Deb Graf fondly calls her home the tiny house on the prairie, because she felt like a pioneer when she drove into Mabel with her house pulled behind a pickup truck. Graf “settled” on a flat plot of land east of town to begin a new chapter in her life.
In the fall of 2016, Graf took a job as the band and elementary music instructor at Mabel-Canton Schools. “They needed someone right away,” Deb said. “I was available since I had been laid off from a large school district in the cities where I had worked for 20 years. The timing was right, but finding housing wasn’t easy.”
Graf initially found a place to rent in Harmony and then started looking for alternatives. Her husband, Tim, had a job that kept him in the cities and they spent weekends together. Deb was primarily looking for place that was suitable for just herself.
“I looked at rentals in Mabel, but there wasn’t much available at the time.
Graf had watched many episodes of Tiny House Hunters and started thinking that buying a tiny house would be a better investment than renting. “When I saw one for sale in Anoka that had just been reduced, I called my husband and I told him that this could be it.” Tim went to see it and agreed with his wife. He gave the owner $200 to hold it and soon it was hitched up to a pickup heading for Mabel.
Graf has space in the trailer park east of town where her tiny house is hooked up to water and electricity. The main living level is 110 square feet. This includes a two-person sitting area with a wall mount TV, kitchen with stove, double refrigerator/freezer, microwave/browner, cherrywood cabinets and a bathroom with modern-style toilet, large shower and sink. The loft bedroom is 50 square feet with a queen-size bed. There’s a 28-square-foot deck outside the front entrance. The 22’ Tumbleweed weighs 7,940 lb. and has a peak of 13’3” (bridge clearance is typically 14’).
“My family was thrilled for me,” Graf said. “I think a few others thought I was crazy. It’s not for everyone. The best thing about tiny living is a feeling of freedom to live anywhere and a cozy, warm place to call home. We also knew that it made more sense than spending money on rent.”
Deb lived in Vienna, Austria at the start of her teaching career for six years. It was there that she discovered having less material goods can create more space in your life for the important things like friends, family and relaxing. She also grew up in
North Dakota and was raised to live frugally.
When Graf first moved in, her co-workers gave her a tiny house-warming party. The party was not tiny and had to be held at the Legion. She was given a variety of things including the world’s smallest welcome mat, that was two by three inches! All the tiny gifts fit in a one-foot square box.
“Originally the interior was all natural ‘pine’ wood, but I prefer the more modern chic look,” Graf said. “My sister-in-law and I painted the interior white with light gray/slate gray accents. We did this over Halloween while we lived in the Historic Mabel Hotel for a week. The whole experience of decorating it with someone is something I will always cherish.”
Graf bought the Tumbleweed model from owners who knew little about the house’s original builders. They had purchased it to use as a summer lake cabin. When that didn’t work, they sold it to Graf, still brand new. Unfortunately, Deb didn’t know that this model was only suitable for moderate temperatures, not Minnesota winters!
“Í left for Christmas break and came home to a frozen house,” Graf said. “It took quite a bit of repairs to make it Minnesota ready! It is now fully insulated with a new heater/AC unit. It’s ready for anything that our climate sends our way. I had house guests recently and they loved it.”
“My original plan was to work several more years in Mabel before retiring but having a long-distance marriage hasn’t been easy. My husband suggested we retire now. It’s a good time for him to leave his job and the housing market is right for selling our home near St. Paul. It was a big decision because I love my job, but we decided to do it!”
The plan is to finish out the school year while selling everything they own (both houses and all possessions) to travel the world. This means the tiny house is for sale. The manufacturer’s price was $34,900 and Graf is selling it for $22,000.