In the summer of 2016, my husband and I built a Tiny House on Wheels. We spent months laying out floor plans in masking tape on our living room floor, sourcing materials on Kijiji, and drooling over Tiny House designs on Pinterest. We bought an 8x12ft utility trailer, parked it on my parents’ driveway, and spent four stressful but incredibly fun months covered in sawdust and glue, armed only with some basic construction knowledge, Youtube tutorials, and naive enthusiasm.
We were convinced that the Tiny House was the solution to many of the problems we associated with standard housing. We hoped it would provide us with the sense of permanence that had eluded us in the rental market, while allowing us to avoid being saddled with a mortgage. We wanted to be debt-free, minimalist, and mobile, minimizing our consumption and expenditure so that we could reduce our reliance on regular paid employment. We imagined a nomadic existence, where we’d spend our days outdoors and our evenings cozied up in our tiny sanctuary, pursuing our passions and treating life like one grand adventure.
If you’d told me in 2016, while I was removing bits of trailer with a hacksaw to avoid having to rent a metal grinder, that in 2020 I’d have put down my life savings on a deposit for a home in a town I’d only been to twice, that was projected to cost more money than I’d earned in my entire life to date, I’d have laughed, then asked you what you were smoking.
So, what changed? For one thing, Tiny living didn’t quite pan out the way we had imagined. Moving a Tiny House on Wheels is a frightening and often dangerous ordeal, and finding somewhere to park is a bureaucratic and legal nightmare. Also, it turns out that living on wheels isn’t good for someone who suffers from motion sickness! Our little house, adorable and quirky as it was, quickly became a heavy and tiresome burden rather than the vehicle for freedom we’d hoped it would be.
But, more significantly, we discovered cohousing: an innovative model that, to our mind, improves on both regular and Tiny housing.
Why did we trade our Tiny House for cohousing?
1. Cohousing is legal.
While cohousing isn’t all that common in Canada (Treehouse Village will be the first cohousing development in Atlantic Canada), on paper, it isn’t as out there as it might sound. Cohousing communities are typically incorporated as condominiums, meaning that while they are socially and culturally innovative, they follow a standard legal and financial organizational structure. This renders them recognizable to municipal councils, town planners, and investors, and makes the permitting, construction, and financing somewhat easier than with Tiny Houses, which are an unknown legal entity.
2. Cohousing is more sociable.
While there is a strong and growing Tiny House movement in Canada, and we made several good friends during our foray into the scene, we ultimately found Tiny living to be very isolating. Owing to their tenuous legal standing, Tiny House dwellers often exist on the fringes, trying to remain under the radar in cities, or moving to rural areas where restrictions are less stringent. We never quite fitted in, rarely stayed in one place too long, and knew few people pursuing the same lifestyle as us.
Cohousing, on the other hand, is all about community. I was drawn to Tiny Houses as a way of achieving independence, but I overlooked the social and psychological benefits of being fixed in – and committed to – a place. Cohousing offers a chance to build deep and lasting relationships with the land, and with neighbours who share your values. My involvement with Treehouse has taught me the value of interdependence, the beauty of asking for and receiving help, and the astounding difference between what you can achieve individually versus when you work as a team.
3. Cohousing offers a place and people we can count on.
Tiny House living was, in our experience, inherently unstable. Sure, it was nice to have one place of our own design to call home rather than a string of rental units, but the nomadic lifestyle was unsettling. With cohousing, there is a much smaller chance of being evicted, moved-on, or having your house impounded and crushed (before you ask, that really did happen to a Tiny House-owning friend of mine!). Treehouse Village is a community of people who share a commitment to the land, the town, and each other. It offers stability without mundane predictability, as members are constantly innovating, experimenting, and looking for ways to improve and challenge one another.
4. Cohousing is a more realistic route to minimalism and sustainable living.
A huge part of my desire to live in a Tiny House was to minimize my consumption, simplify my possessions, and reduce my ecological footprint. Living at Treehouse Village will enable me to better achieve all three of these goals, by allowing me to share infrequently-used items with my neighbours, grow my own food with the help of people who have the green thumb I sorely lack, and live in a neighbourhood designed with sustainability top of mind.
Of course, there are some things that a Tiny House offers that cohousing doesn’t. I sometimes lie awake at night worrying about the size of the mortgage we are taking on – something a younger me swore I’d avoid at all costs. I’m hopeful that the mortgage will be offset by other savings, like being able to share childcare and cars, and having low energy bills as a result of the passive house design. I don’t know exactly how the finances will pan out, but I do know that I’m getting more for my money at Treehouse than in the regular housing market, and that every penny I’ve invested so far has been worth it to try to make this collective dream a reality.
New to the idea of cohousing and want to find out more?