Living Small to Live Big: An Interview with Lindsay Wood, the ‘Tiny Home Lady’
Lindsay Wood, widely known as “The Tiny Home Lady,” the founder and CEO of Experience Tiny Homes, is an expert on tiny home design, material/appliance selection and builder analysis. She has been a leading figure in developing innovative strategies to change the way tiny homes are designed and purchased, and she serves on the board of the Tiny Home Industry Association.
She was interviewed in October 2022 by Bioneers’ Arts Coordinator Polina Smith.
Polina Smith (PS): Lindsay, how did you become The Tiny Home Lady?
Lindsay Wood (LW): In 2017 my husband and I were living in Marin County, and while it was an amazing place to live, we were renters, and we figured out that after seven years we had contributed up to $100k to someone else’s dream of building wealth (our landlord) instead of our own.
We thought about it and realized we had a few basic desires: home ownership, living simply with a lighter footprint on the planet, and the ability to move around. After exploring our options, we landed on the idea of a movable tiny home, so we flew out to Arlington, Texas, and went to a tiny home festival. On the last day of the event, in the final hour, we met our future builder. We signed up, started the design, and placed our deposit of $45k on a $90k build.
While we were waiting for our house to arrive, we started downsizing our stuff in preparation, but after three months, after we had paid our second deposit, the builder kept extending the delivery date, until one day, six months after we had ordered the house, they called and said, “We are going out of business, so you need to come pick up your tiny home.”
We drove from California to Utah, and the day we picked up our (unfinished!) home it was a hundred degrees. We had no experience towing such a large load and had trouble with the brakes, but we persevered and made it back. After eight months of DIY work with a lot of help from family members lending their expertise in building, welding, painting, and all-around support, we hit the road, traveling from California to Texas.
But on day-two of our travels, we found out that our builder had undersized our axles and tires, so we had to spend $5400 more to fix that. Overall, we wound up spending $50,000 over our initial budget, but we made lemonade out of the lemons the builder had served us because we took everything we had learned from our experience and turned it into the GO TiNY! Academy, so other folks interested in a tiny house could avoid all the problems we had had. The GO TiNY! Academy born out of our challenges now supports people to get the information and guidance they need to navigate their own journey towards their dream Tiny Home. Our goal is to save people time, energy and money in that pursuit.
PS: Do you think tiny homes can play a role in helping address the housing and climate crises?
LW: I do think tiny homes are uniquely positioned to help with the housing crisis and to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Smaller-sized homes mean more living spaces can be placed in back and side-yards, giving families the option of housing family members and friends, or providing a rental unit that helps both the homeowner and the renter. Having more housing stock in a more compact area makes living more affordable.
Smaller homes use far fewer building materials, so their construction has much less environmental impact, and creating “infill” housing (i.e., that fills into already existing cities, roadways and infrastructure) results in less sprawl, less destruction of natural landscapes or agricultural land, and less strain on police and fire departments and utilities.
PS: For you personally, what have been the unexpected gifts of tiny house living?
LW: The less stuff I own, the more flexibility I have, the more I can travel, and the more energy I can devote to building a business. I don’t get as caught up in the process of buying stuff, which is very time-consuming. I only buy what I really need, and I have really enjoyed reducing the items I own because they actually end up owning you.
And because I go to many Tiny Home events every year, I have developed a whole new set of friendships that are a beautiful connection to this growing industry. I have also really enjoyed the mentorship of some developers, business owners, real estate investors and others. This lifestyle has been a great way to align with people doing good work on this planet.
PS: And what have the biggest unexpected challenges been?
LW: The biggest unexpected challenge was right at the beginning when our builder went bust in the middle of building our home. While building a business has its challenges, diving into this industry through that really traumatic experience was one that I do not wish on anyone.
PS: On a policy and political level, what are the biggest challenges tiny homes face? What changes would you like to see implemented in the next 5 years?
LW: In our country we have two main areas that need to be addressed for tiny homes to become more available: building standards and zoning. The good news is that a new International Tiny House Provisions document just got released, so at least there is now a document that describes four types of building standards for tiny homes. This is a terrific start.
But outdated zoning regulations (that dictate what is allowed and not allowed on land) are the biggest challenge. There is an ugly side to the history of zoning, as realtors through most of the 20th Century wouldn’t sell or rent homes to members of minorities seeking to move out of inner cities and banks refused to give them mortgages (a discriminatory practice called redlining), and that led to de facto segregation and the separation of “ghetto” neighborhoods from lily-white suburbs. And many, many neighborhoods today don’t allow anything other than large single-family homes with a quarter or half-acre of land around each house.
But for many of us, buying a large home in the suburbs is either out of reach financially, or we simply don’t want that much space to have to take care of. The notion of living in 200-400 square feet goes against the traditional American Dream of owning a big home with a big lawn that has been sold to us through decades of advertising and propaganda, etc., so some cultural attitudes will need to change as well, but that’s starting to happen.
PS: What words of wisdom would you have for anyone considering a tiny home?
LW: Join the GO TiNY! Academy. At $400 a VIP seat in the Academy is 0.5% of the cost of an average size $80,000 tiny Home, and it’s a great way to get answers to your questions and the guidance to ensure you make the right choices. Going Tiny is a transformation. If you are eager to explore if it’s something you’d like to do, check out: TheTinyHomeLady.com.