You’ve stalked them online and binge-watched them on TV. You’ve pinned more than a few diminutive but adorable interiors. And maybe you’ve even daydreamed about building your own tiny home. But actually living in one full time? Well, that's seems like a whole different ballgame. (A miniature ballgame, perhaps, maybe four innings?)
After all, tiny houses are, well, tiny. Where are you going to fit all your stuff? Can everyone hear you go to the bathroom? How will you keep from killing your spouse, or—god forbid—your kids and pets? Are you going to end up miserable, trapped in a tiny box in the middle of nowhere?
Well, with the tiny-home craze in full swing, we've been wondering about these things, too. We hunted down some tiny-home veterans to see what it's really like when people stop being polite and start getting real—inside their teeny-weeny little houses. Here's what we learned:
Tiny truth No. 1: They’re really tiny
We'd be remiss if we didn't begin by reinforcing this obvious nugget of truth: Tiny homes are really small.
Just ask Kim Kasl, founder of Bless This Tiny House and co-author of the book “Turning Tiny.” She lives with her family of four in a 267-square-foot home, which is smaller than most studio apartments.
Living with less has actually given her family more freedom, Kasl says.
“We call it ‘family-style minimalism,’" she says. "Removing excess space between us, clutter, and unnecessary projects, and stress leaves room for an abundance of everything good.”
But to make this all work, the Kasl family had to downsize a lot.
Annelise Brevard found herself sharing a 5-foot closet with her husband and storing all of their food in a minifridge when they moved into their 8-by-21-foot home. But the adjustment wasn't hard for Brevard, who co-founded Brevard Tiny House, a custom home design and building company. A few modifications helped her family fit everything they needed.
“We did end up building a wall cabinet in our kitchen for Tupperware and a few other kitchen things that we forgot in our original design,” Brevard says.
On the plus side, making additions as needed isn't as difficult as you might think. Many tiny-home owners are able to completely customize the design of the home to make the small space work for their lifestyle from the get-go. Kasl’s home, for example, has an open floor plan, two sleeping lofts, and an adorable catwalk she’s converted into a small library for her children.
Tiny truth No. 2: Finding a spot to build can be tricky
Tiny homes are a relatively new design concept without clear-cut rules, so it isn’t immediately obvious where you can actually put them.
“Tiny homes are not really traditional houses (they are not always built to code), they aren't RVs, and they aren't mobile homes, either,” Brevard says. “So finding 'parking' for a tiny house can be a difficult process.”
Many owners choose to buy land. Some stay mobile, moving among RV-friendly sites. Brevard found a workaround by planting herself in another family’s backyard.
Any way you swing it, it's something you’ll have to think about far in advance.
Tiny truth No. 3: You'll have to adjust to more than just a lack of space
As with many of life's transitions, kids adjust pretty quickly to tiny-home living. Quite possibly much faster and easier than you will.
Kasl, for one, had little trouble getting her children on board. “They were young when we moved in—we celebrated every step—and now it’s very much natural and normal for them," she says. "Their adjustment was easy.”
But for the adults, it was a different story.
“There was an awful lot to learn," Kasl admits. "The composting toilet, the wood-burning Kimberly Stove, towing, leveling, and skirting—all of them were new experiences," Kasl says. "The challenges have been exciting, though."
In retrospect, some of the stress of acclimation was self-imposed. After all, they could've just gotten a standard toilet instead of a composting one. But had they gone that route they'd run smack into the main challenge of tiny-home living: Finding the space.
“While we had a traditional flush toilet, the entirety of our bathroom was 3 feet by 5 feet. This included the toilet and a 2-by-3 shower. We installed a tub faucet in the shower to act as our sink, and only had a curtain as a door,” Brevard says. "We needed more space."
Tiny truth No. 4: Even in a tiny house, you'll have big home maintenance tasks
Once you get used to climbing skinny ladders and cooking in a smaller kitchen, life in a tiny house isn’t that different from life in any other house—especially when it comes to home maintenance. Note: A smaller space won’t get rid of the dreaded weekend DIY project(s).
“We had only rented before living in the tiny house, and the routine maintenance that homes require—like winterizing, keeping an eye on the propane levels, or dealing with a faulty appliance—was something new to us,” Brevard says.
Tiny truth No. 5: You just might love it
While downsized living is a bit unconventional and comes with some challenges, tiny home owners seem to love it.
Brevard, who temporarily moved into an 800-square-foot home after her husband was relocated for work, is eager to go back to her smaller space.
“After tiny living, even this size can get a little lonely, since there are different rooms, rather than everything all in one,” she says.
Kasl agrees, noting that her family dynamic has changed.
“We are achieving our goals," she says. "We get to be a one-income family that says yes to every opportunity and is flexible.”
Tiny living also pushed them to spend more time outdoors. “The door is always open, and the kids go in and out all day,” Kasl says. “We’ve seen the kids become more adventurous, creative, inventive, and they take initiative pursuing their interests.”
For whatever reason tiny-house living might be beckoning to you, remember that it's not just a place to live—it's a lifestyle.
“Tiny houses have a quaint, whimsical, Pinterest appeal," Brevard say. "But life in a tiny house is busy and real. It's an adventure."
Angela Colley writes about real estate and all things renting and moving for realtor.com. Her work has appeared in outlets including TheStreet, MSN, and Yahoo.
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