Highland couple make big shift by building 'tiny house'

After watching a Netflix documentary about two people who downsized their lives into a house on a flatbed trailer, Tom and Lindsay Anne Belliveau decided to begin their married life and "go big" — by living small.

Attracted by the tenets of minimalism and the affordability of low-cost housing, the couple is building their own 144-square-foot house on a trailer in Highland.

The 14-month project is part of a nationwide movement gaining momentum over the last decade as rising housing costs and the lure of simple living push more people to fit their lifestyles into "tiny houses," or residences with 400 square feet. House sizes in the country are reaching all-time highs, with the average size at 2,600 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Belliveaus' decision is the product of their minimalist mindset — the idea that immersing oneself in gadgets, clothing and material possessions does not satisfy deep emotional needs and does not allow them to remain in touch with the world around them.

Instead, the couple is adopting simpler living in the hopes that less clothing, less stuff and less space will open up more time for each other and the world around them. Lindsay Anne calls their approach "moderate minimalism."

"People are starting to realize that it's not great to be inundated with a bunch of stuff and that you can really enjoy life without being surrounding by everything you've owned your whole life," Tom Belliveau said. "We're free from taking care of a bunch of stuff and we have more time on our hands. We might have a small place, but we're still able to be hospitable to friends and family."

Their do-it-yourself house, modeled after tiny houses built by Tumbleweed, a tiny house company, will cost between $20,000 and $25,000, including the cost of the trailer. The interior includes a storage loft, cathedral ceiling, bed loft and kitchen. The Belliveaus are constructing the house themselves, with the help of Tom's father, who has experience in construction. The exterior design is based on Tumbleweed's design, but they've designed the interior themselves.

"The whole endeavor has been a major learning process," Tom said.

Tiny houses, like ranch-style homes and small houses created for veterans returning from World War II, existed well before they took on the modern-day name, said Chris Galusha, president of the American Tiny House Association, a Texas-based group that formed two years ago.

Today, the combined effects of rising student loan debt and the downsizing of the American workforce make tiny houses especially attractive, Galusha said.

"A lot of people want tiny homes because it's a lower financial commitment that makes life less scary," said Galusha.

The trend isn't just catching on with millennials like the Belliveaus, who are in their early 20s. Galusha said many people over the age of 55 sell their homes, cash out their equity and opt for tiny houses where they can free themselves of monthly mortgage payments and pay $400 month or less to park their house instead.

But even as the trend has picked up nationwide, local and statewide regulations haven't kept up.

Some traditional zoning regulations treat tiny houses like regular homes if they have a foundation. But if the structure has wheels, it can fall into several categories, like RVs or mobile homes, which are typically temporary and restricted to specific areas; while other jurisdictions classify them as camping. Other areas, like Baltimore County, don't allow them.

In Howard County, no zoning regulations are specifically tailored to tiny houses. A tiny house on a trailer is not classified as an RV, according to Jeff Bronow, chief of the Department of Planning and Zoning's research division.

The county's zoning regulations define an RV, which isn't considered a dwelling, as a vehicle designed for recreation. How a tiny house is regulated depends on if it has a permanent foundation, where it is parked, whether or not it has wheels, among other factors.

"The issue of zoning and tiny houses hasn't come up in any significant way," Bronow said. "Howard County will be looking at potentially trending uses like these as part of the development regulation assessment, which began last week."

Keep it simple

The Belliveaus, Howard County native,s grew up together and dated throughout college. After Tom, 23, graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a degree in math, the couple got married in June 2015.

Tom works as an online marketer and barista at Sip at C Street, a coffee shop in Laurel, while Lindsay Anne, 24, is a professional photographer. She graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2014 after completing her associate's degree from Howard Community College.

They currently rent a two-room apartment that's just 400-square feet, forcing them to repurpose their desks, kitchen and livingroom into one room. But they have the luxury of more storage space.

As they hope to move into their new home next month, they realize that simpler living does not necessarily mean easier living.

"It's hard to find the balance," Lindsay Anne said. "But it's worth it."

"We care about the environment and we try not to use too many things so we don't use an inordinate amount of resources," Tom said.

The plan to install a composting toilet in order to ensure no backwater flows out of the house, Lindsay Anne said.

"Everything is completely biodegradable, she said.

Over the last few months, they've pared down their possessions by donating books to the library, giving away furniture to friends and beginning a transition they know won't be seamless.

From a logistical standpoint, they'll have to opt for more fresh groceries instead of buying items in bulk and they'll also be sleeping on a cushion-like mattress in their loft instead of a plush mattress.

Still, they expect to find the space to have guests over, something they both love doing.

A nook with a bench will include storage space and they plan to have a fold-up table and two chairs in the same area to maximize the use of the space.

Despite the lure of tiny living — many of their friends live in single-family homes and are intrigued by their idea — the couple doesn't see the tiny house as a permanent home.

With the possibility of building up savings, they hope to purchase or rent a house down the line, with their tiny house parked on-site to keep their options open.

For now, though, they'll plug their house into a friend's house for electricity, park their home on that private property and pay less than $250 for utilities. Even though the house has wheels, they don't plan to move it around — yet.

"This will helps us not to have our identity be in our stuff, but more in who we are," Tom said.

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