What it's really like to live in a tiny house - By Camille Khouri
A month ago, my family and I moved from a comfortable, suburban 3-bedroom house to a 18m2 tiny house on an active building site.
Are we insane?
Well, maybe, but we had our reasons.
As the start date for our new home build approached, we had been stressing about how we were going to pay rent at the same time as managing payments for the build. And then, the house we were renting was placed on the market.
This was the push we needed. We started to look for other options and found this tiny house for sale in Wanaka. By purchasing the tiny house and parking it on site, we are able to avoid paying rent while the house is being built, thus preventing us from going bankrupt in the process!
And once the house is ready to be moved into - oh glorious day - the plan is to sell the tiny house and hopefully get our money back so we can afford luxuries, like curtains.
Tiny house living is painted on Instagram and in glossy coffee table books as a cute, romantic, alternative and brave way of life.
And in some ways, it fits that description.
But one month into our stint in a tiny house, I have a few revelations to share about the realities of condensed living.
If we were childless (and don’t get me wrong, this is not something I wish for!) I feel that my husband and I could quite happily and comfortably co-habitate long-term in a tiny house. It is big enough for us, in that it has a dining table for two, a working kitchen, space for a couch (currently taken up by our children’s bunk beds), a little bathroom, and a queen-sized bed on the mezzanine.
If it were to be a long-term thing, the house would need to be located somewhere quieter and more beautiful, instead of, you know, on a building site. Oh and I miss baths, but other than that, it has everything the two of us need.
With children in the mix, though, the place can feel small.
I mean, it is small, but it can feel too small.
I get bouts of what I call ‘spatial panic’ when I’m trying to cook or sort out lunchboxes or really do anything necessary to that moment, and there are too many things on the floor and surfaces around me: soft toys, bits of cracker, discarded socks, general child-related detritus. It’s not that my children are particularly messy, it’s just that everything is elevated in a tiny house.
Everything has a place and needs to be in it, at all times.
Otherwise, you literally can’t move around.
Each morning when they leave for school, I put the house back together. In the weekends, there isn’t much chance for that, and I suffer bouts of spatial panic on and off for two days, until the sweet relief of Monday morning. I love you, school.
Less stuff, less work
One major positive to the tiny house experience is that, while it needs to be cleaned often, a full clean, including floors and the dreaded bathroom (which we always used to put off doing in our old, full-size house) takes around an hour. And if there is maintenance to do, it’s usually a quick fix. This leaves more time for soul sustaining activities, like reading books, playing games, and getting outside.
This lack of adult admin is a positive for parenting.
It means there is no excuse - and really no choice - but to be present and active parents.
My eldest loves card games. At the old house, I would have to stop what I was doing - there was always something to be done - and force myself to play a game of Last Card with him. Sometimes, I would tell him I didn’t have time. I needed to vacuum or sort out the washing or clean that stupid bathroom.
Here, we play often and for longer. If the dinner is on, there is really nothing else I need to or can get done in the evening, so why not? This brings us closer and I think it makes for happier children.
The good times
There are some sweet moments that happen in a tiny house, as well as some funny (and smelly) ones. Every night we climb the steep stairs to the mezzanine bed and have bedtime stories together. We also do family movies on the big bed on Friday and Saturday nights, with snacks and drinks that always get spilled on the sheets.
The light up there is soft and it’s a sweet, cosy time.
As we are all sleeping in what amounts to one room, there are often some funny after-dark conversations, especially between the kids, and we have become more familiar with each other’s sleep patterns. My youngest speaks in his sleep - something we knew, but we had never been in the same room to actually hear what he says before. The other night he sat up and very clearly declared that he was hungry, then fell straight back to sleep.
The night before, just after lights out, he let out a long drawn out fart that ended with a hilarious little ‘brap!’, which set our whole immaturely minded family in hysterics for a good ten minutes. He really is the king of farts. Unfortunately, there is no escape from the resulting olfactory onslaught.
This is short term - for us
Farts aside, living in this confined space has given me some perspective on our privilege. Despite growing up in a draughty villa in Auckland where you needed to wear more clothes inside than out, I have become accustomed to well insulated, heated spaces. I am not used to sleeping in a room that becomes stuffy with exhaled air by the morning. I wake desperate to open a window.
Even though the view leaves something to be desired.
We tried leaving the heater off overnight but the ground level of the house (where the kids sleep) is colder than the mezzanine, and they were coming to our bed each night with freezing toes. Then they both got sick and so did I, and we took weeks to shake it.
During this period I thought of the many people for whom sleeping four to a room is the norm. Sick kids all winter, sick older people. And sick parents trying to cope, having to miss work. Or sending their kids to school sick because maybe it’s warmer there.
Maybe no heater, maybe sleeping in a garage with zero insulation in the walls. And I feel very lucky to be dealing with this for just one winter, instead of every winter. At least we can afford to have the heater on, even if it does make the room stuffy. At least there is an end in sight.
I feel this is a good experience for the kids, to find out you can survive without all the trappings of modern life. Saying that, we set their Playstation up on a small computer monitor, so it’s not like they’re completely deprived.
When it’s done
I am wondering if we will feel as though the new house is unnecessarily spacious when we finally move in.
Will it seem like a waste, having all those rooms?
I’m guessing there will be a twinge of that, a sort of longing for the simplicity of our tiny house months, but it won’t last.
The fact is, the kids are getting bigger. They like to have friends over. We have family who come to visit from Auckland and they need somewhere to stay. Living this way is a great experience, and maybe one day we will return to it when we have an empty nest, but our house is going to feel good.
Sometimes, when I’m extracting pyjamas from the dining room chair and throwing my son’s plushie toys in the toy chest for the eighth time that day, I like to picture the bathtub...the dishwasher...the internal garage...the bedroom with a door...