How I Found Happiness (in 130 Square Feet)

Photo Essay: Don’t think you know how to build your own house? Neither did 23-year-old Ella Jenkins before she picked up the tools and started.
25 staining.jpg

Click Here to View the Photo Essay
Photos courtesy Ella and Dawn Jenkins.

I am a 23-year-old musician and artist just out of college. During the last year of my degree in Scotland, I became infatuated with the practical coziness of tiny houses. I worked my tail off, saved my money, bought the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company’s 130-square-foot Fencl plans and, despite my complete lack of carpentry know-how, decided to build one.

In July of 2010, while couch surfing at a friend’s house, I resigned myself to realistically look at my California future. The more I perused Craigslist housing for an area I fancied living in and the more I thought about the work that goes into surviving with $1,000 rent, the less my floaty, creative, work-to-live ways seemed likely to tick the necessary boxes.

The building of my tiny house has been the single most rewarding and terrifying thing I have ever undertaken.

Luckily, I later came across a video on the Yahoo! homepage which stated, "See a man who lives in 89 square feet." See I did, and within 30 minutes I was in.

I was too excited to care that it was 2 a.m. in my sister’s world, and promptly called to rouse her and her husband from their dreams with grandiose plans of building and living in 130 square feet.

After some initial concerns I began to hear the excitement I was hoping for in their voices. The next day, I got an email from my brother-in-law; he’d been up until 4 a.m. researching and was as obsessed as I was.

Breaking the news to my mother was as simple as if I’d told her I wanted to make eggs for breakfast. She was on board from the moment the words left my mouth, and with my stepdad’s agreement to help me build, I had the approval of everyone immediately involved within 24 hours.

In my spare thinking time, there was little else that filled my imagination. I pictured 7 ½ x 18 in every room I walked into. I woke up pretending I was in my loft and drank cups of tea dreaming of my window seat.

Living Large in a Tiny House
Dee Williams doesn't need a big house to be happy. Instead she found happiness in a 84-square foot house on wheels.

But then came the doing—and means—part. As soon as I knew a tiny house was what I wanted, I got super determined. With every little thing I thought to buy, I’d have to consider what in my house that money could buy me instead. I ended up heading into the build with no debt, and (I hope) enough money to complete it.

I bought Fencl plans in April 2010, went to a workshop with my dad, bought a trailer the next week, and started in September with no idea what I was doing.

The building of my tiny house has been the single most rewarding and terrifying thing I have ever undertaken, and I’m so grateful to have the help and support (and driveway!) of my parents for the whole process. My dad has been absolutely instrumental to "Little Yellow’s" success, and without his endless tools, lectures, and know-how, I’d likely have no house at all (or a very crooked one).

I chose the name "Little Yellow" (Buidhe Bheag) because to me, yellow means sunshine, daffodils, and California. In Gaelic, the color yellow (buidhe) is often used to symbolize happiness, luck, or beauty. The phrase “I am yellow” (tha mi buidhe) means that one is well, happy, or satisfied.

When the building ceases, I plan to find somewhere by the sea where I can set my boots down for a time and pursue what I love without the worry of financially decapitating rent. Little Yellow is the embodiment of all that I hold dear; she is practical, beautiful, and slightly imperfect. What more could I ask for?

Read More about Ella Jenkins' Tiny House Project on her Blog

  • Read more about living with a new definition of dream houses in

  • Just because a 2x4 isn't straight doesn't mean it can't be used. Meet a contractor who would rather raid the dump than the lumber aisle.

  • Why the attempt to take on foreclosures directly is our clearest glimpse yet of what Occupy Phase II will look like.
No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.