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Going Tiny to Go Big (in Your Life and Career)

As a career coach, I often work with clients who are interested in finding employment that sustains their life. That objective is often a tough one. In our modern day world, we often spend 10 – 12 hours each day working. That does not even include commute times and off-hours spent “just checking email” or just checking in”. And, it certainly doesn’t mean we work 40 hours in a 5-day period. In fact, in an August 2014 survey, the Gallup organization found that the average American workweek was actually 47 hours long, with nearly 40% of respondents indicating that they work more than 50 hours in a week.

In other words, work is hard work. Spending this amount of time and energy requires commitment, sacrifice, and a passion for the work itself. So what happens when the passion fades? Or when the amount of time invested in the job no longer sustains you?

One option is to quit your current job and find another one. You could, perhaps, move to part time work either with your current employer or another employer. Yet another option would be to stay and plug along in your current job doing the same work, hoping things will get better. (As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.)

To help my clients consider their “best [career] case scenario”, I will often ask them this question: “If money was no object, what would you do?” Of course this question can lead them in many directions, not just in a career direction, but it generally gets folks thinking in terms of careers and finances. A person’s financial situation tends to be a limiting factor for many as they consider career or lifestyle changes.

Enter the Tiny House Discussion

I have a fascination with tiny houses. I admit it. It has become an obsession of sorts with me. So, as I work with my coaching clients and the discussion leads to financial freedom, I can barely contain my enthusiasm for sharing my thoughts on tiny houses as an option.

When we consider our living expenses, housing is typically our highest expense. According to US Census data, the average American home price in 2010 was $272,900, compared with $207,000 just one decade earlier in 2000. With all of that cost translating into a growing monthly mortgage payment, along with higher utility costs, higher property taxes, and huge increases in insurance costs, the American Dream of home ownership has gotten really expensive.

Tiny houses—by Wikipedia definition—are 500 square feet or smaller and have been around since humans started constructing shelters. It is only in our modern era that houses this size have been called “tiny”. The average American house built in 2013 was 2,598 square feet (that’s more than FIVE tiny houses!). As our McMansions grew, so did the amount of furnishings and other stuff we’ve bought to fill those houses. The more stuff we accumulate, the bigger the house we need. The bigger the house we buy, the bigger the paycheck required to pay for and maintain the house. And, so begins the cycle.

So, how do we know if going tiny in terms of housing is a right fit for you or not? And, what does tiny even mean ... to you?

For someone living in a 5000 square foot house, moving to a 2000 square foot house may mean “going tiny”. And for someone already living in a 2000 square foot house, moving to 200 square feet may mean "going tiny". What is most important is that you first determine IF change is needed and then WHAT that change should be.

Downsizing in home size is not just an exercise in cost of living reduction. It is an implementation of both physical and emotional shifts, and should not be entered into without thoughtful planning.

To aid in the discovery process when working with my coaching clients, I offer the following questions:

1. What is the desired outcome you seek with this downsizing exercise? Examples: Reduced cost of living, reduced amount of stuff, a smaller carbon footprint, a home on wheels that moves when you need to or want to be somewhere else, etc.

2. What must you include in your tiny house? Examples: The house must have full-sized kitchen appliances, it must have 2-3 sleeping spaces, it must have running water and indoor plumbing, etc.

3. What are your family considerations? Will there be one person in your tiny house or five? Do you have fur babies that need special accommodations? Do you or anyone in the household have physical limitations? Does your family spend more time inside or outside of the home?

4. Do you want the house to be mobile or fixed? Tiny houses can be built on trailer beds to increase mobility. If you want to be able to move your house (think RV) from one place to another to see the country, move for a job and take your house with you, or be able to travel and see the grandkids in different parts of the country, a tiny house on a trailer may be a good option.

5. What is the best size of home for you? Is there a minimum amount of space you can live with? You should keep building codes and zoning requirements in mind if you are thinking of building. Many municipalities have minimum residential building size requirements in addition to utility connection requirements. Additionally, some community zoning requirements mandate that residential dwellings be permanently attached to land (i.e., not on a trailer or skids).

6. Do you want to build or buy a home? If you want to build, do you want to build it yourself or have it built by a professional? Do you have the time to build? Do you have the skills? Do you have to tools? What is your budget? Can you qualify for a mortgage if you want to buy?

These are just a few of the considerations to keep in mind during the discovery and decision-making process.

For people considering a tiny house move, there are a number of resources. Tiny home builders are a great resource if you are considering a build. The pioneers in the industry offer consulting as part of the build process. During this time, they work with clients to determine their custom tiny house needs and to ensure the “fit” is just right. Additionally, there are a number of tiny house dwellers that share their experiences through blogs or articles. Some of those resources follow:

Tiny Home Builders

Tiny House Resources

Tiny House Gathering

The “tiny house movement” may be an interesting idea to some, a fad to others, and a tremendous option for a few. What does it hold for you? Career liberation, perhaps?

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