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

Tips for enjoying life in a tiny house

Tiny kitchen

Katie asked for a tour of the inside of our trailer, and while I'm not ready to oblige yet, I thought I'd share a few little-known truths about living in a tiny house (or trailerstead).  These all seem like lemons on the surface, but can be turned into lemonade with a little care.

There are no public spaces in your house.  Those of you who live in large houses probably don't pay much attention to the way your residence has public spaces where you don't mind inviting strangers in, as well as private spaces like your bedroom.  Tiny houses double up functions, which tends to make all spaces feel private (at least to a shy introvert).  Solution: Build a nice porch and only invite people over in the summer.  Silver lining: Small spaces feel cozy during the 99% of the time you spend at home with only your family around.

Only one person can move around in a room at a time.  Small spaces mean that you need to find a spot to settle once you're inside, then stay there.  Solution: I have no clue how families with rowdy kids handle this, but for Mark and me, it generally means treating the trailer like a time-share --- when I'm cooking, he stays out of the kitchen, and vice versa when the dishes are being done.  Silver lining: Not sure whether to mention this since it's PG-13, but you can imagine how this adds to marital harmony.

Walls for storage

Walls are not for art.  Chances are, you'll need every speck of wall space for some combination of windows, shelves, and hanging things.  Solution: Maybe the art should go in the outhouse?  Silver lining: It's much easier to keep your life relatively simple if you look at all of your accumulated possessions every day.

Your smoke detector will go off at least once a week.  Even the best smoke detectors are designed for larger residences, so chances are good you'll set off false alarms quite frequently.  Deglazing a greasy pan for easier cleanup inevitably sets off our smoke detector, as does roasting vegetables under the broiler.  Solution: Learn the right doors and windows to open when broiling to prevent the klaxon.  Silver lining: You don't need to worry about your smoke detector running out of batteries without you noticing.

This is far from an exhaustive list, so I'm curious to hear from others who live in houses smaller than the national average.  What unconventional techniques do you use to make tiny house living fun?

Our chicken waterer turns the tiny coop into a poultry palace by keeping the bedding dry and the water clean.

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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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I don't know if our house is tiny, it's about 920 square feet w/ a kid and 2.8 adults (my brother is here all day now, but retreats to his own place to sleep.) The most challenging places are the kitchen and the bathroom. We've done without a dishwasher or microwave the whole time we've been here, which most people don't get, but it works well for us. We all have our own dishes that we keep track of, and we keep everything cleaned and put away so it doesn't clutter up our space. We minimize and organize. It usually works well until we have unexpected guests and we're scrambling to find enough dishes to serve everyone dinner.

For Seth and I, keeping up with cleaning chores is a big deal. When the space is clean, it feels like we have more than enough room. When it's messy, it's suffocating.

I've had to set aside a few things that I would love to have, like indoor plants, a well-organized and accessible seed collection, and more counter space for processing foods. I'll concede that most of this sacrifice is due to the 4 year old rather than the small space, though.

Comment by Sara Mon May 6 12:33:32 2013

I can really relate to your tips for living in a small space!

We live in a smallish house in the bush (not farm country) which is 900 square feet, and have a smaller home, 780 square feet, in a small town,: we are renovating the town house for retirement.

One thing I find makes living in small spaces easier to deal with is to put castors on most of the furniture, making it simple to move around to suit the occasion. For example, the computer work station, printer and all peripherals included, get moved nearer the masonry heater in the winter, because it is much colder by the exterior walls and windows. In the warmer weather it gets moved near the windows to enjoy the view while working. The computer is also the entertainment center, and it can be moved for viewing from where ever we are sitting. Another example is the coffee table/foot stool/ work surface, which is a small square table on castors that moves around and is used where needed most.

Another thing we find is that when people visit there is not enough seating, we have seating for two. Folding camping chairs have come to the rescue. When people drop by we bring out the folding chairs and the little living room has instant seating for guests.

Computers have made it easier because reference material can be accessed there, instead of having a multitude of books to store. However, this has not inspired me to get rid of my thousands of books, it only deters me from buying more.

Outdoor space doesn't really help to expand our living space, in the near north of Canada, because we have winter weather for seven months of the year.

Comment by Maggie Turner Mon May 6 14:13:06 2013

I don't know what it is, but I have been commenting a lot recently. I guess the posts have hit home a little more.

While my wife and I (and Buzzinga the dog) have a 2400sqft home, we have found that we are spending time together in the same areas at the same time. It is the kitchen, family room or bedroom. She does coupon quite a bit and we donate quite a bit of the stock pile quarterly(dining room). We could easily de-clutter and live in under 900sqft, and we are in that process. We still have not found our home(trailer)stead yet, but we are closer to finding that.

I would love to find a place and an internet business to make that one step closer.

Keep up the great job.


Comment by Mark Mayer Mon May 6 14:46:29 2013

Our house is under 1000 SF and we're lucky enough to have 9 foot ceilings so we make every effort to make efficient use of the volume of our space. It's pretty easy to keep clean due to size and we don't feel like we need anything bigger as far as house goes. I do feel the attic, even when organized, is a place for a lot of junk we probably don't need.

I do think something that is often overlooked is the shed or barn. We have a good sized shed for all of our tools, bikes, and seedling trays.

Comment by Brian Mon May 6 15:15:59 2013
my husband and I lived for 12 years in an 800 sq ft house - it was very cozy and I loved it. but it was difficult for him since he likes stuff and tends to fill every surface. It was great for keeping down buying because there was no space to put new things. The rule was if a new book came in, an old book had to leave. We had potlucks in the summer when we could sit everyone on the porch. We also had a barn for storing tools, bikes, building supplies etc so that helped. We moved 2 years ago next door to a bigger house, not because of the size but because of the great southern exposure (and greenhouse). I miss the coziness of our small house.
Comment by Katherine Mon May 6 20:36:49 2013

I lived in my 560sqft house for about four years - the only reason I moved was because I got married, and he already had a bigger house. I lived in that little house with two cats, and my then-boyfriend came over frequently. It's a two-bedroom. I used one room for sleeping and the other as an office/storage space. The kitchen was arranged such that it was actually a two-butt kitchen for the most part - not a skinny little galley kitchen. It also helped that most of the house has really high ceilings and the living room had a great big window, making the house feel bigger.

The one public space, the living/dining room, had a small table - two was optimal, but we could manage four friendly people with small plates - and two chairs. I also had a rocking chair and a futon that served as a couch and bed. I kept a few folding chairs in a closet for the rare moments I had more than four people over - the housewarming brought about 15 people over the span of four hours.

Comment by WendyP Mon May 6 22:08:27 2013

Well, there goes my idea of offering to send you a painting of your garden! Although, the outhouse isnt a bad place for art! Sort of a captive audience.... Whatt ARE those plastic containers onnthe wall in the photo?

Comment by Deb Mon May 6 22:20:14 2013

Interesting to hear about everyone's small house experiences!

Deb --- The second photo is in the office, and those are partially-built chicken waterers.

Comment by anna Tue May 7 09:05:26 2013

The secret to living in a small house is not to clutter it up, in my opinion.

Look for clever solutions to store stuff without having it all over the place. E.g. a thin plate of plywood fixed parallel to the wall with a hinge is invisible when closed yet has room to hang a lot of tools on the inside.

My flat is around 800 ft². But it has three big built-in closets for storing clothes, tools et cetera. I tend to keep my stuff stored away unless I need it, and I don't have a lot of junk to begin with.

Of course being single helps. My furniture is basically the same as it was 15 years ago, and that's fine with me. I don't need more and I don't feel the need to replace it. Also the upholstery of my chairs and couch is removable so I can wash it at least once a year.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue May 7 12:27:39 2013

My husband and I have a book habit. The running joke between the two of us ever since we started packing up our dorm rooms for the summer after our freshman year of college (18 years ago)has been, "Oh, look! Another book." When we moved into the trailer we were not willing to give up our beloved collection. So we pulled off the paneling from all of the interior walls in the trailer. Then, we put in 1" x 4" boards between the wall studs spaced just far enough apart for paperbacks.

We actually hosted Thanksgiving Dinner in the trailer one year. We shoved Hubby's recliner to the far end of the Living Room, and set up the folding card table in the resulting space. We managed to fit 4 of us around the table with plates and drinks, but had to leave the food in the pots and pans on the stove. :-)

Comment by April Connett Wed May 15 22:18:56 2013

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