Last December 10 we moved into our tiny house, so this week we are reminiscing about our first year as a family of eight living in 350 sq ft. In the modern tiny house movement I understand that tiny houses are generally 500 sq ft or less. Often they are built on trailer frames so they don’t need building permits. Our tiny house is an 48-foot semi trailer converted into living quarters. To see more read my recent post called Our Tiny House.
Actually, with 20 acres to roam and a large deck built this fall, we have plenty of room to stretch and enjoy, so we really don’t often miss a bigger house. We love that it helps keep life simple, and doesn’t take as much effort to maintain, leaving time and energy for more important things. It is easier and more efficient to control the climate indoors, and we enjoy the family togetherness a smaller space provides.
There are times we miss bigger indoor space, like during the rainy season when mosquitos are bad and the wet soupy mess outside keeps everything indoors, including line drying our clothes. Or when we have lots of guests and want to all be in the house at the same time listening to a piano concert by the children. Or when it’s 95° F (35C°) outside and I need to talk on the phone while the younger ones take afternoon naps. If someone needs “alone time” it can be tough.
Most of these needs are now met by the large covered deck and the extra space in the camper. The deck gives room to spread out for projects or play, eat around the long table passed down from Silver Oak’s grandparents, and enjoy the outdoors without being in the elements. The camper belongs to Silver Oak’s parents who use it when visiting from the north. When not used as guest quarters we take advantage of the second bathroom and the quiet study area.
I was asked for tips on making a tiny house livable for a family, so thought I’d share practical ideas about tiny house living. Without some of these things in place it could be difficult. If you have more to add, please share.
- Sell (or give away) everything not necessary for living efficiently, especially larger items and toys that don’t serve a function useful enough to deserve their space. Rid yourself of little things rarely used that cause clutter. In a tiny space clutter can overtake you quite quickly.
- Narrow down clothing needs. Keep only shoes useful with many outfits or a variety of purposes. Do laundry daily (except weekends) to decrease the need for so many outfits. Store necessary extras or seasonals in another space (see next point).
- Have a tight storage shed for extra supplies and things you must keep but don’t have room for in the house. Hand-me-downs or clothing purchased inexpensively may be hard to replace without spending more. Limit the amount stored to what is reasonable for your family’s needs, and get rid of the rest. This storage space allows you to buy in bulk or hunt bargains, and stay organized. Keep in the house only what is currently used, and the rest organize in the shed.
- Use every space creatively. Make “drawers” under couches or other furniture with trays or shallow bins that slide in and out. Make sure dressers and cabinets use space wisely, majoring on vertical space. Taller chests of drawers and bookcases are better.
- Install cabinets and shelves near the ceiling wherever practical. Keep a fold-able step stool handy to access them easily.
- Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. With limited counter space this makes a huge difference. Keep dishes washed and put away.
- Cook from scratch. Large uniform bins of basic ingredients (grains, etc) take less space than processed foods in supermarket packages.
- Sweep main walkways and kitchen often, and wipe down counters and sinks. Many people in a tiny space creates dirt quickly, but it only takes minutes to make it clean again.
- Build bunk beds into the walls and make them narrower like in a motor home (around 2 1/2 feet wide). Build them three high and leave a little storage space under the bottom one. Our bed is in a loft with closet space below. See pictures here.
- Partition off areas with curtains or doors for modesty when dressing or undressing. Assign areas to certain people at different times for this purpose.
- Make sure everyone (especially older ones) have their own personal private space. They may each have their own bunk, as well as private drawer space for personal things. Give them a quiet corner for a period of time each day for quiet time, journaling, etc. This may need a written schedule in place so these quiet corners can be rotated.
- Have play areas outside the house where children can play and stay relatively clean when they are dressed up for an event or already showered. We use the covered deck and camper for this, but a corner of the storage shed would do as well if close to the house. This way little ones can stay busy when the house is being cleaned or must stay quiet, or someone needs privacy for dressing, etc.
- An outside covered deck is wonderful for a large table to eat together in nice weather. It gives a lot of extra breathing room. That table can also be used for projects and schoolwork, etc.
- Keep a few folding tv tray tables handy to pull out when weather does not permit eating on the deck. We also have a child’s table inside for the little guys, while the rest of us sit on living room chairs or couch and share tv tables.
- Consider having an outdoor stove/range or method of cooking for hot days so your tiny space does not get heated unnecessarily.
- Use a laptop instead of a desktop computer, making it double as a DVD and CD player.
- Open windows and air out the house daily to keep a fresh supply of healthy air.
- Stay on top of odors. If something smells bad it’s hard to get away from it in a tiny space. Candles, incense, and matches are helpful, and of course eliminating the source of the odor. But don’t introduce toxins in the meantime, as in a tiny space it will be more potent.
- Use hooks to hang bath towels, wash clothes, scarves, belts, or long ribbon to hold hair clips and bows. These hooks can be on any useable wall space, or on racks hanging over doors.
- Use shower curtains that are not transparent so one person can shower the same time someone else is combing hair or brushing teeth.
- Make a rule that no yelling, running or “horsing around” is to happen in the house. In a tight space rambunctious behavior is magnified, and will likely cause damage to possessions or others.
- Another rule: no projects or toys in walkways. As long as walkways are cleared, it’s livable even with a temporary “mess” of legos or sewing.
- Make the tiny house beautiful and comfortable so it feels like home!
I’m sure this is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. I would love to hear from other families whose permanent (more or less) residence is tiny.