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Florida's tiny house movement embraces some big ideas 

Let's get small

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Over 90 houses on wheels rolled into the festival to be viewed, poked and prodded like cars on a dealer's lot. Singles and younger couples shopped like first-time homebuyers, rapping knuckles on countertops and running fingers over freshly painted wood trim. Retirees eyed the houses hungrily, gauging their spouses' reactions hopefully. Professional for-sale builds competed with DIY models, which included a few restored vintage RVs, schoolbuses colorfully painted Partridge Family-style, and one rather dour-looking converted semi truck, at best a work in progress.

In another line, we chat with a young family standing in line to see a fifth-wheel model built by Tiny House Chattanooga. Edward Lee, the dad, says, "We're living in a mobile home now." His wife adds, "I'm just fascinated with the TV shows. You know, what I appreciate about these tiny houses is the clever use of space. I want to see one for real and get inspired to use our own space better." Lee says, "Someday we hope to afford a real house." His children nod somberly.

Tiny houses are not aspirational toys for everyone. For the Lees, it was a chance to see new ways of thinking about living. They toured nearly all of the houses and came away impressed. "There are some really good ideas here," Lee says. "I wish the mobile home people would take a lesson from these houses."

Smaller tiny houses can cost as little as $20,000, or about as much as a car. Larger, more tricked-out models get up north of $100,000. When shopping, it's easy to get lured into the old habits of consumption and overfetishize the kitchens and bathrooms. Most people want to live tiny as a rejection of that impulse, and follow through on downsizing, but it's OK to have nice things, too.

Saving the money and buying in cash is what every wise tiny-house guru counsels. If you're living tiny, why continue to support a bank with a mortgage payment? However, loans can be had for tiny houses, and the monthly payments aren't too burdensome – similar to a car payment.

Once the tiny house is parked, it's easy to add decks and other outdoor-life accoutrements. "This is Florida, after all," Aimo laughed, pointing out her new deck facing Lake Fairview, when we visited her at College Park's Orlando Lakefront community.

"I don't want a big house. I want to travel," was the most common refrain at the Tiny House Festival, when we asked people why they were considering them. Richard Skinner and his wife budgeted $30,000 for theirs. "My wife and I just want our home to be base camp," Skinner said. Their place in Flagler County will accept tiny homes, and once it's parked, "We're off!"

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