The Internal Battle over Kitchen Appliances

My next few blog posts will be dedicated to small kitchens. The needed appliances, the amount of counter space, and the type/size of storage are a few questions that were buzzing around in my head. These needs and wants are different for each person, so what works for me, might not work for you. It honestly was a deep thinking exercise of what I actually use, what I haven’t touched in years, and what I can afford in a kitchen on a low budget. It took a week of internal debate to answer these questions. I would say the biggest influence on these decisions were from the semester I lived in Rome, Italy. We had a tiny kitchen in our apartment to service eight people. We didn’t have a dishwasher, had a dorm sized refrigerator (for eight people!), and a small, sketchy four burner stove. So here is what I’m rolling with for my appliance choices.

Small Dorm Refrigerator

After years of communal living, I realized that no single person really needs a full sized fridge. I buy groceries usually on a meal-to-meal basis so I never really used up my whole fridge “shelf” when I lived with roommates. I also already own a pretty nice mini fridge, meaning I can just keep that bad boy and not buy a new one. Win.

Forget the Range

I was going to go with the European style cooking range like I had in Italy, but what I’ve learned is even when you go smaller with appliances, the cost doesn’t really go down and can sometimes be more expensive. I also thought about how much I’ve actually used my parent’s range since I’ve moved home in May. I’ve used the stovetop a handful of times, and I’ve used the oven once. Knowing that I think counter space is more important, creating a flexible kitchen, I am choosing to go with small, separate appliances.

A two unit, electric stovetop burner is what I’m picking for a hot surface since I can’t think of a single time I’ve used more than two burners. I also am buying a small conventional oven, purposely too small to fit frozen pizzas, but large enough to roast veggies and small baking recipes. These two appliances cost about $80 all together. The range I was looking at would cost $495. This money saved can go towards nicer windows, or paying for better insulation.

Loss of Dishwasher

This was something I had to let go. I’m on a tight budget and I’ve been washing my dishes by hand for over the last year. It has not killed me and it will reduce the amount of water I use in my house, which is important to me. Living little has some disadvantages and this is probably one, but on the plus side, I get to use that space to house the dishwasher for kitchen storage.

The Essentials

Obviously I’m putting in a sink and microwave. I usually only cook once or twice a week to meal prep, meaning I reheat a lot of food. I’m getting just a standard microwave to cover this need.

It wasn’t easy, but I did get to a final decision of what I really need/can afford. At the end the series of kitchen posts, I will be posting my final kitchen design. Till then, I’m practicing what cooking in a small space will be like, and what kind of storage I’m truly going to need.

TinyFest in Colfax, IA

As someone jumping into a nontraditional living style, it’s essential to learn more about what I’m getting into outside of online articles. Luckily one of my friends found out about TinyFest that was in Colfax, Iowa the weekend of September 22nd to the 24th and passed the information onto me! After a little research, I found out there were tiny homes to tour and workshops/speakers to learn from. Within minutes, my parents and I bought our tickets and then drove the two and a half hours to the Jasper County Fairgrounds.


I can’t tell you how helpful it was going to this event pre build. It was amazing talking to other tiny home owners/advocates and getting design inspiration from finished homes. The workshops and speakers brought up really good ideas/concerns that I hadn’t thought of. So here’s what I learned after spending seven hours with tiny home enthusiasts.

  Everyone wants you to succeed.

I had some really great conversations with people who brought their tiny homes for touring. Once you tell them you’re starting construction in less than two months, they are so excited to share resources and advice. I learned more about composting toilets from people who actually use them, cheap but quality finishes, and preparation techniques to get ready to move into a tiny house. It was really empowering and assuring that I was making the right decision for myself.

Legal Advice workshop is a must.

There were numerous workshops about the legal situation of going tiny, including a documentary viewing about changing the IRC (International Residential Code). Bob from Titan Tiny Homes gave really great information about approaching planning and zoning boards and how to start a tiny home community. I feel like I can answer questions about insurance, zoning concerns, and building code issues like a pro after going to two, one hour talks.

With the good comes the bad.


The most important thing I learned about was what NOT to do. A college brought three tiny homes they had built for class. I cannot describe to you the horrid building details they had used. You’ll see in these pictures the most extreme caulk joints I’ve ever seen in my life and offensive roofing details. To say it made me anxious was an understatement. But after sending these details to the NIACC Building Trades instructor Gregg, he assured me that we will do better and put together a quality control technique to make sure our students will outshine these other builders.


Overall it was a really great experience for my parents and I to actually stand in a tiny home and get a feel for the space. I highly recommend that if you’re thinking of “living little”, go to an event of this sort. It is a once in a lifetime learning opportunity that was well worth the $15 ticket and long drive.

Find out more about Tiny Fest, visit their web site here!!

Here are the personal pages of some of my favorite tiny homes I toured:

Built on the Fly

Midwest Wanderers

The Refuge

Sometimes Things Fall into Place… FAST!

I wasn’t expecting to start a tiny home project for myself only four months out of college, but sometimes life brings you a perfect opportunity, and you capitalize on it. This post is about how in less than two weeks, I committed to designing/financing a tiny home and promised to have construction documents ready before the first week of November. Nothing like a dead line to make you get your shi—stuff together.


The North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) has a “Building Trades” course taught by Gregg Helmich. Gregg has a very active Facebook page for his class and it’s really cool to see the different projects they do. Luckily one of my coworkers has his page liked and saw a post he made back on September 5th about looking for people who wanted to finance and have a tiny home built for them.

Right when I got ahold of this information, I called NIACC and left Gregg a voicemail. Me, being an extremely inpatient person when I’m excited about something, I couldn’t wait any longer after an hour of not hearing anything back, especially once there were over 30 shares on his post. I became creepy and looked up his email on the NIACC website directory. I wrote him an obnoxiously detailed email (you can read this email at the end of this post) about myself that could have scared him away, or shown how passionate and interested I was about the project. Thankfully it was the latter of the two. He responded really positively to my enthusiasm and it kind of just picked up from there. He told me he had others contact him about interest, but with my design background and architecture connections, I was the perfect first client for them.

FCNB-logo-e1419353362325So after a few phone calls I had to prove I could finance the project since I was fresh out of college. I went to my local bank, First Citizens Bank, that my family has banked at for over fifty years. I trust this bank and they know my family, which made the finance part of the project so easy and stress free. Trever Olsen, a lending officer in Osage, pre-approved a 25,000 loan with a written letter I could send to Gregg/NIACC. Trever is really great to work with and answered all my questions fully. First Citizens Bank is a big part of why my tiny dream home is happening so quickly for me and I am extremely thankful.

After I had financial security for this project, it was time to meet face to face with Gregg. On September 18th at 6:45 am Gregg gave me a tour of the shop, we talked building schedule, and I showed him some rough preliminary plans I had drawn up on my lunch hour at work. He answered my questions and concerns, and then he printed out a NIACC agreement contract. That’s when it sunk in. I was handed a real document that was going to blossom my idea into a real project.

To be honest, when I showed up for this meeting, I thought it was an interview to decide if I was the right fit for the project. I was not expecting to leave with a contract in my hand. It’s hard to explain the emotions that ran through my head of complete excitement where I couldn’t sit still and all the nervousness for not knowing what is to come in the future. My coworkers could read the good news/extreme emotional overload on my face at the office that morning. They were all excited for me and that helped me get over all the fear I felt. After a good night of sleep, I woke up the next day ready to take on the tiny home world. After only 13 days, the second phase of my project has begun!  Now time to design!

Like the NIACC Building Trades Facebook Page at NIACC Building Trades Facebook Page

Here’s the embarrassing email that I’ll probably regret sharing later in life:  Original Message to NIACC


Why I Want to Live Little

When I tell someone about my newest personal project of building a tiny home, there are three reactions: excitement, confusion, and “what the hell”. If you’re reading this blog, it may be because you’re excited for me and want to stay in the loop as the project develops. You also could be confused and just want to figure out what the heck a tiny house is. More than likely you’re wondering what the hell I was thinking and can’t believe I want to live in a 300 sq. ft. house and want to see if this all actually happens. For whatever the reason you’re here, thanks for joining me on this adventure as I figure out how to “live little” in North Central Iowa.


My name is Cally Niess and I am an Osage, Iowa native and grew up on a farm that raises cattle, harvest crops, and at one time, milked dairy cows. With the strong agriculture influence in my upbringing, I basically went in the completely opposite direction for career choice. I went to Iowa State University for a Bachelors degree in Architecture and currently work as a Project Manager at Bergland and Cram Architects in Mason City, IA.

So why a tiny house? I have been interested in tiny living for years now and honestly just thought it was a really cool idea.   Watching countless documentaries, television shows, and reading minimalism blogs, I was completely hooked. Besides the “cool” factor, when you start laying out the facts of tiny living, it becomes the best choice for myself as a single, postgrad adult.

Space in a home is a luxury. I want you to think about all the space you have in your current home. Think of where you spend most of your time. Usually it’s the kitchen, living, bedroom, and bathroom. It’s usually only for special occasions you use that dining room, den, finished basement, game room, guest bedroom, etc. Knowing I want to live alone, that I’m not a chef, and I live a pretty low maintenance life, the amount of space I need isn’t much. My plan for my tiny home is to have a small bathroom with only the essentials, a small kitchenette arrangement, a small lounge/living area, and lofted sleeping quarters. Basically the typical essentials in a home, just with less square footage.

Since I’ve graduated from college, I have moved back home with my parents and instantly started looking for a home to buy. I got preapproved for a home loan, which would get me a decent shape two bedroom, one bath home in the Clear Lake/Mason City area. I started having anxiety about how long it was going to take me to pay my mortgage and started questioning the decision of buying a house. Was I buying this type of home because this was something I wanted to live in, or was it because that’s the typical thing for someone in North Central Iowa to do after they graduate? I am budgeting this project to come in between $15,000 – $20,000. I hopefully will be able to pay off my tiny house in two to three years, meaning I would have my home paid off by age 26. That to me is an amazing feat and one of the biggest incentives to pursue this living option.

Lastly, the reason I am going through with this project is because I have an amazing support system to help me along the way. My parents, Scott and Julie Niess, are allowing me to move my tiny house to their farmstead till I find a permanent spot for my tiny home, which I am very thankful for. They also are going out of their way to help me with anything I need and have always supported my out of the box ideas. I work with some of the best, experienced people in Iowa who are more than willing to help me in the design process and detailing for construction documents. None of this would be possible without my coworker’s support at Bergland and Cram. They’re the freaking best and I love working with them every week and listening to their ideas! Also all of my friends are pushing me to keep moving forward and send me anything they find about tiny homes. They’re just as excited as I am and give me energy to put into this project.

So stay tuned and see what comes from all this excitement! I promise my following posts won’t be as lengthy but will have awesome information about how to build a tiny home in North Central Iowa from start to finish, including looking for homeowners insurance, to picking out the right kind of toilet! Here’s to the next chapter of my life and I’m so glad you want to follow along with me! Cheers!