Ethan Waldman’s tiny house in Vermont. (Photo: Oliver Parini)
Many of us dream of gaining the financial freedom to pack up and move to a desert island to live in a hut on the beach or to the mountains to live in a cabin in the woods.
The idea of being free from the worries of a mortgage, rent, or car payments and having the ability to drop everything and travel whenever you fancy sounds amazing.
But what about quitting your job and moving into a house the size of a large shed in order to gain that freedom?
One man did just that.
This is Ethan Waldman’s story. The 30-year-old explained to Yahoo Travel contributor Sophie Forbes why he walked away from his well-paid job and built a 200-square-foot home on wheels — all in the hope of feeling free.
It all started back in 2011, when I took a sabbatical from work and did a bicycle tour across the country with my cousin. I didn’t know about tiny houses then, but that trip was kind of the catalyst for me in terms of wanting to make a life change.
We used the website couchsurfing.org, which connects you with people who are willing to host you for free. On the trip we ended up couch surfing with three different people who lived in some form of a tiny house. That is where the initial idea started — just seeing how awesome these small spaces were and how inexpensive they were to live in.
The living space of the tiny house. (Photo: Susan Teare)
When I got home, I found Tammy Strobel’s tiny house on Google — she is a popular blogger who built a tiny house on wheels. I saw that online, and that is when it all clicked for me.
To make the idea a reality, I immediately started saving and set up an account called the Tiny House Freedom Fund. I had this singular goal of saving as much as I could. Anytime I would choose not to go out to eat, I would put the $30 I would have spent into the account. I would go on my phone and transfer the money. It became like a game.
I completely immersed myself in everything tiny house. I subscribed to all of the blogs that I could and started meeting people online.
The house was completed in October 2013. I had started on June 1, 2012, so it took about 15 months. I did almost all of the work myself, by hand. I hired a local carpenter to mentor me and help me about two days a week.
The home ended up costing about $40,000 in total. That was composed of about $26,000 in materials and $14,000 in labor. I had a professional roofer put the roof on and had a company do the insulation professionally, because the specific type that I chose was a little harder to install.
I am so happy that I made the decision to make this change. In a way, I have retired, even though I’m only 30. Living is so inexpensive now that I am able to pursue other interests and travel.
Having the tiny house has definitely given me the freedom to travel more. I am able to take trips I could never have taken before I built the house. And I have been making plans to travel more regularly in the future. Life is a lot more flexible now.
I travel to go kiteboarding in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It’s about a 14-hour drive from here, so a fairly decent road trip that I break up over two days. I have also been down to the Bahamas to kiteboard.
Since I built the house, I have also gone out to Portland, Ore., several times, where my brother lives. I am very close with my family, and they are all scattered around the country, so I have been able to do a lot of visits that I wouldn’t have been able to before.
I’m traveling to Cape Cod this weekend to visit family, and then I have another trip to Oregon planned and a trip to Newport, R.I., for a folk festival.
While working a traditional job, I would never have been able to take these kinds of trips. It just wasn’t possible with my limited vacation time and limited funds.
Waldman’s bed is surprisingly large. (Photo: Susan Teare)
In the winter, I love to ski, and my tiny house is parked pretty close to a big ski area in Vermont. Life on a day-to-day basis is great. I work for myself — I work from the house or wherever I am — and now I have the financial freedom to travel. It has taken away some of the fear and insecurity that comes with the financial responsibility of paying high living costs.
One amazing thing is that I can shut the house up to leave in under an hour — and that includes draining the water system — so leaving the house in the winter to travel is so easy. I never have to worry about cracked water pipes or damage caused to the home when I leave it.
I could move the house if I had to or wanted to. And I’m sure I will at some point. I could buy land somewhere — who knows. If I could put the house anywhere on the planet, I would park it in Hawaii, on the side of a mountain somewhere on Maui. That would be perfect.