Building small, so we can live large. Eventually.

It took me almost a year to convince Glenn we should build a little house in our backyard.

They go by a lot of different names – granny flat, mother-in-law apartment, or accessory dwelling unit, to name a few. Glenn didn’t care what I called it, he just knew it meant strangers living in the yard and he wasn’t down with that.

I had to approach him gently about it, like a skittish horse or a nervous dog. If I pushed too hard, too fast, then the whole idea would be off the table. I’d nonchalantly point out the little homes in other people’s yards as we passed by. “Oh, look at how cute that is. It hardly takes up much room at all,” I’d say. He’d often respond with a sidelong glance or the occasional eye roll.

I finally found a chink in his armor of resistance when I outlined how such a little house would enable us to travel long-term.

The biggest limitation for our recent 6-month world travels was figuring out what to do with our house. We were lucky to find a trusted friend willing to live in our house while we were away, including taking care of all of our animals. But, there is no guarantee we’d be so lucky again in the future.

“Just imagine,” I said to Glenn. “We could move into our backyard house and get some long-term renters in the main house. Then, if we chose to take an extended trip we could just button up our little house and be off. Total freedom!” His sidelong glance became more of a curious twitch of the eyebrow.

Eventually I convinced him to go on an organized tour of these homes around town (known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, here in Portland). This gave him the chance to walk around in them and begin imaging what it would be like to have one of our own. He started pointing out what he liked, what he didn’t like, and what he’d want to have in the one we might build.

Before I knew it, he was somewhat onboard with my scheme – which was a big green light as far as I was concerned. I jumped at the chance and had us talking to banks about financing and getting concept drawings in the works before he could change his mind. Construction just finished up last week, and now we are the proud owners of our own little backyard house!

ADU

Our new “little house.”

It will take us several years to pay down what we owe for the construction of the house. But eventually – maybe 8 to 10 years if all goes well – the rental income will enable us to have the freedom to work less and travel more, should we be so inclined.

One thing we learned on our big trip is that we aren’t the type of people to sell everything we own and completely walk away from the great life that we have here in Portland. I admire our friends that have chosen to do that. For Glenn and I, we eventually missed having a place to put down our roots. We’ve decided we always want to have a “home” to come back to where we can reconnect with our friends and our community – even if we are off having grand adventures in the in-between.

This little backyard house enables us to leverage our existing investment in our home, while at the same time providing some additional much-needed housing options to renters in Portland’s crazy housing market.

I’m happy to say Glenn is now fully onboard and is pleased we made the investment, even if it means strangers will be living back there (although, they won’t be strangers for long). He spent the morning making cookies and cake in the little house in preparation for our friends coming to tour it during an open house this afternoon — he wanted it to smell yummy and welcoming.

The construction process was definitely an adventure, and learning to be landlords promises to keep us on our toes for a while. But, eventually, things will settle down and it’s exciting to know we are taking steps toward achieving our goal of being able to take extended trips around the world in the future.


House details and photos: Two-story, 1 bedroom, 1 bath, a little under 800 square feet. Lots of windows, skylights and vaulted ceilings make it feel very spacious. We made sure to include a lot of storage (cupboards that go to the ceiling, a storage room with built-in shelves, and a walk-in bedroom closet), which we found to be lacking in several of the little homes we toured before designing ours. We had our friend Kristen, a talented architect, design it for us…and a design-build contractor (Shelter Solutions) to make it happen. We splurged on nice countertops and a tiled shower, but saved money in other areas by selecting durable, yet affordable, finishes and fixtures. It’s highly insulated and should cost very little to heat and cool.

ADU

View of the little house from the back porch of our big house.

ADU

Kitchen, including cabinets that go to the ceiling. No dusting! You can see the back porch of our main house through the sliding glass door.

Living room/dining room. Ceiling fan and ductless heat pump (heat and AC) will help keep things nice and comfy year round.

ADU

Storage room, with built-in cupboards and shelves.

A little “Harry Potter Room” built under the stairs for additional storage.

The bedroom, with skylights and vaulted ceilings, feels nice and roomy.

ADU

Bedroom looking toward laundry closet (right, above stairs), bathroom (center) and walk-in closet (left).

ADU

Since we’ll eventually live here we splurged on a nice tiled shower and solid countertops.

A nice little bathroom sink.

A built-in medicine cabinet was the perfect thing for this otherwise blank bathroom wall.

Honeydew is pretty sure this is just a glorified dog house!

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