Living In A Tiny Home

Here is a great story of one person’s adventure of living in a 480 sq/ft house in the country.  Kerri describes downsizing, to building to actually living her life in their home.  It is interesting to hear the ups and downs of doing what is the dream for many of us.

Reprinted: Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell 12/2009


Adjusting to Life in 480 Square Feet

Life in the Little House was stressful at first, to put it mildly. I work from home, so our 10-by-10-foot bedroom suddenly had to double as my office. We had no room for a bed, so the futon we had bought to sleep on for short weekend stays had to do. Working in the bedroom was akin to working while sitting in an airplane seat, and notes and papers needed for my stories usually fell from my lap and became a jumbled heap on the floor.

It took us more than a year to come up with an alternative plan to building a new house or building on, but we finally decided to construct a large metal garage to house my mother’s heirlooms and other items I couldn’t bear to part with just yet. We also built a separate 320-square-foot office with a basement that doubles as a storage space and a tornado shelter, something we thought very important after a tornado in 2008 cut a wide swath through a town less than 20 miles away. We did it all for less than what it would have cost for the addition to the Little House.

An Unintended Downsize Makes the Perfect Fit

There were days (and admittedly, we still have some) when we didn’t think we did anything right in planning our move, but there were decisions we made that — by sheer good luck — ended up working to our advantage.523983825_5507244e64_o

When we built the Little House, we knew we would use it primarily in the summer months, and we didn’t want to install a furnace system, which would add significant costs to building our retreat. We did install a small woodburning stove, which was sufficient to heat the entire building. We built the house with the best insulation we could manage, as well as with 2-by-6 walls, instead of the code’s required 2-by-4. By heating the house using only the woodburning stove, we significantly reduced our utility bill for the remainder of winter.

We also had the foresight to allow for as much closet space as possible and put in the kitchen cabinets I wanted, as well as heavy-duty laminate flooring that would withstand a few years of trampling by large dog paws and boots stained with the red clay and rock from this part of the country. Even while on vacation, I didn’t want to worry about dragging our clothes back and forth from the city, so I insisted that the house have space for a washer and dryer.

Quite by accident, we ended up with a fully-equipped and beautiful (albeit tiny) dream house. In addition, I have a spacious writing studio that gets me out of the house, making me feel like I work away from home — only without the commute and with my dogs by my side and a beautiful view of the woods, mountains and wildlife on our property.

For some people, the interest in small homes may be primarily financial; for others, environmental; or for some, it may be mobility, as many people use RVs as their primary residence.

Regardless of why you may be considering a small house, there’s a lot we’ve learned that you may find helpful. Here are a few tips based on our experiences that may help your move go more smoothly.

If you can, try out a small house for as long as possible. We rented cabins of different sizes in order to decide how much space we would need. As we found out, though, spending one to two weeks on vacation is much different from actually living somewhere. We wish now that we had extended the living room and bedroom as far as our covered front porch. While it’s only 6 more feet, it would have made a huge difference when placing furniture.

Can’t decide what to get rid of, or have sentimental items you can’t bear to part with? Rent a storage locker, set a deadline for yourself, and then decide what you really need to keep.

Utilize outdoor spaces such as decks, patios and porches to provide space for entertaining or to create a quiet space. Our deck is about half the size of the house, and the covered front porch allows us to enjoy the outdoors even when it’s raining.

Have a place for everything and everything in its place. This is most important in small spaces. Add as many shelves, cubby holes and built-ins as possible to conserve space and preserve your sanity.

I’m not that into fashion or home decor, but I do have a fall/winter bedspread and shower curtains and a different set of each for spring/summer. These truly transform the house with a new look each season, and make it seem less confined.

Build the house using the most sustainable materials and with the most advanced energy conservation methods possible. The idea is to live better and smarter not just for yourself, but also for the planet. That’s why we built a well-insulated home and bought energy-efficient appliances. Many also opt to build so they can live independent of utility companies. I have nearby friends who use solar power or have no electricity at all. Again, find your comfort level and what you can afford to do.

Purge your mail, paperwork and other clutter regularly and ruthlessly. Keeping a small house tidy does wonders to make it feel less cramped and more homey. Cancel all unwanted catalogs by calling the companies or going to Catalog Choice. Sign up for online statements and bill paying. You’ll eventually see a great reduction in mail. The two other added benefits: You’ll help protect the environment, and you’ll save money in postage!

  1. We live in an RV… not as traditional RVers but as a way to have a smaller foot print and live within our means. Frugal and free. After selling most everything at the ages of 50 plus or minus a few years we started a new chapter in our lives… What a wonderful feeling it was to get rid of 'stuff' and enjoy a lightness of being.

    It's wasn't without fear… everyday now we have to lean into change and new opportunities… Still my heart is full of gratitude for this amazing opportunity to uncover this next chapter.

    • Marie … sounds like a wonderful odyssey that I hope to make myself within the next five years! As I glide (swiftly) into my mid-50's, I want to downsize from 1,800sf to "just enough" for me and my dog. I hate getting a place all comfortable and then having to move and begin again, so living aboard a 40ft RV means if a move becomes necessary, just find a new place to park an already comfortable home. I like the simplicity and efficiency of "just enough" for my needs. Good luck to you and I'd love to hear more of your discoveries on wheels if you'd be kind enough to share them with us. Be well, Randy

      • While moving is a chore, with less and less Stuff it get easier I would suspect. Moving is exciting, then you can focus on the exciting part because you don't have to actually move so much.

    • I have taken this advice that I got several years ago. When faced with uncertainty, fear, or social discomfort, sometimes the best thing to do is to lean into it. You used that phrase "lean" which I think it is a easier said then done of course, but is commendable that you do it everyday. It is hard to grow when you stay in the realm of the of your comfort zone.

  2. The little house pictured is adorable, but it does not look like "country" to me but more like smack-dab city.

    • haha, no it doesn't, I accidentally uploaded the wrong photo. 🙂

  3. I love the idea of downsizing and have been ‘drawing’ small floor plans anywhere from 185′ to 520′ for several years now as a ‘just dreaming practice’. Unfortunately, my husband keeps informing me that if we move from our current home it will be to go into something larger. ARGH! Well, I will keep dreaming!

    • you could spin it as “move into something smaller but way nicer” Take the capital you have and get a really really nice smaller home 🙂

  4. Loved reading about your adventure in downsizing. My husband and I at age 55 moved from about 4000 sq. ft. of living space in Southern California to the compact city of San Francisco and eventually into about 1200 sq. feet. I also write from home and my husband has a consulting biz in a refurbished cira 1880 firehouse (all part of the 1200 sq. ft!) so we know the joys and trials as well. In fact, I wrote a book about it: RIGHTSIZING YOUR LIFE: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most. We discovered it wasn’t “just about the stuff” we owned, but that liberation awaited in not having so much to keep track of and maintain. I agree, it takes some adjustment, but what wonderful freedom is waiting on the other side of going through what I call the “rightsizing” process…there’s no one formula, but each of us has to figure out what we use and love and pass on the rest to the Universe, regardless of the square footage.

    Happy New Year in your new digs and congratulations! Love the blog…

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