Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tips for Tiny House Living

 photo 005_zpsac0eae54.jpg
Cara's tiny kitchen/laundry room before
her husband built more shelves to make it more
space efficient
You might remember when I posted about when I visited a friend who lived in an even tinier house than mine? That friend, Cara, shared this lovely guest post with her reasons behind living in a tiny house, and how she and her husband make it work. Though most people don't live in a house as small as hers, and wouldn't even consider it, these tips are worthwhile for anyone who is interested in downsizing their home, and how to make the best use of less space.

My husband and I have been married for two years and three months. We've never lived in a big house—nor do we want to, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, we are both slightly nervous in wide-open spaces and prefer the comfort of walls around us. Kind of the opposite of claustrophobia, although I wouldn't say it's even that bad. Also, I'm a terrible housewife, so the less space I have to clean, the better.

Our first apartment—which was in the suburbs, actually in the same little town where Penny's husband grew up—was 183 square feet. One bedroom and a tiny little kitchenette that I could barely find space to cook in. It was a basement apartment with only one window and barely any furnishing. Naturally, guests were out of the question—we managed to squeeze a girlfriend of mine in for dinner once and another time my sister came over for lunch, but that was all.

Fortunately, we moved out of there and back into the city around six months later. Our second—and current—apartment is 225 square feet. It feels like a palace compared to our old place. The rent nearly doubled, unfortunately, from 340 dollars to 565 dollars, but we nearly made up with that what with not having to take the 3-dollar-each-way bus into the city for work every day. From here, my husband is able to bike everywhere (see this guest post Cara wrote about their uber cool bike) and I'm able to walk most places, so our transportation costs are nearly zero. And now we are not so isolated out of town, and can even have guests, including the Penniless family. (Having guests over for meals is a big part of our culture; people are much more likely to invite their friends over for dinner than to get together outside for a movie or whatever.)

We are happy living in the city, despite the increase in price, and plan to stay here long-term. I'm American, living in a country where I don't speak the native language very well, so jobs are limited. In our tiny place in the suburbs, I was always on the run (or more accurately, the bus), from this to that to the other low-paying part-time job, usually babysitting. Right now, that's not an option—for medical reasons I need to be in the city and I also need a flexible schedule, ideally working from home—which means it is essential that we live in the smallest, cheapest apartment we can find.

Here's how we make it work:

-Use the space on the walls! I can't stress this enough. Many if not most places come with a bunch of space that is never ever used— the walls and ceiling. When we were in our first tiny apartment my husband screwed hooks into the ceiling and tied our suitcases up there, and built a bunch of shelves on the wall. In our current place, he's built a bedside shelf where I keep my glasses and alarm clock and such.

We also have very few kitchen cupboards, so he built some shelves above our sink. They contain most of our dishes as well as sugar, salt, tea, and the like.

He's planning to build some shelves above the refrigerator, but meanwhile we use it for space too by just putting things on top of our refrigerator. Currently we have up there a vase of flowers, a huge bag of rice, a bunch of canned food, and a bag of flour.

And since most apartments around here come without any built-in closets, he built his own just before we got married.

-Our wall is literally made of bookshelves, floor-to-ceiling, and we fill them with our hundreds of books, but in general I wouldn't recommend following our example, since you wouldn't have a place to put them in most tiny houses. Buy a Kindle instead and keep all your books in one place.

-You really, really don't need a dryer. We wouldn't know where to put ours. A clothes rack is sufficient.

-Since a tiny house can feel claustrophobic sometimes, I really highly recommend that you only move into one that has windows. This has the added benefit of lots of natural light—these days I save on electricity and most of the time, even though I'm generally home all day, I don't even turn on a light until 6:30 pm or later.

-In a kitchen with limited pantry space, you'll want to cook from scratch as much as possible, as processed food takes up space. A 2-pound bag of rice, for example, probably takes up about the same amount of space as one TV dinner, but the rice could be the base of a week's worth of meals for a whole family.

We don't have children yet, and probably won't be having any for another year or more, so I concede that some of these ideas are much easier to implement when there are only adults living together. That said, when my husband found out I was writing this, he told me that I should mention bunk beds—not the standard two-bed ones, but we've both seen them stacked 3 or 4 beds high. He actually considered building bunk beds for us but I put my foot down and told him there was a limit to frugality and saving space!

And I just want to mention, a week or so after I first wrote this, that we just signed a contract and will be moving to another apartment. It's slightly more expensive; it's 700 dollars, unfortunately, but 270 square feet with a lot more wall area to build shelves on, storage space outside the apartment, and a porch and available ground outside for a garden! I'm excited.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful to anyone thinking of tiny house living.

How large is your home? Would you call your home large, medium, small, tiny, or something else? What tips would you add to make "smaller home living" work for you, whether your house is as tiny as Cara's or mine, or even larger, but still smaller than average?

Linking up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways


  1. I think this small house concept will get much more interesting when there are kids in the picture. If I didn't have a dryer I would spend all day every day hanging and taking down clothes for my four messy kids. I know there are huge families that live well in 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. When I was looking for a trundle bed for my daughter's room/guest room (yes, she will have her own room in our new apt!) I saw a bunk bed with two more beds nested underneath! It also is a lot easier when your kids sleep or at least don't wake each other up in the night. The main catalyst for us moving to a bigger place is the need to separate my special needs daughter and my baby so they stop waking each other up and at least one parent might get to sleep through the night. Sometimes more space is the best answer.

    1. Yea, I dont think a house this small is sustainable with kids, generally... however, small houses are certainly doable. My family manages it. That said- each family has to decide for themselves what their individual needs are. No one needs to move to a small house, especially if it'll ruin their quality of life and they can afford the larger place. The point of this post was just to give ideas how to maximize space in smaller places, relevant no matter the exact size of the place.

  2. Great post. Thanks!

  3. I'd call my house small, though obviously it's a mansion at 960 square feet for only two adults and no pets!

    My best hint would be to get rid of everything you don't actually use or love. This is what I am working on now.

    I'm also a big fan of bookcases, though not just for books. I have them in every room except the bathroom, kitchen and some closets (yes, they are in the hallway and dining room as well as living room and bedrooms). Dressers and filing cabinets also hold quite a lot of stuff for the space they use.

    And it's good to remember that the most-used and most-loved items should get the best real estate.

    Finally, you can have furniture with storage or at least with room underneath (such as end tables, corner tables, coffee tables, beds, and couches). And I learned from Apartment Therapy that sometimes you can put large, unwieldy things that are flat (like A/C filters) behind couches and long but skinny things (like crutches of fishing poles) between curtains and the wall.

    I do hate hanging things on the backs of doors, however, because they can make it so the doors won't close or so they eventually go out of true.

    1. Great tips! Out of season, we store our portable heater under our dining room table- its out of the way, and we dont use up all the room around the table so it doesn't bother anyone or get annoying...

  4. My wife and I just moved into a 600 square foot basement apartment and we did a few things to maximize the space.

    As closet space was limited, we purchased a Z-rack from Amazon (department store clothing rack) and use that to store clothing and winter coats. Since the "closet" didn't have a door and my wife wanted to hide it from plain sight, I hung a shower curtain up.

    We've bought some metal shelving and store many of our clothes on that as well.

  5. :) Great article. We live in California (housing costs are high) - so we had 3 kids in 800 sq ft. When we got to 5 kids we had 1200 sq ft. We now have 7 kids at home (2 of our 9 are now grown and out of the house). We live in 1500 sq ft. No attic. No basement. Just a garage that doubles as storage. LOL Sometimes I feel a tiny bit squished, but it is possible if you can not be a clutter-keeper and are organized. :)

  6. Great article! You might appreciate my tips for a tiny kitchen.

    We used to have friends who lived in a small apartment and had installed a shelf all the way around the top edge of every room, including the hallway, just above the door frames. This gave them a huge amount of storage space that could be used partly for decorative items and partly for books, stacks of sweaters in the summer, extra toilet paper, etc. etc. They kept a few footstools stashed under the end tables so they could easily hop up to get stuff from the shelves.

  7. Great article! I love that u mentioned the walls and ceiling. We'll only ever live in small spaces because of our income level, so I have invested a lot of time researching ways to live smaller. And one of the easiest and cheapest to implement is utilizing the upper third square footage of your space. I have a sled hung on the wall, all of my most common used kitchen utensils are hung on cup hooks on the wall, and we are about to build a false cieling in our hallway and 2nd bedroom that will be about a foot from the original cieling but span the entire square footage of the room. My husband will just build simple suspended shelving and we'll cover it with thin wood panels on simple hinges. We'll be storing our seasonal clothes, decorations, boards games, my artwork and anything else we can shove up there. Once you open yourself up to viewing the upper third of your space as valuable square footage you realize that u have doubled your storage capacity!

  8. I'm not a tiny house dweller, but we do live in a house that is on the small side compared to national averages, and this post makes great points! I especially like your point about not wanting to have more to clean - because I'm right there with you on that one. When God Blesses you with children, you CAN raise them according to what your values are - even if that means tiny house living. Many people around the world live comfortably & happily with large families in spaces much smaller than we Americans are accustomed to. You CAN do it - IF you want to : )

    1. Good article. My daughter told me about Tumbleweed houses. These are tiny houses that you build or have someone build for you. They are built on boat trailers and are mobile or they can be put on a lot and be permanent. She wants us to build one and travel around the US.

  9. we put up shelves too, right when we got married. at least your lower kitchen cabinets are pretty! we had the white ugly ones... the shelves were really lovely and functional, although i had to work really hard to keep it neat. that's where cabinets come in handy, close the doors, no one sees the mess!

  10. We've recently moved from a huge house to a two-bedroom basement suite (we are three adults.) The kitchen is very tiny, but at the same time as we moved, I started on a new diet that required me to change many, many food staples and ingredients. For example, I now have many kinds of flour on hand instead of just regular white flour, which I can't eat. My solution was narrow shelves across the end wall of the kitchen, and mason jars. I put most of my food staples in various sizes of jars with labels (they have to have labels because so many of them look the same), and they are handy, neat and organized. Another solution I've used is pegboard - it's so versatile! Great way to make use of that wall space.
    Very good article, thanks!


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.