How to live in a Tiny House

by andrewodom on December 27, 2010 · 15 comments


Living in a house smaller than most of America’s walk-in closets may not be for everyone, but those who are able to do so reap many benefits for themselves and for the world around them. I have tried to come up with some tips and suggestions for choosing the ideal Tiny House and how to go minimal in order to make your *new* tiny life more enjoyable and your space not feel so confining.

  • Do your research! I can’t stress this enough. Living in a Tiny House is certainly not for everyone. Some may find it confining or restricting while others may find it absolutely liberating. Some Tiny Houses are as little as 9 sq. ft. while others (since there is no working definition for this type of construction yet!) may be around 800 sq. ft. Look at all the designs on the ‘net. You may even want to begin with what is considered the first Tiny House to be manufactured and marketed. Some designs are ultra-modern while others resemble a north Georgia mountain retreat. Some even incorporate off-grid designs like solar/wind power, rainwater collection, and composting toilets.
  • Decide what you need/want from your Tiny House. Houses serve one basic purpose. They provide a comfortable, weather-proof, quiet, safe place to sleep. 99% provide a clean place to maintain personal hygiene along with a comfortable place to rest during the day. Most come equipped with a place to store, prepare, and eat food each day. The rest is seemingly optional. You may want other creature comforts such as long-term refrigerated food storage, a washer/dryer, guest quarters, etc. But remember, you are dealing with precious square feet. Perhaps you could combine some of your needs. Sacrifice is key. Do you need a dryer or could you hang clothes out to dry most of the year?
  • Sketch out the benefits of “living small. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that there is little, if any, room for clutter. Everything has a purpose. Everything has a place. And what is left is just smaller to clean and maintain. In a Tiny House the energy bills are less, you are leaving less of a carbon footprint. You eat fresher food because you don’t have a huge fridge or pantry to bulk shop. You spend more time outside enjoying the world around you. And lastly, there is NO NEED to sell your home if/when you decide to relocate. Your Tiny House is towable.
  • Understand that Tiny Houses may cost more per square foot than larger houses. No one said designing and building on a small scale was the cheapest route to go. In fact, in order to take advantage of all space you have to consider custom-made, built-in furniture, half-appliances (which are NOT half the price), plumbing (on a trailer you will inevitably have to explore grey water and black water storage and disposal), and electrical wiring. Solar power has not decreased in price that much…even with energy efficiency tax breaks.
  • Decide if you will build from your own design or if you are going to purchase an already built home or a complete set of plans. Each day the ‘net ushers in a new builder of Tiny Houses who is more than willing to sell you a custom house with built-out interior, a shell house, or even just blueprints. Some companies even offer “on site kits” which may require building materials, permits, etc. The cheapest option for a Tiny House is, of course, buying a well-maintained RV or travel trailer and living out of it. Craigslist and eBay both have multiple listings each day for under $5000. Certainly you get the advantage of living on a small-scale. But you sacrifice the feeling of building from the ground up and customizing every inch of your space. There is also an ongoing argument about whether or not RV living is the same as Tiny House dwelling.
  • Minimize your clutter. (read: PARE DOWN YOUR BELONGINGS): If we have 4 pair of pants and 8 shirts in our closet we will typically wear 2 pair of pants and 5 shirts in the course of a week. The percentage is basically that we spend 80% of our time wearing 20% of our clothes. If we got rid of the 60% we don’t wear and kept only what we do our life is immediately more minimal. We have to do less laundry (less money spent, less water used, less time invested). There is also less decision to be made about just what to wear. Another fine example is that instead of having 2 TVs, a computer with external screen, a DVD player, a Blu-Ray player, and a game system, reduce to one computer. Purchase an external hard drive to hold all of your freshly ripped DVDs. Your external monitor can be mounted and serve as a workstation for larger computer projects, a TV, and a home theatre. If you add a TV tuner you can enjoy most major stations and networks. Otherwise you can take advantage of hulu.com and iTunes for more current material. And may I not forget that using all available battery power on your laptop will reduce energy consumption.
  • Think creatively about storage and multi-purpose furniture. Yes, a daybed from IKEA doubles as a couch. For that matter, so does a futon. But at roughly 3.5 feet in depth, that one piece of furniture takes up 1/2 of your entire house width. Perhaps a sleeping loft that has a large mattress and features custom-built side cubbies offers more storage? Maybe a small couch that has storage drawers underneath is a way to go? A double-faced, floor-to-ceiling shelf unit can hold books on one side and kitchen tools/spices on the other. Maybe your work desk folds down to the wall so that it is only exposed when actually working?

Could you live in less than 200 square feet? What would you absolutely have to hold on to? What is the first thing you would trash/donate/sell?

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Photo of Hermitage Mobile tiny house built by Gregory Johnson

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