7 Tips for Living Large in a Tiny House

Reader Contribution by Anna Hess And Mark Hamilton

Travel trailers and mobile homes help many homesteaders-to-be like Miles Flansburg move to the land more quickly.

How do you fit all of your possessions into a small domicile if you’re used to spreading out across the dozen rooms of a McMansion? While it’s easy to advise tiny-house dwellers to “just cut down on the amount of stuff you own,” it’s actually a bit trickier for an American used to sprawling across a large house to enjoy life in a trailer or tiny house. Here are some tips for making small spaces work for you:

Remember economies of scale
. It’s easier for two people to live in 300 square feet than for one person to live in 150 square feet because you can double up the bathroom, kitchen, and other communal spaces.

Find places to be alone. I don’t think I could have survived in our small house (123 square feet per person) as a teenager if I hadn’t enjoyed an outdoor retreat where I spent all of my time between school and supper. It’s good for everyone to have private spaces, even if they’re tiny, outdoors, or down at the local coffee shop.

Maggie Turner puts all of her furniture on casters to make each piece do double duty in a small space. 

Make every inch count. People who live in small spaces often find ingenious ways to arrange one area so it performs multiple functions. Is your dining table also counter space for meal preparation and a spot for kids to labor over their homework? Does a bathtub in the living room double as a padded bench for company? Can you store seldom-used kitchen appliances on shelves near the ceiling or on hooks attached to the wall? You’ll probably need to build many of these double-duty pieces of house-scaping yourself, but that’s half the fun.

Take advantage of community buildings. One of our blog readers wrote in to tell me that the trend toward small homes in Japan is mitigated by neighborhood meeting houses, which are used for community gatherings and can also be rented out by individuals. This option is sometimes available in the United States as well; for example, we recently discovered that we have an inexpensive community space nearby where we can can put up our guests or host our Thanksgiving dinner. Even though you typically have to pay for these options, the one-time cost is generally cheaper than the ongoing expense of living in a larger home.

Get creative about storage. Many of the things we fill our houses with are just waiting to be used once or twice a year. An unheated, unfinished shed can take a lot of pressure off your inside space—just make sure you don’t store anything there that shouldn’t be frozen and do keep cloth and food in sealed containers to prevent incursions by mice, ants, and other pests. If you don’t have the cash to build a shed and also don’t have nosy neighbors, you can follow my mother’s lead and store winter clothes in junked cars along your driveway. (Yes, I do come from a long line of permaculture rednecks—reduce, reuse, recycle!)

Sitting under a tin roof during a thunderstorm is one of the simple joys of life.

Enjoy the outdoors. In The Tiny Book of Tiny Houses, Lester Walker reports that historically small houses often moved the toilet, bathing, and kitchen facilities outside. Other parts of the house that can bulge into the outdoors include dining and relaxing. We added porches onto our trailer in the summer of 2012, one of which was an 8-foot-by-16-foot roofed space which (including materials and hired labor) cost $950 and was worth every penny. Not only do porches (and gazebos, summer kitchens, etc.) take the pressure off small indoor spaces, they also give you a great opportunity to watch butterflies during lunch and to enjoy the antics of your chickens during dinner. If you need a less permanent space, the big-box stores often sell shade canopies for $100 or less.

Your surroundings make all the difference. If you have the opportunity to buy a homestead, you’ll have to make a choice—more land or a larger dwelling. While our trailer would seem excessively cramped if it were located in a trailer park, when surrounded by 58 acres of paradise, it instead feels like a castle. I highly recommend that you do whatever it takes to make your surroundings top notch so that a tiny house is a place you only want to retreat to during cold winter nights and drizzly days.

These tips are excerpted from the revised and expanded version of Trailersteading, which is now available in ebook form and which will be in bookstores in fall 2015. Follow along as thirteen experienced trailersteaders show how a mobile home provides all the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost!

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