Joel Boutin lives in a 128-square-foot house built of two-by-fours on a trailer bed in the backwoods of Durham, N.H. There’s no running water, sewer, heat, or electricity.

He likes it that way.

“There are only a few inconveniences, and they don’t outweigh the benefits,” said Boutin, 36, who moved into the so-called “tiny house” in August.

A teacher of global studies and psychology at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, he’s committed to living a simple, sustainable life close to nature.

Boutin was raised in Lawrence, where he attended Central Catholic High School. He went on to Merrimack College in North Andover on a full scholarship, majoring in philosophy, and later earned a master’s degree in public health at Boston University.


He spent two years serving with the Peace Corps in Tanzania. “That was my first experience with ‘tiny house’ living,” he said. “I lived in a hut. And I learned it was possible to be happy and content with few material possessions.

“What I needed for survival was a short list: food, clean water, shelter, appropriate clothing, friendships, and intellectual stimulation.”

When Boutin returned to the United States, he said, “I felt life had a plasticity to it; there was something missing. I was curious to see if I could return to the lifestyle I had in Tanzania.”

He joined a Jesuit prayer group, Contemplative Leaders in Action , which includes doing a capstone project to “help us live our values more fully.” That’s what led him to the tiny house in New Hampshire.

The only drawbacks, he said, are the one-hour commute to work and being away from his circle of friends in Cambridge and Somerville, where he previously lived.

On the up side, he said, he’s more focused, sleeps well, and is “writing more letters and reading more books.”


Boutin also hopes to inspire his students at St. John’s. “A lot of my boys come from material wealth and define happiness as a bigger house or bigger car. I want to challenge that assumption and provide an alternative measure of success. That is a great joy.”

St. John's Prep in Danvers teacher Joel Boutin (right) with friends at his tiny house in Durham, N.H.
St. John's Prep in Danvers teacher Joel Boutin (right) with friends at his tiny house in Durham, N.H. Robin Chan for The Boston Globe/Robin Chan

Wendy Killeen can be reached at wdkilleen@gmail.com.