Diana and Tony Varnes were living—not so happily—in an 1,800-square-foot home in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2001 when Tony’s job went away with the dot-com bubble. Their home was full of clutter, and they hated the city ordinances, so they downsized to a 900-square-foot home outside city limits. Tony drove oil trucks until that work dried up in 2009. Unable to fix their home’s central air conditioning unit, Diana and Tony lived in the home’s front three rooms.
“We realized that year how little we really needed to live on, both monetarily and physically,” Diana says. “That's when we decided to start planning to build an even smaller home that we could build ourselves, out-of-pocket as we went, that would be more efficient. Our goal is to eliminate our bills and become as self-sufficient as possible, not because we are eco-conscious but because it seems like the smart thing to do.”
Diana and Tony’s current post-and-beam house in rural Oklahoma, built out of pine, OSB and insulated panels, is 640 square feet. It includes a living room/kitchen area, bedroom, walk-in closet, bathroom and utility room/pantry. Guests sleep on air mattresses in the living room, and Diana and Tony plan to add a room if they have a child.
“We are making the house as airtight as possible to reduce heating and cooling costs, and we air it out at night and when the temperatures are cool,” Diana says. “At the moment we are plugged into the typical electrical grid until we are able to set up solar, wind and geothermal power options. I suspect that will be sometime next year.” Diana and Tony are setting up a rainwater catchment system and haven’t yet installed plumbing.
“We are using the attic and under the house as storage, and as I unpack and find homes for items, I am challenging myself to get rid of more things,” Diana says. “We also are making areas serve multiple functions.” The kitchen table serves as a work area, a place for dinner prep and ironing—as well as a place to eat dinner.
“I love not having as much to clean,” Diana says. “I'm forced to stay on top of the cleaning, and it takes considerably less time.” She also enjoys the creativity and frugality that her small home encourages. “I don't feel like I need to buy things to fill it up,” Diana says. “In fact, we have more than we need now, and I'm constantly donating items. It's so much more satisfying having a feeling of too much than not enough.”
Living in a smaller home has prompted Diana and Tony to expand their living area outdoors, which they’ve thoroughly enjoyed. “I also feel like the entire situation has brought my husband and I closer together,” she adds.
The only drawback? Other people’s criticism. “The comment I've heard most often is ‘This is so perfect for the two of you, but I could never live this way.’ I want to ask, how is it any different than an apartment in the city?”
Diana and Tony have learned firsthand that more does not bring happiness. “We are getting by on less now than ever, and we feel happier than ever,” Diana says. “Guests have commented to my husband that he appears to be the happiest they've ever seen him. Having less means having to make fewer choices, and I don't feel as overwhelmed. It frees up time to do the things we love like reading, sitting outside and talking in the evenings, and eventually traveling once we have the house completed.”
You can learn more about Diana and Tony’s home at Diana’s blog, Diana Does Domestic.
Diana and Tony are covering their home's OSB walls with thick foam insulation. They plan to finish it with metal siding.
“We are getting by on less now than ever, and we feel happier than ever,” Diana says. “Guests have commented to my husband that he appears to be the happiest they've ever seen him.'