When I was in my teens I really liked being outside a lot and I spent a lot of time in my summers like sleeping in a tent in the backyard and I really liked just being as close to the outdoors as I could. So in my late teens, I decided to build a tiny house. It was kind of before a lot of people had heard of tiny houses. I didn’t call it a tiny house, I just called it a little cabin. It was years after that that I started hearing people say even the word like the “tiny house movement” or anything like that.

My name is Jesse and I live in a tiny house in Maine. I like that my tiny house was built by hand. I did it mostly with a saw and an ax, help from my friends, my parents and the community. This for me has been a way to live a somewhat minimalist lifestyle and be very involved with nature. Every time I walk out my door, I have to walk through the woods to get to my car, and when I come home from wherever I am at the end of the day, whatever’s going on in that day, I have to get out of my car and walk through the woods to get to my house.

I love that. As opposed to being able to like park right there and walk inside and not even have to get a raindrop on my head. I appreciate that raindrop. So this is my tiny house. This is the mudroom I built a couple of years after I started it because I needed some more space. I have a lot of skis and gear and whatnot for winter time and different activities that I do. I also have a closet in here. This is like all my clothes that need to hang and then camping gear and I’m really into like bulk food storage. I have quite a bit of food stored in here dry different oats and beans and things like that. Welcome to my house.

This is part of my kitchen. I just have a really simple water setup. Five gallons at a time. I use it for hand washing and drinking and what not. It drains into a five-gallon bucket and it’s kind of really simple. It’s basically like, I feel like, living in here is sort of like really fancy camping. My electricity comes from solar. I have been messing around with solar for quite a while. I’ve got a really efficient 12-volt solar chest fridge that works really well for me.

I’ve got some different solar components behind this wall. Most of the time it keeps me in light and energy. Once in a while, if there’s a lot of rain, I just have to not work on my computer anymore and take a break and light a candle and I don’t mind that. Over here is the rest of the sort of food area. This was like the very first thing I built in this cabin was this corner and it was before I even had any heat source in here. This whole cabinet is insulated from the outside and from the inside and I used a really simple thermostat that’s designed for people who go away in the winter and they have a neighbor watching their house. They can have a light on this thermostat and when your house goes below a certain temperature that you set, the light comes on. So your neighbor knows like, “Oh, your furnace stopped working”. And so what I did is I kind of jerry-rigged one of those thermostats through my solar system to turn on a car taillight bulb, which would heat up this cabinet and keep my food from freezing.

Over here I do have a stove now. It’s a Three Dog Stove from the Four Dog Stove company in Minnesota. Has a nice little stainless steel water jacket on the side. Gives me hot water in the wintertime. It doesn’t retain heat at all. It’s very thin, the whole thing weighs about 50 pounds. It’s designed to go in wall tents. This winter I’m working on a mass heater for my tiny house, which will hopefully hold a lot more heat. This is the rest of my tiny house. This is my tiny office over here and library. I do photography and video work. Have a little editing station. This is soon to be the someday love seat/bed convertible table area that is also going to have some storage in it, which doesn’t exist yet except in my head. It’s something that I need in here because I don’t have enough good seating so I’m going to be working on that. So this ladder takes me up to the loft. It’s very cozy, makes a lot of sense to sleep in the loft.

There’s not a really a lot of other things you would do except just store stuff up here. However, it gets really hot up here in the spring in the summer in the winter and in the fall. All the time, it’s a little bit too warm up here. My buddy, Will, one day was helping me work on this and I said, “Hey, you’re a good carpenter, I like what you do. I don’t really care what it is, but I want you to just make something cool in my house”. And he looked around for a while and he said, “Hey, you need a catwalk“. We poked around and we found this piece of wood that isn’t quite as wide as I would have liked, but it lets me go over to that window and open it and close it and have kind of a way to get across that part of my space.

teen builds tiny home from recycled material

I kind of lived by the philosophy of no matter how big your backpack is, you’re always going to fill it up. The house is the same way and even though it’s a small backpack, I definitely have filled it up and learned where that edges of too much stuff versus quality of life. I feel like if I’m running into those hurdles in a place this size I can’t even imagine living in a 3,000 square foot house and having to deal with that because when you have to change something you’re doing with like a huge amount of stuff.

So I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to practice that exercise of figuring out how much stuff is too much and it’s a constant process. I would not say I have it figured out. So I have this wood-fired brick oven here that I built. It’s mostly made out of clay and sand a little brick, little flour brick, on the hearth. Great for making pizzas when your friends come over. This is just my really simple little rocket stove that I cook on. It’s basically just a big number 10 can. This happens to be kind of a tall number 10 can.

It’s got some smaller soup cans stuck inside it, a little shelf here, sort of rocket combustion. The air feeds in underneath the can. A couple of these sticks is enough to cook a meal easily. It really is very efficient and in between the smaller cans in the middle and this outer can is some insulation material. You can use wood ashes. I use some vermiculite and it helps really keep the heat in and focus all of the heat that’s getting produced by this combustion. Once it gets going it does a pretty good job at not producing much smoke, contrary to the smoke you’re seeing right now, but if we give it a minute and we come back to it you’ll see.

I have a composting outhouse over here that works really well. Pretty effective, pretty simple. So something I really like about scything is that it doesn’t use any fuel of any kind except my own. The grass cuts the best first thing in the morning so it’s a really great routine to just wake up, run outside, mow for half an hour, and then come in and have breakfast. It lets me kind of get tuned in with my body, get some exercise, make some mulch for my garden, keep my area around my house clear. I can trim around things. I can make hay. I can harvest grain with this thing. It’s just a lot of fun. I think something I would share with anybody who is interested in building a tiny house, building a tent on wheels, building a tree house, setting up a van, whatever they were doing is don’t be afraid to try things.

I mean my first solar system was like a junk car battery somebody gave me and a little solar panel from somewhere and a light bulb out of a tail light of a Volvo and some wires that came from the dump and I just started playing with it. And now I’m helping friends design solar systems. So, I think, I think that’s really important to just, if you have a vision for something or you’re really interested in trying something or say, “Well, I’d really like it to be this way, but maybe somebody over here is telling me I, I can’t make it that way”.

Well pay attention to that, but still, don’t forget about your dream. Try to not worry about it being perfect and just go with it. It’s amazing how things can happen if you just say, “Well, I don’t quite know what I’m doing, but I’m just going to give this a shot”. And don’t be afraid to mess up. If you go examine that thing with a tape measure and a level you’re going to find that there are some little crooked bits here and there and there are some joints that don’t quite line up, but the darn thing hasn’t fallen over yet, and I don’t think it’s going to in a hurry.