“We ended up building a house,” said Ashleigh, a Montessori teacher in La Crescent, Minn.
This year, the couple will be back, as hired guests of their builder, Glenmark Construction, to chat with showgoers and answer questions about tiny-house living.
A lot has happened since the Bartzes were in the Twin Cities a year ago. They designed and built their tiny house — and did a drastic downsizing of their belongings to fit into it. They moved it to Hokah, Minn., and also appeared on a TV show, FYI Network’s “Tiny House Nation.”
“Winter was definitely hard,” said Ashleigh, of hauling water to their 330-square-foot house, which includes the sleeping loft and a micro nursery for the baby they hope to have.
But on the whole, “I’m so much happier in a tiny house,” she said. “Life’s pretty stress-free.”
Ashleigh’s conversion to the tiny-house lifestyle was a long time coming. Ten years ago, when she was just 25, she bought an average-sized house on 3 acres near Breezy Point, Minn.
“That’s what everyone was doing. I thought I should, too. I thought that was what I wanted, but I felt stuck,” she said. “There was so much upkeep. I felt like I couldn’t travel.”
She gave up the house, figuring she’d rent for the rest of her life. Then she met Cody, a graphic designer and “a born minimalist.” He was attracted to the idea of building small, but she took some persuading.
“It wasn’t until I watched the show [“Tiny House Nation”] and could see that they’re still homes — just little,” she said. “Ours is very nice.”
Cody had been downsizing his possessions gradually, in preparation for living in a small footprint, she said. For her, “it was much more like ripping off a Band-Aid.”
She read books about decluttering, including “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the bestseller by Marie Kondo that advises purging everything that doesn’t “spark joy.”
“I read it, and was like, ‘Yes!’ Cody likes everything simple and clean. I knew what that feeling was, to have nothing on the counter or on the table. It feels really good, like being at ease. When I read the book, it put into words that feeling I knew. I couldn’t wait to get started.”
The book invites readers to focus on their motivation for paring down possessions. “Mine was simple,” said Ashleigh. “I was going to move into a [tiny] house. I had to do this.”
She filled five laundry baskets with clothes, rotating it among friends and letting them take what they wanted. Then she had a yard sale, and donated the rest. “I don’t miss anything,” she said.
She has five pairs of pants and five pairs of shoes. “I used to have 10 winter jackets — in Minnesota, why not?” Now she has one. “I still go shopping, but it allows me to buy higher-quality stuff,” she said.
She hears others stress out about having to go home and clean after work, or about being late because they couldn’t find their keys. “My life is so simple and easy,” she said. “I come home, hang up my one jacket, and put my keys on a hook. I have a place for everything.”
Living simply frees up time for other things, she said, such as working on a master’s degree. She might have still pursued it, but “I would have been more stressed, less organized. Honestly, for me, it was life-changing. It helps me organize my notes, and gives me time to write meaningful papers.”
There’s also time left over to exercise — and relax with a glass of wine.
Her students, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, are curious about her tiny lifestyle.
“My students all want to see my house,” she said, and many tell her they want to live in a tiny house themselves. “You’d think kids would want to live in mansions. It’s cool they see other options. ... People buy stuff to make themselves happy, and they’re not really happy.”
She and Cody may not live this way for the rest of their lives. “We hope to have a couple of kids,” she said. If they decide they need a bigger house, they may park their tiny home someplace warm or Up North and use it as a getaway home.
People ask the Bartzes if they really like living in such a small house, and if they get sick of each other.
The answers are yes, and no.
“I love our house so much!” she said. “We both work full time, so we don’t get home until 5 or 6, then we eat a nice meal. In summer, we’re outside as much as possible.”
Tiny living “opens up possibilities,” she said. “It’s such a good feeling.” She spent time living and teaching in Korea, she added. “That’s how they live. It’s not that crazy.”