Sara steps barefoot out of the door of her tiny house, holding her cat

Tiny home living

Intentional planning leads to small oasis for University Libraries staff member

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Photo of the chandelier hanging in Simons home, family-made

a family made wooden chandelier provides light

204 square feet

not counting the lofts

The catio is attached to the side of the house

a cat fairy door leads to an outside catio for Simon's two cats

16 windows
A view of the front porch looking upwards

Sara Simon uses containers to grow a small garden consisting mostly of tomatoes and strawberries outside of her tiny home. 

Sara Simon, library technical specialist, has two plates in her kitchen and the reason is simple: "Because I hate doing dishes."

It's the dishes (or lack of) and other modifications in her tiny home that Simon said has brightened her mental health. Simon designed her 24-foot-long home two years ago and paid Great Lakes Tiny Homes to build it, completing some of the interior work herself. She took ownership last September.

Figuring where to put it was another matter. Michigan does not have standard zoning or building codes for tiny homes, Simon called it "a not tiny home friendly state." After careful research, Simon, who has worked for University Libraries since 2009, found a home for her home at a campground near the Allendale Campus. 

"The campground offered electrical and water hookups," she said, adding about 40 other people live there year-round in RVs.

Multiple factors contributed to Simon's quest to downsize. Her interest in minimalism led Simon to begin reducing her possessions several years ago. She taught English in Japan after graduating from Grand Valley and was comfortable in that country's small, compact spaces. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and housing crisis.

"I wanted to do something positive during the pandemic so I started designing my tiny home," she said.

Pinterest and other research led Simon to develop a list of what worked well for other tiny home owners and what did not. Her kitchen has a full-size refrigerator and — because she enjoys baking — oven. A full-size washer and dryer sit near the shower and composting toilet. Stairs lead to a loft bed and a catwalk ledge runs nearly the length of the house, to the delight of Simon's two cats. 

"People said tracking in dirt was an issue, so I asked for a porch to be able to take boots and shoes off," she said.

The home has an electric fireplace and a split heating/cooling system, which Simon said works almost too well. "It doesn't take much for this place to heat up or cool off," she said.

One thing she might have done differently? Less windows. "I asked for a lot of windows because I thought it would feel too cramped in here. Turns out, there's a lot of sunlight on my laptop, sometimes," she said. Simon works at home three days a week. As tech support, she said it's good to be off-site to recognize any issues off-campus library users may be experiencing.

With one winter behind her, Simon said her confidence as a homeowner grew. She looks forward to her first summer season at the campground. Enjoying the outdoors and exploring the area are on tap as is another goal: building a better campfire when colleagues and friends come for visits.

"I was in Girl Scouts and grew up playing in the woods. I still have yet to build a good campfire, but I'm getting there," she said.