Downsizing from a three-story 1,700 sq ft townhouse to a 324 sq ft  Tiny House

“Downsizing and realizing how much STUFF we had before which we didn’t need, was eye-opening. I love thrifting and shopping in general, and living in a tiny house has kept me from buying useless things. It made me more mindful of what we need and what waste we create.”

My name is Katherine and I’m 28 years old. My husband Shelby and I live in our tiny house with our two dogs in Oregon. Right now, I’m in school for interior design, and I’ll be finishing up the program this June. Then hopefully making a career in the interior design field. Before studying interior design, I went to school for automotive collision repair…yes, like literally fixing and painting cars. It’s a completely different field in SO many ways than the one I’m in now, but I love old cars and during the recession that seemed like the right thing to do. I found out that doing collision repair as a career wasn’t for me, but it taught me a lot of technical skills that ended up helping a lot in the build of our house.

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My husband, Shelby, and I were driving and talking about how difficult it was living in our townhouse and paying the astronomical amount for rent while I was a full-time student. We had recently had a pretty awful experience trying to buy a house the year before, and we just couldn’t figure out what to do next. I made a joke about how we could afford a tiny house, and we both kind of looked at each other like, “huh, that could actually work.” Shelby’s parents (my in-laws) have half an acre, so we knew we would probably have an affordable place to put the house. So we looked into it, and the rest is history.
For Shelby and I, living in a tiny house isn’t a permanent situation. It’s a great way to live affordably while I’m in school and until we decide what is the next chapter. It works great for us right now and is something that will probably always be a part of our life in some way.

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After we knew that we were going to build a tiny house, we started watching basically any tv show or youtube video we could find about tiny homes. We quickly figured out what we liked and what we needed to make living in a tiny house work for us.
We found an affordable builder in Salem OR that specialized in building tiny homes. What made them affordable was that they really only made the shell of the homes. They would build the house and finish the exterior and finish the four interior walls – but there were no fixtures, plumbing, flooring, or dividing walls. It was empty except for the tongue and groove that they installed on the interior walls and the bare wires that were hanging out of junction boxes for fixtures. Once we got the “shell” back from the builder, we did everything else. It was great because it kept the cost down and we got to choose exactly what we wanted. We also love doing anything DIY, so it was an exciting project for us. We put up a wall for the bathroom, installed all the plumbing (toilet, sinks) and flooring. We also did all of the cabinetry and built the stairs.

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It took the builders about two months to build the “shell.” Once we got it, it took us about four months to finish it. We both really only had the weekends to work on it as I’m a student, and both of us work. About two months into the build, Shelby was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. If you’re not familiar with MS, it affects your nervous system, and for Shelby, it affected his vision and use of his legs. It was a really scary time for us, and we weren’t sure how we were going to finish it by the end of that Summer, but we managed to get it done. Shelby managed to get it done – the amount of work he put into this house is incredible. The fact that he was able to do it under the circumstances he had, made it even much more special. He was learning on the go, and he did such an incredible job. He is such a trooper (and doing much better now). It was a really valuable experience and made building this space even more important to us.

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All of our kitchen cabinets came out of a family member’s house because they were renovating their kitchen. We were able to repaint them and modify them to work in our space. The bathroom cabinet is from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. Our shelving in the kitchen is from Salvage Works in Portland and is reclaimed live edge wood. Our deck is an old landing that was inside of my Father’s in-law’s woodshop, so we cut it down to fit our house, and it works perfectly. We made our own medicine cabinet, the space heater is repurposed, and probably 80% of the decor is from thrift stores or Facebook Marketplace. Our light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and flooring are all new.
Being an interior design student and having a husband that is extremely creative and talented at pretty much anything he puts his mind to, was the perfect combination to take the chance and try to do things that we haven’t been able to do in the past and build something exactly as we want it. We’ve always lived in rental properties, so we were limited on what we could really do as far as designing our living space, so we wanted to be creative and mindful about how we made our home feel and look.

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I wanted a space that felt bright and airy but also cozy. We did all the walls in white to open the space up and installed an 8’ window in the front of the house so we could get lots of natural light. I have over 40 plants in our house, so I wanted that natural light!
My style is a mix of mid-century modern meets cozy cabin meets a little bit of boho. Interior design is important to me, so I wanted the house to feel livable but cohesive and stylish.
I think the fact that we have a full living area and a full-sized kitchen makes the house feel more realistic to live in the long term. It was important that this house felt like a house and not a trailer or a dormitory. Being able to veg out on the couch with our dogs and watch TV, or even cook a Thanksgiving meal in our kitchen was important for us. Those aspects make our tiny home feel more like a “normal” sized house while still getting all the benefits of living small.

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We used the smaller loft (we sleep in the big one) as a closet to store our clothes, and we utilized the staircase and put storage underneath it with custom cabinetry that my husband built, as well as storage inside of the actual two bottom stairs. We also have a lot of cabinetry in the kitchen area we can use for storage.

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I love our kitchen. It’s pretty much my dream kitchen in a smaller form. I love cooking and baking in it and just spending time in it. I have tons of plants in the giant 8’ window that the sink is in front of and the leather pulls that I made for the cabinetry make me happy. It’s just a very bright and happy space.

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The bathroom is pretty closed off, and our loft where we sleep is pretty closed off from downstairs. That being said – it’s not as private as a “normal” house, but it works for us. Luckily we like each other, so it hasn’t been an issue. 🙂

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Accommodating guests is much easier in the warmer months when we can use our outdoor space. We have a 128 square foot deck that is really helpful. Without having the use of the deck and only having guests inside the house, we’ve hosted a total of 8 people inside of our house at one time, and that was probably the max.
We do have a little teardrop trailer that we travel in, and we keep that parked outside of our tiny house, calling it our “guest room,” and we’ve had friends sleep over that way.

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Our house is on Shelby’s parent’s property in Beaverton, OR – a suburb of Portland. They own half an acre, and we live near the very back of the property. We are right in front of his dad’s woodshop, and it was (and still is) really convenient when we were building and for any DIY projects we have.

We have enough space for a raised garden bed that’s next to our deck. It’s not a very large property, but it works really well for us right now and is private enough that we feel like we have our own space. A couple of large willow trees are surrounding us that make it feel cozy and private.

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The downsizing process was very challenging. We lived in a three-story, 1,700 square foot townhouse before we moved into the tiny house. I collected a lot of vintage furniture, and having to get rid of so many things that I’ve collected over the years was probably the hardest part. It took us a couple of months to finish downsizing, and even after we moved into the tiny house, we had a storage unit for about six months. Now we only have a small shed that we keep larger things in like patio furniture or Christmas decorations. It took time to downsize, but it was so worth it – it was freeing!

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The best thing about living in a tiny house is to able to customize or change the space easily. I love interior design, so I’m constantly changing things around, which is easy and reasonably inexpensive to do in such a small space. It’s also great to live in a house that is customized to what we like and how we want to live.
The worst thing about it is honestly, the clothing storage. Although we have a loft dedicated to clothing and a dresser downstairs, I have a hard time keeping my clothing organized. It can also feel claustrophobic if the house gets messy. If I’m working a lot and have a lot of school work, and Shelby is working long hours – sometimes dishes don’t get done, or things don’t get put away, and it can quickly start to feel very crowded. Luckily it doesn’t take very much time to clean and tidy up in a tiny house, but it does feel a little crowded at times.

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If I could, I would make our stairs wider, which would allow more storage and make them a little easier to use. I’d also incorporate more hidden storage spaces.

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As I mentioned before, interior design is what I’m currently going to school for, and it’s something I’ve always had a passion for, so to be able to put that to use in designing our house has been an awesome experience and extremely valuable to me.
I also think downsizing and realizing how much STUFF we had before which we didn’t need, was eye-opening. I love thrifting and shopping in general, and living in a tiny house has kept me from buying useless things. It made me more mindful of what we need and what waste we create.

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If you are interested in going tiny:
1. Be realistic. Don’t try to live in a space that you know you won’t do well in. For us, we needed a tiny house that could still feel like a regular house. That meant putting in full-size appliances in the kitchen, having a normal-sized television and a couch to lounge on, and even a regular flushing toilet. That’s not what everyone needs or wants, just be true to what you need and work with that. Do the research and maybe even stay the night in a tiny house so you can figure out what you want and don’t want.
2. Try DIY. Use resources like YouTube or how-to books, even Instagram, and try to create what you can yourself. It will save you money and it’s also extremely satisfying to be able to say you made something yourself. It’s also great to upcycle materials when you’re doing DIY projects, a lot of times, it can even save you time, and it’ll certainly save you money. The total cost of our house was $35,000.

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The total house and trailer outside measuring is ​24’ long x 9’ wide total 324 sq ft.

You can find us on Instagram @KatherineShafferDesigns
I want to start a blog this year, any info on that will be shared on my Instagram page.

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