When I visited my friend Kara and her husband Tim a year ago in Bend, Oregon, their tiny house plan was in its conceptual phase. Kara had sketched up some rough plans, but like my husband Spanky and me, Tim and Kara’s plans were always fluid. Yes, we knew they were doers, but they were also dreamers—a beautiful and fickle combination.
But, when I saw the photos on Facebook of the building process, I knew their tiny house dream was the real deal. There was just one thing I really want to know. What had they decided to do with their shitter situation?
In our initial conversation about tiny living, Kara and Tim Stuckey (their blog is called “Lucky Stuckeys”) were toying with the idea of dumping in a bucket. Living in a RV myself, I know what happens to smells in the summer—and that’s with a semi-normal toilet that vents most of the smells out.
I breathed a slight (and odor-free) sigh of relief when Kara told me they decided on a composting toilet, which is probably better than shitting in a bucket, but still not my idea of a good time. I must admit, my amount of mockery and sarcasm hits a fever pitch whenever I watch “Tiny House Hunters” on HGTV and the wife (always the wife) is obsessed with the idea of a composting toilet.
But I digress. Kara is not one of those women. The girl ain’t afraid to get a little dirty, even if that dirt is actually poo. It’s a compliment really. On my list of most bad ass, independent women I know, she is high on that list. In 2014, after filing for divorce, Kara took off on a soul-searching mission. She started off with two months in Central America then made her way to the Mexican border, where she launched a four-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. With her man meter off, she set out into the wild with every intention of not getting involved with anyone of the opposite sex. However, Kara really needed fresh water, so when her filter crapped out, she asked to borrow a fellow hiker’s. That fellow hiker was Tim, and he was immediately intrigued by this bubbly, mountain gal. Their paths crossed multiple times before they finally started trekking together around mile 700, outside of Kennedy Meadow in California’s Sierra-Nevada.
As they say, the rest was history. I’m sure they also say, “What happens on the PCT stays on the PCT,” but that wasn’t true for Tim and Kara. After talking about where they would want to live upon completing their 2,000-mile trek, both decided on Bend. Since they were going to live in the same town, they might as well live together, and if they were going to live together, they wanted to be married—so, they got married. Actually, they got Maui’d. Three weeks after finishing their hike, they celebrated with a wedding on the beach. It was “totally unplanned,” Kara said.
So how did they end up in a tiny house with no electricity on the back-40 of Kara’s father’s property in western Washington? It has everything to do with those 100-plus days on the PCT.
“It appealed to us for a couple reasons: One, because we met on the PCT and hiked for three months and lived out of a backpack, in a tent,” Kara said. “It was an upgrade.”
Even before hiking the PCT, Tim had lived small—on one of Tonga’s 170 islands while he served in the Peace Corp from 2003 to 2006. During that time, the “Lost Years,” as Kara refers to it, Tim had no access to modern technology. In fact, he got his first cellphone in 2007 at the age of 27. While living on the island, he only had two lights, an outdoor kitchen with a propane stove, an outhouse, no shower or sinks (bucket baths), ate fresh sushi from the ocean and slept on the beach.
Aside from knowing they were capable of living small, Kara and Tim also craved mobility, but not necessarily the constant mobility that someone living in a RV might seek. Kara and Tim only plan on moving a couple times, and a RV was never really appealing to Kara at all, she said.
“I don’t want an RV; I want a building,” Kara said. “I hate it when people just buy a tiny house and don’t take time to design it and do it themselves. At that point, you should just get a RV.”
Kara and Tim put their money where their ideals were, and with no prior building knowledge and only evenings and weekends to work on their home project, Kara and Tim spent six months perfecting their tiny house in their backyard in Bend.
“For us, who have never built anything before, we thought it was a great time. There are a couple projects that aren’t finished, but it’s livable,” Kara said. “The best part for us is it’s completely ours. It’s our personality. It functions for us and how we want to live. We don’t have electricity, lights. It’s great to go to store and get fresh food every day, but it also sucks sometimes. We’re still riding the high of tiny house living.”
Kara and Tim read nearly every construction book the library offered, Kara said.
“We love the public library, so we’d check out books, every how-to book for building a home,” Kara said.
Kara also had a secret weapon, an uncle who knew what he was doing and could provide guidance for the couple.
“We called my uncle; he was one of our best resources because he’s a builder. He kind of laughed at us, but explained framing and how we were going to do certain things,” Kara said. “It gave us that confidence. He knows what he’s doing, so let’s listen to him. We’d call and double check if we were unsure on something.”
With a little shot of confidence and a stack of books at their disposal, Kara and Tim tackled their project in the same way they had hiked the PCT—one step at a time.
“I liked the hands-on aspect, getting exactly what we wanted and learning new skills,” Kara said.
It was also important for them to be environmentally conscious during the process. They used as much reclaimed wood as possible, substituted store-bought insulation for wool and even made their own paint out of milk—yes, milk. They also made their own wood stain using balsamic vinegar, steel wool and coffee.
Though they are settled into their cozy home on wheels, Kara said they still have a few unfinished projects. One of those projects includes plumbing. They have a working kitchen sink, but the tub still won’t drain. But, like the fresh fruit and veg, there’s an upside to that, too.
“It gets me to the gym every single day because it’s way easier to shower at the gym,” Kara said.
And, since they are parked on Kara’s father’s property in Graham, Wash., Tim and Kara are still a stone’s throw away from all the modern conveniences of a full-size house.
“We’re probably cheating,” Kara said.
Still, that doesn’t negate the fact that they are out living the tiny houser’s dream and laying waste to the way society says it needs to be done. Aside from building their tiny house—which is a legit tiny house at 136 square feet—they also paid off all their debts, and currently only pay a cellphone bill and a $10 per month internet bill.
“We’re kind of excited to be in this position, being debt free and being able to save money. It’s kind of weird,” Kara said. “I’ve always been so obsessed with getting out of debt and paying down mortgages or whatever. It’s such a weird feeling. I don’t know what to do with my time, my money. I don’t have to work? What does that mean? But, we’re really excited for where we can go and the possibilities with that.”
They also purged like crazy as they were assembling their 16-foot-long tiny house.
“It probably took 6 months of downsizing while we were building. I’m constantly still going through closets,” Kara said. “Plus, I had stuff in storage in Graham. Why did I think I’d need this some day? You definitely have to live with the idea that if I get something, I have to get rid of something.”
Now, the eternal tiny house question: Is it for everyone?
“That’s almost like at the end of the PCT answering the question, ‘Should other people hike it or not?’” said Kara, who despite her good fortune of finding a Mr. on the trail doesn’t necessarily endorse hiking 2,000 miles in one go. “It depends on the person. Anyone can benefit from thinking about that lifestyle. We just have too much stuff in our lives and around us. Anyone can benefit from thinking about it, but just like living in a RV isn’t for everyone, neither is going tiny.”
Kara said anyone aspiring to live the tiny life needs to do her homework, especially as new laws are being drawn up in relation to tiny living. And, laws can vary from county-to-county, city-to-city.
“Some cities don’t like tiny houses a lot; it’s beginning to be a big hassle. Obviously, in Graham, we’re not too worried about the government coming to get us,” Kara said.
But, the same week they towed their tiny house to Washington, Kara heard about a couple that had just been evicted by the city of Steilacoom, Wash. The couple had been living in the tiny house for more than a year when they were asked by the city to leave. Kara emailed the couple for details, as Steilacoom is in the same county as Graham.
Despite the current uncertainty and changing climate of tiny house legislation, Kara stands by her decision to live the simple life. Not only has it freed Kara and Tim from being strapped by bills, but Kara hopes it will free them up to travel more in the near future. They are planning on starting off with a trip to all the national parks west of the Mississippi. There are also talks of returning to Tonga, but you just never know where these dreamers will end up.
Keep up with Sarah Reijonen’s nomadic lifestyle in her column called “Home on the Road.” If there’s a topic you’d like her to cover, please comment below or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @spankyandsarah. Instagram: @countrygrlswrld. Happy Trails!