A Year of Life in a Tiny House

The front of our “house.” The freestanding fireplace is sitting there temporarily, waiting to be permanently installed on the deck.

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.

The camper is on the left, our tiny house on the right, and the deck in between.

The front door to our tiny house is behind one end of the long heirloom table.

This is the same front door a year ago, before there was a deck.

The opposite side of the long table, facing the camper.

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.

You’d never know the little white cabinet in the master suite…

…has “drawers” under it.

– 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.

– Partition off areas with curtains or doors for modesty when dressing or undressing. Assign areas to certain people at different times for this purpose.

The green curtain separates the children’s bedroom from the living room area. The bedroom has a set of triple bunks on each side of the aisle.

– 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.

A tv tray is stored between the curtain and the head of Farmer Boy’s bunk.

– 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.

The door to the “master suite” stores aprons on hooks.

The other side of the door stores more.

– 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.

The Secret to Good Goat MilkBlessings,
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16 thoughts on “A Year of Life in a Tiny House

  1. These are great tips! I’m absorbing as much of them as I can since Hubby & I will be living in a 5th wheel for several years until he retires. (Our plans for our homestead have been put on hold for now.)

    Congrats on one year in your tiny house. Your homestead is coming along and looking beautiful!

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  2. I just love your tiny house. I am so intrigued by this lifestyle and am hoping to do something like this when I retire. My current home is 990 sq feet and small by today’s standards but I don’t think I will need that much space once my kids are grown. I really love your deck too.

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    • You do live in a small house by today’s standards. I’m glad you are intrigued and hopefully encouraged by the idea of living more simply and with less. It’s interesting how some have felt the emptiness of the big (huge) houses that have become the norm here in America. As our wealth increased we increased our spending and our “needs” grew as well. I hope some day you get your tiny house. 🙂

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  3. Another thing, if possible make every piece of furniture do double duty. For example, I want to built a couch that has storage inside for things like blankets and extra pillows for company.

    I have been really loving following your journey.

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    • The couch with storage is a great idea! I had wanted to do that too but when we had to move there was no time and we just went with something we already had, our little love seat. Just curious…are you in a tiny house as well?

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Rose Petal, I would love to know where you put food storage. I am also intrigued by the idea of tiny house living, but I would be at a loss to know where to put our food storage. Right now we have a gutted basement (quite large at 1000 sq. ft.) that houses it – not that the whole space is filled with food storage, but we have a pretty good amount built up.

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    • Believe it or not, we keep a six-month food supply mostly in our tiny house. The house is our most climate controlled place, so most is kept there. Items that are not so heat or cold sensitive are stored in the camper cabinets or in our big shed. Most of our stored food is bulk whole foods which we keep in sealed 3-5 gallon buckets. We have 21 buckets stacked three high under our bed loft and behind a chest of drawers in our master suite. Six more are behind living room chairs or in the back corners of the closet in the children’s bedroom. Canned goods are up on high shelves lining the kitchen walls above the cabinets or down in the pantry under the counter. I’ve been amazed how much we can store in here.

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  5. Our family of 5 is about to move into our converted school bus. This post was really helpful to solidify many ideas I already had. We won’t have our own propery yet (saving up for that), so are unable to build a nice deck like yours. I thought that a screened in room that attaches to our awning might make some extra space and provide a meal place.
    Love what your family is doing! Be blessed!

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    • Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing what you are doing! How exciting! I wish you would have a blog I could follow! But I know that isn’t for everyone. The screened in room sounds like a neat alternative to a deck. Are you parking your “house” at one location till you can purchase property, or are you mobile right now?

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  6. I love reading your blog! My husband and I have built a 600sqft yurt in Hawaii where we are living with our two little boys, his parents, and his younger brother. We use a lot of outdoor storage space for things we don’t need inside. We have a lot of built-ins and hide bins under everything for storage. We are enjoying our chickens and Nubian goats we acquired about a year ago! We cant wait to breed them! Thanks for your tips and tricks! May God bless you and your family!

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    • That is so neat! I would love to see pictures of your yurt if you care to share. Two of our daughters are natives of Kazakhstan where the traditional historical housing was yurts, so they have special meaning for us. Thank you so much for sharing!

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