Tiny Cowboys

Do I regret getting into the whole tiny-house nightmare? Of course not.

Thus says James Campbell in his candid account of tiny house life. He was ripped off by cowboy tiny house manufacturers who promised an out-of-the-box solution for £65,000.

There were so many problems. The house that was delivered was not the house in the brochure. We had ordered a pitched roof, so that solar panels would be pointed at the winter sun. The house that arrived had a pretty much flat roof.

There were dangerous and infuriating problems with the electrics and the plumbing. Rats soon moved into the walls. Inexpert technicians were repeatedly flown in from Lithuania, despite the company purporting to be UK-based and ecologically-minded.

We quickly got to the point where we asked them to take it away and give us our money back. They refused. We looked at suing them for mis-selling. Our solicitor reported they were in so much debt that if we did and won, they would go bankrupt and we would get nothing.

I mention Chris’s account as another example of how things can go wrong when fleeing the daily grind or trying to live alternatively. Nobody really thinks its going to be easy but James’ problems were quite extreme and unlike, say, Mark Boyle’s efforts to adapt to a life on the land, they’re hard to see as a worthy challenge when you’ve paid through the nose for a commercial solution. Chris didn’t go into the project looking for a challenge. It was just supposed to work.

Greenwashing is real and so, I suppose, is escapewashing. Capitalism is watching: it’s forever on the lookout for lifestyles to sell. Chris couldn’t have done much to avoid being ripped off, but there is at least one teachable moment:

One day I was given a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s first River Cottage Cookbook. I devoured it and swiftly realised my future would involve living in the countryside, doing my best to be self-sufficient.

Maybe don’t completely change your whole life after reading one book. Especially a cookbook. Especially a cookbook written by a wealthy person who stands to get even wealthier by it. By all means be inspired by watching Escape to the Country if you like, but read, read, read. Proper books. Case studies. Talk and listen to people who have done it.

Do your research. Downsize gradually (Chris writes that he purged 90% of his stuff quite quickly — and unproductively too, by taking it to charity shops or the tip). Pilot the new idea by testing it first (which, to be fair, Chris sort-of did by moving into a cheap caravan before buying the tiny home).

Or, y’know, just jump in. But do it with eyes open and ready to fail.


New Escapologist’s back catalogue is packed with case studies of escape. Download the complete first volume (Issues 1-13) on PDF for £25 or pre-order the forthcoming summer issue in print or digital formats.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at wringham.co.uk

4 Responses to “Tiny Cowboys”

  1. Fergie says:

    My first attempt at escape was a total failure. I was overly influenced by two books and a tv show: The River Cottage Cookbook, Fork to Fork by Monty Don, and The Good Life TV show (really!).
    I persuaded my wife to move to a horrible small Scottish village that couldn’t have been more unfriendly. We barely held on for 10 years but finally admitted defeat and emigrated to the US where I finally managed to escape the world of work and enjoy growing fruit and veg.
    Although I failed in my first attempt I couldn’t be happier now, so if you are in a similar situation don’t give up!

  2. That’s the spirit! Do you regret making your first move or do you value the lessons learned and life experienced during that experiment? Do you wish you’d admitted defeat sooner?

  3. Fergie says:

    The theory behind the first move was sound, I worked from home and that left time for self-sufficiency, the problem was the village itself, nasty and clique ridden. We didn’t fit in so some decided to make our lives almost unbearable.
    Yes, we should have given up earlier and moved back to Edinburgh. Maybe. The thing is though that the opportunity to move to the US wouldn’t have happened and I doubt I would be so happy so maybe the bad times were worth enduring. I did learn a lot about gardening in those years!

  4. It’s all water under the bridge now anyway. And your current lot looks like the good life indeed.

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