Tiny Home Living — why I spent $2200 to break my lease?

Photo courtesy of Bill Dickinson
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” –Dave Ramsey

2017 has so far been a year of following my gut versus listening to my head. It’s been a year of being more attuned to what author Martha Beck calls “your essential self” versus your “social self”. It’s been a year of experimenting with the unconventional, jumping off the cliffs of the unknown and standing up for what I believe is the right thing.

Here’s a few experiments I’ve embarked on thus far in 2017:

  • Taking an ice-cold shower every morning
  • Side hustling and taking in $1513.32 in 60 days (including selling my stuff on eBay and driving for Lyft — that’ll be a story for another day)
  • Reading 1 book a week (forthcoming post on what I learned)
  • Giving up alcohol cold-turkey for 6 months
  • Going on an apparel and shoe diet for all of 2017
  • Eating a plant-based and paleo diet for 30 days
  • Co-starting The Triple M Life blog
  • Co-founding and Launching an online startup — Sound Huggle
  1. An experiment in living with less
Girlfriend’s donation pile to Goodwill

When I shared with my mom that I made the decision to break my 1-bedroom 700 square feet lease in a swanky high-rise in the heart of yuppie Portland, to downsize to a tiny 450 square feet studio in North Portland, my mom called me “crazy!”

She urged me NOT to move, “it’s hard to find a good home. Isn’t your life stable?” My co-workers balked and said “they couldn’t have done such a thing”. My friends warned that my girlfriend, Samantha and I “might get sick of each other”, or “fight a lot” living in such close quarters.

The reality is Samantha and I have been on a Tiny House binge watching streak, “Tiny House Hunters” and “Small is Beautiful”. We wondered…what would our lives look like if we lived on a 200–400SF house on wheels?

YES! The idea of living on less, leaving a smaller footprint, freeing our cash to drop our lives at a moment’s notice and jet-set anywhere in the world may seem idealistic, yet it’s also incredibly realistic.

2. What are you willing to give up for more freedom and a better quality life?

Photo courtesy of Ozan Hatipoglu
The question is not what do you want, but what are you willing to give up?

I remember during business school graduation day on June 2015, professor of the year Gad Allon, addressed to the Kellogg School of Management Class of 2015, “remember that life is not just about making decisions in isolation, but often about how you tradeoff those decisions. In other words, what are you willing to give up to get what you want?”

What I’m willing to give up:

  • Am I willing to sacrifice some comfort and space?
  • Am I willing to give up my kitchen island?
  • Am I willing to give up concierge services?
  • Am I willing to forgo mail and package receiving services?
  • Am I willing to give up living in the more happening part of Portland?
  • Am I willing to extend my commute to and from work from 20 minutes to 40–45 minutes? (ok this one was a bit tougher to accept!)

3. Our search for a Tiny Apartment

Micro Studios at The Arthur, Portland, Oregon

Samantha and I spent the better part of 2 months looking into the possibility of buying a tiny home. I suggested instead that maybe we should dip our toes in the water and attempt to live in a smaller apartment, so we searched all over Portland for the perfect studio that fit our unreasonable needs…

  • In-unit Washer & Dryer
  • In-unit Dishwasher
  • Full size-sink with garbage disposal (you’d be surprised how many studios did not have a proper sink)
  • Stovetop for cooking
  • Modern feel

After searching across town, and viewing units that varied from a 390SF prison cell of a living space to vintage apartments that were crickety and musty, we finally found a studio that checked all the boxes and fit within our <$1100 budget!

4. The power in being decisive in the moment

So why did we stupidly break our lease and flush over $2K down the toilet? Why not just ride the lease until the end and move afterwards?

1 Word…FREEDOM!

· Sam and I were paying $1600 per month in our 1 bedroom

· With 6 months left in our lease, we still had $9600 left to pay

· The studio we discovered was renting for $1030 per month.

· Over the same 6 month period, we would pay $6180 if we moved into the studio

· Savings from Rent = $9600-$6180 = $3420

· Cost to Break the Lease = $2200

· Moving Cost (2 movers + truck) = $500

· Move out Cleaning = $76

· Net Savings from moving = $644 (OUCH! That’s it?!)

So you might argue that moving is a pain in the ass, was it worth the pain of ~$600?

For many of you it won’t be, but there’s power in being decisive in the moment. Even though we technically wouldn’t breakeven until Month 5, we were also betting on locking in a lower rent, achieving a 10–15% savings by moving in the winter/early spring versus the high season during the summer.

5. Was it worth it?

Costa Rica Photo courtesy of Norm Lanier

A resounding YES! More than anything, the mental clarity that arises from taking decisive action on our financial future is incredibly freeing. And the idea of freeing up our cash flow by ~$600/month to go towards more travel (planning on Costa Rica this year), savings, and investing makes this all the worthwhile.

You might be wondering, what am I giving this up for?

  • Free up the cash flow to take 1 extra vacation per year with Samantha
  • Free up the cash flow to invest and save to accomplish my future goals
  • Free up the cash flow to pay down my $190K in student loans (this will be a topic for another day)
  • Channel my inner Marie Kondo and The Minimalists and free up the clutter and stuff that I dragged and moved around the world with me from Hong Kong to Los Angeles to Chicago to Portland (we ended up donating an entire trunk space of bags and boxes of our stuff and clothes to Goodwill)

6. How’s it going so far?

Before & After of our 1 bedroom studio

It’s been 2 weeks since our move, and it has not been completely magical. For starters, moving a lot of stuff into a smaller space and having to unpack sucks major (see pic above)!

Secondly, I didn’t realize how much difference having an extra bedroom makes in terms of supporting our divergent schedules — my girlfriend goes to bed early, while I like to stay up late. The other night, she threatened to move out of the studio because of my furious keyboard typing at midnight.

In the mornings, since I wake up before my girlfriend, I’m having to tiptoe around the apartment, and microwave my sweet potato breakfast at work because the microwave is obnoxiously loud and would wake her up.

Despite the growing pains and adjustments, Sam and I are excited about simulatneously being able to travel to Costa Rica and put more money down towards our student loans this year.

What’s 1 decision you can make that would dramatically alter the state of your life if you were to just go for it today or tomorrow? What’s holding you back? What would you be willing to give up to gain more freedom or a better quality of life? Please comment or share :)

Authored by Jason Yeh