Kim Kasl is raising two young children without benefit of washer, dryer or TV.
But she doesn’t feel deprived. “This is a choice,” she said of her family’s decision to live a minimalist life in a portable one-room cottage perched next to a sparkling lake in south central Minnesota.
The choice has allowed them to get by on one income, to home-school their kids and “instill amazing values — valuing experiences and time together over stuff we store in our house,” she said.
It’s been almost two years since the Kasls — Kim, husband Ryan, Sully, 7, Story 6, and Brinkley their shih tzu — downsized from a 2,000-square-foot suburban rambler to a 267-square-foot house. They had to shed most of their furniture, shoes and clothes, toys and their 55-inch TV.
Their dishes now fit in one drawer. “Everybody’s got a plate. If one breaks, we go to Goodwill and get another,” Kim said.
She purged impractical, special-occasion apparel, like high heels. “I have one pair of jeans,” she said.
But Kim and Ryan accepted the spartan realities of tiny-house living because they were eager to embrace a life unencumbered by debt, burdensome belongings and endless household chores.
“It feels like freedom,” Kim said a few weeks after their move.
So what does it feel like now — after weathering two winters in such close quarters?
“We love it!” said Kim, a former wedding photographer who does the home-schooling. She remains an upbeat cheerleader for tiny-house living, speaking at events and blogging at blessthistinyhouse.com. “When you eliminate excess and unnecessary things that cause you stress, what’s left is everything good.”
Not that there haven’t been challenges, she admits, starting with finding the right place to put their tiny house. Zoning and building codes have not caught up with the tiny-house movement. “We were roadblocked, roadblocked, roadblocked,” Kim said. Finally they found a lakeside lot, which formerly held two RVs. It wasn’t suitable for building a normal-sized new house.
“But there’s room for a tiny house,” said Ryan.
Kim can’t think of a thing she doesn’t like about life in their microhouse, although she would like an in-home alternative to the laundromat.
Ryan, who works as a special education administrator, appreciates the financial benefits of simpler living. The Kasls were able to build their tiny house for about $30,000, thanks to hands-on help from family members and discounts and connections they were able to access as part of appearing on TV’s “Tiny House Nation.”
“We’ve saved a lot of money,” he said. “It put us in a really good position,” freeing up funds for travel, including a trip to the Tiny House Jamboree next month, where Kim will be a featured speaker.
“We’ve had a lot of adventures and new experiences,” Kim said. “We don’t feel our life is tiny.”
Tiny houses, it seems, are everywhere. There are countless books and TV shows about how to find, build and live in them, and you can’t log on to your laptop without seeing a tiny-house Facebook link or YouTube video. But while many people are curious about drastic downsizing, very few are actually taking the plunge.
Tiny homes — under 500 square feet — represent a growing but still very tiny slice of the housing market, less than half of 1 percent of all homes for sale this year, according to Trulia, a residential real estate website.
“The trend isn’t as pervasive as it appears to be,” said Cecilia Xia, PR specialist. “Based on Trulia’s research, we see the tiny home movement as a niche fad.”
One recent survey found that most Americans aren’t fans of big McMansions or tiny houses; 44 percent say they want a home between 1,401 and 2,600 square feet.
But while few people go truly tiny, the fascination taps into a more widespread desire for simpler, smaller living. The Kasls recently hosted several curious visitors who made a road trip to their house as part of a tiny-house workshop.
“This is beautiful, but so small,” said John Lindner of St. Paul after touring the Kasls’ petite dwelling with its Craftsman-style stained-glass light fixtures and rustic siding made of reclaimed telephone poles. Lindner wasn’t sure he was ready for the “culture shock” of having no personal space. “Maybe 1,000 square or a condo,” he said.
Dani and Ken Ewing came all the way from Spokane, Wash., to attend the workshop. “I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about [tiny houses] but I’ve never actually been inside one,” Dani said.
Visitors climbed the stairs one by one to peek at the Kasls’ sleeping loft — a raised platform at each end of the single room, connected by a narrow catwalk. They checked out the composting toilet, small wood-burning stove and clever but minimal storage space.
Ryan gets most of their hanging space, Kim explained. “He needs work clothes.” Each child has three small plastic bins for storing their entire wardrobe. They do have a good-sized storage shed next door where they stash toilet paper, paper towels and off-season clothing.
During the summer months, their lake setting is idyllic. The kids play outside, the family eats meals at their picnic table and they have a campfire just about every night.
“In the winter, we go to the ‘Y,’ the library, visit family and friends,” said Kim. When they want to gather a large group, they meet at a restaurant — or use Airbnb to rent “someone else’s big house.”
The Kasls think they may outgrow their tiny house when their children are older, but for now, it works. “It’s normal,” Kim said. “It should be an acceptable way to live.”