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Tiny houses

Living in 140 square feet actually works

Jenn Kliese of Olympia designed and lives in a 140-square-foot house. Photo credit: Jenn Kliese

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In 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spent 33 percent of its income or $16,887 per year on housing.

Jenn Kliese of Olympia, who lives in a tiny house, spends less than one-quarter of that.

But although greater financial freedom was her main motivation, Kliese is finding many other reasons to love life in 140 square feet (plus sleeping loft).

She designed her home herself, and it's beautiful, with pine walls and floors, built-in furniture and lots of natural light. The focal point is a tiny green woodstove designed for marine use.

"I have everything I need to be able to live and live well," she says.

She stores laundry and a vacuum beneath the built-in couch/bed, clothes in a built-in cabinet with drawers, papers in tiny shelves beneath a joist and books beside the queen-sized mattress in the loft. In the kitchen are an open-shelved pantry and an undercounter refrigerator.

The house has a kitchen sink but no bathroom. Kliese plans an outhouse with a composting toilet and eventually a shower on the deck; for the time being, she shares her neighbors' facilities.

"I could have had a bathroom in my house if I took out the seating area that's in the kitchen space," she says. "That's the thing about a tiny house. When you're making it, you can tailor it to exactly what you need, and I did."

When Kliese was building her house, there weren't many tiny house plans available, she says. These days, both plans and information are plentiful. She recommends the book Go House Go, by Dee Williams (, and the blog, by Lina Menard.

Even when building from a purchased plan, though, those living in so little space will need to think about every inch - and every object.

"It took years and years of slowly getting rid of stuff and sorting through things," Kliese says. "It was a giant undertaking.

"That allure of stuff never goes away. You'll still see things and be like, ‘I want that; that's so cool,' but I can just appreciate it and not own it."

Building the house was a major project for Kliese and partner Kim Langston. It took two years and about $37,000. "At the end, I just stopped counting," she says.

Kliese began the project by taking courses in home design and carpentry at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont. The school now offers a tiny house class.

The couple did much of the construction work themselves, with help from friends. A contractor installed the plumbing and electrical systems, and skilled friends and professionals did the finish work.

"The process of building my house was exhausting," Kliese says. "We were very much involved every step of the way."

And the women are doing it all over again: They're completing work on another tiny house, where Langston will live. The couple plans to park them next to one another.

Once the sorting and building are done, Kliese says, tiny-house owners can look forward to a freer lifestyle.

"I do less housework, because it takes me at maximum thirty minutes to clean the whole house, not including doing dishes," she says.

And she's free to move. Because tiny houses are built on trailers, Kliese can relocate to a new piece of property or a new city without losing her investment.

Most important to her, she can afford to work just part time. "I can make room for art and really take it seriously," she says.

"That feels huge to me."

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