I’m just outside of Guelph, driving slowly down a dirt road and peering through the trees, looking for a tiny house of 160 square feet.
I see the familiar blue-green paint from Googled pictures and pull over to a makeshift driveway.
It’s nearly impossible to see, but I’ve finally found it. I get out of my car and find a small footpath that leads to the sunny yellow front door of Kat Walters and Matthew Davey’s tiny home.
I don’t feel like I’m fifteen minutes from Guelph, in this rural setting, standing in front of this picturesque cottage that has been lovingly built over the past two years.
Five years ago I first heard about the concept of tiny homes and have been intrigued ever since. I have watched documentaries, read blogs, and followed along as different individuals, couples and even families chose to shrug off societal norms and embrace a smaller home and footprint on this earth.
I myself have chosen an alternative path, downsizing my young family two years ago and renting an apartment in favour of financial freedom and less material possessions. I crave simplicity, quiet and the stillness that you can only find when you get beyond the busyness of overcrowded schedules and overflowing and unnecessary “stuff.”
I breathe a relieved sigh when Kat answers the door and welcomes me into her home. I’ve admired tiny homes for half a decade, and finally I get to meet someone who lives this lifestyle, and see up close a tiny home.
After a quick tour, Matthew enters the cottage to join Kat and I for an interview. He seems distracted and busy with Saturday tasks that need to be completed, but settles in quickly, making coffee with a nearby French press, and eagerly sharing his experience with tiny house living.
“It doesn’t feel like we are living in a small space. It feels like home.” says Kat. The couple shares the story of how they became involved in living with less.
They met four years ago at an event and quickly fell into a rhythm of traveling and searching for an alternative lifestyle that would suit their needs.
At first they traveled in a trailer, much smaller than their tiny home. They explored North America and different lifestyles that were kinder to the earth, and more community-focused.
After Matthew ditched his apartment, the couple decided to take an extended trip in their trailer.
“We took the trailer to different communities,” says Kat, as she tells the story of a time in her life where her entire world view was challenged.
While in California, they visited Slab City in the Sonoran Desert.
Matthew describes it as a habitable art installation. They spent most of their time in East Jesus, an area within Slab City. “The entire structure is built out of garbage,” he adds. The garbage used is typically waste that has been washed ashore and transformed into sculptures or used for practical, habitable purposes.
“Living there changed who I was,” says Kat. She tells me that is was around that time she came across an article about Dee Williams, a tiny house pioneer. She knew instantly she wanted to do the same.
Slab City inspired both Kat and Matthew and the way they eventually built their home.
“A lot of our house has been made out of reclaimed materials,” says Matthew.
In July 2014, after returning to Guelph, the couple began building their home. They had little knowledge or skill when it came to building a tiny home, but they were determined to change their lifestyles and embrace tiny living.
“It was a lot more work than we thought it would be," says Kat, noting that most of the build was completed by the couple themselves. "We had a lot of support, but not a lot of physical support.”
They built their home on wheels because it is too small to be considered a legal permanent dwelling. They constructed it at Diyode in downtown Guelph. Having their home on wheels also affords them a more nomadic lifestyle, something that is important to the couple, who do plan on moving their home to a different spot eventually.
Diyode sponsored the building project and allowed Kat and Matthew to build their tiny home rent-free in their workshop space. The Diyode community provides workshop space, tools and support for anyone wanting to venture into a DIY project. It is a non-profit organization that charges a set membership fee to use their tools and space for all types of projects.
During the time that Matthew and Kat were building their home, they were living in the basement of Mary Kate Gilbertson and Michael Craig, the couple responsible for the Two Sisters River initiative in Guelph. MK and Mike also helped find Kat and Matthew a spot to put their tiny home once it was completed.
By May 1, 2015, the couple had officially moved in, although their tiny home wasn’t near completion.
In the last few months, the final touches have been made on the house, although both Kat and Matthew say there are still projects to be done, like replacing the toilet for one smaller and more efficient, and perhaps finding some space for a fridge.
While interviewing Matthew and Kat, I sit on their small blue couch, surrounded by books on every subject. Kat sits beside me, while Matthew is perched on the stairs that lead to their bedroom loft.
Although the house is under 200-square feet, it has nearly everything a typical house has.
There’s a bathroom, with a toilet and small tub, and plenty of storage. The living area is cozy and tidy, and the kitchen is impeccably organized and clean.
The one thing missing in the house is a fridge, but Kat and Matthew say they have managed without so far. They keep a cooler outside in the winter, and because they don’t eat meat or milk, most things stay fresh on a counter.
There are two separate lofts, one with stairs that lead to Matthew and Kat’s bedroom.
The second loft has a ladder that leads to Matthew’s daughter’s bedroom. A little girl’s dream, a small hideaway complete with mini TV and video games, stuffed animals and little toys.
At one point, my two daughters who came with me to this once-in-a-lifetime interview, climb up the ladder and play in the loft with Matthew’s 8-year-old daughter. We hear giggles and movement above us, while we smile and continue our conversation. There’s seven people in the tiny home, yet we don’t feel cramped or uncomfortable.
Matthew's daughter enjoys living in the tiny house part-time and has started adventuring outside more. She spends her day picking moss, gathering rocks and sticks, and spending time in her unique loft bedroom.
By the end of my interview with Matthew and Kat, I feel like I have made two friends. Our three kids are outside laughing, shouting at the top of their lungs. I see a baby rabbit hop beside them and can barely believe what a wonderful experience our day has been.
I ask them if they regret anything or find anything difficult about their new home.
Surprisingly, they both shake their heads, almost completely happy with the way things have turned out. They both agree that the actual build was much more work, and more expensive than they planned. It came out to about $35,000, with things like solar energy and a special skylight window being extra expensive.
The house doesn’t have quite enough solar energy for the winter, so they must plug in to an outside source.
I want to know if they feel cramped inside in winter. With seasonal affective disorder impacting many Canadians in the colder climate, I wonder how much more difficult it would be in a tiny house.
Surprisingly, both agree that winter wasn’t too difficult.
“It’s cozy in here,” says Kat.
She adds that they have lives outside their tiny home. They aren’t trapped inside all day. Kat and Matthew co-own a small cleaning business. Matthew is also a landscaper and musician. Kat is a Sexual Empowerment Coach.
Of course I ask her to expand on her job and she explains. “I support people in creating and sourcing their lives through their passion and desire; to explore and deepen their relationship to their personal power and sexual fulfillment.”
After I pack up my bags and leave the tiny home, I remember one of the things that Kat said about building her tiny house on wheels.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I am capable,” she said, about building the tiny home. She admits it was difficult, but worth the challenge.
When I pull into our paved driveway and open the door to our spacious apartment, I continue to hear Kat’s words.
I have dreamed of building my own tiny house. I believe it’s an answer to living a more sustainable, debt-free lifestyle. It’s an intentional lifestyle that forces you to take stock of everything, from that grubby pan you never use, to the pile of clothes that don’t fit anymore.
Seeing my two girls playing with Matthew's daughter, and spending time in the tiny home has made me consider my options. Our apartment has six windows, while the tiny home as a whooping total of fourteen. It has been thoughtfully laid out and has been cared for and loved by its owners.
I feel a little seed planted in my own heart.
Perhaps I will also join Kat in trying to prove to myself that I can do something that seems impossible. That I too am capable.
For now, I’ll just be inspired by Kat and Matthew, and thankful that they opened their home to my family on a warm Saturday afternoon.