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Tiny-house vacations inspired this woman to downsize for good

Even as a young child, Cherilynne Hill felt a kinship with the simple things in life. Summers were spent visiting her grandparents in Canadice, New York, where she was first introduced to tiny living.

Her grandpa and stepdad had converted an old school bus into a skoolie, and Hill cherishes memories of playing and sleeping in it.

Now, some 40 years later, Hill says that staying at tiny houses “makes me feel rested and relaxed. The absence of chaos and clutter lets me enjoy the space I have and need.”

Her first tiny-house vacation as an adult was at a tiny treehouse in Puerto Rico in 2014, and since then, Hill has vacationed at a variety of tiny lodgings. Airbnb reports it has more than 5,000 tiny-house listings in the United States as of October 2023.

“I wanted to see just how ‘simple’ I could get, and the treehouse in Culebra, Puerto Rico, was very basic,” she said. “It had a bed, tiny kitchenette and a shower that was half outdoors. I loved it!

“I could have afforded to stay in a condo or nice apartment, but I wanted something different.”

Hill says she started watching “Tiny House Nation” when it was on television several years ago, and it ignited her interest in the tiny way of life. “I loved watching other people experience tiny living and seeing how creative they could be with a small space.”

In early 2021, Hill was working in Raleigh, North Carolina, living in a 2,300-square-foot townhouse. Ready for a change and feeling the urge to downsize and simplify her life, she stayed at a tiny-home development near Asheville, North Carolina, with an eye toward moving there.

Hill's grandpa and stepdad (pictured) converted an old school bus into a skoolie that she used to play and sleep in as a kid. - Courtesy Cherilynne Hill
Hill's grandpa and stepdad (pictured) converted an old school bus into a skoolie that she used to play and sleep in as a kid. - Courtesy Cherilynne Hill

“I really just wanted an easier, more peaceful and less complicated lifestyle,” Hill says. “I was tired of focusing on ‘getting more stuff.’ ”

Purchasing in the development she’d stayed at didn’t work out, but Hill later found her dream home at the Simple Life tiny-house community in Flat Rock, about 25 miles south of Asheville. She bought a 1-year-old, 400-square-foot, 2-bedroom, 1 ½-bath tiny home for $123,000 in spring 2021.

Transitioning from her large townhouse to a space less than 20% as big wasn’t easy. But as she started the packing process, Hill remembers that she “held every item in my hands, stared at it, and asked myself: ‘Do I truly want and need this?’ Getting rid of so much stuff was liberating!”

(Full disclosure: Like many tiny house owners, Hill does rent a small storage unit for items she couldn’t let go of.)

A cardiac sonographer, Hill found a job in nearby Hendersonville. Driving on country roads with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains to get to work reinforced her belief that she’d made the right decision.

Hill stayed on Franny's Farm outside of Asheville several years ago. It's home to a number of tiny-house rentals. - Cherilynne Hill
Hill stayed on Franny's Farm outside of Asheville several years ago. It's home to a number of tiny-house rentals. - Cherilynne Hill

Tiny doses of R&R

Over the past nine years, Hill has vacationed in several other small or tiny lodgings, including North Carolina, Hawaii and Portugal.

In 2018, Hill vacationed at a tiny cabin northwest of Asheville that rekindled fond childhood memories.

“The cabin was furnished with a bed and not much else,” she said. “There were bees and goats and dogs running around. The farm, the smells and the simplicity took me back to my grandpa’s skoolie.”

Hill says that vacation kickstarted her decision to start living more simply and intentionally.

During Covid in 2020, Hill was considering starting a glamping business. As part of her research, she stayed at a tiny home in North Carolina made from a 192-square-foot shipping container with a lovely front porch and many comforts of home, such as a queen-size bed, flat-screen television, Wi-Fi, a minikitchen and a great bathroom.

Hill rented a tiny house in Mills River, North Carolina, for her birthday in 2021. - Cherilynne Hill
Hill rented a tiny house in Mills River, North Carolina, for her birthday in 2021. - Cherilynne Hill

Tiny home costs

Tiny homes typically range from 100 to 400 square feet, although Quicken Loans considers homes up to 500 square feet as “tiny.”

The two most common types of tiny homes are those on wheels/trailers (also referred to as towables and often under 200 square feet) and park model tiny homes, which are bigger than towables, transported to a destination and placed on foundations. This is the type Hill bought.

According to Rocket Mortgage, the average cost of a tiny home ordered direct from a builder typically ranges from $30,000 to $60,000. Costs can differ significantly, though, depending on builder and region. A buyer may also need to pay for the:

•      Trailer with wheels to transport the house.

•      Installation of septic system and energy source.

•      Land to put the house on.

A park model tiny house (like the one Hill bought through the tiny home development) that is delivered to a plot in a community and has utilities already hooked up can vary significantly in price. Total cost depends on location, upgrades to the house and whether the developer adds on extras such as porches or additional bedrooms.

For example, new one-bedroom homes at Hill’s development as of November 2023 start around $160k. This price does not include the land – homeowners pay property tax on the house and monthly payments to “lease” the land. One way to potentially save money is by buying a resale rather than a new house, which is what Hill did.

Additional expenses of buying in a development include not only the monthly fees for lease of the land but also for amenities and some utilities. These fees can be as high as several hundred dollars a month.

A rainbow arches over Hill and her tiny home in North Carolina. The tiny-house lifestyle cuts down on clutter — and yard work. - Cherilynne Hill
A rainbow arches over Hill and her tiny home in North Carolina. The tiny-house lifestyle cuts down on clutter — and yard work. - Cherilynne Hill

Firsthand advice

The most difficult aspect of living in her tiny house, Hill says, is not being able to entertain and host dinner parties.

Her style of house, at 400 square feet, typically has one bedroom and one bath. But her model has two bedrooms and an extra half bath, which means the living room, dining area, and kitchen are smaller than in most 400-square-foot homes.

Since buying the home, Hill got married, so there are now two adults and a dog in her household. “For the first Christmas in a long time, I didn’t have a full-size tree, and that was hard,” Hill says.

In late 2022, she and her wife moved to Florida for a job opportunity and are renting out the tiny house, but they are eagerly looking forward to returning to it in 2024.

One big advantage of tiny living is the cleaning, Hill says. The house is easier and faster to keep up, which leaves her more time for other activities.

And the list of things that Hill loves about her new way of life is long, including:

•      Paying less for most utilities.

•      Doing little to no yardwork.

•      Living with like-minded people who are comfortable in a small space with fewer possessions.

•      Having the security of her gated and tight-knit community.

•      Participating in a variety of social events and community amenities.

Hill’s community includes an outdoor pool, dog park, firepit and small fitness center. Her favorite community activities include a Friendsgiving gathering at Thanksgiving, events during Pride Week and the community garden that distributes the produce to residents.

Hill added a shed to her tiny property, which will eventually be a space for making jewelry and possibly guest quarters. The street number on her home has been blurred to protect her privacy. - Cherilynne Hill
Hill added a shed to her tiny property, which will eventually be a space for making jewelry and possibly guest quarters. The street number on her home has been blurred to protect her privacy. - Cherilynne Hill

A 2020 survey found that 56% of respondents would be willing to live in a tiny home. Hill believes that making the move to tiny is easier than most people think. “Downsizing and simplifying can go a long way in improving overall quality of life.”

Hill’s main advice to someone considering a tiny home purchase?

Before doing anything else, she says, “first vacation in several tiny or small places, whether for a weekend, week or month. It’s essential to experience a tiny home firsthand before you make the leap to buying.”

If vacationing in a tiny home makes you feel uncomfortable, cramped or dissatisfied, she points out, you’re probably not cut out to transition to full-time living in a tiny house.

But if you enjoy tiny-house vacations, before purchasing she suggests making a list of what truly matters most to you, including material possessions, experiences and people.

If, like Hill, feeling peace and serenity at the end of your day outweighs the need for a king-size bed and large master closet, then full-time tiny living might be for you.

Shelly Shepard started touring Hill’s Flat Rock community in late 2021, looking for “an escape hatch” that would eventually allow for early retirement. She purchased a resale tiny home there that she has been renting out and dreams of selling her “regular” house in Charlotte to live the tiny life. She says she still has a way to go to “slowly dejunk” her life.

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