Tiny Home, Big Dreams with Nick & Tessa MacDonald

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Show Notes

Nick & Tessa MacDonald

Summary

On this episode of the Farm Credit AgVocates podcast, Meaghan Webster explores a current trend sweeping rural America that is surprisingly “small”. Nick and Tessa MacDonald in Camden-Wyoming, Delaware decided to ditch debt and downsize their living quarters back in 2019 and began working up a plan to build a tiny home on a couple acres.

Nick and Tessa were kind enough to give Meaghan a (very quick) tour of their beautiful tiny home and educate our listeners on their journey and how they went about buying land and building a tiny home. 

Links

 

Transcript

Meaghan Webster:

Welcome to the Farm Credit AgVocates podcast, I'm your host, Meaghan Webster, Content and Digital Marketing Strategist at MidAtlantic Farm Credit.

Today's guests are going to give you some serious HGTV vibes in the form of tiny home living. In case you're not hip to some of the background on the tiny home movement, I wasn't, until I did some digging. I wanted to see how this trend started and has carried on throughout the years. So the tiny home movement itself originated in the late seventies, and it was a counter-cultural response to a “greed is good” mentality. Conversely, it encourages environmentalism and social consciousness.

In 2008, the financial downturn caused many to be unable to pay their mortgages, and they started looking to something called right-sizing to find homes that traded extra square footage for a more affordable payment. More recently TV shows like “Tiny House, Big Living” and “Tiny House Nation” have glamorized the small home lifestyle and help gain appeal among those looking to live with less.

I'll have to admit, I think it's kind of a romantic thought to sell most of your things and live a more simple life. But today we get to hear what tiny living is really like, and I couldn't be more excited to hear all about it. To make matters even better, they've invited me to their kitchen table to record this interview. So let's jump right in.

Background of Tessa and Nick

Meaghan Webster:

Thank you guys for having me over today. I am so excited to be here, before we jump into getting the scoop about tiny house living, I'd like to get to know you guys first. So if you could just tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are, what you do, kind of introduce yourself to our listeners. That would be awesome.

Nick MacDonald:

My name is Nick and I work for a church in Dover, it's called United and I've been there for just about five years. So when we moved back to Delaware, I joined them and we love it.

Tessa MacDonald:

My name is Tessa and we've been married for seven years, almost eight. I grew up in Delaware, I grew up in Sussex County in Greenwood. So I work for A&E properties as the Marketing Director, it is a small business in downtown Dover.

Meaghan Webster:

When you guys were growing up, are you guys familiar with country living or is this kind of like a new thing?

Tessa MacDonald:

So I definitely grew up in the country and had fields all around us on a lot of acres. So I'm used to it. I think for Nick, it's probably a little bit new.

Nick MacDonald:

I went to Lake Forest. It's kind of out in the country a little bit, but I kind of moved around a lot, growing up with my dad being in the military. So yeah, this would be newer for me.

Meaghan Webster:

So how did you guys end up meeting?

Nick MacDonald:

We met through a mutual friend when we were in high school at our church and we just started talking, hanging out and dated for about four years, a little over four years and got married right after college.

Meaghan Webster:

Well, I was excited when your loan officer, Amber, sent me your Instagram. She sent it to me, I think earlier this year, maybe late last year, she sent me the picture of you guys closing on your land. I was so excited. She was like, you have to talk to them, whether it's for the podcast or a video or something, they are so cool. They've got the coolest setup going on. I am a huge fan of seeing all the different kinds of tiny homes.

One of the ones that stands out in my brain, I watch a lot of HGTV when I get the chance, but one that stands out, they were doing a whole episode where they revamped the inside of a school bus. He had like hammocks all over the place and like a kitchen and it was just really cool. But can you describe your tiny house and the land that we're sitting on right now? Just to give our listeners like a little visual?

Their Tiny Home

Nick MacDonald:

We are currently sitting in 386 square feet of our home and we're currently in the dining area and I love it. I mean, it's laid out super open and we have nine foot walls, 13 foot vaulted ceilings. It definitely doesn't feel like as tiny for us. We didn't know how it would feel. But it doesn't feel super small for us. This is all on two and a quarter acre of land and so lots of open outdoor activities as well.

Meaghan Webster:

It definitely feels a lot bigger in here with the ceiling. I think in any house, the ceilings are like kind of a key to like how it feels, but it definitely feels bigger than that, which is super cool. So what kind of started like the conversation around tiny home living? Like who started it? Let's point fingers.

Tessa MacDonald:

That’s me. I was actually doing research. I worked for like a home construction company and kind of stumbled across tiny houses. And I was like, oh, they're a lot nicer than what I expected. So then I started kind of doing the math and I was like, wow, if we did do this, we could pay off our student loans a lot faster.

So I jokingly said to Nick, you know, if we sold our house, we lived in a three bedroom, 1800 square foot house at the time. I said, if we sold our house and moved into a tiny house, we could pay off our debt a lot faster. He laughed and I thought that was kind of the end of it. But he did his own research the next couple of days and came back and said, do you really think we could do it? And I said, yes. So here we are.

Meaghan Webster:

That’s so cool. What an idea? My husband's been talking a lot about RV living. He wants to buy an RV, sell the house, travel the country, and we have two dogs. So I don't know, I'm not quite sold on it yet. I need to do my research, but I think that's super cool that you guys kind of just like put it out there and then all of a sudden it just stuck. That's really cool.

So what was your experience like buying land and then building on it? You guys started this process during COVID, is that right?

Building Their Tiny Home

Nick MacDonald:

We bought the land in 2019. We still had our current house at the time in Dover. But we knew we wanted to like make the shift. So when we came upon this piece, we were excited about it. I was more excited at first than she was, and so we purchased this land and then we sold our house in January of 2020.

Right before all of the craziness then we started the whole process kind of right as we were heading into the shutdown, we started everything and it was good. There were lots of delays later on in the year, which made things a little more anxious, but all in all it ended up really well.

Meaghan Webster:

Have you guys ever bought land and built before, or this was like completely brand new and then throw a pandemic onto that. That's crazy. Well, I'm glad that you guys were able to kind of skip some of that delay period, at least in the beginning.

So I know it's been a struggle for a lot of people right now with lumber prices and material prices and everything is delayed. So that's good to hear that you guys kind of enjoyed it. If you don't mind me asking, what made you guys go with Farm Credit?

Nick MacDonald:

When we found this property we were looking at a bunch of different lenders and it was really difficult because there was a portion of the land that was improved. So a lot of lenders won't even entertain that. We had a lot of friends recommend Farm Credit.

Once I started looking into it and had conversations with one of your lenders, it just got even better. They're really easy to work with, super friendly and were really fighting for us, even with the improved parts of the land to help make this happen.

Meaghan Webster:

We'll get back to the tiny living perks. That's the more interesting part. So when you guys decided, okay, this is what we're going to do, we're going to buy the land, we're going to build this tiny home.

Did you guys work with a builder that specialized in that? Did you guys pick your own floor plan? Like how did that journey like really start?

Tiny Living Perks

Tessa MacDonald:

So we stayed in a lot of tiny homes before we kind of made the decision and we really originally were going to put it on wheels. We were thinking that it would be nice to be mobile, but after talking with my boss who, like I said is a builder, he kind of recommended putting it on a foundation if we weren't planning to travel with it, which we weren't.

So we put it on a foundation, it made it a little bit safer and then I found the floor plan online, and we sort of customized it with the help of A&E as well. So that's kind of how we came up with this specific floor plan and customized it to what we needed.

Meaghan Webster:

I did a little bit of Googling myself just to see like what was out there. It seems like it's starting to become a very niche market for construction companies. Being able to do all of that and kind of make it your own, I think is what really makes it special.

Were there any like unique challenges, I guess with permitting or maybe insurance? It seems like there might be like kind of hang-ups with people or companies that don't typically have to permit or insure something like this.

Unique Tiny Home Challenges

Tessa MacDonald:

We didn't have a ton of issues, but I do think the biggest reason for that was because we did take it off the wheels. I think if we would've left it on wheels, we would have had a little bit more of issues. And Nick has really good relationships with the Kent County area. So we didn't really have any hang-ups with that.

Nick MacDonald:

Oh yeah. It was mainly the wheels, but even the wheels, they ended up getting approved. It just had to have like certain like egress windows and stuff like that. Kent County was definitely way easier to work in for this specific house.

Meaghan Webster:

I feel like there are a lot of people that are still thinking about the tiny house kind of thing. I can imagine that would be kind of overwhelming to have to start from scratch and have to explain to people it's actually a tiny house. So that's good to hear. I personally, definitely see the lore of like minimalistic living. I love cleaning out my closets, my drawers, all of that kind of thing. I love just getting rid of the stuff that doesn't bring me joy anymore. That popular book was, I can't remember the name of it, but I think one of the things that I would definitely miss hosting friends and having people over and not that my kitchen is very big, but I would definitely miss having a full-sized kitchen.

But what has been your biggest challenge moving into a tiny home and having to kind of manage all of that?

Tessa MacDonald:

We always struggle to come up with an answer to this one when people ask us because we really love it and we really, really enjoy it. I would say one of the biggest challenges is just getting to this point, we had enough stuff for a three bedroom home. So we had to sell a lot, all of our furniture and then downsize our clothes and our kitchen stuff and things like that.

But we are looking forward to kind of improving our outdoor area so that we can still have friends over and do things like that. But it definitely was a challenge kind of getting things pared down to get to them.

Nick MacDonald:

Yeah. I think the outdoor that was one of the reasons we wanted to get like more land as we were building and so that we can focus our space in here, but then also have like a larger space outside that we can spend time together and also have like friends and family over.

Meaghan Webster:

Do you guys have any current plans right now for the rest of the space? Two acres is kind of a lot when you have a very small house on it.

Future Plans

Nick MacDonald:

As far as like living space outside, we definitely are in the process of finding the right concrete person to put a patio in the back and kind of connect the fire pit area and everything. But as far as the rest of the land, it really depends. I mean, we've had thoughts of maybe one day we'll build a standard house on the other side of the property and use this as a rental or an Airbnb or something like that. Or we might just put a couple more tiny houses.

Meaghan Webster:

Yeah. Why not?

Tessa MacDonald:

I think there's beans over there. The farmer uses some of the land for some beans. So that's awesome.

Meaghan Webster:

So I saw that you guys just got back from a trip in a camper van and you drove through Arizona and Utah. How did that go? Like how different was that than being here, with foundations?

Nick MacDonald:

It was a lot of fun. That was our first time out west. So it was really cool just to see some different terrain, just some different environments of Arizona and some of Utah. So it was really cool to be able to experience those things. And the van living was interesting.

It was definitely much smaller. But the biggest hurdle was there was not a bathroom in it and no hot water. So they had a shower hookup in the back, but it was freezing. But we made it work, it was good. And then we were definitely like running into each other a lot more. I think the exciting part was like, it made the adventure so much fun. You can just get up and go.

Meaghan Webster:

Do you think that's something that you'll add into your lifestyle, like add a camper van to it?

Nick MacDonald:

I would love to, yeah. Being able to like outfit something like that is something I would love to do.

Meaghan Webster:

You could do something similar to what you're saying earlier about having it set on wheels. A lot of people love the idea of being able to just get a brand new truck and hook it up and take off with it. I see the lore of both of them.

I'm kind of a homebody. So I get having a foundation somewhere too. And the van life, I don't know if I could deal with not having hot water, I get that, but we'd probably have to make a lot of stops. So how long were you guys doing the van life?

Nick MacDonald:

It was about a week. Throughout the different places we stopped we were able to meet different people. And a lot of the people we met were doing that full time and really the pandemic helped give them that push to work remotely. Many of them sold their house, got an RV or camper and just started traveling.

Meaghan Webster:

Well, something else that some of my colleagues have told me that I needed to ask you guys, do you have any newfound hacks for organizing or getting rid of clutter or anything that makes it a little bit easier for the rest of us?

Organization Hacks

Nick MacDonald:

We have a closet organization system that we got from the container store and that helped a ton. So as we were looking at like storage space, especially for our clothes and things like that we wanted to make sure that we were making the best use of our space and there's amazing options that they have for storage space for your closet. So that helped a lot. Other than that, instead of a weekly cleaning, it's more of just like daily tidying up, making sure nothing gets out of hand too quick.

Tessa MacDonald:

Yeah, and doing the laundry every other day instead of saving it for the weekend because we have a two in one, so it takes like six-ish hours to complete a load. So we just have to plan ahead.

Meaghan Webster:

I didn't even know they made those. I would have assumed that it was like a stacked one.

Tessa MacDonald:

It washes first and that's like a normal cycle and then the dry load just takes a lot longer, but it does completely dry the clothes.

Meaghan Webster:

That's really cool. How efficient for your space? I like that. That's great. If you guys had any advice for somebody looking to go the tiny home route, what would you tell them?

Advice for Tiny Home Buyers

Tessa MacDonald:

I would say definitely try out staying in some tiny homes. It really helped us figure out what we wanted to prioritize. There's people that work from home and they need office space. I definitely did not want to sacrifice on the closet. I was like, I need room for my clothes and my shoes.

So we have a standard size, it's not huge, but it is standard size. So I think staying in tiny homes, figuring out what it is that's important to you is going to be really, really helpful.

Nick MacDonald:

I think just having fun with the creative options, like the washer and dryer, or a storage bed that you can put things in and stuff like that.

Meaghan Webster:

Does your bed fold up like one of the murphy beds?

Nick MacDonald:

No, it's more of like a drawer storage option, like under it.

Meaghan Webster:

As I thought about that, I was like, that sounds like such a pain. Like what if you fall asleep on the couch and then you have to put it down, it's like, now I'm just sleeping on a couch. That makes sense. We're going to end on something fun. But before we get to like the end part, where can our listeners find you guys if they want to follow along with your tiny home journey?

Tessa MacDonald:

Yeah. So we have an Instagram where we kind of try to post the entire process and tips and stuff like that. And it's @ourtinyplace.

Meaghan Webster:

Perfect. And we will put that in the show notes for anybody listening. So you will definitely be able to find them. This has been so much fun. Thank you guys again for having me here in your dining room.

Before we sign off, I thought it might be kind of fun to end the interview with like a, this or that kind of game. So I'll give you two home features and then you can choose which one that you just can’t live without, or that you prefer. And I want an answer from both of you. So the first one is front porch or back deck?

Tiny Home: This or That

Tessa MacDonald:

Oh, back deck.

Nick MacDonald:

Back deck for sure.

Meaghan Webster:

What is your like dream back deck? Like what's it got on it?

Nick MacDonald:

A grill, definitely. Some lounge chairs to soak up that sun and then maybe like a dining table.

Tessa MacDonald:

Yeah, places for friends and a gas fire pit.

Meaghan Webster:

I've always been a big fan of a porch swing.

Tessa MacDonald:

I do love a good swing.

Meaghan Webster:

Indoor plants or an outdoor garden?

Tessa MacDonald:

Indoor plants. Yeah. I'm working on that though. I killed a lot of them so far. I've only killed two, but I have 13. So I think the ratio is pretty good.

Meaghan Webster:

Well, you have a lot of wall space that you can put, you can get lots of and the best part is the ones that vine, then they can go everywhere.

Tessa MacDonald:

You just got to keep them alive that long.

 Meaghan Webster:

Right. What about you? Same one?  

Nick MacDonald:

I would say outdoor garden, but I know that, and she's giving me a look of like, yeah, I probably won't keep up with it. I love the idea of it.

Meaghan Webster:

And the last one, this one's going to be hard. A bigger bathroom or a bigger closet?

Tessa MacDonald:

I'm going to go closet, for sure.

Nick MacDonald:

Yeah, closet.

Meaghan Webster:

Yeah. I'm with you. I have a lot of shoes. My husband always jokes that I need to worry about getting rid of shoes before I get rid of anything else in the house. And I was like, I don't think I can do that. That's a stretch. See, that's my priority. So I would also need a full sized closet.

So we usually sign off with a question about agriculture, but since we're kind of switching it up a little bit, what do you guys advocate for in rural America and country living?

What Do You Advocate for in Rural America?

Nick MacDonald:

The biggest thing, especially for me being more new to country living would be just like the quiet, the peace, never going to find sunsets like you do out here. And that's been like the best part for me. It's like, I would encourage people. You have to try it at some point in your life because it just brings so much peace to you.

Tessa MacDonald:

I would definitely agree with that.

Meaghan Webster:

Thank you guys so much for having me again. I can't get over how nice of a day it is, how beautiful the house is.

Meaghan Webster:

Thanks for tuning in to today's episode. If you haven't already make sure to rate, review and subscribe to our channel, you can even take a screenshot to share it with a friend. You can get the podcast notes from this episode and previous episodes over at mafc.com/podcast. If you have any suggestions for future topics or guests that you'd like to hear from shoot us an email at podcast@mafc.com. Thanks again for tuning in and until next time, keep on agvocating for what you believe in.