• Stacie DaPonte, 31, downsized from renting an apartment in Toronto to a tiny home in the country.
  • DaPonte initially wanted to save money but says her costs are higher now.
  • She loves being closer to nature and will have paid off the house in three years. 

This as-told-to essay is from an interview with Stacie DaPonte, 31, about living in a tiny house outside Toronto. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I've always lived small, even when I was renting a 400-square-foot apartment in downtown Toronto for $1,000 a month. I love city life, but when the pandemic hit, I was stuck at home more.

COVID-19 shuttered a lot of live music venues and bookstores, so much so that Toronto didn't feel like home anymore. That set me researching what it would take to downsize to a tiny house in the countryside.

Why going tiny doesn't always save money

When I first started researching tiny homes, I figured it would be an easy transition for me.

I work from home as a digital project manager, so moving wasn't an issue with work.

However, most people who downsize are selling the properties they live in. I didn't have that luxury.

I'd been putting money into a savings account my entire adult life. I paid about 70% of the cost of the house upfront and took out a line of credit from my bank to pay off the rest. I am contributing to that on a monthly basis. On top of renting the land, my monthly expenses work out higher than my cost of living in the city.

The costs of buying an über-tiny home

I could afford a 240-square-foot home, which cost $58,850. But that was just for the shell of a house.

I paid a 50% deposit when I signed the contract, 30% toward the build completion, and the final 20% the day before the delivery. I still had to pay for appliances, a hot-water heater, a sink, and furniture, so including those things, the place cost about $78,000.

I shopped around a bit before I chose a builder. There were very few tiny-home builders then, and I couldn't afford the transportation costs if it was built in another province.

I wanted a local builder so I could deliver the materials and fixtures I'd ordered and check on the progress of the build.

I contacted three companies based in Ontario, and two didn't respond.

In the end, I didn't have a great experience with the builder, but I managed to get my house built.

Where to put a tiny home

I spent nine months trawling the internet and messaging people in Facebook groups to find land to park my tiny home.

I lease the land from a privately owned mobile-home park an hour and a half north of Toronto. I found this landowner through a friend of a friend of a friend.

Before finding this place, I asked three private landowners if I could set up on their property. When they realized how much work was involved with meeting zoning requirements — such as requesting a minor variance to move a setback from 3 feet to 2 feet — they changed their minds and opted out.

There are restrictions on backyard land leasing based on minimum square footage. These vary by country, state, province, county, and city. Some counties I was looking at had building minimums of 1,000 square feet.

I don't have friends or family with land, so I was contacting people on the internet. Some I met in person, but I'm a stranger to them, and it's hard to convince a stranger to go through a possibly yearlong permitting process, even if I covered all of the expenses.

I invested seven months and paid a consultant to work with municipal planning divisions and site surveyors, but none of those efforts amounted to a win.

In the end, I found a private trailer park outside a town called Barrie. It's a great fit for tiny houses because it's zoned for recreational vehicles. There were several there before I moved mine to the site.

I see myself living here indefinitely. There's more of a community feel — when someone walks by, they say hi.

The benefits of living in a tiny house in the country

My front yard is a river and I'm surrounded by ducks. I have a container garden where I grow some of my own food, which cuts down significantly on groceries in the summer. When I tried growing things on my city apartment's balcony, the plants never got enough sun.

I am much more in tune with nature now. I'm not detached from the cycles of the seasons. In the winter, I have to shovel snow. In the summer, I have fresh produce. If my schedule allows, I hike in the afternoon. I've gotten into birdwatching and I love to notice their migration patterns. Sometimes I just sit outside for an hour with my binoculars.

What it costs every month

My cost of living now is higher than when I was renting.

I couldn't buy the tiny house all at once with cash, so I am paying off a line of credit. I pay $300 a month and will have paid it off in three years — considerably shorter than paying off a normal mortgage.

I pay $550 a month to lease the land. Water is another $15 to $20 a month. Propane for heat and hot water runs another $35.

I relied on public transit when I lived in the city, but now I have a car. Gas, car insurance, and car repairs are additional costs — and I had to learn to drive.

The biggest surprises of going tiny

Owning a house requires maintenance, no matter the square footage. I'm responsible if the plumbing, hot-water heater, or propane has a problem. The scale of the house doesn't diminish that — it's a lot more work than I thought.

It can be hard living and working in the same space. I sleep in the loft where my computer is out of reach. Otherwise, it's too hard to turn my brain off.

The size of the house limits movement for sure. I can't sit upright in my lofted bed. When I practice yoga, I can't spread my arms sideways or I hit the stove.

Downsizing was easy for me

A lot of people struggle with downsizing their belongings, but I've always been very minimal. I don't have a lot of kitchen gadgets. I also keep winter clothes in storage during the summer and vice versa.

Being conscientious of my purchases has always been super important to me. I don't buy things frivolously — when I do purchase something, I make sure I need it and that's sustainably sourced.

What lies ahead

I know that down the road, this lifestyle will save me money. But part of me thinks this setup is more expensive in the short term and perhaps not worth all the effort. I might find a place to lease for less or buy land to live on.

Tiny living is a reality I hope more people see and read about. I also don't want to overly romanticize the movement. Not everyone who lives tiny is living debt-free and easy breezy.

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