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Tiny houses not just fad, Soldiers say

Family’s 350 square-foot house features all the comforts of home

Northwest Guardian

Published: 05:29PM June 26th, 2014
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Veronica Sandate Craker/Northwest Guardian

Captain Zach Morgan, 47th Military History Detachment and his wife Capt. Heather Morgan, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment spent a year downsizing in preperation for their move into a 350 square foot tiny house. The couple moved their two daughters into the home in March.

Zach and Heather Morgan’s home might be small, but, for them, the simplistic lifestyle of Tiny-House living is exactly what they needed after years of living in excess.

Their mobile, 350 square-foot home features two bedrooms, a full size bathroom and even a built-in bookcase.

“We couldn’t get rid of our books,” said Capt. Heather Morgan, with the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Her husband, Capt. Zach Morgan, of the Army Reserve 47th Military History Detachment, added that they couldn’t part with their board games either.

But the couple did shed themselves of almost all of their belongings that once fit inside a 1,400 square-foot home before moving their two daughters, Gwyn, 3, and Lorraine, 2 months, into a Tiny House built by “Tiny Smart House,” of Albany, Ore.

“I was impressed with how they overbuild things; you know, making it stronger than it needs to be,” Zach said. “The other thing is they were flexible with their floor plans.”

For their home, the Morgan’s knew they wanted it to be the size of a Fifth Wheel RV, but to have the look and feel of a home. The idea to downsize and try Tiny-House living stemmed in 2009 from Zach reading online about Tiny Houses. He showed a website to Heather, who became the driving force behind their minimalist living.

“I didn’t end up thinking seriously about it, but Heather latched on to it and wouldn’t let it go,” he said.

While serving a nine-month tour in Afghanistan, Heather continued to research Tiny House living. When she returned home in 2013, the couple put their plan in action and spent a year downsizing. They made several trips to Oregon to assist in the building of their house.

“We put in a little of our own elbow grease to make the house our own,” Zach said.

The added labor also helped to cut down costs. This freed up funds to invest in more windows and a full bathroom.

More stuff equals more stress

After their wedding in 2008, long before the couple switched to a minimalist lifestyle, they moved into a 900 square-foot apartment.

“My stuff alone filled it,” Zach said.

From there they moved into a 1,200 square-foot town house and quickly filled it with furniture, appliances and decor.

“We went, ‘gosh this is not the direction we want to be going in,’” Heather said.

They ended up in a 1,400 square-foot home before deciding to downsize.

For the Morgans, the decision to begin minimalist living was a no-brainer. As they accumulated more stuff, they also accumulated more stress.

This became evident when Heather was trying to get her 3 year old to pick up her toys that were strewn across the house.

“It was just stressing us both out,” she said.

As they bought more stuff, they began to search for a bigger home. And with a bigger home came more time spent keeping it clean and up-to-date.

“How many hours do you spend in a week taking care of however many square feet you’ve got?” Zach asked. “If you’re in a 2,000 square-foot house, however, much time you are spending on that is time you’re not doing things you want to do — like going out and taking a hike.”

Zach admits he had more reservations about giving away his possessions than his wife did, but he said that it was ultimately the best decision.

“I eventually came around to the idea of ‘how much stuff do you really need?’” he said.

Even after purging the majority of their stuff and moving into their new home, the Morgans continued to toss things out.

“When you have 350 square-foot house and you’ve got an item that is taking up one of those square feet, and you haven’t used it in the past four months, it’s basically taking up space,” Zach said. “You’re going to be more likely to say ‘hey, this is not useful’ and either send it to storage or just get rid of it.”

History in the houses

Tiny-House living might seem like a rising trend that surfaced during the recession, but the Morgans claim that living in small quarters is nothing new.

“If I see something new and it looks like a fad, I am kind of skeptical,” Zach said. “But if there’s a historical precedent it’s going to hold a lot more weight for me. So I started thinking ‘what are the historical preferences for me.’”

Zach, who holds bachelors degree in history and masters in military history, said he became fascinated with the history of tiny living. The Morgans point to covered wagons, log cabins and the Romani people as examples of Tiny-House living that were not only done in years past, but also in the 21st Century.

“There’s even an American precedent for this: log cabins or sod houses,” Zach said.

Tiny House, big savings

Tiny Houses typically run a person anywhere from $10,000-$90,000, depending on the type of house buyers want and how much work they put into it themselves.

The Morgans did not disclose the amount they paid for their house, but said it was a little more than average because they requested more windows and extra room for their growing family.

They spent their first month in the house at the Travel Camp at JBLM before moving to Riverbend Campground in Olympia. They pay an estimated $400 a month to park their home and have access to water, sewer, electricity and laundry facilities.

Their electric bill for the month of May was $19.

“The natural light from the windows reduces some of our energy bills because we don’t have to turn on all the lights,” Heather said.

And to gain counter space the couple traded in their espresso machine for a French press.

“We’re big coffee drinkers, and we thought we had to have an espresso machine,” Heather said. “We have really learned a lot from the coffee culture up here in the northwest, and we’ve learned how to use a French press completely free of electricity; minus the heating unit.”

Each morning the couple grinds coffee beans manually before pouring hot water over them in the French press. Heather said the extra time it takes to make her coffee was something she learned to enjoy.

“It forces you to take a moment to feel the coffee beans,” she said. “Grinding the beans and smelling it — it’s fun.”

Nomad community

Riverbend Camping Manager Gerri Ratliff had never seen a Tiny House before, but thought the Morgans’ home was cute.

“You could tell it was homemade,” she said.

Ratliff has been working at the RV park for the past three years and said that many of her clients are military.

“It’s convenient for them because they are here for such a short time and rent prices are so high,” she said.

Since living at the RV park, Zach said he’s gotten to know his neighbors better than when he lived in apartments and in the suburbs.

Living in small quarters means they spend more time outside where they can spread out.

“And since we’re new to the RV lifestyle, we’ve noticed that in the RV community everybody’s pretty cool about helping each other out,” Zach said.

Tiny living

The Morgans’ plan to spend at least the next seven years in the Tiny House before settling into something bigger. They figure their daughters will be OK sharing a room for a short while. They said they would keep the house and use it as either a guest room, rental house or possibly a Bed and Breakfast.

“And then maybe we’ll move back into it when we retire,” Heather said.

In the meantime, they are preparing to move to Kentucky where Zach’s family resides, after Heather finishes her active-duty contract and switches to the Army Reserve this month.

Fortunately, moving their home won’t be an issue.