To Live Tiny

To Live Tiny

Illustrated by Kristen Barnhart

Illustrated by Kristen Barnhart

Interview with Kahla McRoberts, a freelance graphic designer whose blog, To Live Tiny, documents her process of building a tiny house from scratch! McRoberts recently decided to simplify her life and create a new, sustainable way of living that will better fit her needs. Upon completion of her tiny house, McRoberts plans to hit the road with her dog Copper, explore new places, and spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors. 

For starters, please tell us a little about yourself and your tiny house lifestyle.

I was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I went to McCaskey High School. I studied Web Design at American University in Washington, DC. After graduating in May, I decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine from March - September. My dad had hiked the trail in 2009 and after hearing about his experience I knew I'd hike it as soon as I had the chance. The Appalachian Trail totally changed my perspective on life and what I wanted to do with it. I decided that the outdoors and being in nature was the type of environment that made me the most happy. So, I headed West to Colorado (a state I had never been). My twin sister moved with me and we ski instructed our first winter, then moved to Boulder, CO.  I started working with the company Cloud 9 Living (an experience gift company), as their web designer. I stayed in Boulder for the next 3 years, loving the company I was working for, and the access to the mountains for skiing, climbing and hiking. When I started to build my tiny house in January this year, I started my own graphic design company giving me the option to work from anywhere, which compliments a tiny house lifestyle. 

How did you become interested in building a small home? 

I had been seeing tiny houses become more popular the past few years and had always been intrigued by the idea. After hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2013, I swore to myself I would get off the trail and remember how great it felt to not have excess stuff. The problem is, when I got back and had the space it was so easy to fill it. I'm most excited about creating a space that has exactly what I need and not more. I'm excited to live more intentionally. To lose the clutter and baggage of things I don't really need. Going through the process of figuring out what is really important and what isn't is refreshing. I'm excited to do the building, to learn the plumbing and electrical, and to be able to fix things that go wrong. I'm also excited to reduce my ecological footprint. Economically, I was sick of paying rent on a property I didn't own and wanted to increase my option for mobility.

What past experiences prepared you for this project?

I've always been a project person. My dad's an architect, mom's a photographer & writer, and I'm a designer, so I have to think it's been in my blood to like to work with my hands and create things. Also, I guess the Appalachian Trail and moving out West prepared me mentally. The initial idea of any of these things seems huge, but I've learned that you can't let that stop you. You start, and keep plugging away and pretty soon it's those things that have shaped your life. 

What obstacles have you faced during the process? 

O man... cutting a straight line with the hand saw, or not screwing into my finger by accident? All of this is relatively new. In general, I've just had so much information thrown at me and lots and lots to learn. The quantity of information can be overwhelming and the process of sifting through the numerous opinions for each task can be exhausting. But just like deciding to build a tiny house, step by step you do it.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have so much support with my build. My parents are very handy people and have built many houses together, so they have been vital in this whole build (I'd still be figuring out the floor without them).

What is your #1 strength that has contributed to your project?

Probably, positivity. 

What keeps you happy + emotionally healthy?

Keeping perspective on why I'm doing this and what doing this means for me. I'm doing this to give myself more freedom to pursue the outdoors, have less tie to material things and more time to have experiences. I've had stressful moments and overwhelmed thoughts during this build for sure, but when I step back and realize just how fortunate I am to even get the opportunity to build a tiny house and try this lifestyle, I feel incredibly lucky. Keeping active is also essential for me to keep my head on straight. 

What advice do you have for someone thinking about building a small home?

Do it! Google things (you could build a tiny house from YouTube videos), talk to people, make yourself a plan, and then just start. I had researched lots of things and came up with a rough budget and timeline before starting but like anything, things never go as planned. You just have to start and figure things out as you go. If you're a black and white type of person, tiny houses may stress you out. Legally, there are still lots of blurred lines about where you can build and live in tiny houses. So far I have found that people really like the idea and have been supportive, but I am also still in just the building process. In my mind, with all that's going on with our country, I'm willing to fight for this alternative lifestyle and to have a smaller carbon footprint, even if that means giving it a bit more effort.   

Tiny house living definitely isn't for everyone, but I think the idea behind less stuff and simplifying your life is something everyone should consider.

What are your future plans?

Great question... and I'm not entirely sure. I am leaving to hike the Pacific Crest Trail May 4th, a hike from Mexico to Canada which will take roughly 5 months. When I get back in the fall I plan to finish up the house, then drive it out West. From there, that's kinda the joy of a tiny house, I can go anywhere. 

What has been your favorite thing about this project?

Everyone's involvement. The community of people who have been so excited and encouraging in this whole thing has been amazing. Doing anything against the grain can always make you wary about how people will react and whether you'll get criticism or negatively thrown your way. I'm 100% sure I will meet some people that feel this way, and that's ok.

I love building in a neighborhood of people who shout words of support on their daily walk past the tiny house, or having the guy we get our materials from tell me he liked my latest blog post on the build. I am getting to spend more time with my parents than I probably ever have and love that they are so involved and able to share this experience with me. The support from friends and family near and far is awesome, and I love getting to share my experience with them as this tiny house journey continues!


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