Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

June 22, 2014

Couple sees big picture in tiny house

KALKASKA — Two empty plastic tubs — that’s all that remains of Debbie Hanson’s “keep it just in case” mindset.

She banished the practice of “bargain shopping” and no longer goes to Target for one item and leaves with six.

John Russell, Hanson’s partner, filled a fellow’s truck with two decades of accumulated “you might need it” scrap metal. The marine designer then sent his “survival pile” of project wood up in campfire smoke.

The pair pared their lives down, finding that the essentials fit tidily in a 200-square-foot house that they can pull on a boat trailer.

The “Ritz on Wheels” project taught the couple — both veterans of divorce and 2,000-square-foot living — a lot about what they “need,” Hanson said.

”I used to be a compulsive shopper. I loved sales,” Hanson said, who works in sales and marketing. “Tiny living puts things in perspective — I have to ask, ‘do I need this?’ And then, ‘where am I going to put it?’”

Hanson, 49, and Russell, 50, toasted their one-month anniversary in the Ritz last week. It still has that “new house” smell. The low-cost, low-maintenance home on wheels allows them to travel more yet curiosity keeps everyone coming to their place, Hanson said.

“People and family want to visit us because they are intrigued by this lifestyle,” Hanson said.

Living little is getting big, as proponents cite both McMansion fatigue, energy costs and mortgage crisis backlash as propulsion for the tiny house trend. Tiny houses can be constructed of traditional housing materials, eco-friendly designs or fashioned from other things, like shipping containers.

Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, one of the country’s biggest retailers, sells plans for $760 and fully constructed homes for $60,000. “Tiny House Nation,” an A&E reality show, is set to launch next month, and urban areas are beginning to experiment with tiny houses as possible solutions to homelessness.

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