Living in a house smaller than some people’s walk-in closets may not be for everyone, but those who are able to do so reap many benefits for themselves and for the world around them. Here are some tips for choosing the best type of small house for you and how to simplify your life so living in a small house is enjoyable and not confining.
- Do your research. There are many types of tiny homes, from as small as 9 square feet up to 837 square feet. Look at the designs, which range from traditional to ultra-modern in design. Some incorporate off-the-grid designs like solar/wind power, rainwater collection, and composting toilets.
- Decide what you need from your dwelling and what you want from your dwelling. Most people need a comfortable, dry, quiet place to sleep; a clean place to perform personal hygiene (toilet, shower); a comfortable place to sit or lie down during the day; a place to store, prepare, and eat food for the day. You may want other creature comforts such as long-term refrigerated food storage, a clothes washer and dryer etc. But think of combining these appliances in one machine. Do you really need a dryer or could you dry your clothes outside?
- Look at the benefits of “living small:” less space to clean; less pack-ratting of unneeded clothes, broken appliances, etc.; lower energy bills and a greener environmental footprint; fresher food that is purchased, caught, or harvested on a more daily basis; more time available for outdoor activities and entertaining; no need to sell your home when you relocate (if your tiny home is towable).
- Realize that small houses cost more per square feet than large houses. Designing for smaller areas is more complex, as items such as built-in furniture have to be custom made to take advantage of all the space. Compact appliances sometimes cost much more than full sized appliances. If you are designing or building your own home on a trailer bed, you need to take plumbing (grey water and black water storage and disposal) into consideration.
- Decide if you will build your own home from plans, or if you will buy an already made home new, or if you will buy a used home. There are also “kits” available which come with all or most of the supplies for building the house, along with instructions. The cheapest option for small living is to buy a well-maintained used RV or travel trailer. Craigslist usually will have several listings under $5000. You get the advantage of having something already designed and constructed, but you have the disadvantage of not being able to fully customize your home to your needs and wants.
- Pare down your belongings: we spend about 80% of our time wearing 20% of the clothes we own, so by getting rid of most of that wasted 80%, your life becomes immediately simpler: less laundry and less indecision about what to wear that day. Instead of having 3 TVs, 2 computers, a VCR, DVD, Blu-Ray, and 3 different game stations, reduce to one computer–transfer your movies to a hard drive and a flat screen monitor can double as a TV. A laptop with a TV tuner is even more energy efficient.
- Be creative about storage and multi-function furniture: a bed platform could have clothing storage drawers underneath. If you make a built-in sofa (without a bed) you can use the space underneath to store lots of things. A table can be made with shelves for storage underneath the table surface. Or you could design a table that folds out of the wall, then folds up and down to become a bed. Use broad, deep shelves (including built-in) and drawers, and wall and ceiling mounted items, to minimize the proportion of wasted space above, below, and around the edges of items (due to packing geometry or falling-off-the-edge risk). Consider metal furniture to reduce the amount of space consumed by the furniture itself.
- Don’t try to cram too much stuff into your small home–it will make it appear very cluttered. This goes double for furniture: a full size sofa, a king size bed, a 6-person dinette and a large Club chair or reclining lounger won’t leave a lot of space for you to walk around. An armless sofa, double-size or queen-size bed in a loft, and a folding table with 2 folding chairs that would allow you to seat 4 for dinner (using the sofa as seating) is more reasonable.
- Build/design for your needs and prioritize your wants and add them one-by-one to the house until it is the perfect balance of desires and space.
- To “test drive” tiny house living, you can rent an RV for a limited period of time (like six months) and get a feel for what you need – and don’t need – in terms of space.
- There is a substantial investment involved in building or buying a tiny home. Be sure you are physically and mentally prepared.
- Check local zoning codes for restrictions on minimum room size and RV/manufactured housing on residential lots. Many codes restrict houses to at least one room of 120 square feet and other rooms of a minimum 70 square feet. Some require the house to be built on a minimum percentage of the lot. You may be able to get exceptions granted to you, but be aware that many communities see small houses as something that depresses property values. Other communities see well-built smaller houses as something good for their infrastructure–less strain on the electric, sewer, and fresh water systems–and welcome them.
- Not everyone will share your enthusiasm for living small. They will think you to be a little crazy to live full-time in something that they would consider living in only for one or two weeks per year at the most. If you are dating or married, be sure you and your partner are in full agreement on the subject of small living. If you are planning to have kids, be sure you know what will happen to your house at that time: will you build another small house and connect them together, or will you build a brand new house?
- Used RVs and manufactured housing are prone to water leaks, so check for any if you choose to buy something pre-owned. If you design or build your own house, be sure to pay attention for potentially damaging water leaks.
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