I’ve been following the tiny-house movement with interest for years. I’m afraid it wouldn’t have worked for me (way too many books!) but I can certainly see the appeal. When we moved to the Kendal at Longwood retirement community a few years ago, it occurred to me to wonder whether it would be an appropriate place for someone who had been living in a tiny house. I think it just might be.
If you’re not familiar with Kendal, I know what you’re thinking: retirement communities tend to emphasize “big and fancy” whereas tiny houses are small and simple. And why wouldn’t a tiny-house resident just stay put in retirement?
Good questions, certainly, but there are circumstances that would lead a tiny-house resident to move to a retirement community. Let’s take a look at those circumstances, and then consider what sort of community would make sense.
Reason #1: Availability of health care and other services. In a retirement community, you generally have easy access to health care. In a “LifePlan” community, such as Kendal, you even have permanent healthcare access built into your monthly fee. If you have health concerns (and aging tends to bring them on), a retirement community can provide reassurance.
If you live in a tiny house in the country, how easy is it to get healthcare when you need it? Can you even get “assisted living” help for things like cooking and cleaning? Retirement communities are generally set up to provide those services. How do you get your plumbing repaired or your appliances fixed? Those things just require a phone call at most retirement communities.
Reason #2: Reduce the burden on your kids. This is really why my wife Jan and I made the move. We didn’t want our children to have to deal with arranging care for us (or taking care of us themselves) once we became infirm. Our community handles all of that.
Reason #3: Joining a vibrant community. Living in your own home can be isolating. In a retirement community, there are always people around, and you get to know many of them. Some become fast friends. That is certainly what we have experienced.
Yes, but what kind of community makes sense? It’s easy to see why a tiny-house fan would be put off by the grand cruise-ship-style buildings and amenities at many retirement communities. But they aren’t all like that.
I would propose three things that a tiny-house resident might look for in a retirement community.
- Availability of studios. Many retirement communities feature large villas and luxurious apartments. But some have studio apartments, which are much more suitable to the needs of someone moving from a tiny house. Even better than a studio apartment, for some people, is a “studio cottage”—a one-room dwelling with direct access to the outdoors, rather than to an indoor apartment-building corridor. This a relatively rare type of offering, but we have them at Kendal at Longwood and I know they exist at other communities.
- A focus on sustainability. For many tiny-house residents, living a sustainable lifestyle is part of the tiny-house appeal. That is something you’ll find in some retirement communities. Here at Kendal at Longwood, we’re working on it. Together with our sister community, Crosslands, we’re getting started with solar panels and highly efficient new construction. We have native-plant meadows and an 85-acre tract of mature woods with resident-maintained trails. The newest addition to the Kendal network, Enso Village in California, will be one of the most environmentally attuned retirement communities anywhere when it opens next year. And there are other outstanding examples outside the Kendal network, such as the Wake Robin community in New Hampshire and the Rose Villa community in Oregon.
- Simplicity. You probably wouldn’t expect “simplicity” to be a feature of a retirement community, but that’s the case at some of the communities founded by Quakers, Mennonites, or Buddhists, for example. Here at Kendal at Longwood, we tend to have relatively simple, functional structures and landscaping. That doesn’t mean “ugly”, I hasten to add, but it means that function comes first and ornamentation comes last.
If any of this sounds interesting, here are some ideas for further reading.
I can recommend these interviews with studio-dwellers at Kendal at Longwood:
- Janet Bisbing, retired social worker. She added a built-in bookcase to her studio. https://kcc.kendal.org/2022/03/23/meet-janet-bisbing/
- Libby Rupp, retired teacher. She subdivided her studio with a custom room divider/bookcase. She was attracted by the Quaker values of Kendal’s founders. https://kcc.kendal.org/2021/12/01/studio-lifestyle/
- Lelia Calder, Buddhist and retired voice teacher. She, too, added extra bookshelves. https://kcc.kendal.org/2022/04/14/meet-lelia-calder/
Here’s information and links to an interview with the CEO of the Rose Villa retirement community in Oregon. She is passionate about sustainability. https://kendaljourney.com/2022/09/17/how-sustainability-resident-connection-and-small-home-living-all-come-together-in-an-oregon-retirement-community/
In case you want more about Kendal at Longwood, here is a more general piece that provides reasons why a person might choose to move here: https://kendaljourney.com/2021/08/10/how-can-i-decide-if-kendal-at-longwood-is-right-for-me/
Thanks so much George. This topic is so important to me and I really appreciate all of your reflections and insight. Gratefully, Sally of the Palmer variety