They make shows about them, everyone talks about how cute they are, but “I could never actually live in that.” They’re kind of trendy, kind of confusing, kind of cute, and totally captivating. They are tiny homes, and in many places in the US and Canada, they’re becoming an attractive alternative to people who don’t want to stomach exorbitant real estate prices. Whenever you see shows based around these structures, they usually follow either one person or a couple living together. Rarely, if ever, do families get showcased. Speaking from experience, I can say there’s a good reason for that. Living in a tiny home, with children, spouse, and pets, is not for the faint of heart. I know this, because this is me.
photo by @rwzimmer
I live in a tiny home with my two daughters, loving husband, and two very large dogs. We share 400 square feet and somehow have managed to escape throttling each other. 400 square feet is on the somewhat larger end for tiny homes, which are typically under 300 square feet, but it still qualifies and is really frickin’ small. Our kitchen is basically a kitchenette, our bedrooms are side-by-side at 7×10 each, our living room is surprisingly lovely, and we have a washer/dryer stacked in the bathroom closet. We have everything we need to be content, even with the challenges associated with this style of living. Naturally, this experience has enabled us to live a simpler, more minimalist lifestyle because the second we buy something, the space it takes up is very noticeable. Since I’m from New York, and my husband is an introverted mountain man, neither of us are strangers to living in very small spaces. However, doing so with children has been a journey.
I’ve come up with a list of benefits and downsides to tiny living, and how you can incorporate some of the perks regardless of the size of house you live in. I’m pretty big on making our 400 square feet lifestyle applicable to even the 2,500 square foot homes, because a lot of these tips are versatile. Side note: not all of these are original thoughts. I follow a lot of minimalist mamas, like Allie Casazza, and give full credit to them for some of these hacks.
Benefits and downsides:
- Privacy is at a premium
This is pretty obvious. You don’t get to bugger off to some far corner or the house for three days when you’re moody. Everyone can hear you pee. Your sex life gets quieter if you don’t want to traumatize the kids. Everything you do just has an added layer of consideration to it, and while it may seem like a downside (it is sometimes!) it’s great for teaching our kids how to be mindful in the real world.
- You produce less waste and save money
It’s basic logic. Less space = less junk to put in it. While it’s still very easy to accumulate things, living tiny means we have been much more mindful of what comes into the house. In addition to bills being cheaper, we also know we can save money by simply needing to buy less, and spend it on more meaningful things like travel or Netflix. Our tiny home is not on wheels, so I can’t attest to what it’s like when you live tiny and move around, but the ways you meet your needs are still similar.
- You don’t have to spend half your motherhood cleaning the house
This is, by far, the most impactful part of tiny living. When I get stressed and need to deep clean my whole house, it takes… maybe an hour? For serious deep cleans. Basic cleaning takes 15 minutes. When you live small, it’s easy for a little bit to look like a large mess, but the reality is clean-up is much quicker. I still chase after my kids with vacuum some days, have a pile of laundry that taunts me, and dishes that line up. But we’ve managed these things creatively by downsizing, learning not to sweat the small stuff, and having our kids pitch in for cleaning. Instead of being the mom that yells at everyone for not cleaning.. okay, I still do it sometimes, but I digress. Instead of being the mom who always does that, my kids are learning that everyone plays a part in cleaning. Including the man in the house.
photo by: curbed.com
- Rainy/snowy days can seriously suck
I’m not going to lie, half of the reason we’ve enjoyed living small is because we have a huge expanse of yard and garden to play in. The kids have plenty to do outside, and nice days mean everyone gets lots of space to stretch and be on their own. Rainy days are okay if they’re only now and then, but living in BC means we get a lot of them and it can be very challenging. Everyone eventually gets impatient, and we have to go out for some sanity. Even if it’s just a bookstore. It’s crucial for us to have a list of go-to places when weather sucks because when you’ve been inside 5 days in a row, it can seriously take a toll on your peace.
- Gratitude is in abundance
I’m extremely grateful for what we have. Each thing in my home was thoughtfully and carefully considered before I purchase/thrifted/found it. I’m grateful we have a home that is all ours, however tiny. I’m grateful my family is getting better at communication, which is key in close quarters. We can watch House Hunters and see infinite possibilities with spaces that the guests often write off for not being big enough. It’s given us unique perspective and has taught us how to make the most of what we have.
Ways you can incorporate ‘small’ living in your life
- Hack away at that clutter by slowing down
It’s not good to suddenly be inspired and clean out your entire house all at once. Most of the time, we get exhausted halfway through and it’s somehow messier than before. Some people suggest going room by room, but I like to do categories. I think this is part of Marie Kondo’s method, but I’ve been doing it for years. Just choose kitchenware and bathroom products one day. Maybe the next day, choose parent and kid clothing. Then toys. Then books. Break it down by category, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. It may sound like only books for one day isn’t enough, but sometimes it’s better to go bit by bit. I also subscribe to Allie’s tip: when going through stuff, create 3 piles. Donate, Trash, Keep. Seriously, ditch the ‘maybe’ pile because that’s how you end up holding onto stuff. My rule for myself is if I hesitate, it goes. Can’t part with something yet? Box it up and put it out of sight, and set a reminder in 30 days. If 30 days pass and you haven’t even thought about it, donate the box without even opening it.
- Buy items you REALLY love, not like
Fast fashion is an ugly beast that has convinced us to go with trends, instead of buying classic, timeless pieces. Especially the case for women, we buy clothing that we hope will fit someday so we keep it as motivation, or that we like if only x, y, z about it was fixed. I’m not saying pass on a pair of perfect jeans if getting them shortened is all you need to do. I’m saying pass on a dress that hangs weird, or a friend convinced you that you look great in, but you struggle to agree. Everything we wear should be loved. Don’t stand in front of your closet and hate what you reach for. Invest in pieces you truly appreciate and don’t settle for ones that make you feel insecure. All of this is relevant to simpler living, because the less time you spend filling your closet with clothes that you stare at for an hour, the more time you can spend just frickin’ living.
- Make use of thrift and consignment shops
I don’t even have to write much on this part. More thrifting, less new. It keeps stuff out of landfills and each piece comes with a story. I like to make an adventure of it, and sometimes it’ll take me months, but I’m patient when I know what I want. Be open to the time invested in consignment shopping. It’s worth it, and it helps keep you from impulse buying and buyer’s remorse.
- Make use of all that wall and under-couch storage!
We live off bins that slide under our bed and couch easily, and if things don’t fit in them, they don’t belong in the house. Our walls hold my husband’s guitars, shelves, and paintings, but we offset this by light coloured paint. We don’t clutter the wall, but instead of buying another bulky piece of furniture for our books, we just build some shelves. The same goes for the kitchen cabinets; we put little shelves and containers in to help make things accessible
- Go through your fridge often, and store things in clear containers with visible dates
We store our herbs in clear mason jars filled with a few inches of water, and label when we bought or picked them. As things age, we bring them closer to the front in a box that says ‘eat me first!’ and it has made a huge difference in waste. If something does go bad, it goes right in the compost.
- Ditch the plastic
Seriously, plastic sucks and we all know this. Here’s a handy list of substitutions we’ve made that have cut down on clutter and waste:
– Plastic wrap = sheets of beeswax (you can DIY, but I love these ones)
– Plastic straws = stainless steel travel ones
– Grocery bags = reusable ones! Most stores only charge $1 for them
– Cosmetics = oils and DIY, or local brands (some cities have bulk refill stores!). I’ve found with skincare, back to basics really works. You don’t need a lot for awesome results.
– Paper towels = dish towels
– Disposable diapers = cloth diapers (though it didn’t last long, my kid hated them)
I’m not advocating for living in a white, empty box. In fact, we have a lot of things in our home and it’s colourful and full! It’s more about what you choose with intention, and holding onto things that add value to your life. There are way more tips and tricks I could add, but I would encourage you to go through your home with a fresh eye. What are ways you can open your space? Are there items you’ve been holding onto past their due date? Slowly pick away at things, and find what makes you happy. You don’t need 400 square feet of room to make these changes in your life, but if you’re inspired to downsize your living space, more power to you! It can be scary, but it’s rewarding to let go.