LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION [ON CHOOSING YOUR NEIGHBORS, YOUR SCENERY, AND HOW WHAT DIRECTION YOUR HOUSE FACES MATTERS]
The old real estate joke that location is everything takes a slightly different twist when one owns a Tiny Home. We are living in our third location since moving in about a year and a half ago (an average of six months per location, though that isn’t actually accurate). Each has presented a unique set of advantages and disadvantages, but a glory of the Tiny Home is that one can fairly easily switch up locations if something isn’t working ̶ or if the opportunity and desire manifests. Each time we’ve moved, it has taken my husband a fairly minimal amount of time to prep the new space: ensuring there is water and power nearby, and flat ground. It takes me an hour or two to pack the things that are breakable, and put them in secure locations, and another hour to put them back on the cupboards. Moving is easy.
Our first location was in the generous back yard of the house we were flipping. It was on the corner of a residential street and a busy thoroughfare. The busy thoroughfare was a bit of a deal breaker, to me. I didn’t like the traffic noise (though you can get used to anything), and the lack of safe spaces for going on walks or bike rides made it a less comfortable location for me. I like to be able to take a walk without cars next to me going fifty miles an hour or more. The lot fronted north, and we faced our Tiny Home north as well. We were tucked underneath a huge fruitless mulberry that provided excellent shade, which was a plus since we moved in in July. We live in the Central Valley of California, where 100 degrees and up is normal in the summer. We were very glad our Tiny Home’s large front windows faced north, avoiding the worst of both sunrise and sunset heat. The tree was a serious boon. I think the layers and layers of cool green leaves reduced the heat -loading on our roof by untold amounts. Our closest neighbors were friends of ours ̶ empty nesters ̶ who had recently sold their home and were looking for something smaller. They needed a place to reside while they looked, since their home sold faster than expected, and we had a just-remodeled home that had a lot of space. My washer and dryer were still in the laundry room inside “the big house” and we shared them with our friends, establishing that she liked to do her laundry on Mondays. I’m not that organized. I (still, fifteen years of marriage and three children in) do laundry when the mood strikes (or the clean things run low). I did laundry any day but Monday; we shared the space well. We shared the back yard, too. They brought in patio furniture, and occasionally borrowed our barbecue. I watered the grass (there wasn’t grass everywhere. There was a lot of dirt. After about two weeks of living in our Tiny Home, I asked for the deck which was subsequently built. Having a deck or patio keeps more of the dirt outside than not having one. Having children, though, means there will be dirt. At least I have a limited amount of floor to clean.). The kids rode their bikes on the patio. We sometimes would have a meal outside together, or spend time visiting. It was a taste of choosing one’s neighbors ̶ and we liked it. It was a good space to make the transition from traditional home living to Tiny Home living. We only stayed there five months, because (as I said earlier) the property was purpose-bought to be flipped, and we sold it.
During escrow, we entered into very serious discussions with another set of very dear friends. These discussions resulted in our moving our Tiny Home to their property. They have a large lot ̶ a “country property” surrounded by the city in which we lived. It’s actually part of what is known as an island: an area of land still belonging to the county, unincorporated into the city though surrounded by it. Our friends lived in a neighborhood that is one of these islands, which means they have city trash service, but their own well. The immediate neighbors are somewhat rural, with horse across the street, cows down the block, and a strawberry stand on its field around the corner. Surrounding all of these are housing developments and a very nice elementary school with accompanying community pocket park. It’s an interesting composite. It’s also an incredibly nice location in which to live. We lived there for ten months. Our house was set at a right angle to their house; our front windows looked at their back yard (and across it to their barn). It made a cozy little compound ̶ back fence, barn, big house, Tiny Home in a nice rectangle. Their property is on a corner, and is only fenced on the two sides where neighbors are, so we drove in and parked behind our Tiny Home on one of the street sides, letting our friends have their driveway to themselves. It was a lot easier than sharing a driveway between two families, as we had done at our first location. (Oh! If you’re curious about trash can limitations, our family spent more than a year sharing trash cans with other families. It may say something about our ingrained cultural consciousness of recycling, but we only ever filled the recycle bin. Even with two families sharing (and two children in diapers ̶ one of ours and one of theirs), the trash bin never was entirely full. Also, it’s very good form to take over moving the bins back and forth from where they are kept to the street for trash day when one shares a property. It never was a spoken requirement, but we tried to take care of it anyhow, to help care for the place. I suppose that’s one tip if you and your Tiny Home are going to choose where to park based on neighbors.)
Living with good friends was a delight, most of the time. We had a regular night where we would eat together, at their place, ours, or the back yard (which was relatively communal territory). On New Year’s Eve, we were all able to put our children to bed in their own beds and still have an adult gathering without worrying about childcare. Upon moving in, I walked my (very friendly) children around the yard and pointed out those places that were within their boundaries, and what was not. I asked them very pointed questions about whether our friends’ house belonged to us, and whether or not they could enter without an invitation. I spoke with my friend about my general obliviousness in certain areas, and informed her in no uncertain terms that that obliviousness meant that I would take no offense if she had to tell me that I or my children were doing something that didn’t mesh with their sensibilities. It would be a welcome notice so I could address the problem. We took many morning walks ̶ two mamas, four children (two bikes, two strollers), and one dog (theirs; we haven’t decided a dog is necessary ̶ partly because I don’t want to train it, and refuse to have an untrained one) to the park, and some evening ones, sometimes adding the daddies to the mix. We occasionally swapped babysitting duties when something came up. We fed the dog when they were out of town. They watered our garden when we were gone. The kids (theirs is three months older than our youngest) played all day long in the yard, if we weren’t doing something else. Both of us mamas could be in our kitchens working on lunch or supper or laundry and keep an eye on the playing children, who also took care of amusing and (sometimes) policing each other. Whichever of us noticed an issue first would take care of it. Multiple adult eyes were on the children, but they had the freedom to play without feeling like they were being stared at. Having neighbors with very similar beliefs and ideals was a comforting relief.
There were a few negatives to that location. First, the house faced mostly west, though it canted slightly south. It was HOT. The greenhouse effect of glass is largely documented. Well, we roasted in the afternoons and evenings. Trying to get my (then) one-year-old to nap with bright sun beating in was difficult. Contrary to our first location, we didn’t have a nice tree under which to tuck our house. We wound up draping a shade cloth over the entire house, with wooden contraptions on the roof to give a little airspace between the cloth and the house, trying to get any airflow we could, while reducing the direct glare of the sun. It made a few degrees of difference. Even in winter ̶ and it was mid-November when we moved there ̶ it was annoying. I had to wear a hat to cook supper, because the sun was actively setting in my eyes when I was trying to cook. Don’t get me wrong ̶ I really like my hats. I enjoy wearing them and feel they flatter me. But wearing a hat and still trying to shield your eyes from the glare reflecting off your countertops as you try to mince garlic is rarely fun. The only other disadvantage to the location was also one of the advantages ̶ proximity. While the proximity benefitted the supervision of children, it also put some strain on moments when families prefer privacy. I don’t have curtains on my windows because I like the light and space of that aesthetic, and I prefer not dressing in my bathroom after a shower (too wet when the entire bathroom is your shower!). Trying to stay decent while climbing the stairs to my loft was a learned skill. At various times, all families experience the need for serious conversations, or have a bit of strife. Being close enough to inadvertently overhear intense conversations (while something that happens in apartment buildings and cities) is something I prefer to avoid. It usually makes all parties more comfortable. Overall, though, we were quite happy there. Our initial agreement had been for six months of cohabiting on the property, and we wound up staying ten (to the satisfaction and enjoyment of all parties). Our largest impetus in moving was that our friends were having a second child, and we wanted to give them space to adjust to having the baby and being a family without a second family intruding on their space.
Our third (and current) location is in yet another part of town. Our current neighborhood is a mix of commercial properties (not storefronts) and (mostly lower-income) rentals. There’s an apartment complex behind us, a couple duplexes on one side, and individual homes filling in around. Our property is a half acre on which there is a building. Okay, two buildings, now that we live here. Some of our neighbors are very nice, good people. Others ̶ well, suffice it to say that there are a few factors influencing the others. There is such a thing as a renter’s mentality, which does not affect every renter by any means; it does affect some. We also live in the neighborhood of the town’s rescue mission. I was a little nervous about moving to this neighborhood, to be honest. It’s not one everyone is comfortable in. But we have a fence and a gate, and our Tiny Home is tucked neatly behind our building (the Fort, which we use for homeschool, tool (and other) storage and project space, and extra seating for larger gatherings when it’s not pleasant to be outside: this was previously addressed as NOT cheating the Tiny Home lifestyle), largely out of sight of the street. Being in the back lot of a property like this also increases our privacy. There are no neighbors nearby that are situated such that they can see through our windows. Here, we are facing east, again slightly canted to the south. I think I really like facing east. I get to see the sunrise through my big windows, and yes; I do need to wear my hat through breakfast, but that tends to be less prep time than supper. Also, sunrise as a whole tends to be less intense than sunset. Right now it’s wintertime, and I enjoy having my Tiny Home warmed by the morning sun ̶ again with the greenhouse effect of sun through glass, but this time it’s a good thing rather than an annoying one. We will see how I feel about it this summer. Another cool thing about our neighborhood is that it is only a few blocks from downtown, with its restaurants and shops. The Children’s Museum is also downtown, and all of these are now within a decent walking distance of home. My husband, after a few trips downtown, went on craigslist and bought us some used bikes (the kids already had bikes. We adults didn’t.) so we can ride our bikes downtown. For the recent downtown Christmas parade, we had friends over to our house for supper, and then we bundled up and walked to the parade. We probably wound up walking about the same distance as many of the people who drove downtown to see the parade, parking for such things being what it is ̶ and we didn’t have to stress about finding parking! It was nice.
Another difference with this location is the feeling of permanence (while still having the knowledge tucked up our sleeves that we can easily move without much stress, if circumstance requires or opportunities arise) and ownership. At the flip house, it was just that ̶ a place we were trying to leave. On our friends’ property, it was awesome, but not ours, and we were always aware of that. Here, we have a patio (a concrete pad that came with the Fort)which we have enclosed with decorative fencing, with some bark and plants. It’s a place we are comfortable altering and turning into what we want. We may wind up with chickens! And a garden that’s more than just a couple of pots on the deck. Customizing the space surrounding our Tiny Home makes it even more home than it was before.
So, thus far we have lived in three different locations, each facing a different compass point, each in a very different part of town. Once we experienced how nice a well-established shade tree is for shelter. Twice we have chosen our neighbors. We learned valuable lessons in each place. The main point is this, though: Once you have a Tiny Home (or beforehand if you have the ability to plan in advance), it is very important to consider where you are going to park your home to live. Once you have hooked up your water and power, it isn’t as easy to change the orientation of the house (without really long hoses and cords). If you have a choice, I recommend parking under a tree, and choosing your neighbors. If you’re lucky enough to choose them and own your own space, that’s even better. Curating good relationships is a habit worthy of great value.
These are all things to consider along your journey.
Katrina Jones is a: Wife, Mother, Daughter, Believer, Writer, and the Chief of Strategy for Tiny House Tool- a business that exists for the purpose of helping attain freedom through frugal living, tiny house dwelling, and smart decision making. To Learn more, take the Tiny House Survey Here.