The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Houses

Tiny book of tiny housesThe Tiny Book of Tiny Houses is a fun little book with no room for long-winded explanations of why we should all live in tiny houses.  Instead, the author assumes we're on board and zooms in on seventeen small dwellings, ranging from 32 square feet to a bit over 200 square feet.

Granted, very few of these tiny houses were full-time, long-term residences, but I enjoyed the history behind Sunday houses (used by farming families who spent the weekend in town shopping and going to church) and refugee shacks (built after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and later moved throughout the city to be turned to other uses).  I was also interested to see that occupants of older tiny houses often got around space restrictions by moving kitchens, outhouses, and bathing facilities outside.

While I was picking up my books, the librarians threw in their own two cents' worth on the tiny house movement.  "I don't think I'd like to live in a really tiny house," one said.  "But maybe a space 600 square feet or so would work."  I tend to agree with him --- our domicile was 500 square feet before we tacked on the East Wing, and that original area felt a little small once we moved our business out of a tent and into the house.

I'm curious to hear from our readers.  What's the smallest space you've lived in?  Did you feel comfortable there?

Our POOP-free chicken waterer is the perfect gift for the backyard poultry lover on your list.


Edited to add:

Trailersteading tells how to enjoy all the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost by living in a used mobile home.  Now available for $1.99 on Amazon.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We moved from 2400 square feet to less than 800 at our current abode (and from 1/3 of an acre to almost 60 -- you could say we traded interior for exterior space), and I can't tell you how much happier I am. Sure, things are a little tight (even after shedding so many worldly possessions before we moved in an effort to downsize), but it is cozier and homier (and a thousand times easier to keep clean) and I like it much better. I used to fantasize about moving into a tiny house, but realistically, we just have too many hobbies (and the associated space needs) between the two of us, and in anything smaller, we would probably be at each other's throats!
Comment by mitsy Sun Nov 25 09:34:03 2012
Our house at the farm was 450 sq ft. The one in Bristol is around 750, I remember.
Comment by Errol Sun Nov 25 09:34:19 2012
I love in an 804 sq ft house. When I bought it I had 3 kids and a husband. Due to the kids growing up, I only have one left that lives here and my husband. Sometimes I wish I had more space but we make do. (I'd like to turn my sons room back into the dining room it was intended to be but he is in the marines and comes home sometimes. )
Comment by Irma Sun Nov 25 09:48:47 2012

Everybody --- I asked Mark what he thinks the bare minimum space he's be comfortable with is, and he said that the East Wing (160 square feet) would probably be the least if he had to include the kitchen, etc. Interestingly, the math for our house growing up (Errol's comment --- 5 in our family) and Irma's house come to about the same.

On the other hand, Mark's a firm believer that everyone should have their own personal space. I think my childhood house only worked for me because I had my quiet space in the backyard where I spent the hours between school and dinner, even in winter. Similarly, our current abode seems spacious because Mark and I have our own spaces (well, plus the fact that it's twice the square footage per person I grew up with). And Mitsy's completely right, the amount of outside space you have really mitigates smaller inside spaces.

I'm curious to hear from everyone else --- keep those square footage calculations coming!

Comment by anna Sun Nov 25 10:10:21 2012
I lived in 192 sq ft for a few months by myself. Seth had lived in it for 2 years before that, but I can't say that it was a good experience for him. It worked out for me, but I was just a student at the time and didn't have much as far as space needs. Now the 3 of us (2 adults and a pre-schooler)share roughly 900 square feet. It's not perfect, but it's functional. We just don't have a lot of stuff to clutter it up. That's the most important thing.
Comment by Sara Sun Nov 25 10:11:58 2012

300 sq. foot apartment including the bath and kitchen. It was a converted hotel from the 1920s. Very cool high ceilings. It was me and the cat in school.

Then I moved up in the world to a 450 sq. foot apartment and that felt huge. I bought a huge library table at a garage sale and used it as my desk. Pure luxury that apartment. I even had company and dinner parties there.

Then something less than 300 square feet in Japan. It had it's own washer and the kitchen was somehow smaller than my first 300 sq. foot apartment. I managed fine as most social events were not in the apartment. Most social events are held at restaurants, not in someone's home. There is a cultural bit there because of their small homes, if you are in someone's home it is most like you are family.

I think living small is a perspective thing. Do you have a pole barn to store gardening equipment? Or even a garage to store it? Or like me, have nothing and it's tucked into the entryway, basement, etc.??

Do you have frequent guests so (no guest room here) when they come you need to turn a public area into a sleeping area. That in and of itself is not an issue. The issue is where you store the extra blankets, sheets, towels, futon, etc. Mine are in that "decorative" basket in the living room, folded and shoved on top of a storage rack in the basement, etc.

Do you can and need to store your jams and jellies and tomatoes? The canning equipment doesn't fit in the tiny kitchen. Again, do you have an outbuilding or a spot to tuck it into? Me I'm into the under the stairs spaces, rafter in the basement and attic.

If you have a farm or garden and a tool-full life then you need a dry, covered spot to store most tools (canning equipment is in this category). Old farmhouses are what they are because they functioned. They had pantries and storage rooms on the first floor for a reason.

Don't get me wrong, I love tiny houses, built something like it for myself and left it for a relationship elsewhere. But life still requires a certain amount of stuff unless you sit and watch TV at the end of every day and don't have hobbies or a garden. (and I don't have that much garden stuff - twine, 2 shovels, hoe, rake, weed whip and then pots and pots and seed starting bins) If you have an outbuilding that makes the most sense to me, absolutely.

Comment by c. Sun Nov 25 11:08:27 2012

In my student days I lived quite happily in a 100 square feet room for more than a year. Of course most social activities happened outdoors. The other student renting the room below mine is still my best friend a quarter of a century later.

My current apartment is around 800 square feet. It used to have three bedrooms, but one of them was added to the tiny living room, which was a huge improvement. The spare bedroom is mostly used for laundry and occasionally for guests.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Nov 25 12:10:27 2012
I really think it depends on your stage in life and how many people are in your household. In my twenties I shared a 200 sq foot apartment with my best friend. In my thirties I shared a 1800 sq foot house with 3-4 roommates. Once I had screaming babies and wandering toddlers everything felt cramped. Now as a family of six we live in a 3000 sq foot house that sometimes feels too big and sometimes feels like we're always on top of each other. I would love it if the bedrooms were all smaller so our main living areas (living, dining & kitchen) could be bigger.
Comment by fostermamas Sun Nov 25 14:29:18 2012

I moved from the house I spent all of high school in and then moved into with my husband, about 1400 sqft, to the house I bought after my divorce, about 560 sqft. The little house is a two-bedroom with a two-butt kitchen (more so than the 1400 sqft house!). The little house also has a covered front porch, a back deck, and a decent yard (a half-sized flag lot) with a goodly sized shed for yard stuff and some storage. I lived there for 3 1/2 years before moving in with my current husband in our rather giant house. I still own the little house - I rent it to a guy, his girlfriend, and their child. They've been there for a little over a year now, so it seems to be working out for them too. I'm totally there with you with the "everyone needs their own private space". I live with my husband and his mom and our collective cats (5 at the time of move-in). I love him to pieces, but I am very glad we all have a door we can close on the rest of the house.

The hard part now is that I got so used to making sure I didn't have any more than would fit in my little house, and now I live with a hoarder (my MIL). The sheer amount of crap in the house, the basement, and the garage drive me crazy. I totally miss being able to clean my house (dishes, picking up, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, wiping down surfaces, most laundry) in 4 hours or less.

Comment by bladerunner5 Sun Nov 25 15:08:02 2012
When I lived in Vancouver BC - most expensive real-estate in Canada and way up there for N. Am. - I built a 100 sq ft addition to the back of an old house (3-suite revenue property) disguised as a charming, windowed and french-doored garden shed. A "secret" door led to a kitchenette/shower/toilet (plumbed via the house laundromat) under the back porch, adding 60 sq ft to the total space. [160 sq ft - bingo, Mark]. The whole was served by a 250A subpanel enabled by replacing the electric clothes dryer with gas. I lived there happily for a year until I was busted by the City. The only problem was humidity due to sub-par air exchange in winter, and I discovered belatedly that clothes in the little closet were growing mildew.
Comment by Jackiw Sun Nov 25 22:33:27 2012


My first house I bought in college was 680 sq ft with 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom. It had a 50 x 150 lot with a metal carport, 10 x 20 shed, and outside deck/picnic table area. My wife and I lived there for over 5 years with 3 cats, a lap dog, and our siberian husky with no problems. Having only a bedroom, living room, laundry/mud room, and kitchen/dining room makes you be more comfortable with the person you share a space with. I did turn the shed into my workshop for knife making and tanning hides, but we enjoyed our time. We had a decent sized garden and it was more than enough for two. Had I not had to move for my job, we would still be there today.

I feel people get so hung up on how many bedrooms and bathrooms a house has that they forget what really makes a house a home. What you put into it is what you get and even though our new place is much larger, we still keep things cozy and comfy. With the right amount of yard/acres, anyone could get by with a small house if they are comfortable with themselves, their roommate, and their surroundings.

Comment by Dave Zimmerman Sun Nov 25 22:59:01 2012
Oops! In my comment above, should read "...30A subpanel..."
Comment by Jackie Mon Nov 26 11:40:19 2012

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