Downsizing: Living big in small spaces

November 2018 Posted in Community, Other, People
Becky Gilliam-Madge and Sam Madge in front of their small home in Silverton

Becky Gilliam-Madge and Sam Madge in front of their small home in Silverton.

By Melissa Wagoner

Tamara Swanson likes to say she lives big – just in a small space.“It’s very elegant and it doesn’t seem small at all,” she said.

Measuring just 690 square feet, Tamara and her husband Richard Orr created their petite space – an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Silverton – six years ago after their children left home.

“We had added to our house when the kids were growing up and it was a bigger house than we wanted to clean,” she laughed. “Where we had added the 700 square feet we worked with a contractor to put the wall back.”

Minimalistic living is a tenet Tamara has tried to adhere to throughout her life and is one she has passed on to her daughter, 28-yea- old Becky Gilliam-Madge. Therefore, it was no surprise to her when Becky followed in her footsteps and built her own small home with husband Sam Madge.

“We went small not just because we liked the idea, but realistically building a 780 square foot home… that was doable at the time,” Becky said. “To be married two years and have your own house is pretty special, too.”

Minimalism also runs in Sam’s family. His parents, architect Victor Madge – who designed the couple’s new home – and engineer Dana Smith, have a lifestyle rooted in both community and earth conscious living, which they have worked to pass on to their children. 

“[We] lived on 39-foot sailboat for seven years,” Dana said. “[We] moved aboard when our son was two. I think both of our children embrace experience over material possessions – simple is the new wealthy.”

Sam agreed, adding that living aboard a sailboat as a child came naturally to him, creating fond memories that have stayed with him.

“The thing I remember about that space is the intimacy of it,” he recalled. “I guess when you don’t have much stuff when you’re little it kind of sets a precedent.”

Although Becky recognizes small living isn’t for everyone, she sees it as a good way for first-time home buyers and couples just starting out to lessen the mortgage burden.

“I think it’s really challenging for people our age to even think about buying,” Becky said. “I do see young couples going all in on a crazy mortgage and it’s like – why?”

Becky and Tamara also perceive a small home as an excellent way to keep possessions in check and to establish those items which have the most importance.

“You have to design around your values in a small space,” Tamara explained. “When you have a big house and you don’t live in it all you can accumulate stuff.”

Becky agreed adding, “We’re just starting out so it’s easier for us. I would encourage – especially younger people – to live smaller, or at least try it. We have friends doing all kinds of cool things.”

One of these friends is 26-year-old Bosten Ingram who is currently building an even smaller house of only 171 square feet, which she plans to relocate from the Silverton build site to Portland upon its completion.

“I am wanting to simplify in many parts of my life and it seemed fitting to reflect my evolving lifestyle and mindset in my living space,” Bosten said.

Bosten, who is currently attending the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, said the process of building her tiny home has not been without struggle.

“The difficulties have been finding the time to complete the build, the legality with tiny home parking in residential areas, finding real sustainable products, and the common bumps in the road when doing a project like this on my own, without hiring professional help,” she said.

But for her the positives far outweigh the negatives – “less materialistic things, financially cheaper than building a larger home or even rent in Portland over the course of a year, the ability to move it where needed/wanted, the security of having a space with me wherever I go, the lifestyle that goes along with downgrading – creating a more meaningful life.”

Bosten, too, gained much of her minimalistic values from her parents who she said stressed the importance of the intangible – experiences, memories and human connection – over material goods.

“An over-abundance of love and happiness is far more important than clothes, a big house or a fancy car,” she said. “I think many people can benefit from tiny home living.”

The earth may also benefit according to Dana, who is the engineer – and a founding member – of the Points Beyond co-housing project in Silverton.

“I think it’s essential for the conservation of resources for the planet – from building materials to energy to water,” she said. “Building small and embracing infill over annexation also has the lowest impact on city resources such as transportation networks and water/sewer conveyance. Smaller homes equals lower operating and maintenance costs. No matter how many high tech gadgets you incorporate into a big expensive house, the greenest thing you can do is build small.”

These reasons may be behind what Bosten views as a growing movement in the Pacific Northwest – as well as in the Silverton area – and one that she is excited to take part in.

“The trend has created a shift in building codes, permits and parking legality,” she said. “I am all for people accommodating to a smaller housing space, no need for so many things to clutter the mind and space around us.

“I am excited to fill the walls with shelves of books and plants and to fill the space with warmth and positivity, but most of all I am excited to create and live in a space that is a representation of who I am.”

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