Thom's Tips for Building a Tiny House Community

Martha's Vineyard is a historic example of a small, yet tight-knit community built right, from the ground up. Having a shared vision helps guarantee success.

An Idyllic: Tiny House Community

Martha's Vineyard is a historic example of a small, yet tight-knit community built right, from the ground up. Having a shared vision helps guarantee success.

Many folks who seek to live in tiny houses strive to become part of a community. Here are my thoughts on ways to synergize skills, access resources, and develop some momentum in building a shared community of tiny houses.

Building a Core Community

While the term "community" in today's American culture is often synonymous with "housing and development," tiny house folks often seek to strip the term back to its core definition and realize the greater aspects of living in cooperation and collaboration with others.

Working together provides a means to achieve something more than mere amenities of shared pool access, scheduling rights for a cute clubhouse, and a sadly enforced responsibility to keep your lawn perfect, driveway tidy, and mailbox properly painted.

Here are my thoughts on what it takes to be part of a newly established community seeking to become a thriving eco-village (better grab a tall cuppa joe [>:-)

Community Development

When synergies and pupose combine, progress and momentum are quick to come and exponential growth becomes inevitable. Personally, I would "err on the side of caution" where weed-like growth is concerned as it can expand beyond control, and quickly die should its nourashment of interest, input, and willing participation dry up overnight.

Obviously, having a communally agreed upon guiding vision, tactical direction, and co-dependent points of focus are keys to success in building a vibrant community. For many tiny house folks, living in a laid back environment is one of those interests we all share.

For our part, I'll say that being part of something that's growing organically versus one that is overly cultured is the great attraction of living in community with others. Striving to maintain a focus on our core beliefs, and learning to live simply (albeit detachment from oppressive corporate structures) are driving motivations for many, and somehing to assiduously honor.

If I had to distill this sentiment to a battle cry, I'd stand up and scream: "Let's learn to truly LIVE together!" Um... can I get an amen, a hell yea, or a few fist-pumps and whoop-whoop-whoops! [>:-)

Personal Goals

For our part, we've chosen to leave the dysfunction of being in the day-to-day rat race behind.

25 years ago, we chose to have our children young so we could enjoy being a couple again while we were still... well... relatively young. We stand on the eclipse of that horizon, and you are witness to our hard push through in the achievement of the goals of:

  • Strategic simplicity
  • Increased personal freedom
  • Greater financial flexibility.

Wish us luck!

While we're currently wrapped up in the "busyness" in wresting this simplification of our lives into reality, you'll see that we're still working hard to mange the complexities of downsizing our lives, purchasing our "transitional tiny home" (RV), and short sale of our big house, while building a thriving business, providing great customer service, and other related matters. It's a lot to manage.

This rebirth of our youthful relationship is special to us, and we feel privileged to share it. Please "excuse the dust" as we resettle our lives, and learn to to once again "live simply so others may simply live."

Time Allotment

Midge and I are hard workers... maybe too hard.

The term "workaholic" has been applied to me on multiple occasions, and Midge remains at the health club 12+ hours most days (6AM to 8PM-ish depending on her client scheduled work). As such, our time on a community campus would be occasional nights and most weekends.

We are happy to make contributions both financially and physically. In helping shape community bylaws for shared contributions, I suggest the Workamper model for allotment of time to offset expense. In this model, co-housed couples (or families) are seen as occupying less space and require fewer shared resources. This is an advantage for all as the community still realizes its need for service (grass trimming, trash collection, and construction), while families work out their budgets of available time.

Workampers and their hosts (in this case a community not just a campground) are encouraged to define work agreements, also known as statements of work, in which an allocation of time is most often determined per housing space at a reasonable rate. For our part, this would be helpful for as I would currently contribute the greater portion of our monthly contribution of time so Midge could enjoy her scare waking hours away from the busyness of work-like responsibilities.

While most Workampers work in trade for lot rentals, a tiny house community may be more inclined to seek a blend of contributed money and allotment of time for the community. Knowing upfront what time and money is required by each individual or household is important to build a responsible, supporting, and trustworthy relationship between the host, the body of community members, and individuals involved in any efforts for the greater good.

Working Within the Community

Defining a reasonable rate for time that might be bartered in trade for "in-sourced" professional services is also helpful. The egalitarian model suggests that one's "life dollars" are worth the same as any other, and could be applied to monthly community expenses.

As a self-employed business owner, I suggest that a reduced rate for "an above and beyond" professional services should be commensurate with outside fees. For all involved, these fees should be viewed as a fair and reasonable means of offsetting a community member's internal expenses without impeding their ability to produce outside income.

There is also critical for community budgeting as there's still likely to be a break-even point where revenue is still needed. Seeking a minimum financial contribution is as important as defining a Scope of Work for all "in-sourced" professional services.

For my part, I would be glad to share my professional skills in marketing, media production, and small space planning, especially 3D modeling of cabins, cottages, tiny houses, and/or a community space. Knowing I could bank time-for-money or "work off" a predefined portion of our monthly contribution would be attractive.

Consider this: What could you offer to a growing community?

Resource Allocation

At the onset of the development of an organically grown community, some people's time at the campus may be more akin to a working vacation than it is for those who live on-site. Flexibility should be designed into all work agreements, especially those in transition from busy work-a-day lifestyles that demand long hours or extensive travel.

When it comes to establishing goals, setting objectives, defining roles/responsibilities, and divvying up work into tangible tasks, I suggest looking at what each person:

  1. Enjoys doing
  2. Can perform well
  3. Would like to learn
  4. Are willing to share, and
  5. Just might want to be when they grow up!

Churches do this well where community service is involved as they know that work that aligns with your native capabilities (spiritual gifts) will help everyone:

  • Achieve what is needed,
  • Doing what they like,
  • While enjoy their time in giving their service

Further, eveyone benefits through the integrity of teamwork when making their contributions willingly, with joy, and hopefully some fun in the process! And, unless you're hiring-out all the menial tasks, sharing in the "shit work" is fair, and no one person, family, or group should shoulder the burden of carrying all the crap (excuse the language - my poor attempt to be punny [>:-)

For my part, I love to work side-by-side with others, and would enjoy playing in the dirt, shoveling my share of... compost, and building things as a community of like-minded people.

Here's to having fun with others in the process of simply be-ing..

Planning/Meetings

During the startup of a community, some members may need to commute to attend meetings, and a lengthy drive eats up valuable time, increases cost, and burns more fumes into our increasingly smoggy environment.

Meeting times should be designed to work with community member schedules and the time spent in meetings should be brief and purposeful. Community members should enjoy being up at the community, and the best way to keep them from burning out is to limit the sense of hassle (traffic sucks) and maximize our enjoyment (meetings aren't generally fun-filled experiences).

For those still trapped in the daily grind, it takes great effort to shift into the kinder/gentler lifestyle they may have sought for many years while trying to get their heads above water financially. It may help to appreciate that their attendance comes at an additive expense of family time, out-of-pocket cost, and maybe a burden of lengthy travel.

Then, as new members transition to being on-site more often, they many quickly reach a "point of inversion" where they could camp in their "big house" while really starting to live at the community. Letting go of things from the old life is tough, but making regular meetings, enjoying meals, and sharing some game time together becomes increasingly easier and more enjoyable. You need that carrot to encourage your team to pull the wagon.

For us, the greatest challenge in any form of enjoying "the tiny life" will be finding the balance of living simply while running a growing startup in an increasingly complex business culture. Things to make you go, "Hmm..."

Downsizing

Midge and I have already embraced the opportunity to "Live Large -- Go Tiny!"

As such, we have 25+ years of accumulated stuff we're downsizing. We're continually clearing out our house, and have done the same with the pre-owned RV as we inherited lots of new "stuff" with its purchase.

We've sold only a few things, given away thousands of others, and are glad to share the rest for a greater good. We suggest giving community members "first dibs" on downsized stuff we would otherwise drop off at a local thrift store. Items of worth for a growing community could include furniture, bedding, kitchen supplies, books, office supplies, yard tools, and workshop equipment.

There may also be a way to employ a "while you're here" model on the use of items for the community that gives it a home without wholly giving away your family's farm (i.e. all your possessions). Buying something again that you gave away sucks, and offering it for use by others while you're involved in the community is an option.

Beware of Bloat

As a society, we are unfortunately encouraged to become emotionally attached to our purchases, and items without a dedicated purpose in community spaces (like all those spare clothes, nifty nick-knacks, and clunky tube TVs) could just create more clutter and take up space. In tiny houses, an openness of cubic volume equates to breathing room. The same goes for a bustling community of people living in close proximity.

Some things you would otherwise sell or giveaway may have a greater purpose. Given a little space and some shelving, you could also open a "community thrift store" where we can everyone warehouses donwsized items. It's could be exchanged for free, offered to the community members in trade for time/money (though beware of the logistical hassles), and/or used as a clearing house for collection of goods that could be sold for community benefit (yard sale) or given to other organizations in need of household goods and supplies (tax write off?).

If your community has a defined non-profit status, this could give its members a means of writing off donations that generate community income. Again, "hmm...."

In the End...

My cuppa joe has long since grown cold and I've put off pending work tasks for a couple of hours. I hope you've found some spark of interest, some ideas for your tiny house community concepts, and a few new considerations to help you move forward.

Wishing you all the best in your aspirations to...

Live Large -- Go Tiny! - Thom [>:-)


Photo used courtesy of Pamela Hodgdon