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How to Live in 480 Square Feet

When writer  Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell and her husband first had the idea to build a 480-square-foot home in the Ozarks, they wanted a great place to retreat. What they found - despite its diminutive stature - was a home, which they've been living in around the clock since October 2007. Here, Kerri (who writes a blog at explains the environmental, economic, and social benefits of small-house living.

You didn't initially plan to live in your home full time - what changed your mind? We decided to move here and thought we would be building a larger home, at least as large as what we had in the city. However, we didn't make as much on our sale of the house in the city [as we thought we would], and digging our well cost more than anticipated. Construction costs had exploded when we got here. We also thought of building an addition, but we felt it would ruin the charm of the little house. That was going to be $70,000, and we would have had to borrow. We didn't want more debt, and it was a good thing, as my husband lost his job  here after 12 months and was unemployed/underemployed for 18 months during the recession.

What were the biggest challenges in transitioning from 1,100-plus square feet to less than 500? Letting go of the stuff. I still have a whole corner of a metal building full of it. Much of it is heirlooms from my mother's home, and I am having a hard time parting with her things.

Why is living in an environmentally sustainable way important to you? I'm part Native American and my ancestors have a saying that goes something like, "We don't inherit the land from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children. " I think if we continue pillaging every natural resource and souring the land and the seas, there may not be anything to pass on one day.

What's been the biggest unexpected benefit of living in a small space? There have been many -  costs are lower, less to clean, the environmental factors of leaving less of a footprint. The most important to me depends on the day. During the height of the recession, it was definitely lower cost of living. On cleaning day, it's the fact I can whirl my way through the entire house in two hours. When I am so sad about [events like] the oil spill in the Gulf, it is the knowledge that we are doing what we can for the planet.

What advice do you have for others who are thinking of making the big leap to a small house? Start going through your stuff now and keep going through it. Some people who live in small spaces even count their possessions and won't allow themselves any more than [a certain number]. Do what works for you. Also, build what you feel comfortable in. I know people who live in 120 square feet. That would never work for us. However, don't close the doors to the possibilities. If anyone had asked me if we could live full time in such a small space years ago, I would have asked them if they were nuts. It's amazing how little we need to live.

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