When my husband and I bought our first house, its 800 square feet of living space was perfect for two. It was what we could afford, and it suited us. We fought rarely, lived within our means without too much trouble, loved living within easy walking distance of restaurants and parks, went away many weekends, divided up the two closets, and dumped all the extra stuff in the basement.
Then we had a kid.
Daycare bills made us broke, we argued 400 percent more often, and we spent more time inside. We moved our one living room chair to make way for the baby swing. We moved the desk into our bedroom, with one inch to spare. I invented a complicated system of labels and garbage bags headed to the consignment store, full of out-of-season clothes that were too big or too small, the acres of unwanted things that people give you, and toys that I could not stand to store in my living room. This Christmas, I provoked the familial equivalent of an international incident by limiting the presents that grandparents could send.
To be clear, my family does not live in a tiny house. People raising children in New York, or in apartments everywhere, will mock me. When our home was built 100 years ago, it probably would have accommodated a family of seven. But by today’s U.S. standards, it’s small, roughly one-third of the size of the average home [PDF]. And the difference between living in it as a couple and a family of three has been palpable.
More often that not when I see stories about people living in tiny houses, it’s a single person with not much more than a shelf full of books and a teapot. Sometimes it’s a couple with low personal-space requirements. But my own situation has made me curious about families who have consciously chosen to live with a much smaller footprint. What happens when the chaos and wonder (and stuff!) that kids introduce explode all over your artfully arranged tiny house?
So I asked Hari Berzins, who writes the Tiny House Family blog and lives with her husband and two children, 8 and nearly 10, in a 168-square-foot home. They downsized, in several steps, from a 1,500-square-foot home after losing their family’s restaurant business in the most recent economic recession. It has allowed them to squirrel away her monthly salary to finance a long-term plan to build a larger, mortgage-free home. But they’ve been in this tiny house for almost two years.
She’s often asked what is the hardest thing about living in the tiny house. It’s hard to answer, she says, because the biggest challenges can also turn out to be unexpected blessings.