The Truth About What It's Like To Live In A Tiny Home

It's not what you see on HGTV.
The exterior of the author's tiny home.
The exterior of the author's tiny home.

I didn’t choose to live tiny. Tiny living chose me. Seven years ago, during the most brutal year of my life, I was knocked on my rear by an onslaught of life-changing circumstances: divorce at 50, laid off from my job, losing my house and downsizing into an apartment that was one-quarter the size of my home. With the help of family and friends, I emptied my house and donated half of my stuff.

Settling into my new, tiny life with no house to tend, I had time to try new experiences. I started paddling on a women’s dragon boat team, the Mighty Women. It tested my physical limits and emboldened me to challenge myself more. I tried belly dancing, sang karaoke, skated in roller derby tryouts and even jumped into online dating. Eventually, I met a mountain man who lived in rural Eastern Oregon 300 miles from my city home. We shared a sense of adventure, and when we got together, we had fun — from swing dancing to backpacking into the Elkhorn Range to camp among mountain goats.

My new job as a newspaper reporter was satisfying work, but it paid so much less than my previous job that it was financially devastating. In the quest for safe, affordable housing in the city, I moved five times in two years. With each move, I jettisoned more stuff.

Many people dream of the simplicity of living in a tiny home, but until you’re living tiny, you don’t realize how it will impact your life daily.

By now, Mountain Man and I had been dating long distance for a few years. He asked me to continue my tiny living adventure by moving into a camp trailer on a remote ranch to be with him. I’d wanted to pursue freelance writing and can do that from anywhere. Plus, I’d already downsized from 2,400 to 600 square feet. How hard would it be for two people to live in 323 square feet on an isolated ranch that’s 27 miles from town?

Here’s the skinny on living in a tiny home. Everything is tiny: refrigerator, oven, kitchen cabinets, countertops, shower, toilet, closets and floor space. This is my biggest challenge.

Shortly after moving into our tiny home, I was determined to continue my exercise regimen despite the cramped quarters. I grasped my weighted hula hoop and planted my feet so I stood an equal distance from the room’s obstacles: loveseat, recliner, dining table and kitchen island. I began gyrating my hips, and the hoop twirled. But when I moved my right foot one inch, the hoop bumped into the island, crashed to the floor and abruptly ended my workout. Exercising outdoors was not an option, because it was winter, 14 degrees and snowing. Many people dream of the simplicity of living in a tiny home, but until you’re living tiny, you don’t realize how it will impact your life daily.

The kitchen of the tiny home.
The kitchen of the tiny home.

We’ve had to adjust every inch of our kitchen. Our dinner plates don’t fit, so we use salad plates. We have six coffee mugs and glasses, a few pots and pans and seven forks, knives and spoons. We made space for the popcorn air popper, but we stored the blender. Living tiny means making choices.

Our tiny refrigerator works for camping, but it isn’t ideal for full-time living. We buy minuscule condiments and skinny half-gallon cartons of milk. Today it’s 103 degrees, but there’s no space to chill a jug of iced tea. Instead, I make single-serving tea in a mason jar that fits in the fridge. When you live tiny, you learn to improvise.  

I like baking, but the oven is too small for most cookie sheets. It takes the flexibility of a yoga master to light the pilot light while kneeling between the stove and island with my head in the oven.  

I also used to enjoy the occasional, relaxing soak in a bubble bath, but we don’t have a bathtub, and our utilitarian shower is not a pampering experience. Our toilet is squeezed into a closet that measures 30 by 36 inches. When I had the flu, I learned there’s no space to kneel in front of the toilet, so I ran outside and threw up into a snowbank. 

Even my longtime habits of sitting in bed to write in the morning or read in the evening had to change. Because our bed platform is raised and our ceiling is low, I can’t sit up in bed. This definitely has resulted in us getting creative in our lovemaking.  

The living space of the tiny home.
The living space of the tiny home.

Other ways living tiny has changed the way I live? My closet is just under four feet wide and has space for one hanging shoe bag. I’m no clothes horse, but the lack of closet space has been tough.

Tiny living and entertaining also don’t mix well. When we hosted a dinner for seven people, we were elbow to elbow. We had exactly seven forks, but only six glasses, so one couple shared.

Living in a tiny house is challenging, particularly if one person (me) is messier than the other. Even a few unwashed dishes or a stack of junk mail gets in the way. It’s vital to minimize the clutter by continually tidying up. 

Tiny living has some advantages. Cleaning the house takes minutes, and that makes more time for our adventures. However, lacking a broom closet, we keep the vacuum in the storage unit outside. That’s inconvenient in the summer, but a challenge in the winter when snowdrifts and ice block the storage door.

Although I initially didn’t choose tiny living, I have embraced it. I’ve adjusted my expectations and learned to live with less. At times, I’ve gone without a dishwasher, freezer, closets, and for three months, I even lived without the convenience of heat, running water and a toilet. Living tiny has taught me that I don’t need as much as I once believed I did.

The author and her partner.
The author and her partner.

My partner and I have learned to spend quality time together with less distraction, too. I believe living tiny has made us closer. We spend our nights listening to audio books, watching a movie or playing music together — he plays guitar and I play my djembe drum. In busy times when I’m working under a deadline, our tiny house tends to get messier quicker. He’s good about lending a hand to tidy up, or he’ll make dinner while I finish a story.

But sometimes everyone needs a little personal space, and that’s hard to find in 323 square feet. My partner plays a video game for his alone time. Sometimes if he’s watching a movie that I don’t care to see, I go lay in bed and read. When I need space, I take a walk on the hundreds of acres just outside our front door.

Last winter, it was so cold that our clothes froze to our closet walls. I’ve found a snake sleeping on my pillow, and we’ve been overrun by field mice and frogs.

Living in a small space with another person is challenging, but if both of you are considerate of each other’s needs and speak up when something’s bothering you, living tiny can work very well. 

I originally moved into this tiny home to be with him. We live on a ranch miles from town but close to his job, and there’s no apartment or house for us here. I’m a freelance writer and can work anywhere. This kind of tiny, remote lifestyle would not work for many women. Last winter, it was so cold that our clothes froze to our closet walls. I’ve found a snake sleeping on my pillow, and we’ve been overrun by field mice, frogs and every insect imaginable. Coyotes serenade us nightly. We’ve seen bear and cougar tracks nearby, but living tiny for the last two years has taught me that I’m braver than I’ve ever given myself credit for.

Living in a tiny house has changed my perception of my needs. It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be like, but after letting go of so many material possessions, I now value experiences over things. My journey has taught me that I can live tiny, but at the same time, live a large life — grateful for life’s simple pleasures and anticipating my next adventure.

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