Making the transition to tiny house living

Guest post by Miz Liz
Check out “The Elm” from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Ever since I was forced by circumstance to live in my car one summer, I have been obsessed with living in a tiny house. At the time, I had two garbage bags full of clothes, my guitar, and a backpack with books, toiletries, and a laptop nestled inside of it. It was cozy. Mobile. Practical. Adventurous!

But then various school experiences, relationships and moments of practical necessity required me to move into a real apartment. And then a bigger apartment, and so on and so forth.

Fast forward six years, and now I’m living in a fairly large, three-bedroom house, with a yard, garage, appliances, four instruments, a TV, a sewing machine, countless DVDs, two cats and a Golden Retriever. I’ve come to love all the space I have for things like parties, jam sessions, and crafts, but have decided to revert back to my tiny living ways.

I would eventually LOVE to refurbish a bus, or a flatbed trailer, into a tiny mobile home. But for now, I am acting incrementally by moving into a cozy, 480-square-foot studio/garage apartment (complete with concrete floors and sleeping loft! Squee!).

I am beyond stoked to be stepping onward to this process, but I have no idea where to begin planning for this move. I know I need to get rid of most of my things, but here is what I’m wondering:

  • What can I realistically still take with me?
  • How do I make room for my hobbies, such as playing instruments (including a piano), cooking and sewing?
  • If I want to have parties and entertain guests, what are some ways to create spaces for hanging out, dining, or sleeping over?

I’m starting to stress out and it is ruining my excitement for my new small home.

Tiny house enthusiasts, HALP!

First check out our entire tiny home archive, and then let it fly with your suggestions!

Comments on Making the transition to tiny house living

  1. I’m of the opinion that living tiny and downsizing is all about storage and making sure that what you have is what you need – and that’s it. Apartment walls are high, so use shelves and other things to create storage without taking up floor space. Other things that can be useful is to invest in a smaller dining table and use it also as your craft table, sewing table, etc. Some things can double up – do you really need a couch *and* a bed, when you can get a pull-out couch or futon?

    As for entertaining, curtains can be useful to create “rooms” for areas that you want to remain off-limits.

  2. In a small space, visual clutter can be overwhelming. Try to implement an organization system where you can put as many things away and out of sight as possible. It helps if storage containers are all the same color or have a pattern (rainbow?)

    A friend used one of those double sided bookshelves to divide her studio apt. It was like this, except some of the holes were wider:
    http://www.amazon.com/EXPEDIT-Bookcase-Divider-Display-Largest/dp/B009AFHJ3W/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1388676376&sr=8-9&keywords=ikea+bookshelf
    She even had her TV on a lazy susan in the middle of it so she could swivel the TV around to the kitchen or bedroom side.

  3. Your square footage sounds similar to mine and I host parties of up to 20 pretty regularly and regularly have out of town guests sleepover. My biggest suggestion is make peace with rearranging your furniture as part of party prep. It’s hard to find a configuration that’s perfect for maximizing seating and entertaining needs and your own personal day to day convenience. Last partying had I washed all the dishes and put the drying rack under the sink to maximize counter space for snacks and put a cutting board over the stove to set cutlery on. A couple end tables went to the bedroom area to make more party space in the living room and the ottoman coffee table was shoved against the wall to open up the floor and provide more seating. It makes a really comfy entertaining space

    • I just made the move to a smaller apartment and realized my dining table isn’t going to be usable as a dining table so long as I want to lounge and watch TV in my living room. So this will mean that when I have parties, the seating will change to emphasize eating and socializing versus lounging and TV gazing.
      My best tip for downsizing: rethink how you use what you already have, and try to find more/different uses for it that are more functional in a small space.

  4. kinda helpful but it has stuck with me: you don’t need to be organized, you just need less stuff. as someone who is trying to clean out this has really helped me. the hints of getting things that can double duty is fantastic. open storage/shelving is awesome! it’s a great idea to use your items as wall art. hang that quilt you’re working on or maybe also hang your guitar on the wall as art and then take it down to play. I hung all my moms fancy serving dishes on the wall and she takes them down randomly to use but they’re always stored in the meantime. I hope you enjoy tiny living; way to go getting back to your tiny living dream!

    • “You don’t need to be organized, you just need less stuff.” This times a million. My family lives in a three bedroom apartment, which can sometimes feel both too big and too small. I recently realized that the majority of my to-do list is about organization: buy a new desk with shelves, buy one of those over-the-toilet thingies, buy new storage bins…and for what? stuff I don’t use or look at? Making tough decisions about my possessions has resulted in a cleaner home and a happier me. Donate, sell, give away. Ask yourself if you can live without it….is there a shared music studio you can visit or a jam session where you can borrow instruments? I love scrapbooking, but was able to free up a ton of space when I stopped doing it at home and started doing it at craft nights (added bonus: people!). Find what works for you, or go at things on a trial basis (ask someone to store your stuff) to see what you can live without.

    • “You don’t need to be organized, you just need less stuff.”

      I’m constantly frustrated by my lack of organization. Current doing a beginning-of-the-year resolution-esque purge and will be adopting this as a mantra.

  5. I have friends who live in a tiny house and they definitely use the world for their hobbies and get togethers more! They just hosted a rockin’ NYE party, but not in their tiny house. (In a lodge at the summer camp where we all used to work.) Are there places you can go to practice your hobbies elsewhere? Is there a hospital lobby piano dying to be played? A sewing circle of friends who could get together to work on projects? There are absolutely ways to live your life outside of your home, I am fascinated by this.

    • I think that it is important to take into account the possibility of temporarily renting a space for something you don’t have room for. A while ago I read something that pointed out that, when you take into account the cost of living with enough space for a guest room, it may well be cheaper to offer to pay for guests to stay at a local hotel. If you’re saving money by living in a tiny house, you can afford to splurge on hiring a hall, bar or maybe even a bigger house for parties.

    • THIS! Get creative with outsourcing / relocating / readjusting hobbies they that they don’t require that YOU have as much stuff. It was hard to downsize some of my hobbies, but the freedom of not having the clutter made it worth it (to me – YMMV). Saves money, too, by not buying things I can get for free or “rent”.

      – I like playing the piano sometimes, but I not often enough to warrant keeping a full-size keyboard in my house; I Craigslisted it and found other pianos I could play at friends’ houses or random rooms at the university.
      – I like reading, but most of the books on my shelves hadn’t been read in more than five years; I kept only my most-loved/most-read books and get the rest for free from the library.
      – I kept my DVDs (moving them from cases to sleeves to take up less room) and refrained from buying discs and used Netflix instead (or borrowed from friends).
      – I like camping, but I know enough people with camping supplies that each time I want to go I have a plethora of people willing to lend out tents, sleeping bags, and packs in exchange for cookies.
      – My sewing machine got a bye because it’s used a lot, but I went through my scrap pile and got rid of stuff that I honestly couldn’t see myself using up any time in the near future. (And oh, the guilt of seeing all those unfinished projects! Gone now. :))
      – Still to do: I love crafts, but that stuff takes up a LOT of space. I want to purge as many of these random space-sucking supplies as possible and challenge myself to make things with stuff from my trash and recycling bins instead.

      This certainly isn’t for everyone, but it works for me! 🙂

  6. Can you try living in 480 square feet where you currently are? Pick the same amount of space you will have and see what you can fit into that space?
    We live in a house that is small, not tiny but small, 908 square feet for two adults and two cats. We are constantly editing and making choices about what we bring into the house. I’ve learned to look at things and ask myself do I love this thing or do I like this thing? If I just like it, I will find a home for it else where, my friends have really benefited from my house ware culls.
    Also I remind my husband all the time that I don’t want kitchen appliances that only do one thing, they take up space and if you can use a pot to make rice, you don’t need a rice cooker. Living in a small space is all about choices.
    We knew that having over night house guests was not really going to happen when we bought this house. For sure, we could take in a friend in an emergency but they would have to be ok with sleeping on the couch because there is no guest room. I am ok with that we like our privacy, and most other people we know have way more space than us to have a house guest.
    I have had to put some hobbies on the back burner due to lack of space but I think eventually I will be able to make room for some of them again. Give your self time to adjust.

    • “Give yourself time to adjust.” Great advice for anyone moving into a new home, but especially one that’s very different from where they last lived. I’ve been in my current house (little like yours, about 850 sq ft for me and my husband) for over 3.5 years and we’re still figuring out how to live in a not-s0-big space. We’ve been on a real organizing kick lately and it’s funny how we’re suddenly figuring out storage solutions that haven’t ever occurred to us before. We’re also getting better at eliminating things we don’t need to have sitting around. But it takes time.

      Living well in a small space takes time, especially when you’re downsizing so significantly. Be patient and kind with yourself as you figure out how to make your new home work. Good luck!

  7. I could never give up my personal sewing machine, but if you are looking to outsource your hobby-space you could see if there are any makerspaces/hackerspaces in your area. Many have at least basic sewing and crafting supplies and you can usually get storage space if you become a member. My local one is open to the public (that is, anyone can come and use the tools there for free) a couple days a week and I love going there on the off days to cut out fabric on the big, long tables.

  8. I can’t speak for living small, but I can speak for sewing! I own two different vintage machines — both Singers, one electric and one treadle. They both flip down and store into their own tables, which can then be used for whatever you need. For something you don’t need to constantly have at the ready, this table could be a kitchen table or a nightstand, or whatever you please. Bonus: Vintage sewing machines are made FAR better than modern ones and are less likely to break down or straight up die on you, those living in their own tables are often decorative as well as functional, and often you can find them for cheap or free when someone is clearing out Grandma’s attic (I got mine for free and $20, respectively, and they both run beautifully!). Good luck!

  9. I once lived in a camper size trailer with a partner… I don’t think I could do it again, but I love that you are, and I hope we hear more about your journey!

    I agree with Katherine: mark out 480 square feet in your current house (your living space + one bedroom?) and begin purging anything that doesn’t fit! Take advantage of thrift shops like ARC or the Epilepsy Foundation that will pick up at your house (I just scheduled my first one of the year) – it saves time and gives you a deadline for purging.

    Hobbies: I’ve seen some apartment/condo buildings that are organized as coops, with community rooms – I’ve even seem some that have pianos and other instruments!

    Cooking:
    Unless you can hang a pot rack in your new place, I would limit my cookware and bakeware to: one medium and one large cooking pot; one small and one large saute pan; toaster oven size muffin pan and cookie sheet; nesting square oven/freezer/microwave safe pyrex that comes with lids and can double as storage. Find a place with inexpensive bulk section so that you can keep your staples on hand in small quantities; use stackable storage like the OXO pop containers (make sure you have everything in one lid size).

  10. Yay, I am so happy to see a post about tiny houses, because I am also obsessed with them! I find it really interesting to see other people’s tiny house hacks to see how they have adjusted to living in a small space. There are a lot of great tiny house videos on this youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/kirstendirksen

    Here is a blog by a girl named Ella who built a Tumbleweed Fencl: http://littleyellowdoor.wordpress.com/ She’s been living in it for a while now and made space for her harp inside, so if your hobbies require a few large instruments, it’s totally possible to find a way to store them (hers is stored in her bathroom when not in use).

    Depending on where you live, you might be able to get a taste of tiny house living through airbnb. There’s a tiny house for rent about an hour away from me that I really want to check out, and I just read that in Portland, OR there is a tiny house hotel! O_o

  11. This is so bold!
    I’m afraid I don’t have any advice but I offer my encouragement. I hope you’ll write more about how it all works out.
    Oh there is one advantage you can think about when panic sets in: THERE’S A LOT LESS TO CLEAN!

  12. I live in about 750 sq ft with three other adults and two cats and the most important thing we’ve learned is to utilize all space, which means thinking up.
    Tall, thin dressers take up less space than short long ones, if you get a step stool you can totally reach shelves mounted over head height.
    Mounting things to the walls definitely helps save a ton of space, though it means less art. I had all these dreams of putting up so much art after our first roommate left and took his art, but instead we hung up a coat rack taking up most of the newly blank wall. And we put shelves above that. You could hang your guitars on the wall, and build shelves for the other instruments. If you have a lot of instruments you can hang, try multiple levels of wall hanging, some up above others, it’ll look extra neat, too.
    In terms of hobbies, cooking and sewing go well together, space wise- if you’re ok with putting your sewing machine away when not using it then you can sew on the kitchen table, which you can also use for prep work when cooking (not at the same time as sewing). A kitchen table that you keep pretty clean is essential in this scenario.

    Hope your new small space turns out awesome!

  13. This is great! I was just about to submit a similar question: We’re downsizing to about 650 square feet…with two cats, a smallish dog, and a baby on the verge of toddlerhood. We’ve made a 3-5-year commitment to an amazing caretaking gig and are really excited about the new adventure. That said, I don’t want to have to keep reconfiguring again and again each time the kiddo reaches a new stage. Any parents out there with small space living experience and good advice? Thanks!

  14. Check out the movie online easy available “we the tiny house people”. It’s absolutely inspiring. I can’t wait to convert a bus or campervan.

    The apartments in the movie have great ideas for saving space. Some are probably more permanent so you’d only do it if you own the place and don’t want to move for a long time, but a lot you can just take ideas from and then develop for your specific home.

    Also check out off grid living type blogs, there is a pretty Amazing Facebook group that shows cool small houses regularly.

    If you’re not sure what you really “need” – maybe put everything away in one room or at one friends house, for a month. Then see what you do actually retrieve to use, and what just sits there.

    • thanks to this post, i just watched the documentary “we the tiny house people”….so inspiring! the creative solutions people have come up with for paring down and organizing are amazing. hope i will have my own tiny space one day.

    • This is a great plan. We weren’t able to completely unpack for a long time after our last move and it was pretty amazing how little of our “stuff” we actually needed. Time to purge… 😉

  15. I wrote a guest post about moving abroad and living in a dorm room with my husband!
    We learned a ton about living small while we were there – we lived out of 2 suitcases and 4 carry-on bags, that’s it.
    So now that we’ve come “back home” we decided to rent a small apartment, the smallest we’ve ever rented in the city we call home. Before we left to go abroad, we packed everything in a travel trailer for storage. Now that it’s unpacked, we’ve filled 4 large boxes to donate, and thrown out 2 trash bags full of “stuff” we really don’t need and won’t use.
    It’s a judicious process, finding stuff to get rid of, but there’s always “stuff” that really isn’t necessary to live a happy & fulfilled life.

  16. I downsized about 18 months ago from a 900 sq.ft. condo to a 750 sq.ft. bungalow. It’s a former cottage, so not much storage (3 tiny closets and 1 average size one), no basement, etc. For me it’s all about multi-functional pieces (long, low tv unit that holds a lot of extra media and electronics), vertical storage (lots of closet organizers and stackable drawers), and regularly purging the things I no longer need or use. It’s actually made me a much neater, more organized person, simply because I’ve been forced to if I want to live in a tidy home. I don’t like large homes. As much as I miss being able to buy new (or new to me) things, I prefer a cozy home and it’s definitely easier on my budget.

  17. As far as hosting people – inflatable mattresses, futons, a Murphy bed, or trundle beds.

    Also, think multipurpose spaces and a good layout. A desk or small table can be used for eating, studying, and crafting/sewing. I have seen tiny dining tables that fold up to the wall, or at least have leaves that fold down. There is lots of furniture that comes with built-in storage now, entire chaise lounges or beds that flip up so you can utilize the interior space (I keep extra blankets in my ottoman, even though it wasn’t designed for it). Utilize your vertical space! Instruments and bicycles make beautiful wall art.

    And maybe check out the Small Cool Awards over at Apartment Therapy, they have so many clever ways to use space.

  18. This may be too obvious, but think about how you lived in the past when you didn’t have much space. Which stuff was easy to combine? What did you need at the same time? What went at the very bottom, what was on top?

    Take inspiration from especially efficient spaces like tiny houses of course, but also newer hotel rooms (the wall is the closet, is the room divider, is the headboard) or things like dorm rooms (the bed is the couch, the table is the everything table, the headboard is the nightstand). Speaking of which, this might not work in your current situation, but built in furniture can be very efficient.

    Good luck!

  19. My partner and I live in a travel trailer, and we’ve entertained overnight guests before. They stayed in a tent in the yard, and the four of us fit just fine at our little dining table. I can imagine entertaining larger numbers of guests at an outdoor barbecue or something.

    The only real problems we have with living like this is the tiny shower (my partner is 6’1″ and would love more head space) and now the lack of a dining table. Our trailer potentially has two beds: a couch that folds into a bed and a table that folds into a bed. Well, the couch broke and we haven’t been able to fix it, so we use the table as a bed. It’s a pain to change it every day, so we leave it as a bed and go without the table. This bugs the crap out of me, but what are you going to do?

    We’ve found that having extra storage space outside (like a shed) is a lifesaver. Having a place to keep tools and whatnot is essential if you have a yard/garden to take care of.

  20. I’m currently in the process of making room in our 800sq foot 2 bedroom for a baby…on top of myself my husband and our two dogs…
    I’m being completely ruthless. If I don’t wear or am not essentially certain I’ll be wearing it after baby its gone…bye bye wedding dress….ALL of our movies are being replaced by digital copies. A terabyte hard drive is small…a terabyte worth of movies on shelves? Ha! I’m sure I’ll be heartbroken as I toss books but they’re going anyway. I am telling my husband every single article of his clothing must fit and be something he honestly wears. Ruthless.
    We also just got a captains bed every piece of clothing not for the baby must fit into our bedroom closet dresser or bed. This includes winter coats etc when not in season.

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