It seems like in the last couple of years everyone and their uncle is suddenly planning on building themselves a tiny house. The movement is largely fueled by more and more people wanting to live in spaces that reflect their values, primarily, a desire to live in a more ecological, less consumption-oriented way. This probably resonates with a lot of you holistic minimalists out there. However, tiny home living isn’t right for everyone. There are a lot of factors to consider if you’re thinking of going the way of the tiny home. Even if you’re a dedicated and disciplined minimalist you may not be able to psychologically deal with the transition as easily as you’d like to think. It’s important to work through some of things that may come up before selling your home and investing everything you have in the newest hip tiny home.
16.1 TIny Home Pros
“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness…feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.” The Dalai Lama
If you’re new to this whole tiny house idea, let’s start out by looking at some of the advantages of the whole thing.
- Affordability. The low cost of building and maintaining a tiny home is obviously very attractive to a lot of people in the current economy where buying a home usually puts you in serious debt or makes you slave to a high mortgage (unless you’ve got a very comfortable income, some serious savings or get a windfall inheritance…). In most parts of North America you can build or buy a comfortable tiny home for 10 to 15,000$. More and more eco-home companies are popping up all over the map so choice is increasing on par with demand. It’s easy to make your space beautiful without having to suffer to pay it off the rest of your life!
- Minimalist Paradise. The limitations of living in a small space give you basically no choice but to cut down on consumption and rid yourself of a good portion of your worldly possessions (unless you go the of storing things in your parents basement or getting a storage container, which, if you really are aiming for a minimalist lifestyle, is not recommendable). It’s way easier to keep a small space neat and tidy and to control what comes into the space, so you’re unlikely to accidentally accumulate a bunch of stuff. Tiny home living basically makes it way easier to be a minimalist!
- Low impact. Living in a small space drastically lowers your ecological footprint. You’ll consume way less heating, take up less space (your home will thus cause less damage to the local ecosystem…no need to cut trees or destroy a prairie to build your home on it!), and as mentioned above you’ll consume less in general because you have less space in which to stockpile random stuff.
- Easily relocated. Most tiny houses are built on trailers or made to be easily transportable. This allows tiny home dwellers to be semi-nomadic should they so choose, following the seasons or staying on friends land for periods of time instead of having to buy their own. It also allows you to avoid a lot of different housing regulations in different parts of the world. It’s important to read up on what your local laws are regarding tiny homes and requirements around things like septic tanks, zoning, etc etc.
- Trendy and viable! The first may be off-putting if you like to consider yourself a countercultural person, but hopefully you can see past the fad. Like eating organic, tiny homes have become popular enough to be annoying to some people but can also create a real positive impact in a world where affordable housing, population density and resource consumption are major issues.
16.2 The Psychology of Space
“I think that when you invite people to your home, you invite them to yourself.” Oprah Winfrey
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the things you need to consider before jumping wholeheartedly into the movement. Environmental psychologists, among others, claim that homes influence people’s emotional state because they “facilitate the social interactions and the power dynamics that are played out in a home,” according to a 2015 paper co-written by Lindsay Graham PhD (research specialist at the Center for the Built Environment at the College of Environmental Design). There are a lot of inferences that can be made about what it might be like living in a tiny house when you really think about that statement.
It may seem obvious, but you’ll want to ask yourself how comfortable you are sharing small spaces with other people. You might not think about this if you’re currently single and without kids, but you may want to project yourself into your desired future and see if tiny house living fits. If you’re not comfortable in small spaces with other people, how will having a very limited living space affect your relationships? What are your strategies for dealing with conflict when you can’t just walk upstairs and shut your bedroom door? Maybe you need to give yourself some adaptation time or try out living in a small space temporarily before fully committing to tiny house living? You need to be aware going into the project that any latent dynamics or tensions already existing in say, your partnership, will be impossible to ignore once living together in a tiny house. We’ll take a look at some ways to deal with this issue further on…
In contemplating the relational side of tiny house life, rather then getting discouraged and writing the idea off, why not consider how you make the design of your home work for you? One of the problems Graham sees in the current tiny house movement is that “often there is a big disconnect between what the actual occupants need and the vision of the design team. This is why it’s super important to think about all these issues before you go out a buy the first tiny home that tickles your fancy. Does it actually meet your current and future needs? What do you need in a space to feel good in it, alone and with others? What about having a little private nook to retreat when you need a break from the constant interaction with your partner, visiting friend or kids.
16.3 Dealing With Relationships in Close Quarters
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.” Lao Tzu
Some of the things you can do to counterbalance living in a tiny space with a partner or kids.
- Outdoor space. Depending on the climate you live in, having your tiny home be somewhat permeable (i.e. making the barrier between “inside” and “outside” more fluid) is one of the best solutions to living in close quarters. Building your tiny home in an environment that’s inviting, where you can step outside and be surrounded by the beauty of nature or a community of friendly neighbours, is the real ideal. Cultivate the habit of going outside when you need a break! If you live in colder climates, think about building a little greenhouse or solarium off the side of your home. This can make a huge difference and is super easy to put up and take down if ever you intend to be a nomadic tiny home dweller!
- Private Nooks. As mentioned before, try and design your tiny home to include the idea of private nooks (or find a premade one that includes them or where they can easily added!). There are always creative ways of making semi-private corners no matter how small the space. Think about the difference elements of privacy…do you specifically need a visual barrier? Or is it more about sound? Will a little folding wall do it or do you need something with sound insulation? Talk about different options with anyone you already know you may be sharing the space with. Get creative!
- Time out. Lay down some clear “time out” guidelines with your cohabitant(s) before moving in to your tiny home. Sometimes when we’re in a triggered state we are a lot less effective at communicating. Give yourself code words or signals to use in such situations to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings of escalation. Clear communication is really the key to keeping harmony no matter what type of living space you’re in!
- Community. More and more intentional communities ae actually basing their entire model on individuals and families having tiny homes in addition to the run of the mill communal space. Living in or near a community can be a great solution in avoiding stir craziness in your tiny home. When things start feeling too tight you have the communal spaces to hang out in and other people to interact with without having to put any effort into seeking them out.
- Retreats. Some people, especially artists and self-employed folks, like to use the retreat model. Space out your years with a couple intentional retreats where you meet your need for space, silence, nature immersion or whatever it is you can’t necessarily access in your everyday life. Knowing you have these times to yourself can make a huge difference in remaining sane on days when you feel way too cramped or relational tensions rise.
- Work out your schedules. This is especially important if both of you work from or around home. If you feel you need a bit more space in order to focus, try figuring out a schedule where you do your out of home stuff on opposite schedules so that the other has the space to themselves (at least briefly) for more focused tasks. OR consider working out of home even if you’re self-employed. Find a local library, café, or even a friends house you can use as a semi-office. Working away from home allows you to really appreciate the space when you’re in it.
- Cultivate separate friends and projects. Making sure to get enough time with other people and doing things separately can be a great way for most people to make their relationship last past the speed bumps of downsizing.
On a more general note, it’s worth considering the ways in which distance can actually help maintain relational harmony and attraction over time. Many people think that in order to be a “happy” couple you need to be completely fusional and love being together 24-7, whereas in fact many studies show that being apart for periods of time and maintaining a certain level of “mystery” is actually what makes partnerships thrive over time. As Esther Perel puts it in her book “Mating in Captivity,” “Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.” It’s important to consider this in planning how you use and design your time and space now and in future, irrespective of whether you currently have a partner.
16.4 Tiny Home Legalities…
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” E.F. Schumaker
Depending on where you live you may or may not be technically “allowed” to live in a tiny house as your primary residence year round. There are court battles going on in several states to revise codes to include tiny houses, and some states already have code covering the issue. In most of Canada there remains no legislation for tiny homes, with the exception of Québec. As a result people can actually be fined for living in a tiny home, as was the case with Gregg Taylor, a tiny home resident in Alberta, Canada in 2017. All that to say, make sure you read up on local code before building or acquiring and settling into your new tiny home. Worst case scenario you can always move it to a location that’s tiny home friendly or be one of the changemakers taking the case to the courts and improving local legislation!).
16.5 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
So, you want to live in a tiny house? Great! You’ll want to consider the following things before making the move.
- Solidify your foundations. Don’t just go for a tiny house because it’s the new thing. In being aware that living in one is actually a big commitment to a whole new way of living and thinking for most people, take a minute to really lay out the reasons why you really, really want to live in one! When you think about it more seriously you may also discover you don’t actually want to live in a tiny house! That’s okay too! If you still do then…
- Design for your needs. In considering whether to build your own or buy pre-made, make a map of your space needs. What are the things that you can foresee coming up in a small space that could make all the difference to your comfort and happiness and to the functionality of the space?
- Design for positive relationships. If you’re in a partnership or have kids you’ll need to spend extra time figuring out some strategies for close quarters. Consider how you can work your schedules to provide each other snippets of solo time. Try living in or near a community, with outdoor space…It’s worth thinking about this before getting settled in so that, if need be, you can relocate your tiny home to better suit your needs!
- Double check local laws. Super important. Don’t just skip this step. You do not want to have someone knocking on your door telling you have to leave or pay a several thousand dollar fine one morning! Do the research and if you can set up your tiny house somewhere that’s already tiny-home friendly!