Lessons Learned from Living in a Tiny House
For the past two years, my husband and I have lived in the 324 square foot tiny house on wheels that we designed and built. One of our main goals in going tiny was to live out our values by living more intentionally, which for us centers around sustainability, reducing our waste and nontoxic living.
We have made the difficult decision to move on from tiny house living. Over the last few weeks, I have taken time to reflect on what my time living tiny has taught me.
When you live in 324 sf with another person and a dog, storage space really comes at a premium. Before we moved into the tiny house we made a concentrated effort to downsize and reduce our possessions. Living in such a small space forces you to consider not only the function of an item, but also the physical space it will take up. Living tiny has taught me to avoid impulse purchases. It has trained me to think about not only the purpose of an item, but also where it will be stored, and how often it will be used.
Community is key
The tiny house community is a pretty awesome group of people. During the build we made friends with other couples through social media all across the country who were building their tiny homes at the same time as us. We were so lucky to have the help from friends and family, not only with aspects of the build itself, but also housing us in the in-between time before our house was livable. I have learned so much on our journey to low waste-living from other people and realized that having a sense of community is so important when going against the norm.
Trying to reuse, reduce and consume less in a society that constantly tells us new, more and bigger is better can be really hard. Seeing and sharing in our struggles helps me remember that perfection is not the goal, and as a group we can make a real impact. If you are interested in sustainable living, I highly recommend checking locally to see if there are any groups or events nearby where you can connect with other people trying to pursue a similar lifestyle and if you didn’t know, there is also a tiny yellow bungalow community you can join on facebook!
Invest in quality
You know the old saying “they don’t make it like they used to”? I have come to realize how much truth this statement holds. One of my favorite things about the design of our tiny house was incorporating local materials, art and functional antiques into the home. Paying attention to quality, and materials made to last. Many of the jars in our custom jar storage shelf came from my grandparent’s root cellar. Unfortunately, many of today’s products are value engineered, sometimes even designed to be unusable after a period of time, a practice so common it has been given a name—planned obsolescence. Recognizing that even though the sustainable or durable option might cost more upfront, if you look at the entire lifespan of a product, often you will end up saving money with the sustainable or high-quality choice.
Convenience is not always king
Our modern day society will tell you that convenience is always desired. While living tiny I finally found the time (perhaps because I didn’t spend as much time cleaning up a larger space) to dabble in new hobbies like sourdough bread baking, making pesto and almond milk from scratch and brewing kombucha. I still like supporting my local bakery from time to time. However, I love having the new skills, control over what is going into my food, and the satisfaction that comes from DIYing, with the added bonus of avoiding extra packaging in the process.
When you take a little extra time to check your local consignment and thrift stores, online shops and marketplaces you might be surprised at what you find, and the money you can save. I’ve also learned that a large component of being sustainable is not about waiting to have this or that, but making do with your current space or situation. For us, something as simple as moving our compost bin so that it is more convenient has made a big difference in the total amount of compost scraps we capture. Integrating sustainable habits into your daily routines will make a big impact now, even if your setup isn’t “perfect”.
You don’t have to live tiny to live sustainably
For us, the main impetus for going tiny was to focus on living sustainably. We definitely moved toward our goal of living low-waste while living tiny and reduced our resource usage. With all LED lighting, an energy efficient mini-split and energy star refrigerator, one month last summer our electric bill was a mere $8! Our self-contained compost toilet uses no water whatsoever. We saved a lot of water over the two years of living tiny–by some estimates saving 6,600 gallons of water per person, per year.
On the flip side, without a large freezer there is not as much of an opportunity to freeze frozen items, helping to reduce food waste. Because of zoning laws we had to be parked in a different county than we both work in. Our daily commutes of 30 miles each way added up quickly and didn’t align with the sustainable life we were pursuing. Additionally, it took a lot of resources to build the house itself. It’s likely that an older home is actually more sustainable than building a new structure. My point is, there is not one way to live sustainably, and it will most definitely look different from our family to yours. If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle I recommend you start by changing the things that you have control over.
About the Author
Sophie is a former tiny house dweller who strives to live a low-waste lifestyle. She currently lives in a 600 square-foot apartment in northern Minnesota with her husband Henry and pup Cora. She strives to live minimally and shares her sustainability journey on Instagram @radtinyhome.
Photo credit: @sydney.carlino