FARGO - Charlene and Luke Sabin's new house has a bedroom, living area, kitchen, bathroom and dining table.

But unlike most houses, this one is just 204 square feet.

Faced with student loans and an unaffordable housing market, the Sabins decided to do something a little different: They built a tiny house.

"This is the best plan for us to actually be long-term successful in life, in home ownership, in debt management," Charlene, 29, said last week in an interview in the living room of the tiny house, when it was sitting in a north Fargo driveway, where the house was built over the past few months.

The traditional ambition of buying a regular-sized house-then maybe buying a bigger house, down the road-did not make sense for the couple. Or, as Charlene puts it: "Mainstream isn't working."

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This is not the first time the couple, two North Dakota State University graduates who married in 2007, made a major lifestyle change. They went vegan together for three years and became obsessed with long-distance running.

"Whenever she reads a book or sees a documentary, she's like, 'I gotta change my life,' " Luke, 29, said of his wife.

"There's no middle ground with me," she admitted.

'It doesn't feel small'

The Sabins were inspired after watching a documentary on tiny houses, which are said to be simpler, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than your traditional home.

"I was like, 'Yeah, let's do it,' " Charlene recalled.

"And I was like, 'Oh, crap,' " Luke said.

Needless to say, the Sabins had never built a small house. They went about researching how to do it and soon came up with a design.

"I read a house framing book textbook cover to cover, and I loved every bit of that book," Luke said.

After making the decision in January, construction started in late May. Luke worked practically every day, and so did Charlene when she was not working her summer job.

They needed to be fast because Charlene had a teaching position waiting for her in Minot when school started this year.

Last week, the house was practically finished. It was just missing a door and some finishing touches. The clever design and loft-style feel makes the house seem larger than it really is.

"If the ceilings are high, you don't feel cramped. If you have a lot of windows, you have the illusion of horizontal space," Luke said. "So far, I think it doesn't feel small."

They saved space by opting for a single-unit washer and dryer and a small 9-gallon water heater, which Charlene said will "get you through one shower."

They recently spent their first night sleeping in the bedroom, located above the living area.

"It was nice," Charlene said, though because they kept the windows open to stay cool, they heard a lot of "different noises."

"We are kind of close to the airport," Luke said.

Living tiny like going vegan

The Sabins, who have lived in various North Dakota cities to take job opportunities but call Fargo their hometown, recently tried buying a house in Minot, where the median sale price of a home in 2014 was $208,000.

The housing market there, Luke said, is so hot that even a "piece of junk" house is expensive.

Their tiny house cost $35,000 to build. The loan they took out to pay for it will be paid off in 10 years, they said, compared to a typical 30-year mortgage.

"If you end up with a setup where this is paid off and you have a small chunk of land out of town where you can have a garden and stuff, you're not paying anything other than utilities at that point, and shoot, that's ideal," Luke said.

The Sabins said they found an RV lot in Minot where they planned to park the tiny house and plug into utilities.

While Charlene works as a teacher, Luke says he might try his hand at building tiny houses for a living.

But it doesn't look like he'll be building any for friends and family, who have called the idea of living in a tiny house "cool" but not their cup of tea.

Charlene said it was the same reaction the Sabins got when they went vegan: "That's really great. That's really interesting. I could never do it."