Joshua and Shelley Engberg are avid off-roaders, campers and travelers. A few years ago, the couple began seeking alternatives to the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area that would enable them to, well, adventure more. While at dinner with friends in Berkeley one night in 2014, and someone pitched the Engbergs on the idea of moving into a tiny house.
For the unacquainted, there is not a hard-and-fast definition for what constitutes a tiny house. Five-hundred square feet tends to serve as an unofficial benchmark, but some tiny houses can be as small as 100 square feet. At first, the couple dismissed the idea as a curiosity until they took a trip up to Mt. Rainier, Wash., to spend some time at their family’s cabin, which measures out to about 600 square feet and felt quite practical.
The cabin trip was followed by the major domino in the Engbergs’ lifestyle transition — watching a 2013 documentary called Tiny: A Story About Living Small. After viewing the documentary, the proverbial light bulb lit. The couple started seeing the tiny house concept not only as the best way for them to remain in their beloved Bay Area, but also as a practical shift that would allow them to downsize and declutter their lives.
“We thought, ‘Oh, there are normal people doing this in 100-square-foot houses. We can totally do it,’” Joshua says. “So we fully committed to the idea. We started selling off our stuff and planning to move into a tiny house.”
“We go off-roading, we go camping, and we always have a base camp,” Joshua continues. “The tiny house would, in a way, be our base camp. We could move it if we needed to, but we didn’t plan on traveling with it. We intended to travel because of it.”
Their plan seems to be working — while the Engbergs would previously go on a handful of annual trips, they visited 33 states in the past year.
Freedom of movement is one of the benefits the Engbergs have enjoyed since moving into their tiny home, but it’s hardly the only one.
The cost of living in the cities comprising the San Francisco Bay Area is notoriously high. Indeed, a 2016 poll of residents revealed that nearly one-third of the region’s population had considered — or was actively considering — moving away in pursuit of more affordable pastures.
“We were getting frustrated with the high cost of rent,” Joshua says. “Our ability to pay the rising costs of rent decreased, and we decided we needed to either move out-of-state, or drastically change the way we lived.”
The process of becoming tiny house owners was not as simple as selling off belongings and furnishing a new space. The Engbergs had to trench out pipeline from an on-site well water supply to the tiny house. They also installed a composting toilet. Though they are connected to grid power, they’re currently outfitting the house with solar panels so they can be more resilient off-grid.
Since transitioning transition into tiny house owners, the Engbergs saw an opportunity to help others through some of the challenges they experience as they went tiny. For example, during the building process, they found that designing and building the trailer was one of the more complicated elements, but also one of the most overlooked. They recognized that many people may think about buying and building a tiny house without considering all the details. This recognition drove them to found Tiny House Basics.
Tiny House Basics works with manufacturers to design and build custom trailers and tiny house shells, and consults with prospective tiny house owners to help them suss out their personalized needs. The Engbergs have since become deeply engaged in the greater tiny house community, which Joshua likens to the off-roading community which he’s been a part of for a long time.
“On off-road forums, people are always posting what they’re doing to their rigs. It’s kind of the same with tiny houses. People showing off different designs, offering feedback on the best ways to do things. We’re very active on our Instagram, and we’re available to people to ask us questions, give them design inspirations, and things like that.”
The Engbergs are set to release their first book, Tiny House Basics: Living the Good Life in Small Spaces, on May 16. The book will offer tips on everything from design tips to maintaining a relationship in small quarters.
“We’re trying to empower,” Joshua said, “and simplify the process for people to build their own. We definitely give a different perspective of what life in a tiny house is actually like, and how it will actually affect your day-to-day life.”
“Some people think a tiny house needs to be under a certain square footage or something,” Shelley said. “The book is for those people who aren’t minimalists. Some people think they need to give up every single possession. We’re kind of the polar opposite, trying to figure out how to live a normal life in a smaller space.”
Learn more about Joshua and Shelley’s work at tinyhousebasics.com!