7 Tips for Living Large in a Tiny House




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.

Chairs on casters

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!)

2/2/2015 3:02:49 AM

@grax.mccoar - "how is that different than having more ROOMS" More rooms mean more cleaning. I don't wash windows in the windowless shed, and don't think it's ever been vacuumed and i know there's no heat in there. With no basement or attic, that shed leaves tumbling space in the yard. It's a bit more difficult in the winter, unless i want to build a gymnasium in the house. If my granddaughter gets out all of her dolls and their paraphernalia in the winter, she's taking up the dining room floor -- a problem when i'm trying to prepare dinner. But in nice weather, she has the whole yard. In the winter, both of us adapt, adjust, and compromise. For me, it's a cleaning, heating, and maintenance issue. In general, our less than 1000 sq ft serves the 4 of us quite well.

1/30/2015 11:12:59 PM

A storage shed or outdoor entertaining area is a lot less expensive to build and maintain than the same amount of space added to a house. Also, for many people, tiny homes are built on wheels, to keep them technically legal in zoned areas. Adding a storage shed makes it easier and more affordable for more people to live sustainably.

1/30/2015 11:49:44 AM

If a tiny home requires outbuildings (or old cars!) for storage & activities, how is that different than having more ROOMS?

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