What living in a small house is really like

A new season of Tiny House Hunters is on Hulu. The first season was only two episodes, so I was excited to see that a bunch more were available.

I watch shows like Tiny House Hunters when I’m grading papers or working on my computer. I don’t think I could just sit and watch a show like that, but I enjoy it being on in the background.

I will admit, a part of me is taken with the idea of tiny houses. I find the stories of why people choose to live in 100-400 square feet interesting. I also admit that the idea of buying my home, and living without a mortgage, is enticing, especially when you can hitch that home to a truck and take it with you wherever the road may wander.

Then I remember how challenging it is to live in our 1,200 square feet, and I wonder how people really feel about tiny house living, months and especially years later.

There isn’t a lot written by people who have lived in a tiny house for long. What you do find presents the option as a panacea, a way to forgo the ills of the modern world and live in frugal luxury for the rest of your life. If those pieces mention the challenges, they only step over them vaguely, en route to the Amazing Things They Learned About Life.

I wonder though, if it really feels like that to them. I find living in 1,200 square feet pretty difficult sometimes, especially with two small kids. How can these people love sharing 400 square feet with three or more other people?

Because it’s hard. For us at least. Our kids aren’t great sleepers and our small house means that space can’t be utilized at certain times. I can’t exercise before everyone’s awake because the elliptical is in our bedroom and the TV room shares an open wall with our bedroom. I can’t even work quietly on my computer because the minute I walk down the hall (to go ANYWHERE else in my house) my son wakes up and calls for me. When I read about people waking up early to steal a few quiet minutes to themselves with a coffee I feel real envy. The only “me” time I can steal in the morning is lying still in my bed, squinting at my phone without my glasses.

We only have one bathroom, and it’s insanely small, which means it’s basically impossible for two people to be in there at the same time. I can’t count the number of time I’ve been in the shower when my daughter announced she had to… add an olfactory aspect to the experience I would rather have avoided. We still have our son’s training potty in the hallway, even though he’s four, because there are constantly moments when they both have to go and neither can wait and what would we do if we only had one toilet?

{And yes, the training potty is in the hall because the bathroom is so small it doesn’t fit.}

When your house is 1,200 square feet (and ours is really 1,000 square feet because 200 of the total is our entryway, which is downstairs from the rest of the house–nice for storing the bike and hanging sweatshirts and jackets, but not for actual living) every part of the house is connected, in some way to every other part. There is no “getting away” from anyone, especially if your bedroom is only separated from the living room by a Japanese shade.

We sleep in what is supposed to be the living room (and “live” in what is supposed to be the dining room) so our kids can have their own rooms, a decision I still stand behind 100%. As I said before, neither of our kids are great sleepers, and we’re constantly interrupting each other sleep with the few walls that do exist between us, I can only imagine how little sleep we’d get if the kids were waking each other up constantly. It’s also nice for the kids to have their own spaces, since the space we all share is so small. (It should be mentioned that neither of their rooms is very big either).

We don’t have adequate space to entertain–we can’t invite people over for dinner (we can only sit four at the small table in our “dining room,” which is actually an non-insulated “sun room” off the kitchen that gets VERY cold in the winter), and we can barely sit four other adults for drinks in our living room. We can’t really host people when they come from out of town, even though our son has a bunk-bed; we’ve tried and no one ever wants to stay for long because there just isn’t space for many more people.

There are definitely benefits to having a small house–we have almost no storage space so we’re forced to par down our belongings instead of storing them. There is less to clean, which is good because I am horrible at cleaning.

But it also means that when things get cluttered, they are REALLY cluttered, and there is no way to escape the fray. Yes this means we have to purge pretty regularly to keep things manageable, but when we’re too busy to do that kind of hard work, the house gets really overwhelming really fast.

I know 1,000 square feet is by no means a tiny house for a family of four, but it’s smaller than most family’s houses in this country, and there are many moments when it feels small for us. I dream regularly of incorporating our tenant’s unit into the house, which would give us a “master suite,” and MOST importantly, a second bathroom, and would also free up our current bedroom to create a living / dining room area that is connected by an open double doorway. We would be able to entertain that way, and simply have more “shared space” to be together as a family. The idea is so seductive, but I doubt we’ll ever be able to afford it. Still, a girl can dream.

In the meantime, we just have to make do with our 1,200 square feet. And keep watching Tiny House Hunters to remind ourselves that some people live in much smaller spaces.

How big is your house? Is it a good fit for your family?

 

12 Comments

  1. Tiny houses are lovely (to look at), but they are not for me. I like space and I don’t want to move around – I’m a person who wants to find a perfect place and stay there, and our current home and the area we live in are perfect for us.
    Our apartment is actually about the same size as your house, I think (115 square meters), but it feels quite spacey for us. Perhaps because it’s always been clear that our nr 1 priority is to stay close to the city center, and that simply dictates that we cannot have a house that we could have in the countryside, or in a small town. So we have never expected to have a very big home. Also, most of our close friends also try to stay in the central area, and they have even smaller homes, so we actually feel that in comparison we have quite a lot of space. Our floor plan is super good, and the rooms are high, so that also helps. But I’m also unhappy about the difficulty of having guests overnight because there are no extra rooms.

    1. Ops, I compared to the 1200 sq. feet – our apartment is definitely bigger than 1000 sq. feet. Though we have sauna (don’t ask) which takes couple of sq. meters, but we keep our sports gear there, so it’s basically storage.

  2. We live in 1,100 square feet (up from 900 square feet for 2 years and 1,000 square feet in our condo for 11 years). I’ve shared one bathroom with at least one other person since high school (prior to that, it was with my siblings). The downside of a small living space is there is no where within that space to retreat from others. But, it’s a great reason to also get out. My evenings are spent at the library or park with the kids prior to getting home for dinner. Our kids do share a bedroom, but He-Beat usually falls asleep in our bed. And the lack of storage means we are living minimally while also getting very creative with shelving. And we have the training potties too for the reason you stated (and have had to laugh following a scene with both Beats on them while Grey was in the bathroom and both cats were eyeing the litter box).

    As far as living in a smaller space longterm, living outside a smaller space hasn’t really been an option for us. Doing so adds a longer commute and modifies our lifestyle (we would have to become a 2 car, commuter family) which I’d really like to avoid. But we’ll see. Sometimes you make compromises to get what is best for the entire family.

  3. My just under 1300 sf house feels luxurious after reading this. It’s two story which I think helps. The family room is on top of the kids’ small rooms downstairs. Which means tiptoeing at night in that room. But our bedroom, the kitchen, and garage (exercise bike) are not directly over, and are furthest from, their rooms. Our laundry “alcove” is right outside their rooms so we can’t do laundry when they’re sleeping—I have to be very strategic.

  4. All I can think is a coffee pot in your bedroom prepared before going to sleep with an automatic start set 10 minutes before your morning wake up time.
    Children add LOTS of belongings, scattering of possessions, and noise control issues especially for those children who have not grown up in apartments where they are accustomed to neighbors above, below, and around them making living noises.
    I too have wondered about year 3 in a shared tiny space, and what happens with aging when getting up that ladder to bed is physically harder.

    1. I have frequently said over the years “thank goodness we don’t live in an apartment!” Which we did up until 2 years before the first kid was born.

  5. We live in 2100 sq feet (very open layout, mostly one floor except for our master which is upstairs and not large) and it still feels small!! Actually it feels just right but as we plan to add out #3 I think it will feel small. Agree about liking not being able to stockpile too much but that we can’t escape each other very well either, and that the noise is a factor. white noise machines help!

    any chance of setting up a mini sanctuary (yes complete w/ silent coffeepot!) in your room to get some morning time to yourself? or would that be too bright & wake your husband?

  6. Our house is technically 896 square feet, but we have a finished section of our basement which adds about 200 additional. Also, we have 1.5 baths, which makes a HUGE difference! We made th finished room in the basement a master bedroom, so it has a nice feeling of being set apart from the rest of the house. We also get a lot of use out of the unfinished part of the basement – the walls and floor are concrete, but they’re in good shape. We have laundry down there, an exercise area, storage shelves, and even a little sitting area. It’s manageable, but I do struggle with staying decluttered enough for th space. As the kids get older, it’s getting a little tight.

  7. I love your blog! Started reading awhile ago, but haven’t commented yet. Our house is 2020 sq ft with 5 bedrooms, 2 full bathes (soon to be 3) and living/family/dining spaces all separate plus a 4 car garage. We have 4 kids and each have their own rooms. Right now we are contemplating selling and then cashing out a smaller home with land. Idk though, the temptation of no mortgage is a pull, but less space not so much. We watch tiny house shows all the time and I always wonder what happens a few years later. Anyway I love your blog and I teach too 😊

  8. Our apartment is 900 sq ft and about the right size for us. The girls share a room & we tell them often that they’re always going to share a room so get used to it. Little Monster has slept on our floor for the last couple years anyway because her sister is a loud sleeper/likes to play loud music all night. The living/dining area is spacious so we could host up to 6 more people. I guess for us, having the right spaces is more important than having them be big. We also have rather thick walls so it isn’t so bad listening to each other. We rarely hear our neighbors either & we have upper & lower ones.

    Our planned house will be a bit fewer sq ft but split into 3 small bedrooms & 1.5 bathrooms. The plan includes a fairly big great room for living & dining & windows to enjoy outdoors. Bedroom 3 will be for guests & the computer, hopefully not a child bedroom, because we are way out in the woods so really need to host visitors. We picked a bigger place so we could make it handicapped accessible now to avoid redoing it later or needing to move. Based on our use of our current space we could cut 200-300 sq ft but to space ourselves out enough we’d need lots of lofts & then we aren’t prepared for long term.

  9. Our condo is 874 square feet — 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, small balcony (big enough for two or three chairs &/or a small table) — and we have a small storage locker in the parking garage behind our parking spot. It is just fine for the two of us, although we know there are families with children (plural!) in the building. The couple we bought it from had a young daughter. Dh thought we could get by with one bedroom/600-700 square feet, and technically I suppose we could have, but I think we would have found it pretty cramped. Plus it would have meant giving up more of my books (sob!). 😉 We don’t have a spare bedroom for guests, but since the last person to stay with us was my mother, 9 years ago (!) I figured the space would get more use as an office. The building has two guest suites we can rent at a very reasonable rate, in the event we do have guests. Two bathrooms was certainly not on our list of must-haves, but I will admit, even with just two of us, it has been nice to have 🙂 even just for the extra storage space (plus I use the shower rod as a clothes drying rack sometimes). 🙂 We have 9-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, which make it seem bigger & brighter. The kitchen cupboards go up to the ceiling, so there is quite a bit of space. And there was more storage space than we saw in any of the other units we visited. There is a narrow but fairly deep walk-in closet in the entryway where we keep our cleaning supplies AND our Christmas tree (in a box, on its side) as well as our shoes & coats, etc. — and we have a walk-in closet in our bedroom that holds quite a lot of clothes plus a few plastic bins on the floor. The closet in the office is a regular-style double closet with sliding mirrored doors. We don’t keep clothes in that one, but it does serve as a linen closet (extra towels, sheets, pillows and table linens — which I pared down drastically before we moved) and it holds a lot of plastic bins (stacked) with gift wrap, old tax returns & bills, photos, etc.

    Our previous house, where we lived for 26 years (& had hoped to start a family) was built in 1983. It was about 1200 square feet, not including a partly finished basement, single-car garage & garden shed with a large (for the neighbourhood) backyard. The main floor had a kitchen with a fair amount of cupboard space & a dining nook, a living room & dining room (where we had a second sofa & a piano). Three bedrooms & a bathroom upstairs. We added a second bathroom in the basement, but you wouldn’t believe how many potential buyers we had who walked away because we didn’t have a bathroom on the main floor. It seemed to be a real sticking point. To be honest, I think people have gotten spoiled in recent years when it comes to houses. Some of the stuff that’s now considered standard features would have been considered pretty luxurious when I was growing up.

    1. You aren’t kidding about the things that make people walk away! Our last house was 3000 square feet with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and had been new when we moved in. The strangest reason people walked away when we were selling? It had a split 3 care garage- 2 on one side and a single on the other. The single car garage didn’t have a door into the house. Yes, we had people walk over that!

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