Going tiny is the biggest, healthiest move that those in the sustainability sector can take. Dr. Caroline Hartridge, founder of Dr. Hartridge’s Healthcare Solutions and a renowned expert in osteopathy, plant-based and sustainable living, gives Honeysuckle‘s Katie Stromme the lowdown on her new residence. Great things really do come in small packages.
When Dr. Caroline Hartridge recently found her life at a minor crossroads, she knew it was a perfect time to downsize. An osteopathic doctor (meaning she treats patients holistically while focusing on the interconnection of musculoskeletal and nervous systems and the body’s natural tendencies toward self-healing) with a general practitioner’s license, Hartridge had decided to switch from hospital work to treating patients in a home clinic. She was energized by the flexibility a tiny house could offer, especially if she retained control over the design and layout. Tiny homes can no longer be said to be “having a moment”—the lifestyle is a full-blown movement. Though the movement may be generating lots of buzz as environmentally-friendly living practices become increasingly mainstream, its core values are ancient and evergreen: minimized consumption, thoughtful use of space, community and environmental health, and increased personal freedom. With a slowing housing market in the U.S., it has become clear that a growing number of Americans are hungry for ways to live both affordably and in greater alignment with their true needs, rather than following a path of careless resource consumption. Hartridge, like many tiny home owners, first became interested by watching documentaries about them such as Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Nation. Lower cost and greater flexibility were big incentives for her as well. She does occasional work at a free medical clinic in Puerto Rico and will soon be running live-in wellness experiences in Costa Rica. Building a tiny house herself, she realized, would eliminate worries about mortgage payments and allow her more freedom to travel both for work and pleasure.She needed enough space for patients to feel comfortable, but still desired something smaller than her former four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home. In addition, she wanted to create something that could support her in a quest for a smaller environmental footprint, more aligned with her sustainably-driven lifestyle. By designing and building the 370-square-foot home with the help of her parents in Georgia, Hartridge was able to get exactly what she wanted: an open, inviting floor plan and a build that utilized salvaged and low-impact materials. At 370 square feet, Hartridge’s home is at the larger end of the tiny house spectrum, (tiny houses are generally defined as any home under 500 square feet). It was constructed primarily with re-claimed, low-impact materials. The exterior is made from rusted tin roofs salvaged from old barns in Georgia. Much of the insulation is recycled wood pulp, and the bathroom features a composting toilet. As the doctor points out, the house also uses “mostly LED lighting… and, obviously, zero VOC [volatile organic compound] paint.” The floors are whitewash bamboo and the walls are beech plywood with a clear finish. She kept the kitchen and living area very modern, clean, and white, for a balance between the professionalism and hominess that a dual work/residential space requires. Among the specifications personalized to fit her unique needs are separate bedrooms for Hartridge and her 9-year-old daughter, adequate insulation for chilly northeastern winters, plenty of floor space for her four dogs to stretch out, and enough room for her treatment table and desk. Her sister, Abby, is an interior designer at Cisco Home in Los Angeles and specializes helping people find the perfect, long-lasting, heirloom pieces for their homes. She assisted Hartridge with selecting many of the finishes and fixtures, and finding the perfect sofa for her new space.The purging process, though time-consuming, was an opportunity for reflection. Hartridge and her daughter made careful, deliberate decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of as they sifted through their belongings in preparation for the move. In the end, what remained were things that were both precious and practical. “We were really thoughtful about what we touched and used daily, and worked the dimensions of the tiny house around that,” Hartridge said. The tiny house, which is built on a custom, triple-axle gooseneck trailer, was constructed in Georgia and brought up to Brooklyn by a professional driver in a heavy-duty pickup truck. Hartridge’s parents followed behind the whole way in their car (“holding their breath the entire time!” the doctor noted). Fortunately, it made the northward journey without any hiccups. Now parked on a lot in Brooklyn, Hartridge, her daughter, and the house are settling into their new neighborhood. And she got lucky with what many tiny homeowners find to be the most challenging aspect of making the switch: finding a location where they can legally and conveniently park their homes and have access to electricity and plumbing hookups (next-door neighbors are allowing her to connect to their water and electricity). Although she could, in theory, pack it all in, hitch her house to a big pickup truck, and head off to find a new neighborhood with a new view, Hartridge is looking forward to getting settled in her spot in Brooklyn and establishing a routine with work and her adopted community here.Her daughter, who had first envisioned the tiny house as a part-time option, took a little more convincing—but not much: “I had to explain to her that if we went tiny, we could travel more,” said Hartridge. “And her response was: ‘I want to go to Africa!’”—For more information about Dr. Hartridge’s work, or to discover unique, sustainable and effective healthcare solutions for your everyday life, visit Dr. Hartridge’s Healthcare Solutions at drhhs.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more about Dr. Hartridge’s adventures in the tiny house, follow her on Instagram at @drcarolinehartridge.–Katie Stromme is a writer and editor who has previously served as creative nonfiction editor of Mud Season Review and assistant editor of Hunger Mountain journal. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram at @strommesalami.