harder it is to maneuver on the road and in and out of parking spots.
Getting to know yourself and identifying your priorities are essential components of crafting a true independent tiny and/or mobile lifestyle.
Will you go back to your previous lifestyle?
I may go back to a more stationary lifestyle, at least for extended periods of time.
What's next? Any news you want to share?
One of two projects we are working on is a short educational documentary, Living Tiny Legally, featuring case studies of how a handful of cities are making legal tiny housing a reality. This will be an illustrative resource for those seeking to bring tiny houses to their city but don't know where to start. We’ll be sharing the entire video for free on YouTube this summer.
For our larger documentary series, we are visiting 30-plus tiny house community projects of all kinds. This is a more expansive project focused on the big picture of the tiny house movement, including the legal side, but more focused on the community experience and the tiny house enthusiast, developer, leader, activist, etc. Distribution of this is still in the works, but we’re working on Netflix, HBO or perhaps Viceland. Stay tuned and follow us on the socials.
Follow Alexis & Christian of Tiny House Expedition
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