Tiny house life
2019-06-26 | By Hannah Behrens
Historically, finding sanctuary for shelter, refuge, comfort and enjoyment has been a quest. Seeking housing in a densely-populated country like the Netherlands has always been a great challenge. The perfect Dutch house is a stereotype in itself; canal side townhouses, 19th century converted ships, quirky windmills, working barge boats, and an endless stream of unique (and sometimes illegal) living situations.
A recent housing trend in the Netherlands is the tiny house movement which has grown over the past five years. But finding the right–smaller than average–accommodation is not simply about building the house; it is a commitment to a lifestyle: living within one’s means, paying attention to every object that you own, and being handy with power tools, water systems, plumbing and electricity. Having an aptitude for adaptability, open mindedness, and being creative and solution-oriented are also necessary traits for embarking on the tiny house life.
A tiny house at the centre of a community
Jan and Ineke are more than just local residents of their small Dutch town, Nijkerk. Their tiny little house is located in the driveway of the Nijkerk voedselbank, a community foodbank which the couple has been running for almost 13 years. Every week volunteers and families come for a shared meal, and fresh food and clothes are distributed to those in need of assistance.
Behind the foodbank, hidden just out of view of the town centre parking lot and grocery store, is a cheerful little house with a bright red roof and door. Inspired by watching tiny house TV shows, Jan and Ineke set out to find a space where they could live comfortably while continuing their mission and community work. Five years ago they acquired a house, at a very low price, which had been on the market for two years: a stripped down, one room shell of a building used as a play area for children. The couple bought the structure, had it moved to the current location, and lived in a campervan onsite for two years while Jan, using his handyman and carpentry skills, built their home.
When the basic fixtures were in place, Ineke and Jan moved into their little house which felt huge after the cramped quarters of the campervan, and Ineke set about adding the “heart and soul” finishing touches to enhance the space. Everything in their home has a customized quality, with a unique and creative feel. There is a wall of brightly coloured floral paper, a stained-glass window built into a pocket door, a bathroom sink made from a blue enamel fish pan, and even a tiny box-bed for when their grandchild comes to visit. Ineke’s advice for anyone considering a move toward the tiny house lifestyle is “be practical first, and then make it cosy.”
Serving those in need
Jan openly describes how the idea of living small and simply is synonymous with his Christian faith. “I was an addict for 30 years. 18 or 19 years ago. After my divorce, someone said to me, ‘you need Jesus’ and I said, ‘what for?’” His conversion guided him toward a new life and a new vision of what was possible. “I made a choice between my own plan of what I thought I knew, and a higher purpose for my life, which spoke right to my heart.” Before he came to run the foodbank, he worked there as a truck driver. He met Ineke, when she started as a volunteer, they were married shortly after, and believe their calling from God is to serve those in need.
While fully at home in their tiny house, Jan and Ineke are prepared for changes in the future. The plot where their home stands, along with the food bank warehouse, are slated for redevelopment by the end of the year. Small and large cities all over the country are under pressure to keep up with the demand for new housing, and Nijkerk is no exception. However, many cities are welcoming options and developments for tiny house communities, and Jan and Ineke plan to be involved in the planning process, perhaps constructing shipping container homes, and expanding their community toward those in need. Even Nijkerk municipality has purchased 28 tiny homes and is currently considering where to locate them, along with a new, more accessible location for the foodbank. Jan and Ineke remain hopeful, “We will be where God wants us to be.”
Living with less
In September of 2017, Anniek and Mattias took an extended campervan trip through Morocco, Albania, Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine. They were inspired to see how different societies could live with very little, saw living standards which differed greatly from the typical Dutch home, and nomadic cultures that had a minimalist approach to possessions and travel.
For Anniek and Mattias, living adventurously out of a campervan helped them see that they too could rely on very little to feel content and satisfied. They felt inspired to take a different approach toward how they wanted to live when they returned to the Netherlands, and life on the road gave them time to dream up their future. They researched tiny houses, camper vans, and houseboat living, eventually searching for tiny house communities around the Netherlands. After purchasing their little cold-storage truck while on the road, upon returning they hired a workspace and began construction.
An off-grid community of tiny houses
Anniek and Mattias, along with their dog Tobi (also brought home from their travels), are the newest residents in a small community of five houses, not far from the city centre of Alkmaar. The community was founded by fellow resident Marjolein, who began building her tiny house on the site in 2015. With permission from the city of Alkmaar, Marjolein came up with a plan for a small group of temporary houses on the unused property. The only stipulations are that the houses be off grid and that residents leave when the land is ready to be redeveloped, sometime during the next three to five years.
Before the community arrived, the location had a reputation for attracting bad behaviour, but the presence of the tiny house neighbourhood has created a new face for the area much to the appreciation of local residents.
The small group of neighbours meet officially every two weeks, and everyone puts effort into their shared gardens, while other interactions like having a coffee or beer add to the community spirit, with a similarity in philosophy and always building advice to share. With the knowledge that they will eventually have to relocate, Anniek and Mattias focussed the main design of their home on mobility. “All we need is a crane and a truck in order to move. Even the box garden, built on wood pallets, is designed to be mobile.”
Interested in how it feels to live in a tiny house? Find out more about tiny house life with Jan and Ineke, Anniek and Mattias, and Marjolein online at
Anniek and Mattias cite their environmentally minded philosophy as one of the chief motivations for pursuing the tiny house life. Living with a small ecological footprint is literally built in to the lifestyle. “When you move in something new, you have to move something out. Living small forces you into choices,” says Anniek. “Here, you have to take short showers.”
While it might be frustrating or too rustic for some, for this couple this is an adventurous and fun way to live. “Sometimes you run out of water, and sometimes you run out of energy,” Anniek adds. “It’s not really fun in that moment, but it makes your life more interesting.” The other built-in reward, besides low environmental impact, is the cost of living. Lower fixed costs mean tiny house residents can have more freedom to enjoy life.
Patience and learning
A challenge of building a tiny house is experimenting through trial and error. Mattias and Anniek gave themselves a very short window of time for turning their converted cold storage truck into a liveable space with windows, doors, a bedroom and a working kitchen. They put in up to 80 hours a week for the first few months to create a minimal shelter, and sometimes had to rethink their design.
“Off grid living involves many components, and you have to work with what is available, as well as understand how everything works. Making things work efficiently is a process of patience and learning. It takes time a lot of time to adjust and re-adjust, making amendments as you go; and you really can’t expect everything to be perfect.” The lifestyle forces you to be creative, thrifty, social and innovative.
Looking to the future, Anniek and Mattias would eventually like to have their own land, perhaps buy a farmhouse to remodel and relocate their tiny house to live in while they build. But for now, in their little green area in Alkmaar they look forward to seeing their garden grow and have just completed a fenced enclosure for Tobi.
Anniek and Mattias’ advice for future tiny house residents is to “try to find an initiative in your area, and if there isn’t one, take it upon yourself to begin one. If you really want to get started with a tiny house, just start building, even if it is on a temporary area or a rented driveway. Municipalities across the country are interested in supporting motivated residents.”
Difficult but rewarding
The tiny house movement can seem like a beautiful and idealistic picture, but this often misrepresents how difficult it can be in reality. Tiny house life takes a tremendous amount of willpower, adaptability, time, energy, planning and hard work, and the lifestyle is not for everyone, especially for those who can’t live without eternally flowing water taps.
Tiny house options range from very rustic to very luxurious, and can be as expensive as any conventional home. Before beginning the journey, get solid information and make proper planning, and be realistic and practical, particularly if considering self-building the house.
However, looking past the hardships and challenges, there is something truly rewarding and surprising about creating a tiny home. The result is a true sense of satisfaction, alongside a symbiotic relationship with the community, natural resources, and personal possessions. Life can be pretty sweet within a tiny house.
As the Netherlands continues to build toward a more harmonious future and toward the happiness of its citizens and residents, many more take inspiration and find harmony in the simple life.
About the author
Hannah Behrens is a freelance writer, editor, poet and writing coach. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado and has been a Netherlands resident since 2016. She writes a blog, weedsandwilderness.com, leads Weeds and Wilderness Creative Writing Meetup in Amsterdam, and is currently working towards her PhD in Expressive Arts Therapy.