Spring 2017

When we tell people that we live in a tiny home, the most common response is, "oh, well I would love to do that but I just never could. I have too much stuff." I can't help but think that stuff isn't important, right? We use stuff and love people, not the other way around. We like to think we live out this saying, and living in our tiny home helps us remember to do that.

A tiny home is what is typically known as having less than 400 square feet. Some tiny homes are on wheels. Some are on a foundation. Some tiny homes have running water and electricity. Some do not. Life is more work when it comes to living tiny, but it is simpler. We embrace life's small pleasures. Other people may have hot running water and rooms made just for storage, but do they truly appreciate what that means? 


Although tiny home living has been trending in metro areas lately, it has truly been a common way of living in the North Woods for a long time. Throughout my time in Cook County, I have discovered many locals that live in small homes, without running water or without electricity. 

Generally, people do not live in this beautiful area because they want to spend time in their homes; they live up north to spend time outside. This is why small spaces make perfect sense in a location where there are expansive forests filled with lakes, rivers, trees, and wildlife. Through living in what is essentially a wooden tent, we connect more with the world around us. There are plenty of perks to living in a tiny home. We have enjoyed countless hours outside and had many wildlife encounters.

We have now lived in our tiny home for a year and a half. Our home is smaller than the size of a standard master bedroom. The outside dimensions of the building are 10 x 14 feet. With six inch walls, that leaves just 117 square feet inside. On a typical day, we do the same things that most couples our age do. We make yummy meals, exercise with our puppy, bathe, spend time with friends, sleep, and do house chores. Living in northeastern Minnesota is like living in a giant playground. From our home, we can walk to the Superior Hiking Trail. We can take our dog swimming in Lake Superior, or explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness just up the trail.

We do not have a well or a septic system. Rather, we have an outhouse and a water system that Tom developed. We have a 14 gallon tank in our loft, and the water is fed by gravity down to our sink. We use that sink to brush our teeth, wash our dishes, and cook. I won't lie - this can be tough, but it brings opportunity. In the winter when we need a shower, we make a fun time of it and use the hot tub at the resort where Tom works. In the summer, we have a lot of fun exploring nearby lakes and rivers to bathe in. We discover new spots that we wouldn't have otherwise found. We connect with nature in ways that we may not have thought of, had the necessity not been there. If we had been able to hop in the shower at home, we wouldn't necessarily have a reason to check out the river - complete with waterfalls - down the road. We are also fortunate enough to have a seasonal stream that goes through our property. 

Cooking meals can be a bit problematic, but it does promote ingenuity. Cooking tools that we have include an induction stove top, convection oven, toaster, slow cooker, and grill. When meal planning, I try to think of meals that use one of each. If I have to use the oven for two things, it takes longer and food can get cold. Also, the counter space is very small. Our counter is seven feet long, with a lot of space used up by the coffee maker, toaster, sink, etc. We have a mini fridge that is 4.1 cubic feet. We have just one cabinet and tend to use the loft for additional food storage.

For entertainment, we hike, swim, bike, ski, snowshoe, motorcycle, take drives, and just generally utilize the amazing landscape in which we live. We find ourselves outside as much as daylight and good weather allow. We are located near trailheads, rivers, and Lake Superior. But then again living in northern Minnesota means the weather sometimes forces us to spend more time indoors than we would prefer. We do have electricity in our tiny home, but for the first year, we lived without internet. We read many books, watched movies, and played cards. Now that we do have internet, we indulge in TV shows and cruising the world wide web. We also frequently have friends over for bonfires and barbeques in the summertime. Because of the space limitations, we rarely have people over in the winter. 

Tiny homes can also be an alternative to the tricky housing market up north. In an area where it can be expensive to build and the homes for sale are limited, tiny homes offer a solution. The costs of utilities are drastically reduced as well. This past summer was a warm one and we were able to air condition our whole home with just one little window air conditioner. In the winter months, we heat with just one electric baseboard. My co-worker, Molly O'Neill has said that tiny home living has allowed her to pay down debt.

Something that no one will ever tell you about living in a tiny home is that they are very difficult to keep clean. With such a small space, there is nowhere for the dirt to spread out. Even though we have to clean our home more often, the task only takes about ten minutes. We are constantly conscious of buying and receiving things. We do not have the space to accumulate more than we use.


My now husband Tom had been living on the north shore for a year before I met him. He had already bought the shell of the home and was planning to live in it alone. The building was made by North House Folk School located in Grand Marais. It was the result of a class titled, "Build Thoreau's Cabin: Basic Building Skills Workshop," which they host every spring. I remember Tom had said, "I have dreamed of living in a tiny home in the woods since high school. I just don't feel like I need a lot of stuff or a lot of indoor space. I want to be more focused on spending time outdoors."

Little did Tom know his tiny dream was about to get even tinier. We met about a month after he had bought the cabin. Ten months later, we were engaged. Six months after that, we got our puppy, Letty. Tom said, "If I had known that I would be married and have added a furry companion to the mix, I might have opted for just a bit more square footage."

That summer, Tom and I bought land off the Sawbill Trail. We worked hard to clear the building site, which is more of a task than I thought it would be. We moved countless trees, stumps, and brush. We burned piles of brush that were the same size as the house. Once the building was on site, we started getting pretty excited. The dream felt so real. Tom and I learned a lot more about the construction process than we thought we were going to. With the help of a friend, we installed windows and a front door. We wired the home all by ourselves and we were pretty proud of our work. Tom borrowed a nail gun and learned how to install tongue and groove walls and lay down floors. His parents came up to help and we painted the home and outhouse. We are still so grateful for all of the support we received.

Throughout the process, we learned a lot about how to make this dream a reality. We learned about the power of working with friends and creating something that would last. We gained an appreciation for the land on which we placed our home, and the resources that it gave us. Every square foot of our home means something to us, and every time I look around I recall a memory of putting it together. While our tiny home may not be our forever home, I believe tiny home living fills me with a gratitude that will last beyond tiny home times.