Candice Ding: A Family Scales Up

Candice Ding: A Family Scales Up

Many people are skeptical that tiny homes can work for romantic couples, let alone families, which are still rare in tiny house demographics. While we know intellectually that it’s common for families in other parts of the world to house multiple generations in close quarters, most Americans seem to think it’s pretty out there for a family to live in a tiny house.

That’s part of why I wanted to talk to Candice, who immigrated to the United States from China 14 years ago, and now lives in a tiny home she built herself. Her mother, Baoying, lives with her as well, and was instrumental in helping her build. An adult mother and daughter sharing a tiny home was pretty rare as far as I’d heard, but I assumed their cultural expectations about personal space might be different than what I grew up with in America. And they were different – just not how I expected.

Necessity: The Mother of Invention

Candice and Baoying had plenty of space in China – this is the smallest place either have lived. But after years of renting rooms in other people’s houses, it’s also the most space Candice has had in the U.S. that truly feels like her own. That was the other reason I wanted to visit Candice when Dee Williams told me about her: her house sounded extremely creative, and she very literally has made it her own.

She has a digital projector and pull-down projection screen that’s larger than the televisions in most “big” homes. She enclosed part of her roof in netting, made it accessible by a cat door near the ceiling, and installed high shelves nearby, so her cat can get outside independently when she’s asleep or away. And she has an incredible, openable skylight in the sleeping loft that you can stick your whole upper body through to watch the moonlight shine or the rain fall.

Unlikely Lives tiny house family interview openable skylight

Candice watches the rain from the openable skylight in her sleeping loft.

Candice’s mother sleeps in the loft, and Candice has a truly tiny bedroom on the ground floor. The house was part of Candice’s plan to house both of them affordably in a rural area outside of Seattle, Washington, since the senior apartment they applied for hadn’t come through. On paper this could sound like a grimly practical situation, but meeting Candice and Baoying, it was anything but. It’s not their ideal housing arrangement – Candice mentioned she’d prefer to build her mother a separate tiny house, so they could live side-by-side. But they were both warm, funny, generous, and extremely thoughtful about everything the house has made possible for them, and in which ways it has improved their lives and perspectives.

When I visited, Baoying had just returned to America and the tiny house from a long trip back to China, and shared her fresh reflections about how living in the tiny house was different from her life in a 1,200 square foot condominium in China. Baoying speaks limited English, so Candice translated her thoughts for me, except the English line attributed to her below, which was her own. This abridged and edited highlight of my visit to Candice’s house shares some of her amazing story, but there’s much more in my ebook Life in a Tiny House. Or sign up for my mailing list for more inspiring stories of people who make unlikely choices to improve their lives.

Unlikely Lives Tiny House interview movie projection screen

The retractable movie screen pulls down in front of the sleeping loft.

On attending a tiny house workshop that encouraged her to base her design on what she loves:
Candice: I’m thinking, “Oh, I like to knit. Oh, I like my cat. So I need to find a place I can knit, and also my cat can be with me… I’m just trying to collect everything that makes me happy. Everything! Like the pushable skylight. That’s how I started in my construction… I need to have a stove. I need to have a skylight. I want to have a movie screen. I want to have this, I want to have that.

When people talk about tiny houses, it’s about downsizing, it’s about getting rid of stuff. But me, it was about adding stuff, just collecting everything I like and cramming it into the house. Couple things I couldn’t cram in, I had to let it go. And the rest is what you see. So that’s how I designed this. I just made a list of everything that makes me happy, and then tried to find room for it.

Unlikely Lives tiny house family interview cat roof deck and eating nook

The small fenced roof area is a roof-deck for her cat.

On living with her mother:
Candice: You have to get along very well. We have no other place to go. We applied to senior apartment, [so] my mom could have her own space. That’d be much more pleasant for her. She’s not as hot as me about this tiny house… But with the time going by, she feels she likes the tiny house.

Especially when she visited China. She had a three bedroom condo in China. [Candice laughs] This is true: before she leave here, she was very happy. [Impersonating her mother] “I’m going to China! I don’t have to be so cramped in this space.” She was happy: “Ha! I can go home, turn around, and not worry about hitting things!”

But how she feels was different than how she imagined when she went back to China. When she went back to China, she looked back at tiny house pictures and kind of missed it. I was worried about my mom coming back, but she actually feels good. She said even though the space is small, it’s alright. She showed a picture to friends of my tiny house.

Baoying: Chinese friend say, “Beautiful, beautiful. Very good.”

Candice: Momma say, in China, we think, “This is normal, this is way life should be.” Now my mom come back and she compared [the tiny house with the concrete housing typical in her area in China]. She said putting people in these concrete blocks is not a good life.

Now she thinks the advantage a tiny house has that a big house doesn’t have is, number one, you can move your tiny house. Second, we should take less from the earth. Instead of building bigger and more and bigger and more, we should appreciate nature, and try to take less. She thinks a tiny house can contribute in that kind of way.

The number three benefit is the economy. Because it’s a huge pressure in an economy, and living in a tiny house, you can feel less pressure on your shoulder. It doesn’t cost that much. That’s great.

* * * * *

See more photos of Candice’s inventive home at her site, Little Tiny House. Stay tuned to my mailing list to catch new posts, or check out my Life in a Tiny House Ebook for more inspiring stories of people building lives around what matters most to them.

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  1. Wonderful! Hope to cross paths with Candice sometime! What a lovely life!

  2. I have much interest in tiny house movement. I wish I could build my own someday. It’s so rare to think about having a tiny house in my country, Indonesia. The fact is because in my town, Jakarta, the space is too limited even to just move around your house. But, this is so inspiring. This is it! that’s all what I need, to live in a tiny house.

  3. Time and time again, I read about people seemingly liberated by living in these lovely tiny homes but I come away feeling sad about my own situation. My wife and teenage children don’t support this dream and so I’m stuck in this traditional house, paying a mortgage and being anchored to a job to pay for it all. I’d love to just walk away from my house etc. And finally feel free.

    Ontario, Canada.

    • Maybe you could build a tiny house as your retreat (?mancave?) and then they might actually be swayed, but even if not, then you’d have your dream. You could bring it up to ?Georgian bay area (is that it – where a lot of urbanites go) . . . either that or, I’m sensing, you might be feeling like you need to separate from the family? I think a tiny house of your own might be just what you need as a first step. and then when kids are out of the house – see where you and your spouse are on it then?

  4. Love this story. Candice and her mother have a beautiful, beautiful home. I have been pondering a solution for my cat, and this one is great. Is it possible to learn more about Candice’s building plans?

  5. I wish we could see more of the house. What a charming story. It makes me happy to think of these two taking care of each other (and the cat).

  6. I know Candice and have been in her lovely tiny home in it’s current location as well as the last place she had it parked. It is an amazing tiny home and one of my all time favorite tiny homes. As a tiny home owner I think others get inspired to build their own as they read these stories. One problem is that just because you own a tiny home and do not have a mortgage it does not mean there are no headaches involved. I pay $4,700.00 a yr in property tax in the same county as Candice as a property owner. I am not allowed to spend one, NOT ONE night in my tiny home because it is not legal. All it takes is one neighbor to complain about Candice’s home and she will have to uproot herself and move again. She is down a private driveway so she might be able to fly under the radar for awhile longer. There are so many tiny homes for sale today because people can not find legal places to park them. I think it is important for people to realize that they may be mortgage free in a tiny home but good luck trying to find a place to park your tiny home where you can sleep well at night. Good thing they have wheels on them. Do your homework before you build one.

    • Hi Tonita, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The legality situation is tricky for everyone, and was something I found very interesting to talk to people about. It’s true, there is risk involved, which everyone I spoke with was aware of, and it’s certainly an element I cover in my book. But then, there’s risk involved in any home. Macy’s story has a particularly interesting perspective on risk: she went through a multi-year fight with a bank about the mortgage on her conventional home, and after that, felt like traditional home ownership wasn’t as stable as it’s made out to be. I do occasionally hear stories of people who have to move, but none of the folks I met with had dealt with any issues related to that yet, and they felt like they could figure something else out if it did come up. But you’re right – doing your homework is the right idea for sure!



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