Breathing Room: On Tiny Houses

Now I know the feeling.

All across the country right now, on morning shows and news sites, the tiny house movement is all the rage.  It’s a cool concept.  Folks sick of chasing the ever-increasing size of the American dream re-evaluate their needs and downsize their homes.  The idea is to take quality materials, some ingenuity and efficiency in design, and construct a home less than 800 square feet or so.  Tiny house proponents point out that a person can own their own home for around $10,000 – give or take a few for size.  Tree hugger types think it’s pretty groovy, as tiny home dwellers reduce their carbon footprints and have to find new and often green ways of doing things. 

I think all this is great.  Really, I do.  At least in theory – and for somebody else.  You see, I happen to know from experience that a tiny house is not for me. 

Four years ago, my family went through some tough times.   We had just had our first child, following an awful pregnancy.  I had hyperemesis my entire pregnancy (and the one that followed).  This meant that I was out of work a lot.  I was hospitalized a couple of times, went through some expensive testing, and still incurred the typical costs of a normal delivery and hospital stay.  My husband was laid off from his job, and money got tight.  When the larger home we were renting became a struggle to afford, we made the decision to move into my very small rental home.  I’d lived in it before – when I was single.  We knew it would be a bit of a sacrifice to downsize from a three bedroom/two bath to a two bedroom/one bath, but we went for it anyway.  We packed up a bunch of our stuff, put it into storage, and moved in.  We intended it to be for a year.  But autism therapy, the economy, and further health problems intervened, and we eventually made the decision to live off of my teacher’s salary alone and put my husband through nursing school.  One year stretched to four. 

Now I do not want to give the impression that I was ungrateful to have a roof over my head.  We knew it was a blessing to have the option to live somewhere rent/mortgage free.  Really.   And it was okay for awhile.  Our daughter was just 5 months old, and she didn’t take up much room then.  That is, until 15 months later when she was ambulatory and her baby brother came along.  By the time he starting walking too, we began to sympathize with sardines.  Tiny house lovers can do and live as they wish.  I’m glad they’re happy, and I know it’s great for some folks.  But I’m here to tell you, less than 800 square feet is not a lot of room for a family of four. 

We tried getting inventive.  We closed in the back part of our car port and created a combination pantry, storage, and communal closet.  We installed floor to ceiling shelves in our bedroom closets.  And we even installed floor to ceiling shelves on one wall in the kids’ room.  We used underbed storage.  Space saver bags.  We even pulled up a trailer bed and decided to de-junk our lives of anything we hadn’t touched in a year.   I kept saying that we just needed to think more like NASA – to think small, outside of the box, and to use every inch of vertical space that we could. 

But I hadn’t considered something that those smart folks at NASA do.  They actually take into consideration the psychological effects of cramming so many people together in a small space.  They know it’s stressful.  They have teams of psychologists who plan for this stuff.  Theorizing what might happen in a similar scenario on futuristic trips to Mars and such.  They don’t underestimate the potential impact.

One would think that it is easier to keep a tiny house clean.  But it’s not.  When everything you have is right there, then everything you have is right there.  Underfoot.  Making you slip, trip, and curse.  Stubbing your toe on every pass.  You open the single medicine cabinet in the house and carefully reach for a bottle in the back – only to have them all come spilling off the shelf.  You attempt to cook dinner and end up being snippy with anyone who dares to enter the kitchen — because there simply isn’t enough room.  You can no longer enjoy the crafts and hobbies you used to, because there is not enough horizontal space to spread them out.  It seems that every time you turn around, somebody is looking for something that cannot be found amidst all the other stuff that has no place to call its home.  The walls close in, tempers rise, and children bounce off the walls.  And you want to be anywhere else.  But going elsewhere always costs money.  The money you didn’t have enough of to begin with. 

But, like every other challenge in life, your circumstances become your reality.  And you just…deal.  We honestly forgot what it was like to have space.  To have room to organize things in a logical and accessible way.  To not be surrounded every minute of every day with everything we owned.  Yes, we were definitely looking forward to my husband graduating nursing school so that we could move.  But I know we didn’t really grasp just how much stress our tiny house was contributing to our lives. 

Until a week ago.  A week ago, we finished remodeling work on my father’s home and moved in.  And it was…heaven.  Everything has a place.  Unsightly things are all tucked away.  And I know where everything is.  Countertops are clear.  The floors are safe to traverse.  My children are basking in the joy of their own spaces.  It’s by no means a large house.  Just a simple three bedroom, two bath home with an open, combined kitchen/dining/living room.  But we have big closets and ample storage.  And we can now actually invite people over to visit.  There is room for them to sit down.  We feel like we can breathe again.  And I am just now realizing how very little air we really had just a couple of weeks ago. 

This house my dad left me is a blessing in so many ways –which is so messed up when I really think about how I got it.  Of course, I know it is what he wanted.  Every parent hopes to leave something to their children.  I just have such mixed feelings sometimes about enjoying it.  But I tell myself that is just likely part of my grieving process and try to enjoy it anyway.  Daddy was a practical man, and he would tell me wallowing in guilt won’t help anything.  I’m trying to keep that in mind.  I’m trying to focus instead on this blessing and the relief it provides to my already over-stressed family.  And I’m mostly just smiling about the obvious delight my children are taking in their new home.  They’re happy. 

So I guess the only thing for me to do is to try to be happy as well.  For I really do believe that happiness is mostly a choice.  But, like every choice, the battle between head and heart is a hard one, now isn’t it?

9 thoughts on “Breathing Room: On Tiny Houses

  1. jimreeve

    800 square feet for a whole family? When Jacob gets hot, he needs at least that much space just to himself. Living in only 800 square feet is too risky for me.

  2. parentsfriend

    I want a tiny house on my own land next door to my husband’s bigger dream house. He wants one with a wing for each of our children. One of my hippy dreams was to have an upscate commune with my friends. We would all have tiny houses and a bigger communal house. Not likely to happen, but I do follow the tiny house movement and if the Lotto Gods so decree one day I will have a room of my own aka a tiny house. So glad you have been able to move and the kids have rooms of their own. Matters greatly.

  3. mittsmusings

    My son has Aspergers and ADHD and now that’s he is 7 years old, he often decides things like “I want to go to the grocery store right now!” or “I want to go to Baskin Robbins to get ice cream right now!”. Then he heads for the front door and out he goes. I’ve installed latch locks on the tops of all of the doors but then he heads down to the basement and tries to go out of the basement doors. He’s even tried climibing out of his second story bedroom window. After chasing him down for almost a year now I’ve decided that a much smaller, one-story house is the key to my sanity. So I’m actually downsizing to a home more than half of the size of our current one that is my husband’s “dream home”. My husband doesn’t want to give up his “dream home” and I don’t want to give up my sanity so I guess he’ll be staying in his “dream home” by himself for a while. It will be really quiet in that big old emply house but maybe he’ll like that better!

  4. Mama D

    So very glad that you have some breathing space and that the kids now have their own spaces. And I can only imagine that your father is happy for you as well. May your guilt and grieving pass and good memories remain!

  5. wlemier

    We are adopting, got custody last year of a *surprise* 6 year old. Our 3 bedroom twin home with a family room was converted into a 4 bedroom, no family room with very little common living area. We have a biological child with autism, biological child with severe anxiety disorder and our new son has FAS. Each of the 3 kids needs their own rooms. The goal of moving into a bigger house has been sidelined due to the cost of adoption and the numerous therapies everyone needs. We all live with what we have. I am glad we had the family room. I miss the space but am so glad I can send them each to their own rooms when we have all had enough. Special needs require special circumstances. I admire those who can live efficiently and well in small spaces. I always feel crowded and that this place is a mess. We are trying to save but who knows in this economy and with therapy how long it will be before we can move to a bigger house? Love grows best in little houses? So does frustration and animosity.

  6. Manic Mom

    WOW, that is a movement I wont be jumping on the band wagon for. Homeschooling 3 kids and working on number 4, I just need space. We can’t breath in a small house, we tried it 2 years ago when we downsized due to loosing a coffee house we owned. Now we are building a house and there is going to be room for everyone to breathe. We breathe a lot! HAHAHAHAHA

  7. alisha

    Couldn’t find an “about me” to write a message on, so I’m just quickly commenting here on the last post, though it’s just a general comment. Your blog is phenomenal. The writing is so intelligent and heartfelt, and I try to read it whenever I get a moment. I have a two year old son with an extremely rare chromosomal disorder, and I love the perspectives you offer. He is not autistic, exactly, but he has autistic traits along with a myriad of health issues. Oh yeah, and he can’t walk, talk, or eat (has feeding tube). I thought I would die myself when he was first diagnosed, but as you seem to have discovered, we move on and even find ourselves in love with these sweet beings. We weather monthly health crises as well, which although terribly stressful always throws our grief into perspective (who cares how disabled, just as long as he is here, stable). I don’t know how you find the time to blog so often, but I hope you know how much it is appreciated. Maybe someday in the distant future I will return to my own writing life–by then blogs will have been replaced by some other new medium, maybe words just floating above our heads in the air or something. Take good care and thank you for your work!

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