Gregory Johnson wanted to downsize. For some, that might mean going from your 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom house to a 3-bedroom, 2-bath.
But Johnson went a more drastic (and tiny) route. Two years after reading about Jay Shafer, who builds tiny houses for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company
, Johnson worked closely with Shafer to build his own 140-foot tiny house in an effort to live a simpler life and reduce his carbon footprint – among many other changes, he also replaced his car with a bike.
Living in a tiny house changed Johnson’s life. He lost 100 pounds, saved a lot of money and helped start the small house movement. He founded the Small House Society
and wrote a book, Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned Living in 140 Square Feet
Johnson now lives in a 360-square foot apartment with his wife in downtown Iowa City. He works full-time at the University of Iowa, is the director for Resources for Life
and also runs a computer and technology support consulting firm called the Technology Services Resource Group
Johnson is currently in India and took the time this week to answer some questions about the small house movement.
Q: What are you doing in India?
While in college attending the University of Iowa, I had an opportunity to spend a semester in South America participating in an Urban Studies program offered by the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs
. It was then that I developed an interest in a holistic study of how people live in communities. I’m now in India for my fourth visit to learn more about the culture here and to study the future of sustainable living and urban planning. I plan to expand on my previous writings about India
Q: What was your motivation for living in a small house when you decided to make the change?
When I began riding a bicycle daily to commute to work, I realized how synergistic and holistically transformational that one decision was. I saved money, saved time, improved my health, used up less space, and produced less noise and air pollution. My shift to small house living was based on the belief that living small could have a similar positive impact on my finances, time, health and the environment. What I suspected turned out to be true. The experience changed my entire life for the better.
Q: When you lived in your 140-square foot house, did you ever get claustrophobic? I would think that would be some people’s concern (I know that’s the first thing my mom would say).
People often ask if I get claustrophobic in such a small space. Actually I found the opposite is true. Because a single room home allows for windows on every wall, and a glass door, whatever direction one looks in you see the world outside which becomes the daily visual image. Rather than focusing on the walls around me, I saw nature surrounding me.
Q: How much has the small house movement grown in the last few years?
The growth of the small house movement over the past few years has been exponential. Small home designers, builders and dwellers have increased, as have books, websites and national news coverage of the movement. When the small house movement is presented to the public through media channels, the response is overwhelming as websites receive 50,000 visitors per day or more in response.
Q: You call your lifestyle “simple living.” What impact has living simply had on your life?
Things require time and money. So, I guess the most immediate impact is the savings of time and money that would otherwise go into buying and caring for things. On a deeper level, voluntary simplicity calls a person inward to redefine success, happiness and contentment.
Q: What are the benefits of living in a smaller home?
Living in a smaller home is an exciting journey of self-imposed minimalism. It’s like taking a 20-page paper that you’ve written, and editing it down to 10 pages. The process requires that you evaluate your priorities and remove all that isn’t essential.
Q: Would you agree that part of the housing crisis has been people living above their means, the need to have a huge home and a nice car to keep up with the Joneses? What advice would you give to those people who are now struggling to make their house payment or are about to have their home foreclosed?
I don't think people are trying to keep up with the Joneses
anymore. They have surpassed the Joneses and they still aren’t satisfied. The problem is our insatiable appetite for food and material things that exceeds our metabolism and budget. Living smaller with less, allows a person to increase the quality of their possessions by reducing the quantity.
Q: Do you think we are going to see a trend of more smaller homes being built (maybe not tiny, but smaller) and fewer big homes?
Traditional home contractors and builders are telling me that prospective home owners are now trying to shave off size from the homes they are designing and building. In part this is to save money, but it’s also because of an awareness about our environmental impact. For this reason, relatively smaller homes that are for sale end up being sold much faster than larger homes on the market. Those who specialize in designing and building tiny homes are telling me that the demand is increasing.
Q: For those who need to take out some kind of mortgage on a smaller (or tiny) home, is that a challenge?
What’s nice about buying a tiny home is that you can buy it for about the price of a new car. So, the payments are relatively small, and it’s paid off in 3 to 5 years.
Q: If someone wants to cut back their expenses and live in a smaller home and make some lifestyle changes, what would be your first piece of advice to them?
The first steps for anyone wanting to downsize would be to begin digitizing their life. Take digital photos of items that have sentimental value. Scan documents and photos. Request electronic statements for bills. The goal is to get as much of your life as possible to fit inside a shirt-pocket sized external hard drive. Then you can live where you please. For example, let’s say you’ve always wanted to live near the ocean, but a 2,000 square foot home in such an area would be too expensive. If you can downsize to live in a 200 square foot efficiency apartment or tiny home, then you can now afford to live by the ocean.