Beth Ann Norrgard spends her days working an office job that she loves, but she plans to give it up to live in a house that’s slightly larger than a cubicle.
For the last year, Norrgard, a paralegal for a downtown Dallas law firm, has been living a double life. Most nights she sheds her work clothes for bib overalls and boots and heads to a friend’s 5-acre property in nearby Garland, Texas, where she’s building a 112-square-foot house on wheels.
Norrgard, 47, plans to leave her job eventually and hit the road with her tiny house, teaching others how to downsize and build their own. She also hopes to create a tiny-house community in Dallas.
In September 2012, Norrgard attended a career-transition workshop. She wondered why she had stopped doing the things that made her happy as a kid — following her father around his workshop and building things with her hands.
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“Society expects you to do adult things, so I went to college, got married, bought a house and got the 9-to-5 job downtown, and I just kept going to work and buying things and going to work,” says Norrgard, who goes by B.A. “And one day it was like, ‘This is not working for me at all. This is not what I want to do.’ ”
Norrgard, who is divorced, felt trapped in her life. The tiny-house idea was a way to break free. Change is scary, she says. But regret is worse.
“Mostly I just want to get down to the nut of what makes me happy, and I know that it’s not a 30-year mortgage and an office at a law firm downtown, although I’ve loved that,” she says. “But I need windows that open, I need to be outside, need to be moving, using my hands.”
Since that realization, and with a strong web of support, things have moved quickly. In November 2012, Norrgard sold her two-bedroom Tudor house and almost everything in it. She moved into an apartment, then into a friend’s house.
Meanwhile, work on the tiny house continues. When complete, it will have a small kitchen and bath but no air conditioning. Her bed will be in a loft with a skylight and a custom stained-glass window. There will also be a wine rack, a small space for clothes, and an aerial yoga sling and chandelier that will hang from the gabled ceiling.
She justified letting go of most of her books but said she cried like a baby when getting rid of her tool bench and garden tiller. She kept her bicycle, tools and special gifts from friends and family.
Norrgard is chronicling her progress on her blog, abedovermyhead.com. There are still projects to complete, some of which she can tackle with her experience volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Others will be left to experts.
When complete, the house will have cost $25,000, she estimates.
Norrgard bought the plans for her house from Jay Shafer, owner of Four Lights Tiny House Company in California. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shafer says, it was hard to find a new house smaller than 2,000 square feet. Things changed with the housing bust of 2008.
“Some folks downsize to escape the mortgage, maintenance and burden that can accompany a bigger place, and some probably do it because they like the feeling of a space that doesn’t exceed their needs,” says Shafer, who lives in his own small house with his wife and two boys. “In any case, it seems most who live this way do it because, for them, it would make no sense to do anything else.”
Norrgard isn’t quitting her job anytime soon, but she’s excited to eventually get on the road. She has a long list of people she’s thankful for and no regrets.
“Every time I turn around I’m getting validation that I’m on the right path,” she said. “It’s been crazy, but I’m so happy. I’ve never been this happy.”