Living Tiny

Cherry Johnston
10 min readAug 21, 2021


How I decided to live in a Tiny House On Wheels

Seven years ago, I started to plan and mostly dream about how I wanted to live in the future. The idea of living tiny in a small space was something I often found myself thinking about. When I was browsing the web looking at cabins, yurts, and sometimes houseboats, as they definitely appealed to me, I came across a beautiful little Tiny House on Wheels (THOW) called Lucy. I was utterly smitten by this tiny house, and I felt a powerful connection to the idea of owning a place like this myself. Part of my plan was one day to live off-grid on a piece of land somewhere around the Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland.

Lucy, the first Tiny House on Wheels that I saw online
Lucy as seen on

I love the idea of yurts and houseboats and tiny cabins, but after seeing Lucy, I knew it would be a THOW. After that, I watched every video on the YouTube channel ‘Living Big In A Tiny House’ run by Bryce Langston. It was great that Bryce was a kiwi, as he featured many tiny houses in New Zealand, along with dozens of videos from around the world.

I followed YouTube channels by anyone who was living in a tiny house and vlogging about their journey. I immersed myself in all things tiny and read and learned as much as I could.

I always imagined myself living away from the city in my tiny house, tucked away in the corner of a paddock somewhere. So in July 2015, I rented a cottage a few kilometres from Kaiwaka, north of Auckland. The photos looked reasonably isolated and the house had three acres of land around it, no beach nearby but still near the Kaipara Harbour. I decided I would have a week on my own in the summer of 2016, and make my plans, plus it would be a bonus to see how I felt being in a ‘paddock’ by myself.

The property in Kaiwaka that I was going to stay at.
View from holiday home visited in 2016

That didn’t quite work out because four months later when it was time to take the break two friends had decided to join me. They’d never met before, but it was a magical holiday, friendships were formed, the dogs loved it and every January since then the three of us have gone away for a few days together. I have very fond memories of that cottage and paddock, even though it turned out not to be quite the remote spot I thought it would be, and afterwards I still had no idea if I could go off and live permanently in a paddock on my own.

Angus and Max the very best of friends

However, I did make some decisions that summer and I returned to Auckland and changed my world. I set about selling my business and seriously began plotting my tiny house. I also began to research who was building tiny houses in New Zealand and that was when I first saw Shaye’s Tiny Homes. Remember that first tiny house I saw called Lucy, Shaye and her partner had built that little house — now she was building beautiful tiny houses through her business ‘Shaye’s Tiny Homes’.

My research also opened my eyes to other issues that weren’t so obvious when I had started this journey. In 2017, I became aware that in some instances Councils were making it hard to navigate living in a THOW. As more and more tiny houses were being built there were more lived experiences being shared online and not all of them were positive.

I joined every Facebook group relating to tiny houses and off-grid living in New Zealand as a way of gathering as much information as possible. I became aware of the hazards and the risk of possibly having to leave a site after you had become settled and the difficulty of finding a new place. I followed land-share sites, tiny house builders’ pages and eventually joined the Tiny House Association. I was like the secret stalker of all things tiny in New Zealand.

In late 2017 I fell in love with a tiny house on Waiheke Island, I called the builder but he had returned to his trade as a boat builder and wasn’t available. At the time I was devastated, but in retrospect, it certainly wasn’t meant to be.

Marking the tiny house out — I think it ended up a bit bigger than this!

By the summer of 2018, I did have good news, I had found a spot to put my tiny house. Sharing a glass of wine with a friend and looking out over her perfectly flat and relatively private back garden the idea slowly grew that it should go right there. We grabbed some string and pegged it out. It was a win-win for both of us, neither of us wanted to share with anyone but having a friend at the bottom of the garden made perfect sense. The wine was consumed and the deal was done, that was three years ago.

It wasn’t going to be in a paddock in the middle of nowhere after all!

I wasn’t too sure at first about giving up my idea of leaving the city, but as time moved on, I think a bit of relief set in. I decided I still had an awful lot to learn about living off-grid and it might be a lot easier to do that with a garden hose nearby and somewhere to go if I had no power. I knew I would get the hang of it eventually but nothing wrong with easing myself into the lifestyle. Plus, I would still be working in the city which was an essential piece of reality to factor in.

During 2018 I was once again in full planning mode, it was time to work out some of the more hidden details of living tiny. In all the videos I watched on tiny house living it wasn’t often that the topic of plumbing came up. The toilet was definitely going to be a composting one and that was a lot easier to find information on. YouTube is a magical world and if you look hard enough you can find a video on everything. I eventually found a few DIY videos which gave me lots of ideas of how to design a greywater system.

I wanted to be fully off-grid so I chose a super sweet slimline 2800L water tank. In fact, the tank was on-site and in position way before the tiny house even arrived.

Towards the end of 2019, I was feeling more confident about the way tiny house living was in New Zealand and I was looking for the perfect design in earnest when my beautiful little dog Angus (a Shih Tzu) was diagnosed with liver cancer. After an unsuccessful attempt to surgically remove the tumour, his vet sadly told me we would have about seven months. It hit me hard and I spent the next seven months and five days doing everything I could to give him the best life he was able to have. The time came to say goodbye on March 24th 2020, two days before New Zealand went into the first full lockdown for Covid-19. Lockdown was so hard, I missed him terribly. I still do, he was such a spunky little dog.

Angus 2009 to 2020

Covid-19, as we all know, changed everything. I think during lockdown I had moments when I began to doubt if I could make my dream happen, it had been over seven years since I had seen that first tiny house, Lucy. Then in the way things sometimes happen, my journey went in a full circle. I saw a post from Shaye’s Tiny Homes, remember she built Lucy, that first tiny house. Now, here I was seeing another house built by her, it was perfect, I knew what I wanted by this time but I had never seen all the design features in one house before. She was building a new tiny house for herself and it was beautiful. It had full head height in the bedroom, which was one design feature that I had been looking for, not to mention the gorgeous kitchen, the amazing space to make into an office and it just looked stunning. I knew I had to see it.

June 2020 I finally met Shaye and saw her stunning home. I booked my build on the spot for December that year. It was quite an overwhelming day.

The next 5 months flew past and the design stage with Shaye was fantastic — it was absolutely surreal finally seeing the things I had dreamt about, kept mood boards on, written copious notes about, and saved so many web links for, being turned into reality. It was beyond words how deeply satisfying the process was.

Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions slowed the timing a little so my build didn’t start until January 2021 and synchronicity struck again. I received an email in January to say my build was going to happen in Kaiwaka. Dan, one of Shaye’s builders, and his family had moved north and had opened in Kaiwaka. My house would be Dan’s first on the new site, I was so lucky, Dan and Emma were incredible to work with.

The view from the building site in Kaiwaka

How extraordinary my tiny house was being built in a paddock in Kaiwaka!

The build was exhilarating and at times a roller coaster. Sometimes the tiny house looked huge and other times it seemed to shrink, Dan and Emma said that was normal to experience but it made each trip north even more thrilling. I went north as often as I could to see the different stages and to make decisions along the way. There were a few things that I definitely knew I wanted in my home.

Shaye, Dan & Emma outside the tiny house on my first visit and second visit working on the electrical plan with Tristan

Right down to planning my office space! Here’s Tristan and I sitting upstairs planning the power points.

Planning out the office!

Right from the beginning, I had a spreadsheet with three columns. Column one the absolute must-haves, whether it was a design element, an appliance, or something to do with the plan to go off-grid. Column two contained things I really wanted if I could fit them into the budget and the third column was the wish list. I have all my ‘must haves’, 99% of the items in column two, and even a couple from the wish list made it or have made it since I moved in.

Moving Day

My tiny house arrived on site just after Easter 2021 — another nerve-wracking day waiting to find out if it would squeeze past the existing house. I had been downsizing for years so it wasn’t a huge issue of what to keep but when it finally came time to move in there were a few more pieces that had to go. This was a bit sad as I had only kept items that I really love.

Over the first few weeks of moving in, I had lots of finishing touches to make. I had a built-in sofa made, with a huge amount of storage in it, and having parted with a couple of beautiful chairs from my old life I decided that I would let two very talented friends help me choose some gorgeous fabrics to furnish the house.

I love the fabric that we chose for the bedroom to screen the wardrobe, I picked colours from it to make the duvet and euro pillows. There is still a headboard and more bed cushions to make. I am also in love with the sofa cushions which are beautiful, although due to Covid delays some fabric hasn’t arrived yet. There are still some colourful patterned ones to be made, which will totally change the look again. Although I’m constantly going through the house tweaking things, or adding things to my to-do list, I’m in love with this house.

The fabric to screen the wardrobe is Kotori by Christian Fischbacher

Most importantly I’m in and it is everything, and more, that I could have wished for, I couldn’t have known just how amazing it was going to be to live in, no matter how much I dreamt about it. Shaye’s design and the quality of the build by Dan are outstanding, this is definitely my forever home.

The bathroom with the composting toilet

The next steps will be the deck and finally solar energy. I am so grateful to every person who has helped me get here, I have had so much help and support in so many ways and my little home is incredible to live in and filled with love. It doesn’t have a name yet but I’m sure that will come.



Cherry Johnston

Travelling the journey of life and focussing on the joy.