AK: Adventure-bound Juneau couple moves into $8,600 tiny house on wheels

A 1,200-square-foot house is considered small by today’s standards. But one Juneau couple is leaving their home for something with less than 100 square feet of livable space. They’re hitting the road, but that doesn’t come without sacrifice.

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Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley’s new tiny home. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)
Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley’s new tiny home. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

On the curb in front of a brown house sits a bookshelf, a suitcase and empty picture frames. Passersby might think the tenants are moving out or spring cleaning.

“We don’t really have enough time to do a true yard sale so this is our, like, piecemeal please-everybody-come-take-our-stuff-so-we-can-move-into-98-square-feet,” Kelly Tousley says with a laugh.

There’s also a sign: “Knock on the door for more items for sale in the house.”

Kelly and her boyfriend are getting rid of nearly everything they own to fit into a tiny house on wheels parked outside their rental. From the outside, it looks like a glossy white travel trailer.

“I mean, picture opening up the back of a U-Haul and that’s what we started with,” she says.

But the inside is more like a home with vinyl hardwood floors and lime green walls. They’ll pull the trailer with a truck for a yearlong trip through the Alaska road system and down to the Lower 48.

A curtain separates the small bathroom from the kitchen. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
A curtain separates the small bathroom from the kitchen. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

For such a small space, it’s remarkably plush. A bench folds out into a queen-sized bed.

“We had the conversation of, if we’re living in this and this is our house, we don’t want to be sitting on milk crates with cushions on top of them and feeling like we’re going to get slivers in our fingers when we touch the walls,” she says.

Electricity runs off solar panels. There’s a small bathroom separated by a curtain and a kitchenette but no running water.

It’s their version of the tiny house movement, downsizing and taking a do-it-yourself approach to home ownership. Many tiny houses are palaces compared to their trailer. But the couple needed something smaller and road worthy. It only cost $8,600.

“The coolest thing that I built to date was a birdhouse in sixth grade,” says Kelly’s boyfriend, Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman. “And to look at a box and say we can turn this into a house, that was daunting. And that fact that it actually worked so far is great.”

Curtiss is a high school English teacher and musician. Last summer, he toured the interior for his solo music project, Cousin Curtiss.

“So when I got back, I said, ‘You know, this is it. I’m hitting the road. I want to do this full time,’ and Kelly was 110 percent behind me all the way,” he says.

Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley’s “living room” bench doubles as a bed. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley’s “living room” bench doubles as a bed. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Kelly remembers it differently. She thought he was talking about taking a vacation.

“Whereas, I think when the conversation happened, Curtiss more so took it as I’m hitting the road with him full time,” she says. “And I think it took a couple of months of that conversation to happen. Is it realistic for both of us to hit the road, for both of us to quit our jobs?”

Together, they decided it was. Kelly would quit her job working with autistic kids. They would sell everything and go on tour indefinitely. Traveling from Tok to Chicken, then down south through Montana and Michigan.

Friends and family had mixed reactions. But no one said it was a terrible idea, don’t do it.

Window installation wasn’t easy in the 98-square-foot trailer. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)
Window installation wasn’t easy in the 98-square-foot trailer. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“I don’t think anybody said that,” he says. “I think a few people may have said, ‘Why would you do that?’ They didn’t understand it.”

One of those people was Kelly’s grandfather, a professional builder. Kelly recounts telling him about their first big project.

“‘Grandpa, we’re going to cut in windows. We’re going to install our own windows.’ And he said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t install windows in a trailer. That doesn’t make any sense.’ And I sent a picture of us installing the first window and he said, ‘Huh, they did it!’”

They completed the tiny house in eight months. Then came the time to purge all their stuff. For Curtiss, the most difficult thing to give away was his plants, grown from his great-great-grandmother’s clippings.

Kelly says it was her clothes.

“You know, I’ll look at a shirt and be like, ‘I love that sweatshirt! I wore that every home track meet in high school.’ But the reality is I have those memories of track and I don’t need that sweatshirt to hold onto,” she says.

Kelly is giving the tiny lifestyle a year. After that, she says she’ll reassess.

Curtiss wrote the song “Here and Now” about missing Kelly on tour. But now he won’t have to. The couple is setting off for miles of open road, pulling behind them what they’ll call home.

“I think it’s a blessing to be able to ditch everything you own and be able to take off in true nomad style like human’s used to be and go hunter-gatherer across the country looking for adventure,” he says.

To see where Kelly and Curtiss are on their journey, visit paygasnotrent.com