Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Aging in the Tiny House

A reader over at the Life in 120 Square Feet Facebook Page asked:
Do you view this as a life-long lifestyle, or do you imagine something more traditional as you age/if infirmity were to become an issue? (I ask because I'm so attracted to the homes & lifestyle but already have mobility issues, and have trouble imagining storage and reliability of power simply for medical items) Thank you.
This is a really great question and I wanted to take a stab at answering it.

We started building our tiny house in 2009 at the ripe old ages of 34 and 35. We didn't move into the house until 2012. Ever since we could remember we had been dreaming up different ways to live less conventional lives. The idea of a tiny house was attractive to us for many reasons including being able to build it ourselves without much prior experience and the possibility of living off the grid. We simply wanted to prove to ourselves that we could.

We approached our build from the perspective of relatively healthy 30-somethings. I say relatively healthy because I have asthma which can sometimes affect my ability to walk up my mountain quickly or carry heavy things very far. For the most part my disease is managed well by various medications but it will always be something I deal with. However, the built in hike to our home and the manual labor of day to day chores actually help rather than harm in the long term. At least for now.

Our tiny home was built to be an entry point into a very different life. It gave us an opportunity to reduce expenses, determine what we could live without, and pursue very different forms of employment. We plan to live in it for as long as we are mentally and physically able but the very circumstances around our build probably mean that it won't be the home we live in forever.

We wanted to build our house in the exact center of our land on a mountain. We didn't want to build a road to drive there. We understand that we won't be able to do this if either of us has an injury or a disability. This is a risk we are willing to take to have the reward of living our lives exactly like we want to right now.

Practically, we know our hike to the tiny house won't be feasible forever. We also understand that off the grid systems have limitations. As far as storage - well, that depends on what our needs will be as we age and we just don't know that part yet. I already have enough storage for my current medications. Who knows how that will change in the years to come.

That being said, I firmly believe that tiny living isn't about the exact building you live in but a philosophy and a lifestyle. We may not live in this tiny house forever but we will never again buy a 2700 square foot home either. We understand the value of downsizing and simplifying.

There is an added challenge to our story as well. As a childfree couple we also have to think about who will take care of us as we age. I've recently had the pleasure of meeting and working with community living advocate Marianne Kilkenny and was able to interview her for another blog, The NotMom. Without children to care for us as we age we will need to get creative and the idea of community living or tiny house living or even some combination of both is very attractive to us.

My 39th birthday is just around the corner. I have no idea what my life will look like a decade or two or three from now. I do know that the lessons I've learned from tiny living will be with me for the rest of my life and I can apply them to new modes of living when the time comes.

8 comments:

  1. I'm a 56 year old gerontologist and nurse! I'm building a tiny home with an eye towards making it age friendly-- want to be able to live it it when I am 80 or older. That means non-slip floors, slightly wider doors, drawers instead of cabinets or pullouts, and rails with any steps into the home, etc. I think tiny homes can be a great place to "age in community" but we need to plan.

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  2. I agree Debra. And Laura, thank you for the NotMom blog link. As a 40-year old woman without children and plans for tiny living, I have thought many times about the home I will build today and how I can implement ideas that will help me as I age.

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  3. I agree Debra. And Laura, thank you for the NotMom blog link. As a 40-year old woman without children and plans for tiny living, I have thought many times about the home I will build today and how I can implement ideas that will help me as I age.

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  4. I am 53 years old and went from being a healthy distance runner and family physician to being severely physically disabled in minutes with a spinal injury 10 years ago. We cannot assume that disability will only come with old age or that we will have time to prepare. We had planned and built a home in the country with an eye to it being our last move, but we did not prepare for someone who would have trouble with stairs, so there was not a first floor bedroom or full bath. We could have added on, but we began to realize that the cost of living and tax situation in NYS was ridiculous, our children would probably move elsewhere since jobs are nearly nonexistant here, our daughter hates cold weather and would want to be in the south, and once our children left home our house was way too big, it made no sense to add on. In other words, our present home no longer meets our needs. In many ways, this illustrates the advantages of a tiny house. It is unlikely you will need a smaller house if you start with the tiny house, but it can move with you if you need to relocate, plus you can expand if you need to due to changing circumstances such as health issues or additions to your household. It is nearly impossible to shrink an existing structure. We have purchased 5 acres east of Asheville and are working on house plans to accommodate my physical disability. In my experience as a family physician, having children is no guarantee that they will choose or be able physically or financially to help you later in life. I have known many patients with several children who were forced to live in nursing homes despite their children living in the same town and being physically and financially more than capable of caring for their parents, but they could not be bothered even to visit. There is no legal or cultural obligation in the US to take care of the people who gave you life. On the other hand, I have seen wonderful multigenerational households with enriching interdependent relationships that benefitted everyone. A small house could have many advantages for someone who is disabled. There are fewer steps to take or distance to cross, less to clean, less cost of upkeep and utilities for those on a fixed income. There are models with first floor beds, kitchens can be modified to have only the appliances actually needed, counters can be placed at the height that is comfortable. Careful planning can make the bathrooms more handicapped accessible, I would even consider a bathroom without walls, perhaps just a curtain to be pulled around for privacy when you have company, but a completely open bathroom with a self contained composting toilet and hand held shower wand would be easier to negotiate than the standard household full bath. There is no law to say that tiny homes have to be off grid if power is needed for medical equipment, but if there are major power needs, most likely you will be unable to live independantly anyway. These are some of my observations based on personal experience as a physician and as someone with a disability, I hope they are helpful and not too long winded.

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  5. We downsized a few years ago from 2200 to 1100 sq ft. It was a good choice. As our children left home we discovered the tiny house movement. We are in our mid 50's and like the freedom of simple living. I don't think we will ever go to 120 feet but I have drawn plans for 550 sq ft. We both have some medical issues and don't think it wise to climb ladders in our sleep so we will have a main floor bed. Less maintenance, fewer utilities and generally less stuff to keep are our goals as we age.

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  6. I'm so happy to read comments from those that have a few years behind them. Young people cannot even imagine how the body changes and deteriorates as it ages even when one is health-conscious and active.

    In our society there seems to be a gap in reasonable housing options for the middle years when the children have left home but before the need for a retirement home or nursing home. The minimum house size regulation (1000sq ft where I live) isn't helpful for the period in one's life when a smaller space makes more sense. At this stage many of us are more interested in collecting experiences rather than 'stuff'. Our goals become decluttering, downsizing, breaking free from the years of accumulation so that we can have time and money to enjoy our passions.

    A very tiny house just wouldn't work long term for our 70s and 80s. Realistically a loft and ladder would be unusable and dangerous. The tight floor space and narrow doors wouldn't work for a walker or wheelchair.

    Personally, being in our 60s and healthy, hubby and I would like a very small house with enough space to enjoy a vegetable patch, nature, and have some privacy. We spend our winters down south in a tiny camper trailer so want to keep our summer life very simple. What would work for us is about 500sq ft, one floor, an open concept, and screened room to enjoy the outdoors in any weather.

    We've taken aspects from various plans but this one is closest to our goal:
    http://inhabitat.com/tiny-540-square-foot-oregon-home-tops-off-with-a-green-roof/
    It seems open enough for possible future mobility challenges or a wheelchair. We like how the bedroom area is separated from the living area to give privacy and quiet. The other aspect that will always be important to us is using renewable energy to reduce our environmental footprint and our energy costs on a fixed income. Passive solar, solar hot water, solar hot air, and possibly PV solar would be on our list of requirements.

    There are so many aspects to consider and scenarios to discuss. Keeping it small but manoeuvrable, uncluttered and simple are our priorities as we age.

    I hope this discussion continues.

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  7. My wife and I are in our late 50's. I am planning to build a 350 sf tiny house in NH and am designing it so we can live there as we get older. There will be room for a bedroom on the main floor so we don't have to climb a ladder or stairs to get into bed. It will have a screened in porch so we can spend time outside in the warm weather. I chose my land so I had access from a town maintained secondary road. My driveway is about 50 feet long, so we are not too far from the street. I am planning to be off-grid initially, using solar panels and 12 Volt power. I am close enough to the road where I could bring in power lines in the future. The smaller area will be large enough for the 2 of us and easy to take care of.

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    Replies
    1. NH doesn't have by-laws re: minimum house size then? Personally I think there should be a 'maximum' size limit!

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