The Rye family, from left, Jane, 2, Jamie, Jonah, 5, and Kelly, lives in a 3,400-square-foot home on Glenwood Avenue that they to move into a a 400-square-foot ‘tiny house.’
In a few weeks, Jamie and Kelly Rye hope to start building their new dream home which requires them to downsize in a big way.
The young couple, with their two young children, will soon move out of their 3,400-square-foot Old West End home, which sold after only a little advertising on a private neighborhood Facebook page, and into a 400-square-foot “tiny house.”
“It’s kind of funny,” Mr. Rye, 31, said. “... We’re literally subtracting 3,000 square feet.”
The Rye family is one of the first in northwest Ohio — and possibly even beyond the regional borders — to seriously take on the task of living small recently. Others have considered it and even come up with tentative plans, but ultimately decided tiny living wasn’t for them.
The Rye family is all in and hopes to be in their new, small home by the end of summer.
The concept of downsizing and living minimally in houses that typically range between 150 and 400 square feet started in recent times about 11 or 12 years ago and, as housing prices and debts — particularly student-loan debts — increased, so has the popularity of tiny houses, said Linda Beall, an associate lecturer in the construction and engineering technology program at the University of Toledo.
Kim Kasl, 32, blogs about her family’s life in their 267-square-foot house in Minnesota. She and her husband have two children, ages 7 and 5, and no regrets, they say.
KIM KASL Enlarge
Ms. Beall is working with the Rye family in an advisory role, “giving [them] advice on some constructability issues, some options for design elements involved, and furthering [their] dream of living in a tiny house with a family of four.”
There is no database that tracks tiny-house living, so it’s nearly impossible to say how many there are and how many people live in small residences. The living little phenomenon is “sporadically popular” across the country, said Ms. Beall, who has attended tiny house workshops. They tend to be most popular in places with temperate winters or as vacation homes.
The Rye family will build their home while living in a camper on Mr. Rye’s parents’ property in Michigan. The house will be built on a 32-foot trailer and, once it’s complete, moved to the Holland area of western Lucas County and onto property that belongs to the Rye’s friends. Because the home is built on a trailer, it’s licensed as a recreational vehicle.
The home will have a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, and a dual-burner nautical stove. The children — Jonah, 5, and Jane, 2 — will have separate lofts and Mr. and Mrs. Rye will have a private bedroom which can convert into a living area using a Murphy bed which folds up into a sofa. In the bathroom there will be a composting toilet.
Utilitarian, transformative furniture is essential for small-house living. The idea of “wasted space” has to be totally eliminated.
“There’s lots of wasted space in normal houses that you don’t get in a tiny house,” said Mrs. Rye, 30. “For example, we’ve got this huge staircase here, and under those stairs could be tons of storage. You could have drawers in the stairs themselves.”
The Rye family, from left, Jonah, 5, Jamie, Kelly, and Jane, 2, sit in the huge living room of their Old West End house.
Everything the Rye family owns now they hope will be sold at a garage sale during the Old West End Festival — the first weekend in June — and then at an estate sale open to friends and family. Whatever is left will be donated to Goodwill. Mr. Rye said he’s been paring down his wardrobe and the family has reluctantly narrowed down their book collection.
When the Ryes bought their Old West End home on Glenwood Avenue for $121,250, it was their “dream home.”
They wanted to use the house for community living, but “shared space can be really difficult,” and the family’s dreams and values started to change. Having their second child reinforced some of the lifestyle changes they wanted to make, and they seriously started to consider how they could live more sustainably and become debt free.
Mr. Rye said he’s been interested in tiny houses for about five years and was left in charge of the research and planning. Mr. and Mrs. Rye went through several ideas — renovating a school bus, living in an old camper, and having a stick-built house — before settling on a tiny house.
With Mr. Rye’s longtime interest in the movement, he’s met and made friends with others who are living small, including Kim and Ryan Kasl, who also have two children, Sullivan, 7, and Story, 5.
The Kasl family, who live just south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, have been living in their 267-square-foot house for about seven months. Mrs. Kasl, 32, who blogs about living small at blessthistinyhouse.com, said the experience so far has been “excellent. We love it. ... We love everything about it. No regrets.”
Mrs. Kasl said a major concern people present to her is surviving the brutal Minnesota winters, which, she said, was not a problem. In the small space, with a wood burning stove, the home would get so warm that a window in the loft would have to be opened — even in subzero temperatures — to keep the space comfortable.
Since they’ve been in the house, they have made some changes. They have rearranged furniture as the family grows into the space and Mrs. Kasl is anxious for a new mattress. Her home was built and designed on the television show Tiny House Nation, so she and her husband had little say in any details. She wants to find a thinner mattress to provide a little extra space in their loft.
“Those inches are so important,” she said.
To get the new mattress, though, they will either have to take a chain saw to the current one, or take apart a railing and take down a light fixture. The third option is to cut a mattress-sized hole in the side of the house and then replace it with a giant window.
“For us, [changing the mattress] is an incredible process,” she said.
The Ryes’ tiny house — which the family expects will cost about $30,000 and have higher-end and specialty fixtures (that composting toilet costs about $1,500) — will be set up to collect solar power and will run off well water. The family will essentially eliminate most bills associated with housing.
Within 3½ years, Mr. Rye estimates the family will pay off about $100,000 in debt — about half of that is student loans and it includes the tiny house’s estimated cost — and become debt free.
The family also wants to incorporate more homesteading into their life — more farming, canning, and raising animals (now, in the Old West End, they have chickens). Beyond their own interests and needs, they’d also like to show that tiny-house living can be useful for others.
“I want to show families this is a sustainable option for housing,” Mr. Rye said. “There’s maybe only a handful of families in the U.S. who are doing this kind of thing with kids.”
Mr. Rye, who works with refugees, also wants to explore the possibility of tiny homes as transitional housing. Friends have talked about tiny houses as a possibility for the homeless.
Still, when the family shares their plans they get some sideways glances and the occasional, “Are you nuts?”
“There are reasons not to do it, but there are really a lot of good reasons, too, that fit into our value system,” Mr. Rye said.
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