Most people who have some level of “unconventionality” in their lives have to reconcile their reality with family opinions. It’s different from friendships since those people are in your life because they like who you are. With family, they’re in your life because you’re related—and how much you like one another is variable.
I have a good relationship with my parents, but one of our major areas of tension has been around my finances. To make a long story short, I have different values when it comes to spending money. Fortunately, I’ve been financially independent since I went to college, so I’m only accountable to myself in this regard and therefore have given them limited insight into my income and budgeting. It's just easier for everyone that way.
But since one of my primary motivators to build a tiny house is financial freedom, it’s inevitably going to come up when I talk about my life. Disclosing my plan was a challenge—but one I learned from.
How I Hoped They’d React
For my mother, I wanted her to be happy I was cleaning up my clutter, but I knew she’d find the whole thing kind of weird.
I 100% knew she’d never live like this and that she enjoys larger spaces with relative sparseness at home. Our interior decorating styles have never aligned.
I also knew she worries about my financial stability and would be worried about such a large upfront investment (she originally thought it would cost me $100,000+ to do this).
With my Dad, my best case scenario was he’d value my commitment to autonomy and find the challenges of small living interesting.
My Dad’s an actual prepper, so I thought he’d be excited about things like going off grid and not having my financial cojones in the vice of a banking institution.
He’s always enjoyed “moving Tetris” and both he and his Dad have carpentry experience—my grandfather designed and built the family home! I hoped talking about construction and unique solutions would be a fun topic of conversation between us.
My brother has spent months at a time on a Navy ship so I didn’t expect him to think the idea was palatable. And while I’ve always been quirkier than him in my life choices, we share a deep value of financial independence and stability.
How They Actually Reacted
My Mom’s questions about tiny houses were pretty standard, and she truly hated the idea of a composting toilet. None of that shocked me, and I knew worst case scenario was she’d insist in staying in a hotel when she came to visit me.
I set her straight on the budget and while I know she isn’t thrilled with the idea, she doesn’t shoot it down when we talk about it. She asks questions, and I really appreciate that.
My Dad was another story, and in retrospect I probably set myself up for a fight. I told him about wanting to build a tiny house a few months before I booked one for the two of us to stay in when he visited me on a business trip to Nashville.
He wasn’t shy about voicing his two major areas of opposition: quality of life and return on investment.
He currently lives in a 3BR, 1,600-foot home with a basement that doubles his overall living space. He truly considers this a struggle.
This a significant downsize from more recent homes: my 4-person family lived in a 5BR, 4,000SF home in Houston because he wanted a 3-car garage (I’m not proud).
Empathy is not my Dad’s strength; he just cannot put himself in someone else’s shoes to understand their motivations and way of looking at the world. He kept saying, “I don’t understand why you would want to live like this,” and didn’t seem to register when I explained some of the things I’d learned about what’s important to me.
For example, the house we were in had a half-galley style kitchen without an oven. As we were arguing he said: “But you love cooking and you’d have no kitchen!” I tried to explain that because I love cooking, I’d been examining what setups worked best for me. I learned I enjoy the efficiency of galley-style kitchens, and I know how much counter space is ideal for me. Knowing those things, I’m excited to design my own custom kitchen to fit my particular style.
I tried to explain to my Dad that it’s simply not possible for me to independently qualify for a home loan in the Bay Area, where fixer-uppers easily sell for at least half a million dollars. And since my industry (not to mention preferred lifestyle) is based in tax-heavy, insane-cost-of-living California, moving somewhere else to own a bigger, cheaper home also isn’t a realistic or even desirable option for me now.
Oh, and my brother? He's always been a minimalist but enjoys his space like my mom does. He just thinks I’m weird so I don’t think the whole idea phased him.
How I Feel About All That
My family rarely reacts to any accomplishment in my life with unabashed enthusiasm—it’s just not their way. They’re not particularly excitable people, and they are so deeply thorough that they immediately jump to the complicating details of any scenario (e.g., I get a promotion and they want to know if all the paperwork is final).
Knowing all that, it’s pretty obvious that I need to accept that my parents will probably never think tiny living is cool. In their boomer minds, I think it’s a step backwards since it’s not a material improvement from what they owned.
Fortunately, I’m surrounded by lots of people who do think this way of life is interesting and admirable. I know why I’m doing this, and I have people who can understand my motivations. And what’s more, I’m happy about it all and proud of myself—if that’s not what matters to me, what’s the point?