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June 2012
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Tiny house, large life

BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

GILBERTSVILLE -- When Phillip Skipper first showed his wife Ailin a video about tiny houses, he never expected she'd actually want to live in one.

At the time they were living in a big, beautiful duplex in Paducah's Lower Town neighborhood, full of beautiful things they'd both worked hard to buy. But something about the tiny house movement caught Phillip's attention. To Phillip's surprise, it resonated with Ailin, too.

"I showed a couple videos to Ailin, not expecting her to really ever seriously consider it," Phillip said. "But after I showed her she was like, why don't we give that a try? I was like, all right, I'll start drawing."

Three years later, the Skippers are living much larger with much less. And their 250 square-foot home doesn't feel nearly as small as its measurements might suggest.

Living large with less

Its design includes two lofts (the Skippers use one as a bedroom, the other for storage and for guests), his-and-her closets, a living room nook, a fold-away dining space, a full kitchen -- complete with a double sink, double oven, gas stove-top, bar cart, nearly full-sized refrigerator/freezer, and ample cabinet space -- a comfortable bathroom with a large, walk-in shower and heated tile, and a laundry/mud room with a combo washer-dryer.

But the tiny house feature the Skippers treasure most is the freedom it gives them.

"We get to go to bed with no worries, no bills," Ailin said.

"We get to save. We get to travel more," Phillip added. "We're spending more money on experiences instead of things."

The Skippers took out a small loan to buy their half-acre property in Marshall County, but they've already paid it off. They paid for everything else as they went, altogether coming to just over $20,000. Now they're debt free. They pay no rent. Their monthly bills at the tiny house have never exceeded $100.

They've come a long way since their life in their nearly 2,000 square-foot apartment and the high bills that came with it.

A past life

"I wanted a big, nice, luxurious place, and it was just dumb," Ailin said, looking back. "We had all this space that we had to buy furniture to fill up. Just had it, just because. The two of us didn't need all that. You think 'bigger is better,' but we were just throwing money away.

"We moved to Paducah because I got a big job at Lourdes. I was making good money, so we were able to afford this huge place I'd always wanted. Then bam. One day they let a lot of people go, and I was one of them."

By the time Ailin lost her job, the Skippers had started work on their tiny house. They'd found an old Avion camper in Cadiz for $1,500, and Skipper had stripped it down to its frame. They had it parked just a few blocks away from their duplex in Etcetera Coffeehouse's back parking lot. Etcetera owner and Paducah City Commissioner Allan Rhodes had heard what the Skippers were up to, and offered the lot as a work space.

"Luckily our lease was up right at that time," Phillip said. "So we decided to downsize. We went from 1,900 square feet down to about 650. Ailin was out of work for almost a year. I was working, but we were just kind of scraping by. So we really didn't make any progress on the house."

"We pretty much put everything on hold," Ailin said. "But it was a good transition period."

Letting go, an ongoing process

Out of necessity, and also in preparation for the tiny house, the Skippers began the downsizing process. Phillip, Ailin and their pug Luna moved into a little one bedroom apartment and started shedding their belongings. The more stuff they let go, they found, the more space they had for what mattered most to them.

They started out playing a "game" promoted by The Minimalists, two tiny-living bloggers with a big following. The Minimalists' 30-day challenge encourages you to get rid of one thing the first day, two things the second day, three things the third day, and so on, and to challenge at least one other person to do the same.

"Oh my god, that was hard," Ailin said. "And we did it for two months. But it started to feel good. This was easier for Phillip, but it helped us get in the mindset of, do I really need this? Or do I just want it?"

Ailin sold off an untold number of designer clothing items, bags and shoes using sites like Poshmark, eBay and even Facebook.

"All that money, it went to the tiny house," Ailin said. "It felt good. I had all these purses and things that were name-brand, but at the end of the day, does that make me any happier? No. Now I only have unique things I really love."

"The hardest thing is not buying more stuff," Phillip added. "It's much easier to get rid of stuff than to not buy new stuff. It's so much harder to just keep what you have and be content."

That part has been a challenge for Ailin, who still loves beautiful clothes just as much as she always has. She has a few rules for herself now though.

First, she only buys things she needs or that she really loves, that are special and of quality.

Two, if she brings one thing home, she has to let at least one thing -- if not two or three -- go. Ailin's closet is much smaller now, but she loves every piece in it.

What started out as a dream, a drawing and an old Avion trailer is now a home, and a new life. Phillip did almost all the work himself, teaching himself as he went, but he couldn't have done it without Ailin behind him, he said. Ailin says the same about Phillip.

"I'm very proud of him," Ailin said. "At night we look at the stars from inside our tiny house and I'm like, you don't realize Phillip, you built us a home. This is real. Sometimes I still can't believe it."

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