Inside: Learn what living in a tiny house is really like and decide if it’s right for you (or not!).

Earlier this week I went on a trip with my two daughters. We like staying in different types of places when on vacation to see how we like staying in various places.

On this trip, we opted for a tiny home. Or rather, I opted for a tiny home. My youngest was not thrilled when she learned about the bathroom situation (we’ll get into that more later).

We got a taste of what living in a tiny house is really like, so I wanted to share our thoughts and experience here.

There were some things we knew to be prepared for and there were some we didn’t. While each tiny house is unique, there are some similarities to many of them as well.

Find out if tiny house living is for you…or not.

what living in a tiny house is really like

Have You Ever Contemplated Tiny House Living?

If you’re considering downsizing considerably, I’d suggest renting a place to learn what living in a tiny house is really like before you make any decisions.

As much as you might research and read, nothing replaces experiencing it for yourself. I’ll admit that I’ve watched some of those HGTV Tiny House shows and idealized what some aspects of that lifestyle could look like.

Even still, I had no fantasies of actually living in a tiny house. There were glaring problems (for me) that made it unlikely that I’d want to pursue it. However, I was all for experiencing it just to see what living in a tiny house is really like.

What Living in a Tiny House is Really Like

Tiny houses come in various shapes and sizes. By definition, a tiny house is less than 400 square feet. Some tiny houses are mobile and able to be hitched to be relocated while others are stationary.

The one that we stayed in on our trip was 230 square feet and is able to be relocated, but it sits up on blocks to keep it level while it’s parked.

Here are some things that we learned about what living in a tiny house is really like.

what living in a tiny house is really like

Watch your head

Rule number one of tiny house living: watch your head. While the tiny home that we stayed in was a normal height on ground floor level, the loft did not have a lot of headroom. We all bumped our heads at least once!

With trying to pack in more stuff into a smaller space, you need to have a greater awareness of what’s around you so you don’t injure yourself. It sounds silly, but we kept bumping into things!

Also, be careful with barn doors if you happen to stay in a tiny house with one. My daughter smashed her fingers in the door as it slid closed more quickly than she expected.

It takes patience

When you’re living in a small space with other people, it takes more patience. You’re sharing almost everything and working within a much smaller footprint.

There is no retreating to another room at the end of the house. You can’t really get away from each other. Some may find this to be a bonding experience and others well, wouldn’t.

Tiny house living also requires sharing one small bathroom. If you’re used to living in a house with more options, this takes some adjusting (and takes longer for everyone to get ready!).

Creative organization & good design go a long way

In recent years designers have gotten very creative with how to use a minimal amount of square footage in smart ways. When you live tiny, every square foot counts and wasted space isn’t an option.

Some areas serve multiple purposes like a couch that can convert into a bed. The tiny house we stayed in had this. It’s a great concept but was unfortunately quite uncomfortable.

People also have different priorities for their tiny homes. Some love cooking so they don’t want to sacrifice certain things in the kitchen.

Others focus on convenience and want to make sure to have a washer/dryer in their space to avoid having to constantly use a laundry mat.

With tiny house living, you can prioritize what matters most to you, but it likely comes at the expense of something else due to space constraints.

Creative use of space and good design can make a huge difference to how your space functions and feels. However, when working in under 400 square feet, some things that you’re used to from non tiny living have to be sacrificed.

what living in a tiny house is really like

You have to what? The reality of the compost toilet.

Speaking of sacrifices, tiny house bathrooms are in most cases pretty different. The place that we stayed had a full-sized shower, which was great, but a very small sink area.

The thing my youngest was most nervous about with staying in the tiny house was the compost toilet. To prepare her for it, we watched a youtube video to see how they worked.

While watching the videos made it seem slightly less gross, it would definitely still take some adjusting. There were rules/directions printed next to the toilet in the place that we stayed.

It involved throwing the toilet paper in the trash and a spray water bottle. There were separate directions for if you needed to do more than pee. We just avoided it while we stayed there.

Being very used to indoor plumbing this would have been a pretty challenging adjustment. I thought about the maintenance piece of it and how the owners had to take out the tank of pee to dump every four days.

Maybe you simply get used to it, but for me, the compost toilet would be a hurdle to tiny house living.

Other areas of consideration

Water

The biggest drawback we experienced with staying in the tiny house was the water quality. I don’t know the details of what the water source was there, but the water smelled and tasted like turpentine.

It was so bad that we opted to drive twenty minutes to the nearest grocery store the first night of our stay so that we had something drinkable.

I don’t know if this is common for tiny homes or not, but if it is, I’d definitely want to figure out a place to store a Berkey. I talk more about our Berkey in this post (it’s #9).

Zoning

If you are considering tiny house living another thing to look into is zoning as it varies considerably in different cities. Some don’t permit tiny homes.

Accept the inconveniences

Appliances

With tiny house living comes smaller appliances, or in some cases, the lack of some types of appliances you may be used to.

The place that we stayed had a decently sized fridge and freezer, although definitely narrower than what we’re used to. With less space to store food, you may find you need to shop more often.

The place we stayed did not have a dishwasher or washer/dryer. For the amount of time we stayed there, it wasn’t a big deal at all, but for living in full time that would be much more challenging.

You may lose some modern conveniences with living in a significantly smaller space.

Maintenance

Maintenance for a tiny home looks a bit different than for a normal-sized home. If you have a compost toilet, that would require maintenance at least twice per week.

I’m sure there are some things that would be easier, but also things that would be more challenging. Since our stay was short, that wasn’t something I looked into much but it’s worth researching if you’re considering tiny house living.

what living in a tiny house is really like

Comfort

Another area that would take a lot of adjusting for tiny house living is having fewer spaces to relax. As I mentioned previously the place we stayed had one couch that was quite firm and on the smaller size.

The bedroom loft area in the place we stayed isn’t a place you’d hang out. There wasn’t enough headroom to sit up there so you’d be left with just the couch (and some tiny homes don’t even have a couch).

Most tiny houses I’ve seen have pretty limited seating and frankly, most didn’t look super comfortable.

There is also a challenge if you’re someone who enjoys hosting. Tiny homes don’t lend themselves well to having extra guests due to space limitations.

If you’re an introvert who isn’t as concerned about hosting, consider how you’d feel being in very close quarters with the people you live with. For those who need more personal space, a tiny home may feel too confining.

Benefits of tiny house living

There are benefits to tiny house living that should not be overlooked. Downsizing allows you to do different things than you’d be able to do otherwise.

Save money

Living in a tiny house can save you quite a bit of money. The home itself is less expensive and utilities for less square footage will also cost less.

There are seasons in life when going tiny may make more sense and provide additional benefits to your life while you’re saving more money.

Freedom & flexibility

Tiny house living gives you a bit more freedom and flexibility than living in a typical home. Since some are able to be moved, you could relocate your home should you need to move for some reason.

When your home requires less money, it also allows you to have more financial freedom.

Living in a tiny house is a unique experience that for some may be a fun adventure!

Learn to live with less

Tiny house living requires a considerable amount of decluttering for most people. Living in significantly smaller square footage means downsizing your stuff.

The experience of living with less can help you realize some of the benefits of decluttering.

Even if you decide not to live in a tiny house permanently, it can help you to prioritize your things and live a simpler life going forward.

Could We Ever Live in a Tiny House Permanently?

So could we ever live in a tiny house permanently? While we could, it’s very unlikely we ever would.

Tiny house living is something we could make work if we felt like we really needed to, but it is not something we would likely choose at this point in our lives.

With two active kids and being parents who like comfort and their own space, tiny house living doesn’t feel compatible with our current needs and wants.

While I can see some of the benefits of it, ultimately it isn’t a fit for us at this time. I’m still glad I was able to experience it with my kids for a few days just to get a taste of what it would be like.

Final thoughts on living in a tiny house.

Choosing to live tiny (or not to) is an individual preference based on your priorities, goals, and needs.

If you think tiny house living may be for you, I’d encourage you to do your research and try staying in one for a time before making a decision.

Tiny house living may be a great option for some but go into it with eyes wide open to make sure it’s the right choice for you.

Have you ever thought about living in a tiny house? Share in the comments!

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21 Comments

  1. You chose a really tiny home. With 375 feet some of the problems you encountered are absent. That said, the composting toilet is not our cuppa.

    1. That’s good to know. It would be interesting to look at other layouts and sizes. There so seem to be a lot of different types of options out there. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I appreciated this honest article, Julianna! I lived in a 400 square foot studio apartment. It had a normal (small) bathroom, a good little kitchen, and a small walk-in (ish) closet. I also had access to a washer and dryer on the property. I felt like that was a good situation and I miss it but I also would like to warn people that sometimes small spaces make for a little more work (cleaning more often, grocery shopping more often, and less company) and if you are looking to simplify your life it might actually be easier to stay in a small home rather than anything extreme like a tiny home (which requires lots of extra work such as the bathroom you mentioned that people don’t think about). I have also wondered with tiny homes how much of an issue going downstairs from the loft in the middle of the night to potty would be and how good the heat/air conditioning is because the air in our studio didn’t always get to where our bed was and that could be pretty rough. To my mind it might be better to seek things that make your life easier than things that are small.

  3. We live in a 35′ rv. Its much like tiny house but has tanks for water and black and grey water
    .to me it makes more sense
    .star motor leave no big trucks.
    Look into motorhomes
    Much more convenient.

  4. You generalized a lot about living tiny. Park model homes which are 400 sf have regular flush toilets, full size appliances and room for a washer dryer. An additional porch makes for entertaining space. 250 sf is not the right space to raise a family or have a lot of pets. Not all tiny houses are as you describe, just the particular one you stayed in.
    The cost savings are enormous and some of us would rather use that $ for other life experiences than be a slave to a big mortgage and utility bills.

    1. That’s true, Melanie. There are quite a variety of options for living in smaller square footage. What we stayed in was just one type of option. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. We used to watch all the Tiny House shows on tv. While we found it interesting to see what they could do with a small place, we eventually reached the same opinion about them. If you want to live tiny….buy a travel trailer. It has all the amenities of home, the furniture comes with it and is laid out well. Regular bath and shower in most of them. If you want to move it…hitch it up and go. You can get really nice(!) trailers, sometimes for less than a tiny house. Couldn’t and wouldn’t live in a tiny house. We have a motorhome and its comfortable to travel and stay in. We also have a home.

  6. I run a home business and a sewing studio out of my house. The tiny house thing would not do for me for these reasons. I have lived in small houses in Asia that meet tiny house criteria, but I didn’t have the considerations I have now. Composting toilets are just awful and high maintenance–I have a friend that has one in a regular house and after using hers, I wouldn’t have one. I know someone who lives in Alaska in the wilderness in a tiny house rental, which is very well designed other than having to fill her water tank from the nearby river to have running water. She really loves her lifestyle and she keeps it up beautifully. She built a tiny outbuilding to house a stacking washer dryer. But again this is not for me and I think tiny house living is over rated. Many have fantasies of living in tiny houses.

  7. I believe in Tiny House Living but you’re right, it’s not for everyone. I grew up living in smaller spaces, even a tent for a period of time. We were living in the tent because when we moved to a different state we had signed papers on a rental house,, sent them the deposit and did everything right including getting it confirmed that everything was all ready for us. However, they lied, gave our home to someone else and it wasn’t even gonna be livable for 2 weeks. Murphy’s Law and yes, we went to the place in person to get it all settled beforehand. They just lied is all. But,, I have to say, living in a tent was more rewarding than I thought it would be. I didn’t have “stuff” distracting me, no news, no TV, no negative outside influences. It was quite freeing. I was able to get closer to my family and I taught my daughter how to start a campfire, we went hiking, and you get it.

  8. Thank you for your assessment of tiny home living. We have been considering doing tiny home living. I absolutely respect your opinion. This gives us alot to think about. Exspicaly the composing toilet. I think if we would consider this type of living we should consider a little larger living space.
    Thank you again for your article.
    ~Amber in Washington

  9. I have been researching tiny houses for a number of years now, with a view to downsizing to one with my family in a few years time. Whilst it was nice to read your experiences, I dont think your experiences of ‘what living in a tiny house is really like,’ are really 100% what it’s like. Firstly, many rental tiny houses are not designed or furnished in the same way as tiny houses that are lived in on a full time basis. As you say, full-time tiny housers have got really clever about maximising space, whilst living in proper comfort. Lots of tiny houses have amazing covered deck spaces which doubles their liveable space, too. Compost toilets are useful and popular but many people who live in tiny houses also have flush toilets. I think your piece might have been better off being called ‘my experiences of renting a tiny house,’ because I think that more accurately describes your experience, more so than what tiny house living is really like. Thanks for sharing your experiences nonetheless. More food for through towards my research.

  10. Really interesting, thank you!
    We love watching the tiny house shows here in the UK but for us the inability to get away from each other and to have space for our hobbies would be a real problem – my husband paints and I sew, both of which take up a lot of room. And then there are my books… (far fewer than there used to be, I must say!) But I wouldn’t be against trying one for a holiday, as you did – 3 years ago we had a holiday in a boat on the Canal du Midi in France. I’m not sure how many square feet that was but it was definitely cosy. There were 4 of us but the boat was actually designed for 8 – that would have been very cramped I can tell you!

  11. This looks like it’s one of your more popular articles, Julianna! 🙂

    My husband and I have friends who used to live in a shed that had been renovated into a tiny home. It even had a little electric fireplace. It was even tinier than where you stayed, but it was also just one young couple with no children, and it was on the property of the man’s parents’ home, so they could do their cooking in Mom and Dad’s kitchen. The sink in their own place was mainly for hand washing, although it actually had a nice little counter. They also travel a lot, which meant living in their car and/or tent. (I think they might now have a small RV, though.) So, they thrive on tiny living.

    My mom also loves tiny living. She’s never lived in a tiny house, but she did for a while live in an 11×11 bachelor apartment, which she divided into “rooms” using her furniture. The only bad thing was the lack of elbow room in the tiny space where she had a camping cot for her bed. She banged her elbows more than a few times. But she actually had some fun researching tiny houses and designed her own floor plans. She can’t afford to build one, and I don’t think the area where she lives has any around to rent, so it’s just one of those dreams that will never happen. But she absolutely loves to live in small spaces. Of course, she’s alone, and is very much an introvert that does no entertaining. Many of the challenges you faced are moot for her. 🙂

    My husband and I, on the other hand, would much rather not. My husband himself lived in a small one-room cabin for years, and he has no desire to go back. It was certainly simple living … but he likes being able to stretch out in our three bedroom mobile home now. 🙂 Especially since he’s a light sleeper, so we can’t sleep in the same bed!

    Now, downsizing our stuff, on the other hand … I’m all for that! 😀

  12. My husband and I lived in one room in our basement, for 3 1/2 years, while we built our home ourselves. We had 550 square feet. And a bathroom/laundry room. While it was a bit larger than the one you stayed in, we still had our issues. The main one was sleeping. He had to be up at 4:30 am for work, so he went to bed very early. I wouldn’t be ready for bed that early but had no choice. No tv or lights for reading because it would keep him awake. And of course, we would both wake up in the morning because the bed was in the same room as the kitchen, the closet was right beside the bed so no privacy. And I did get tired of entertaining in the same room I slept in. We had a bed, a tv w two recliners, a table, and a full size refrigerator and stove. My table was my countertop. Tiny house living is not for me!

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