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Big strides for tiny houses

Ryan Mitchell built this 150-square-foot home in Charlotte, N.C., to save money after being laid off from his job in human resources in 2008.
Ryan Mitchell built this 150-square-foot home in Charlotte, N.C., to save money after being laid off from his job in human resources in 2008.

Ryan Mitchell didn’t set out to become an advocate for the tiny-house movement. All he wanted after he was laid off from his first job out of graduate school was to feel financially secure. But after starting a blog (www.thetinylife.com), building his own 150-square-foot home, and writing a book about the lifestyle, he has emerged as an authority on the subject. He now lives in his tiny house and works for himself.

The tiny-house movement is an extension of minimalism that is popular in this post-recession time in which we live. “Tiny houses” are defined as homes that are less than 400 square feet. There are several books and blogs dedicated to them, even though in 2014 the National Association of Realtors estimated that only 1 percent of home buyers purchased a house that was 1,000 square feet or less.


Mitchell spoke to the Globe from his tiny house in Charlotte, N.C.

It sounds like taking a hard look at your finances really catapulted you into a new way of living.

I was laid off [from a human resources job] in 2008, and I realized that [you] could be an educated person who worked hard, did all the things you’re supposed to do, and you still don’t have job security. I said: How I can change this, and what are the things I can do to better my situation and my stability? So, I look at my budget, and about a half of my income was going toward housing — rent, utilities, insurance, all this kind of stuff.

This concept of tiny houses — at the time not a lot of people were even aware of them — resonated with me. I started the blog just to keep up my momentum and catalog my ideas.

Now I live in a tiny house full time. I’ve been in it over a year. I built it myself, and lots of other really amazing life changes have come along with it. [Mitchell has done a lot of traveling, including a road trip across the United States and spending time abroad. He also started a new business in Charlotte.]


How long did it take you to build the house?

About a year and a half of nights and weekends.

Is it different than you expected?

I was initially worried, even though I really was in love with that idea. It’s kind of crazy, let’s just be honest. It was a big experiment, and I wanted to give it a whirl. I told myself that I would stay in my tiny house for at least two years, no matter what.

It wasn’t that big of an adjustment, honestly. I went from a 1,000-square-foot apartment that I shared with a roommate to the tiny house. My tiny house is 150 square feet plus the sleeping loft, and sometimes it feels big, which seems crazy.

The floorplan of Mitchell’s home.
The floorplan of Mitchell’s home.

Yes, that does sound crazy.

The thing is, when people hear 150 square feet, they always compare it with their closet or their bathroom. But when people step into it, they’re like, wow, this feels so much bigger. It’s very intentionally designed. We do a lot of tricks to make it feel bigger than it really is. My main room has an eleven-and-a-half-foot ceiling and eleven windows. The sightline actually extends beyond the walls. I have a full kitchen with pretty much everything you need. I’ve got a nice shower, bathroom, air conditioning, high-speed Internet, TV.


You’re obviously passionate about the house itself, but you talk about this as a lifestyle. How is this a way of living and not just a place?

You can’t have a conversation about tiny houses that limits itself to the structure. I’m living in a tiny house to live my best life, to live an inspired and empowered life in which that bucket list becomes my everyday goal.

It’s an opportunity that is really a gift. So the lifestyle and the actual space are very intertwined, and I really don’t think you can separate the two.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Heather Ciras is a features producer for bostonglobe.com. E-mail her at heather.ciras@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.