What is living in a tiny house like?

I have long been a fan of small spaces. When I was a child, I loved staying in a caravan by the seaside. And my favourite spot to play in the caravan? Squeezed into the door step! So maybe it’s no surprise that, like Mr. Money Mustache, I’ve been interested in tiny houses.

As I grew up, though, like most people, I became sucked into the dream of having a large, sprawling home. In fact, it took a bit of convincing for my husband to get me to give up on the home of my dreams. A house out in the suburbs. At least, that’s what I thought was the home of my dreams. But in reality, it wasn’t. It was just what everyone else seemed to be telling me I wanted. I hate tasks like lawn mowing. And I prefer public transport over roads clogged with cars. Instead, we bought a small apartment in the city, and I have to say, I loved it.

Today, I want to share with you how experimenting with your lifestyle can lead to some pretty awesome results.

Downsizing Lesson 1: From house to apartment

Moving from the three bedroom house we were renting into a two bedroom apartment was our first lesson in how little we really need. (Actually, we used it as a one bedroom + study/guest room).

Just like time, the more space you have, the more crap you seem to bring in to your life to fill it.

I’ve written about all of this before on Enrichmentality – how letting yourself be swayed by what others say your dream home ‘should’ be can result in something much worse. You can wind being trapped in the rent cycle and having no home at all. And how having too much space and too much stuff can result in not valuing what you own.

Downsizing Lesson 2: From apartment to hotel room

Moving from our one bedroom + study apartment to a life on the road taught us our second lesson in how little we really need. After renting out our apartment with most of its furniture, we managed to load all of our other worldly possessions into a single van to be put into storage. Then, we hit the road with a single handluggage-size backpack each.

Over the past almost three years, we’ve lived in a variety of spaces . Some have been larger, but mostly smaller than our own apartment. We’ve learned to refine our luggage even further than the packing documented in the video linked to above.

Downsizing Lesson 3: From hotel room to tiny house

Recently, we spent a week in a ‘tiny house’ in Luxembourg. Located inside an eco-friendly, carbon-neutral camp ground, the leaf-shaped house is a more affordable way to stay in Luxembourg. (The city is very pricey, but you can travel there easily by train from the camp ground). It also offers to explore the countryside (there are some fantastic hikes around the area, including one to a castle!). But a big reason we were interested in it was that it also offers the opportunity to test out living in a ‘tiny house’.

The importance of testing a new lifestyle

Before handing in our notice of intent to leave our positions, and start our semi-nomadic lifestyle, we decided to test drive that life. We took a month-long vacation to Fiji, traveling as we intended to. We took hand luggage only. And we stayed not in the kind of fancy hotel that a busy professional with only a couple of weeks to splurge each year might, but at a budget hotel more suited to long-term travel. We ate not in restaurants, but cooked for ourselves.

And we loved it.

Before we moved from the suburbs to the city, we did the same thing. We made sure to visit the suburb we were intending to live in during different times of the day and different days of the week to ensure that it felt safe and quiet during the evenings, and lively and interesting during the days.

Since we’ve been toying with the idea of alternative dwellings, it made sense for us to trial living in a tiny house.

Lessons learned

Because these houses are located inside a camp ground, there is a shared bathroom. Other than that, the experience is similar to what you would have living in any tiny house that measures 275x242x400cm.

And for that reason, I recommend anyone considering living in a tiny house take up an option like this before making the decision to do so permanently.

For what it’s worth, here are my reflections on a week of living in a ‘tiny’ space:

  • Good design is essential.

The natural curves and the height of the roof, combined with the décor made the space feel even bigger than some (much larger) hostel and hotel rooms we’ve stayed in.

  • Interior design is important.

The light wooden lining of the tiny house makes it feel both cosy and bright, airy and warm. It also feels calming, natural, and bigger than it really is.

  • Airflow is important.

The simple addition of a little porthole opposite the door is really helpful for cross-ventilation. We found it cooled down the place immensely.

  • You want and need even less than you think you do.

We already travel with hand luggage only. It’s convenient, and saves a lot of money. Not only on flights, but on locker storage and taxis and all sorts of other things. But being in a small space really makes you want even less stuff. Especially a space with no wardrobe, hooks, or place to unpack.

  • Think about how to cook.

Even though our tiny house wasn’t equipped with a kitchen (or a bathroom for that matter), there would be plenty of room for cooking equipment if one chose to live in a space like this permanently. With a little research on camping blogs, we managed to bring and make enough food to last us the week, using only boiling water! (More on this later) For a longer term solution, you’d definitely want somewhere cool to store vegetables and meat. And some sort of cooking equipment.

  • Enjoy nature.

You appreciate the outdoors (and good weather!) a lot more in a tiny house. I think we ate every meal outside. I spent a good deal of time reading or writing on the porch. It felt just like another room. Also, you tend to rely on nature to help regulate the temperature and light of the room a lot more.  Curtains and opening doors/windows make a big difference (though we did also have a heater).

  • Think about sleeping arrangements.

Beds are an enormous space waster – not just in tiny houses, but generally. Now you can get sofa beds and murphy beds with quality mattresses, they’re an option. Personally, I love a futon (as in a real Japanese floor bed, not one of those lumpy couch things). Or simply switching a single or a 1.5 single for a double. We also considered a bunk bed our old place to allow space underneath.

Try before you buy

Whether tiny house living interests you or not, I’m sure there’s something you’re considering that you could test. Be a researcher of your own life. Design experiments!

No short-term taste test can ever fully prepare you for everyday reality. Babysitting your friend’s kids won’t tell you if you’re ready to raise your own children. But it will give you a good indication if that’s not what you really want. Shadowing someone at work won’t fully enable you to do their job. But it should tell you if you definitely don’t want to shoot for that promotion. And taking a vacation certainly won’t tell you if you should move to that country. But it should be able to tell you if you really shouldn’t.

The key to any good test is to make sure you approximate the conditions you anticipate as closely as possible. Taking a well-behaved 5-year-old to their favourite book store is unlikely to tell you whether you’ll cope with toilet training a toddler. Following the most competent salesperson around during a busy sale is unlikely to give you a realistic picture of how much you could earn on a regular day.

And if you spend a week or two at a fancy resort, eating restaurant-quality food each day and lounging by the pool, it’s very easy to imagine you’d love living in that place. In fact, many people buy holiday homes on this basis, and live to regret it.

Spending a week in a tiny house won’t tell you whether you’ll love tiny living. But if you discover you can’t stand being on your own – or with your partner or children – in such a small space, you’ll know it’s not for you.

Lessons for life

You may also find that you learn lessons you can apply to other areas of your life.

As Jacob Lund Fisker points out in Early Retirement Extreme, shelter is a need, just like food. Yet, there’s nothing to say that we need a giant house, or a great big steak covered in truffles and gold leaf. You may discover that you can live on less. And even if you decide to return to a more luxurious lifestyle, the knowledge that you can survive, if you have to, is valuable.

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