Living the Tiny Home Life: An Interview With Tammy Strobel

When tiny homes enthusiast Tammy Strobel decided she needed a life makeover, she wasn’t immediately drawn to small home living. But through the journey of simplifying her life to a mortgage-free existence, she discovered the big happiness that tiny house living can provide.


| June 17, 2013



Tiny Home On Mobile Trailer

Most of the tiny houses from Tumbleweed and Portland Alternative Dwellings (PAD) are built on trailers in order to stay clear of building codes that apply to permanent homes. That means no connection to the sewer system so you’ll gain an entirely new understanding of waste management.


Photo by Tammy Strobel, www.Flickr.com/photos/rowdykittens

In 2005, Tammy Strobel and her husband, Logan, were two regular newlyweds with an apartment, two cars and a pile of debt, living in California. Today, they live in a tiny house with just 128 square feet of space.  For those of you in the corporate world, that’s about the same size as 2-3 standard cubicles.  In the course of their six-year transition they downsized several times, progressively reducing their stuff, their living space, their debt and their stress levels. In 2012, Tammy published a book about her adventures in small-sizing called You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap). She recently took a few minutes out of her day to talk to me about the process and share some of her best advice on living smaller and happier.

The Journey to Mortgage-Free Living

The first seeds of what has grown into a full-fledged, flowering new worldview were planted in Davis, Calif., about eight years ago. Tammy described it as being stuck in a work/spin cycle. “I was working at a job that wasn’t a good fit for me, I was commuting two hours a day, I was in debt and I was shopping too much and things were just not good. I was really unhappy and just felt stuck in my life.” Like a lot of people, Tammy felt the uncomfortable combination of having so much and still feeling unhappy. “I knew that I was really fortunate and privileged to have what I had. Not everyone has a safe place to live and the ability to buy food and all of those things, but still I was frustrated.”

As that frustration built, Tammy and Logan began to have more and more conversations about living differently. They considered a variety of ways to break out of their rut – Logan was the first to suggest that maybe they should pare down their possessions. But when faced with the idea of simplifying, Tammy was not sure at first that it was a good plan. “Logan and I started talking about how we could change our lives for the better, and he suggested that we simplify. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to give up my stuff.”

Tammy wasn’t alone in feeling that way about the things she had collected over the course of her life. The CDC estimates that over 1 million people in the United States suffer from compulsive hoarding and that’s only the few for whom it’s truly a disorder. 46.7 percent of American households had credit card debt averaging $7,117 in 2013. Not only are most people accumulating more and more possessions, but they are going into debt to do it. Tammy Strobel and her husband were going against the grain when they decided to live smaller, but looking back now, she feels that the change has been a great one. “Seven years later we’re living in a tiny house and we’re debt free. I’m a writer and photographer, so now I’m just doing work that I really love and that resonates with me, and I just have a lot more time and space to not only engage in work that I like but to spend with the people that matter most.”

The Tiny Home Transition

Of course it wasn’t a simple transition. Tammy describes the process of progressively scaling down over a period of years in her book. They shifted to smaller and smaller apartments, working through a long, slow phase of eliminating things that were “wants” but not “needs.”  But by taking it slowly, Tammy says the habits become more ingrained and there’s less opportunity to backslide.

“We started the simplifying in 2003 and we didn’t get into our tiny house until 2011, so we definitely took our time. I didn’t de-clutter my life overnight, it was a long process. I think that was better for us, because our behavior changed for good. I’m not sure if I’d downsized more quickly whether I would have been able to keep those habits.”

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