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?