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Small House Living and Creating More Freedom

Small house living does not automatically create a lifestyle full of freedom. But with awareness and the decision to live deliberately, it can act as a great platform to freedom.

One of our primary motivations behind our decision to build a small house was to create more time and financial freedom. I will save the breakdown of our current living expenses for another post, but for now, we’ll just say that the financial freedom component has been satisfied. So then, have our lives changed since we built the house? Do we have more free time? The short answer – hell yeah. The long answer – it took a rearrangement of habits and lifestyle but we are closer than ever. Keep reading to learn more…

We love our home. And with our tall hill, we can enjoy awesome views of the city as well as sunrises and sunsets.

August – December 2016: Settling in and Finishing the Interior

We received our Certificate of Occupancy at the end of July 2016 and moved in just in time to avoid paying for an extra month at our rental. During the following weekend, we constructed the foundation for a shed, assembled the shed kit, and moved our building materials and tools out of the house.

For the next several months, we gradually chipped away at our list of finishing tasks and embarked on our small house living. We painted trim, installed it, painted window casings, installed them, looked for furniture, unpacked things and got rid of unused objects.

Note, we started our small house living when we initially moved to Silver City. We lived in a 40 foot by 8 foot trailer (~320 square feet) followed by an apartment of 450-500 square feet. However, during this period of time, we neither unpacked nor truly lived. We were too busy building and working at our business. 

After moving into our house, Brian started working more of the day with me at our coffee drive-through. While the afternoon rate of business did not necessitate two people, it was nice to have somebody to hang out with. And it was an amazing feeling to go home and have nothing urgent to do.

We also planted some beautiful thuja green giants along one fence line to eventually act as a privacy hedge.

Attaching the window casings on the south end cap.

January: Wrapping Up and Hiring Help

We worked a little on our perimeter fence and then decided to hire a fencing contractor to finish the work. That was $400 very well spent. He did a fantastic job. With his extensive experience, he created awesome wire tension even in the most challenging areas. If you move to this area and need a fencing guy, let us know and we will gladly recommend him.

Around the same time, we completed the interior finishing tasks and built two privacy fences. These were our final construction expenses. We probably paid off the last credit card charges in early February.

Also in January, we hired help at the coffee stand and began going home earlier. All during the build and up until this past January, my work life had consisted of Monday – Friday, 6:30am – 5:00pm and Saturday, 7:30am – 2:00pm. That was 59 hours each week at the coffee shop (plus uncounted hours running errands and handling administrative tasks). Whoa!

With our employee taking on the afternoons, we started leaving at noon or 2:00pm (depending on the day), which reduced our hours to about 41 (plus the off-clock hours).

Constructing our privacy fence on the building pad. We went with R-panel on 2×6 frames. Instead of pouring footers, we wanted to keep the design flexible and move-able. We weighed down some of the frame arms with spare pallets from work and used ground screws at the base of each arm.

February – April: Adventure Time

Around this time, we started to taste the freedom associated with small house living. A lot of hikers /travelers come through the drive-through and they’d been recommending all sorts of cool places nearby. With our newly liberated afternoons, and our recent relief from buying house stuff, we started going on crazy road trips to all these places. Crazy because they took place during the workweek, not necessarily because of where we ended up.  So we would leave work at 12pm or 2pm, spontaneously decide to drive somewhere that was 2-3 hours away, feed the dogs, load them up and head off. We would get home after 9:00pm and be a tad tired the next day. By the time 2pm rolled around again, we would have already queued up another road trip idea.

During this time, our monthly expenses skyrocketed. We were driving insane distances (our monthly gas expense went from $50 to $300) and each destination involved eating out at least twice. We spent little to no time in our perfect small house and were instead racing around like crazy, making up for the two years (January 2015 – January 2017) that we had spent under the strict schedule of working and building.

My book, Big to Tiny to Small, was written almost entirely during those road trips.

Stumbling upon a giant herd of elk. There were probably 50 of them that crossed the road in front of us. (Reserve, New Mexico – 2+ hours from Silver City.)

Amazing hiking location in Reserve, New Mexico.

We made our way carefully down the cliff and enjoyed this serene creek. Not another soul in sight.

Mediterranean food at Santorini in Las Cruces, New Mexico (2 hours from Silver)

May: Pulling Back

We started to rein ourselves in toward the end of April. While Brian had no such qualms, I did not like how much money we were spending on gas or eating out. Additionally, I was starting to feel like life had become a little out of focus.

We switched to more local hikes. And we hung out in the house with Fred. The timing could not have been more perfect as the weather was heating up and the hiking locations that contained water were disappearing on a weekly basis.

At some point in mid-May, we decided we needed a change. Our small house living plan was designed to give us freedom and the ability to be spontaneous. And it did. In fact, while I did not like what we were spending on our adventures, we could still afford to do it. That was kind of the whole point of the plan – control our fixed expenses so that we could be extravagant elsewhere.

But we were still limited by the needs of business. Even with our employee taking most afternoon hours, we needed more space. We had afternoons off but we were always mentally on the clock. We went through a few different scenarios and ended up making a big change.

Hike in Cliff, New Mexico (40 minutes from Silver City)

Torta at Tacos Mirasol in Deming, New Mexico. (1 hour from Silver City)  Brian cannot emphasize enough how fantastic this place is.

June – Making a Big Change

We decided to reduce our commitment at work. We love what we do and we had a great deal of respect for our employee. Ultimately, however, we needed to direct our energy in a more selfish way if what we were doing was going to be sustainable.

In our book, we discuss the evolution of our mindset and how we settled on our small house plan. We were dedicated to it from the moment we excavated the property and we tackled the execution of the house build with an uncompromising, relentless building schedule. Somewhere along the way, we had forgotten the goals associated with small house living – low monthly expenses, more available funds and greater freedom. It was time to re-embrace those ideas.

We decided to reduce our shop hours and close at noon. That meant instead of having the shop open 59 hours a week, we would be open from 6:30am-12:00pm (and 7:30am-12:00pm on Saturdays). We now work something like 30 hours plus some extra time for admin stuff. The hour reduction also removed the need for an employee.

We just finished our first month with the new schedule. We were pleased to discover that, while our gross sales experienced a decrease, our net profit actually increased a little.

Growing a business tends to require an increase in expenses (i.e. staffing, longer hours, more utilities, bigger equipment, etc.). For this reason, charging toward growth and more overhead may not be the most direct way to stabilizing an owner’s income. It just depends on the goals and timeline of the owner(s). I think we have discovered a sweet spot where, above a certain threshold, more expenses do not necessarily translate to more cash flow. To any other new small business owners out there – don’t be afraid to test things out.

We are frequently told that we should franchise our idea. Or we get asked where we will open our second location. We appreciate such comments but are not presently looking to undo the peace we have just acquired. Our plan was to optimize our lives, not spend every hour working. Should the desire strike to grow our business or to branch out in other directions, we will have the time and be mentally rested to take it on.

We are so thrilled to be able to have our afternoons off. We feel like we have gained back our freedom.

Hanging out with Fred. Here, he made the poor choice of landing on the window sill and finding he could not comfortably climb up between the blinds.

Embracing Small House Living – Other Optimized Habits

Living in a small house (that you own outright) means a giant reduction in monthly expenses. Our (mandatory) bills are tiny. Our biggest costs are to do with eating; which if you were following along during the build, you may have noticed we enjoy dining out on a regular basis with the occasional fairly fancy meal thrown in. Currently, we eat out any time we travel out of town and usually a time or two per week when we don’t feel like making dinner.

We still follow a mostly low-carb diet but make exceptions when we eat out. This way of eating, in addition to being tasty and satisfying, has incidentally created a routine in how we cook at home. We enjoy steak or bunless burgers in the evening (usually with sauteed spinach, chard, kale or some other leafy green). And we usually make some sort of chicken crockpot recipe during the week for lunches.

We round out the day with eggs for breakfast and cheese or hotdogs for snacks. We used to make quite a lot of bacon (often featured in posts during our house build), but surprisingly, we find ourselves needing a break from it.

It is kind of a coincidence that both our diet and our small house living resulted in a optimized lifestyle. We don’t waste any food (nothing goes bad in the fridge) and we don’t waste any utilities (because our house is energy efficient). Cleaning the entire house takes less than an hour; maybe add an additional 30 minutes if I scrub the hard water stains out of the shower. Sometimes we cook exotic recipes and those might take time.

What we have really accomplished, in addition to building an amazingly comfortable living space, is the creation of a worry-free lifestyle. Everything feels easy. And we have the spare time to do more of whatever we wish, be that cooking or adventuring.

This was an exquisite meal we enjoyed at the St. Clair Winery and Bistro in Las Cruces. Pecan-encrusted trout, risotto and perfectly sauteed vegetables.  Some of the best risotto Brian has come across.

What is Next

Our original goals were to create more time and financial freedom, and to build a home base for our animal family. Now, with no building expenses and a cash flow positive lifestyle, we are looking to the future. In addition to investigating different avenues for investment, we are putting aside money for a potential car upgrade and planning for our next adventure.

Having thoroughly experienced the nature within 3 hours of our home, and ready for some contrast, we are considering international destinations we would like to visit.

It is not our plan to dash off willy-nilly, even though owning our business technically means that we could. Even with our more relaxed work schedule, we want to schedule vacations that are respectful to our regulars. With that in mind, we are aiming to take off time when business is slowest.

We will lay out our monthly expenses soon. In the meantime, we will be enjoying our climate controlled house and our glorious work schedule. Choosing small house living was a great decision. Life is good!

small house living

Sydney’s idea of the perfect small house.

P.S.  I apologize for any awkward phrasing that results from using “small house living” as the SEO keyword for this post.

3 Comments

  1. We like your home and are considering building in Eagle Nest NM if the Arched Cabins will pass NM building codes. would you comment on the building inspection process you went through.

    • Our arched cabin was built to IRC 2009 and – IIRC – newer NEC electrical and UPC plumbing codes. For peace of mind I’d recommend talking to your local inspectors about your plans in some detail before pulling the trigger on anything. For meeting the energy [aka insulation] requirements with the arched cabin, you’ll want to use the ‘performance method’ rather than the ‘prescriptive method’. Performance method means using the Rescheck computer program (free download) and basically you’ll tinker with it to find out what kind of r-values your doors, windows and endcaps need to have to pass inpection.

      • Thanks for the software info. The current ceiling insulation requirement is R47 which would be difficult for the metal building small truss thickness.

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