When it comes to homes, Joanna and I agree on a lot of things. For starters, we both want one — eventually. We both want a big yard, an open floor plan, and a mortgage that makes us house rich. We both like hardwood floors, white cabinets, and mid-century modern furniture. We’re like two peas in a pod.
But the honeymoon ends when it comes to tiny houses.
If you’re unfamiliar, tiny houses are houses… that are tiny. There’s a whole movement behind this idea of building small, sustainable, efficient, and purposeful homes. Some are stationary, others are mobile (another previously discussed non-starter for Joanna). Some are as small as 60 sq. ft, others as “large” as 300 sq. ft. But all of them are awesome.
We learned about tiny houses after watching a pretty good documentary on one couple’s tiny house building experience. Take a couple minutes and watch the trailer to get a taste for yourself (or click here if you don’t see it).
- It’s fantastic financially. Depending on the square footage and the level of detail and general awesomeness, a tiny house can run from $10k to $60k. And while you’re paying more per square foot than a much larger home, you’re packing in lots of utility and purpose in every single one in a tiny house.
- I really want to build one. I’ve got this itch to Ron Swanson-fy my life and learn how to use tools and materials and build tangible things. Building something smaller certainly doesn’t mean easier, but it does seem much more attainable.
- I love packing moving trucks and storage units. You know why? Because I love Tetris. You know why? Because I get a crazy sense of satisfaction when things fit perfectly and waste as little space as possible. You know why? I don’t know that one, but I’m sure a visit to a psychiatrist would do me well. A tiny house is the ultimate Tetris. Collapsable tables, functional storage, secret compartments… just thinking about it makes me giddy.
- Despite my product box hoarding tendencies, I’m a firm “less is more” believer. Much like our moves to NYC have done, you’re forced to downsize and only keep the things that matter.
Joanna admits she’s a homebody and gets joy from space. That means having it, decorating it, and being at peace in it. In her words, “Tiny spaces plus children sounds like a hell that only Dante could dream up.” Touche. I haven’t totally figured out how having kids would factor into all of this, but I know families do it. But for now, it will remain a tiny pipe dream.
Team Tiny House or Team Regular House? There are no wrong answers, except saying you don’t like tiny houses.
Sorry dude but I’m in the Team Regular House camp. For 2 reasons:
A growing household (with kids) needs space. Notice that Tiny House folks didn’t have kids.
Better future selling potential. Regardless of choice, eventually you guys will upgrade and need a buyer.
The Tiny House novelty is there but will eventually wear thin, especially in a cold climate, like this winter.
Just my opinion…
I love the concept of tiny houses, but I have far too many hobbies for a tiny house to be feasible. Where will my snowboard go? My sewing machine? My bicycle? My guitar? Tiny houses are for people with no hobbies. Also, I’m relatively certain that they’d depreciate in value, just like mobile homes. I had a friend who lived in a camper for a few years, and I was super proud of her – but she bought a real house just this week!
Haha, actually, you’d be surprised how people manage to store their “hobbies” in those tiny houses. They get very creative.
My grandparents and their two dogs live in a small camper, and all my grandma does is craft. She keeps two sewing machines, and the million accessories, more stamping supplies then you would ever need, scrapbooking, crocheting, and a bunch of beads and plastic canvas for the spinners she makes and sells. You would be surprized. I’m all for tiny houses if I didn’t have kids .
Agreed… the kid factor is the dealbreaker for sure.
Saw the documentary, and I can understand the appeal. I’m still on team regular house. Rob mentioned some deciding factors I agree with. As I think about it a surprising one for me is not having space to have friends over. We aren’t throwing parties all the time, but having friends over for dinner, games, catching up, dessert, etc. is something we quite enjoy. I think trying to fit four adults in there (+ at least our own kids and potentially theirs) would be inconvenient to the point where we would probably never do it.
Ooh, good point. Even in our tiny apt in NY, having room for others to come over/stay with us was a deciding factor when it came time to choose a place. There’s nothing worse than wanting to be social but knowing you can’t offer up your home for hosting.
While I don’t want a tiny house, I don’t want a regular house either. I really want to build a shipping container house. I have been fascinated by them for years. Of course now they are becoming a little more mainstream. so maybe I will have to go all hipster and move onto the next thing.
Haha, I don’t think they’ve hit mainstream quite yet. I say you hold on to your shipping-container-house dream a little longer.
I watched that documentary! I was really enthralled with it but I don’t think that I could handle it. I love my husband to death, but sometimes we really need some space and I don’t think 50 feet could do it! 😉 We don’t have any children yet but I’m with Joanna on this one. It sounds like hell on wheels… literally!
Yes. I need to just be alone sometimes, or at least have complete silence after a long day. I think a tiny house would put me on a non-stop flight to crazy town.
I LOVE that documentary! I watched it twice by myself in one weekend and then made Bobby (my bf) watch it with me the next weekend. We were both so impressed and rather inspired by the fact that that guy had no prior building experience and just dove in, head first. One of the other things I really enjoyed about the documentary was the amazing use of the space. The couple who had built cutting boards into their counter tops comes to mind. I don’t think I could live in a tiny house but it did make me think about how much I could do with a small regular house!
Agreed. I loved seeing how innovative and creative people got with organizing a small space. That said, the moment things got disorganized in a house that size, I’d absolutely lose my mind.
I am on Team Joanna here. I love the cuteness of the tiny house movement and foldaway tables etc are very clever BUT I want my home to be welcoming to my friends and family, not just to have dinner but stay when there in town too. I don’t want to have to pack away my craft project to open the fridge or roll away the bed to have a bath… and we’ve just bought a piano! Tiny houses are great for hermits or holidays but not (for me) real life. Sorry Jonny!
This subject has stuck with me and I had to go and do some research. Our home is approx 1600 sq ft, to us and among our friends in the UK it’s considered a large house. We have 4 bedrooms, plenty of room downstairs, the conservatory sat 12 for dinner recently. We bought it as a forever house and I hate the idea if ever moving. However, according to my googling this would be considered a ‘starter home’ in the States or Australia. So I guess this is all about perspective really, maybe to some people this is a tiny house. I can’t imagine needing more space than this and keeping up with the cleaning… maybe I’m Team Jonny after all?
Well, the tiny houses Johnny was talking about would be like 150 to 300 square feet. Very tiny. It’s true that many homes in our country are ridiculously big. It’s funny because after living in places like NYC and Boston with under 1000 sq. ft. or under 500 sq. ft., Johnny and I both agree we’d never like a large house by US standards. Our town house in Utah was 1700 sq. ft., and we didn’t know what to do with all the space! I think both of us are team Rachel on this one. You’ve brought us together! 🙂
Team Rachel?! Oh wow! I’m honered.
I totally agree – tiny houses with kids is a level from Dante. We’ve been watching some of the TIny houses TV shows, and just think those with kids are crazy!!! But – we do both love the idea of tiny houses, and I really love the efficiency of space. We think they could be an option… after the kids move out of the house!!!!
Yes, I could possibly agree to it once our kids are gone. But currently, I need the option of either sticking my kid in a room by herself at times or sticking myself in a room away from my kid ;).
I love tiny houses and can definitely see the appeal for an individual or a couple. However, I don’t think it’s practical with kids. One child, maybe, but more than that, no way!
Yes. Kids are a definite game changer on this one! Even thinking about it with Sally sounds awful.
Team McMansion here. But I do think one of these would be really cool to have for weekend getaways.
I do think there needs to be MORE affordable small housing. Why can’t we build little 700-1,000 SF houses that sell under $100k? I guess you’ve got mobile homes and modulars but it’s a shame we can’t build more of the smaller tract homes like we did post-WW2. I guess the margin just isn’t there.
Actually the real problem is that just about anyone can borrow FAR MORE money than they should to buy way more house than they should.
I live in a neighborhood full of these- 700-1500 square foot houses built just after WWII. There are lots of neighborhoods like this, usually closer in to town than the exurbs full of McMansions. Many of them are available for right around $100K and under here in the Southeast. Our real estate agent kept referring to our house as a “starter home” but I say it is a start-to-finish home. Our next door neighbors bought theirs in 1950 and raised two sons there. No need to upsize, no need to downsize.
My husband’s grandparents had eight kids and they raised them in an old farmhouse. Grandpa built a tiny cabin out in the woods. He and Grandma would go spend the night there whenever they felt like they needed a break from the kids. This is a good compromise for the Tiny House- just let Johnny build one in your backyard. He can work out his Tetris issues and Joanna can still have her space.
The one thing that bugs me about the Tiny House movement is that it seems so elitist. I have watched a couple of documentaries about them and they always talk about this like it is an entirely new idea and they are on the forefront of a housing revolution. People have lived in trailers for a long time now. These are just fancy hipster trailers.
I like the way you think! I am all for a small house. That’s a compromise I can get behind. Even though I’m anti-tiny house, I wouldn’t mind if Johnny wanted to do it as a project someday. And I’d probably even help!
Yes, I think small housing is totally underrated. I wish there were more small, high-quality homes built these days. When Johnny and I were (very) kind of looking for a hot minute several months ago, the builder required a certain size house in order to have the amount of land we were looking at. In other words, we couldn’t choose a small home plan if we wanted very much land… so ridiculous.
Tiny house all the way! I didn’t click through to the documentary, but I’m assuming you’re talking about the one on Netflix where the guy builds his own tiny house. If not – there’s a documentary on Netflix where a guy builds his own tiny house. And they interview other tiny house owners. And also, I forget what channel it’s on (definitely cable) but there’s a whole show about building tiny houses that I’ve been DVR-ing. Even for people who have kids! They did a really cool lofted one where each kid had a side of the loft.
Realistically, my husband is super anti tiny house because we each need our own space to decompress. He likes to watch (and laugh loudly at) TV, and I prefer quiet reading. I’m in love with the idea of all the utility hidden in small spaces, and also how you really have to go more minimal and decide what’s really important and useful in your life. I think it totally frees up mental space (and certainly money) if you’re buying less to fill up your space.
Yes, that’s the one! I really like the idea of it to be honest for all the reasons you mentioned. But the reality of it sounds awful — at least in our current life stage. Johnny can bring the case forward again in 20 years once our kids are out of the house :).
Another Team Joanna member. Honestly it’d be challenging sometimes with 2 people but doable, with kids I can’t even imagine the level of hell I’d equate that to.
Plus, the kitchens are always so itty bitty! I do a lot of scratch cooking and need space to knead and roll out dough, at least 3 burners on the stove, plus decent storage for a variety of pots/pans/tools.
Yes and Yes! The kids and the kitchen are both deal breakers for me, too. Our current kitchen is about as small as I can go.
maybe this is the single girl part of me speaking (i don’t know what else would be speaking, seeing as that is literally what i am), but im totes team tiny house. i know real estate’s motto is, “location, location, location,” and the same goes with tiny houses– only you can get up and go when e’er u wannnnt (i mean, you do have to build it on wheels b/c of safety laws, bla bla bla) and it only encourages you to be outside. so, rah rah team tiny house!
That aspect of tiny living is very cool. It’d be cool to have one in the wilderness where we could go when we just wanted to get away from it all.
I’m fascinated with tiny houses. I want to try one out short term. Perhaps here: https://tinyhousehotel.com/
I agree with others that though a family may not work in less than 200 square feet, I don’t see why 1,000 square feet couldn’t work, especially with the same space saving techniques used in tiny houses and on a decent sized lot for outdoor space. I’ve seen communities being proposed, legally they are trailer parks but 1,000 times more aesthetically pleasing with co-op minded developers. I’ve also thought of it from a landlording perspective, building one or two and putting them in my backyard as rentals or air bnb set-ups.
The last thing Johnny needed was to know about the tiny house hotel! If we ever do an outdoorsy getaway just the two of us, though, I’ll let Johnny go hog wild and find us a tiny house to stay in. I like your Airbnb idea!
I think I agree with Joanna on this! While I love the thought at being a minimalist, I think it would be fun to live in a tiny house for ohhh, about 10 months then I’d want to push it off a cliff. Living in one with kids does sound like hell, but I’d be more open to living in a ‘regular’ house and making my future teenagers live in a tiny house in the backyard haha.
Haha, yes! Maybe someday Johnny can build one in our backyard. I’d be totally down with that.
I’m Team Tiny House. Its so appealing. My main pro – less to clean!! I also like the idea of paying less for utilities.
I just may have to look into this more. I’m single, no kids, but pets. This could be totally affordable….I’m off to ponder….
Less to clean for the win! We’ve now moved to NYC from larger apartments and I love downsizing and having so little room that clutter is actually impossible to collect. You sound like you’re in the perfect situation to make it happen. I’ll live through you vicariously for now. 🙂
LOVE LOVE tiny houses, but even if you can live in the little space (I can!), I’m not sure how practical they are if you have kids, or unless you work on the computer or are retired or independently wealthy. Most urban areas have zoning issues with these which can be a problem. They sure are sweet though!
I feel like we have the perfect medium- 990 sq foot house in the ‘burbs. Hard to find houses that small, but I love my little mortgage. Having 1 bathroom and 2 teens can be challenging, but I can’t imagine trying to clean a bigger one- the one I have is tricky enough. 😉
Agreed, tiny houses are probably impractical for most families (ours included), but a small or medium sized house seems like the next best option. Growing up, us 5 kids shared one bathroom and two bedrooms and we got by just fine.
First, I’ve got to say that on reading the title of this post, I absolutely knew who would be on which side of this question~ without a doubt! 🙂
I’m totally fascinated with tiny houses~ love to look at photos and read about them. It’s a combination of things… we could sell this house and have something totally paid for, it would be easier to clean & maintain, I love the “idea” of minimal belongings, and everything in it’s place. Some of them just look so cool~ and spacious~ the 300 sqft ones, not 100 sqft~ that’s just insane.
BUT, I have to agree with Joanna~ no way to do this with kids and keep your sanity! Keep in mind, you’re going to have at least 2 kids… both requiring clothes & toys. In a few years they will be having friends over. If they’re anything like my boys, it could be lots of kids over~ like 6 or more at a time for the weekend, or maybe a high school soccer team or two (boys & girls)! It has always been important to me that my kids & their friends feel comfortable & welcome at my house. I wanted to know their friends & know what they were doing, and I’m glad I did~ And now it’s always both boys & their girlfriends, plus a few friends. We have a fairly small house, 16oo SqFt., and it can get pretty crowded when the kids are bigger.
So, the tiny house fantasy is fun~ but it’s just a fantasy!
Hah, we’re pretty predictable, aren’t we. Joanna tends to be the sensible one in these He Says/She Says. And I’ve since come along to realize that it’s likely impractical for our family with kids. I still like the idea of going as small as reasonable. Like you, it will be really important for our kids to feel like they have a place to hang with friends. I’d much rather be at our house than someone else’s — dad will need to keep an eye on girls’ boyfriends. 🙂
The ingenuity in a lot of Tiny Houses fascinates me. I have seen the documentary you referenced as well. If I was single, or if my husband and I didn’t have kids, it would intrigue me even more. However, we have 2 very young kids, might have one more, and there is no way in hell our family could function in less than 300 sq ft. I also agree with the entertaining/hosting issues other commenters pointed out.
However, I would LOVE to someday build a small cabin or cottage, preferably on a lake. I would be totally fine going the minimalist route in that context. And by minimalist I mean less than 1000 sq feet. With 3 kids I really don’t think I could do any less!
Joanna has since talked some reason into me and for all the reasons you mentioned, I concede, it’s a bit impractical for our growing family. But I’ll keep the dream alive in the form of a detached office or vacation home getaway.
I just typed a reply and it vanished 🙁 here goes again! So, I’m 50/50 with ye on it. I can totally see the appeal of a tiny house and stripping back all but what’s necessary but with two little rugrats, I think you’d be sacrificing your sanity in a tiny house at this stage in your lives. As a compromise, maybe Joanna gets her regular house and Johnny gets a Tetris man cave in it to build up or break down as he pleases…! Joanna just has to close the door on it and all is well in the ofb household!!! 🙂 🙂
You read our minds. Joanna talked some reason into me and I’ve come around to accept that we need more space for a soon-to-be growing family of four. BUT, I’d love to build a detached office or cabin or something that still lets me keep the dream alive. So Joanna may have won this battle, but she hasn’t won the war. 🙂
The space issue with children also concerns me, but I’ve always loved the efficient, folding-up-and-out, multi-use modular design stuff. We have been throwing around a very different but equally unconventional idea of buying a large house to share with another family. It would be cheaper and more efficient in many ways, although obviously there could be some drawbacks, too.
I’m a major sucker for modular design. The big house split for multiple families is interesting. I don’t know if I could share my space with another family, but the efficiency aspect is right up my alley. In fact, I feel like I remember watching a 60 Minutes or documentary about communal homes/apartment communities in Finland or something that had tons of shared space and shared meals.
I’m so glad you wrote this article! One reason being that I think a lot of people oppose the Tiny House Movement and your site being a neutral ground for friendly debate is perfect!
Here’s my favorite line from your well-crafted article:
“Building something smaller certainly doesn’t mean easier, but it does seem much more attainable.”
I think that is the key to the whole Tiny idea.
1. People have built homes since the beginning of homebuilding (duh, right?), but now there is a seemingly endless amount of readily available guidance. With a keen eye for BS, I believe almost anyone could build one of these. If you screw it up, well, tiny loss in the long run, right? But you won’t screw it up if you’re careful and ask for help.
2. I have remodeled homes from the basement to the roof. I’ve rewired, replumbed, and restructured for years. Building on a small scale is definitely going to be a challenge for me. In a regular house, you overestimate or underestimate and there is room to make amends. On the scale of a Tiny House, well, measure twice and cut once is a good motto to have.
Kids: I think infant and toddler care in a Tiny House would definitely, uh, suck (essentially). Older kids, seven and up? What better experience could you ask for? I have kids, I’ve been a teacher; one of the biggest complaints and most frequently made observations about kids today is they don’t spend enough time OUTSIDE. In a Tiny House? No choice, go play outside.
Furthermore, I have been in plenty of family homes as a handyman. I would say 8 out of every 10 “living” rooms I’ve been in aren’t lived in. There’s typically another room, “the den” where TV is absorbed as feet are propped and snacks are munched. Typical “den” size? 100-130 sq. ft.
You don’t have to make your Tiny House mobile. AND only a fool would endeavor to do this without a back-up plan and the funds to fall back on.
*Is this guy ever gonna shut-up?!?*
It makes sense for me because I don’t think of it as learning to live inconvenienced.
I grew up in a mobile home, I spent my late teens and early twenties traveling with bands and sleeping on floors and strangers’ couches. It wasn’t magnificent or terrible. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes not. During those years I always found a place for solitude with a good book on a park bench, or in a public library during the frigid months.
Throughout those years, I traveled with plenty of people who were not cut out for the lifestyle. They were miserable and nervous and longed for home the whole time. There’s nothing wrong with that and I don’t judge them, to their faces or behind their backs.
There are people who decide to make changes like this in their teens and twenties and there are those that make the decision when they’re 60; either way, they’ve no intention of changing anyone but themselves and the like-minded. Only you can prevent forest fires AND only you can decide to go Tiny as well.
Anyway, sorry for the extended comment; it just happened.
I think the “hipster” argument is just name-calling and a simple angle.
Chaps my hide when I see it in these here comment sections…
All I can say is, I don’t think I’m a hipster… :/
I’ve been wrong before.
You were hipster before hipster was a thing. 😉
Great comment packed with awesome insights. The “measure twice and cut once” idea is totally up my alley. I’m so OCD that a house much bigger than 300 sq. ft. would take me decades to build. And your thoughts on kids in a tiny home is spot on. I spent every waking minute of summer outside. Skateboarding, roller hockey on the cul-de-sac, over the line baseball games, campouts in the backyard. I’ve got nostalgia coming out of my ears just thinking about it.
Joanna has walked me off the tiny house ledge for the moment (the whole small kids deal), but this pipe dream hasn’t seen it’s last breath. Whether it’s our family home or a tool shed or detached office, it’ll happen.
I was all about the Tiny House after I watched the documentary several weeks ago! And then… I realized none of those people had children. And the one guy that did, well he and his family moved into a 600+ square foot “tiny” house. I just don’t see it being truly feasible with a child. More than anything, I don’t think I would want to be cramped in such a small space with a very loud, very energetic toddler!
With that said, the documentary really reminded me of how to use the space we have more practically instead of feeling like we just need MORE space. We live in a fairly small house now (decent square footage, but the layout makes for very small, defined spaces) and I’m constantly wanting MORE. But what I realize is that, really, we just need to make better use of the space we have.
Haha. Yeah, that’s an observation I apparently missed. Joanna was on top of it though. 🙂 But your takeaway is spot on — we should do more with less. And none of us need a tiny house to start doing that tomorrow.
Gotta’ love me some Tiny! This has been an ongoing conversation between my partner and I regarding our future home and as with you, the conversation always halts when the factor of children and a growing family arises. We also love the idea of a financially smart, eco-friendly, bring-the-outdoors-in lifestyle but have yet to bite the bullet. Thought you all might enjoy this post about family’s in Tiny Homes… http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/tiny-house-living-how-two-families-made-it-work
There are also great blog posts about family’s even building their children their own tiny homes as they grow older and need more space. Tiny house family community, anyone?
Love your blog and the realistic portrayal of a family sticking to a freaking budget. 🙂
Thanks for the comment, Ellie! And thanks for sharing that article. Both families actually had great ways of making it work. I loved the idea of bringing the hosting/meeting areas to the outdoors: fire pits, dining areas, hot tubs, etc. The tiny house complex seems a bit much, but it really isn’t a stretch considering how far away family members can live away from each other in many McMansions these days.
I would love to live in a Tiny House if I could! I don’t have any kids (and don’t plan on having any), so for me, it would work very well, especially since I’m a minimalist. However, in the region I live in…I don’t know how feasible it would be to get a tiny home…maybe someday 🙂
Someday is where I’m at right now after Joanna talked some sense into me. But “someday” is better than “no way.”
I am all for the tiny house but then I am in the UK, the houses are super tiny here!
Good point. Europe does seem to have practical, reasonable house sizes. Americans are all about the “super size me” culture.
Team Joanna…all.the.way. You don’t have to get a ‘mcmansion’, but this tiny house ‘fits’ ONE only. Really. I raised 4 kids in my 2700 square foot home and used every last bit of space. We will downsizse when we retire, but not to a ‘tiny’ home, perhaps a smallish Cape Cod?
Haha. I’ve come around to accept that Joanna is much more reasonable on this argument. But once our girls are grown and/or we have a backyard to call our own, don’t surprised if this debate resurfaces in the form of a detached tiny house man cave. 🙂
I lived in a 700 square foot home for three years, and it was great for just me. When I added a husband to the mix, things got a bit cramped. We both love to cook, and cooking together in a tiny kitchen is just not as much fun! I think we could have gotten by having one child in that house (we had a spare bedroom we only utilized for guests and closet storage), but our living space was just way too small to host guests. If space was taken from the bedrooms and added to the living areas, then maybe it would be better? I just have to go with Joanna on this one! Moving into a 1400 square foot house has been the best married decision we’ve made yet, for our own sanity!
Happy wife, happy life. I concede that our sanity might hang in the balance with 300-500 sq. ft. to call our own. Now 1,000 to 1,500 sq. ft.? Therein lies a compromise that both of us could probably make work.
I love the idea of tiny houses. I’ve written copious posts about different manufacturers and models. But with that said, I don’t really know if I could ever live in a house smaller than 700 square feet – and that’s not considered “tiny.” I think it’s terrific for couples that make it work and for some people it definitely makes sense. However, I don’t know if raising kids in one would be much fun. I’d agree with Joanna on this one! Perhaps wait until retirement. 😉
Retirement (and/or a detached office or tool shed or something) it is! 🙂
or how about living in a billboard?! Check out this article and the 16 or so pics..they look so nice inside!
Now that’s cool. I’m all in favor of giving those big ugly things some more purpose.