Man in play tiny home

For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in small houses, little cottages really. It’s helped keep my possessions minimal and my costs low. These days I still have a reputation for living with less, but the 900 sq ft, 1-bedroom suite I share with my daughter is a mansion compared to some of the spaces occupied by those in the tiny homes movement.

You’ve heard of the Tiny House movement before, yes? These adorable pint-sized dwellings are cropping up across the globe, and for most of us, they’re equal parts bewitching and bewildering. For fans of the tiny house movement, this lifestyle offered a much-needed alternative to the sprawling excess of modern consumer culture and an impressively small carbon footprint, too. A smaller home means fewer materials needed to construct it, less land to sit on, smaller heat and energy bills and fewer possessions required to fill it. Tiny homes truly bring the concept of ‘less is more’ to life.

Tiny homes; too small?

Tiny home in the woods
Tiny homes truly bring the concept of ‘less is more’ to life. Image Credit – Matteo Festi/Shutterstock

Every time I read about these little houses I find myself scratching my head.

  • How on earth does a person (or two!) live in 84 or 300 or even 400 sq feet, when the average home size in the U.S. is 2,600 sq feet?
  • What are they going without?
  • How do they manage?
  • How are they not going insane?

I mean, I’m not a stark minimalist by any means but I’m also not a stuff person.  I am fanatical about regularly revising my possessions and donating any of our unused clothing, toys, or household goods. I don’t buy much, I’m clean and organized. Yet, I often have days – typically during bad weather when we’ve been cooped up indoors – when I feel like I’m living in a shoebox and just might be losing my mind. Then I read stories about someone living in eighty-four freaking square feet, and my brain explodes.

Fortunately for me, I’m on close terms with one of these small space aficionados. In 2009 my mom moved from a six-bedroom, two-story house, into a 428 square feet float home (A float home is not a houseboat. Don’t you dare get the two confused, both parties are very sensitive to this issue. A houseboat has a motor, a float home is, well, literally just a house on floats). I’ve spent a good deal of time at my mom’s house over the years, and even though 428 square feet is approaching the upper end echelon of the tiny house movement in terms of size, it’s still given me a great peek into small space living.

My mom has always been effusive about her love for her tiny house – the simplicity, freedom, and beauty it’s brought into her life. But, I figured since I know my mom pretty well that I could ask her the questions I’d always wanted to ask tiny house dwellers. What was it really like? And I mean everything, the good, the bad, the awkward and the ugly.

Here, gleaned from the insights she shared with me, and some strange stories unearthed from the internet, are the five weirdest things about tiny house life that no one talks about.

1. It’s Strangely Easy to Lose Things

Lost key
Image Credit – Zaneta Baranowska/Shutterstock

Over gmail chat — our preferred mode of communication because who actually talks on the phone anymore these days? — my mom laid it all out for me, the intricacies of living a downsized life.

“I lose stuff a lot,” she said, “And it drives me insane, because how can you lose stuff in 430 square feet? I know this happens in a ‘normal’ house too, but how can it happen in a house where I can see all four corners of my home at once?”

I picture my mom’s home, a one-story, 2-bedroom home in the inner harbor of Victoria, BC. Hardwood floors and natural wood cabinets, sunlight reflecting off the ocean to dance across her ceilings. It’s a beautiful space, but I concede that yes, it would be both disconcerting and infuriating to lose something that you know must be at most five feet away from you.

2. Tetris Takes On a Whole New Meaning

She then explains the delicate dance you do as a homeowner with such limited floor space, “It can feel like a constant game of Tetris – moving the chair so you can open the door, closing the door so you can open the cupboard, opening the door so you can see the mirror. Making the bed is the worst – taking the covers into the other room so you can wrestle the sheets off, and then putting them back on a bed which has walls built in on three sides…”

I laugh as I remember when I used to visit her with my dog, Gus, a comically oversized 180 lb English Mastiff who literally took up her entire living room. Never was this game of Tetris more evident than when we’d need to tell Gus to move so we could open the door to the bathroom or get into a kitchen cupboard. I can’t imagine this little dance goes any smoother for those with loft beds – yikes!

3. What do you do with all your stuff?

When you live in such a small space, possessions necessarily get whittled down a fair bit, but everyone has some stuff – clothing, cold weather gear, sports equipment, photo albums. Where does it all go?

Well, turns out that everything in such a small space has to do double – or even triple –  duty. Furniture with built-in storage, cupboards and drawers installed under staircases or beneath beds – when you’ve only got a handful of square feet, every single one counts.

Anything that can be stored outside is, and everything else has to be absolutely necessary to make the cut. My mom also mentioned that until she moved in, she’d never really considered the fact that space would be limited in another way too, “I have more art than I do wall space to display it” she said. But, as a proud mother of six and grandmother of two with family photos galore, I have a hunch this might be the case wherever she lived.

4. Tiny house…big love?

I love you on typewriter
Image Credit – Vira Mylyan-Monastyrska/Shutterstock

To answer this particular question I ventured to sources other than my mother, for reasons which should be obvious to anyone with a mother. When you live in such close quarters – how are you getting your lovin’, especially with kids in the house or guests visiting?

A handful of brave tiny homeowners have attempted to address this issue while retaining some small sense of privacy – one tiny homes blogger interviewed anonymous tiny house dwellers and reports, “Some tiny house parents choose to merely wait until their children have gone to school, or a friend’s house,” before getting down and dirty, while others suggest that a tiny home can be a boon to the sex life, rather than a damper.”If you ask tiny house occupants what they enjoy most about the tiny house lifestyle, they often quote ‘more time’ as a factor for the uptick in their quality of life.” she says, “If they’re spending less time cleaning or working to pay a mortgage, they have more time for doing the activities they love….like hiking and biking and traveling; and sex”

5. Worried about your home being burglarized? How about it being stolen?

Having your home broken into and burglarized is absolutely terrible. But you know what’s worse? Having it stolen altogether. This is one hazard of tiny house living that I’d never even considered – but it actually happened to one couple in Texas. They had almost finished their 180 sq ft tiny house built on a trailer base when thieves made off with the entire thing. The couple did eventually recover their tiny house, but unfortunately, the experience soured them to tiny house living and they moved into an apartment shortly after.

So, there you have it. The good, the bad, the awkward, and the ugly of tiny house living. Would you join the scores of people trading their XL lives for an XS? At this point, I have a few hundred too many books – and one too loud toddler – dissuading me from attempting it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to continue reading about them and planning lots of visits to live vicariously through my mom, to satisfy my curiosity about these lives lived with less.

Feature image lassedesignen/Shutterstock

5 Things to consider when thinking about moving into a tiny house.

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.