Saturday, June 21, 2014

Planning our tiny house with a growing family in mind

Last year, I wrote a semi-vague post about our decision to downsize and simplify. What I didn't mention then was our decision to start planning to build a tiny house. If you aren't familiar with the tiny house movement, I suggest you google it because there is enough information out there to warrant entire blogs. Technically, a tiny house is any living space that is less than 400 square feet. Generally, the floor space of a typical tiny house is much smaller than that. Many tiny houses are built on trailer frames with wheels and are designed to be sustainable and portable.

Most of the tiny houses that I have read about online are owned by single people or couples. I have only found a small handful of tiny house families with more than one child. We are pregnant with our second child and intend to have more, so building our tiny house requires some unique forethought.

When planning and building a tiny house, sacrifices must be made. Downsizing belongings, appliances, appliance size, plumbing, electronics, floor space, door and window sizes, conveniences, and head space are some common sacrifices. Downsizing belongings is the easiest place to start, but it has proven to be quite difficult. I remember exactly how much I paid for each picture frame and casserole dish, and yard sale prices often feel like highway robbery. One thing I have done to cope with this is to tell myself that these items won't fit into the tiny house anyway, so if we can't sell them for something, we will have get rid of them by other means. Getting anything money-wise is better than nothing, right?

Stuff can be hard to part with, especially when it is stuff that I will likely have to buy again later. For example, I have a Barbie doll that my parents gave me as a young teen. She is a Swedish Barbie in a traditional dirndl. I don't collect Barbies, but I never opened the box because I felt that I was too old to play with Barbies at the time. In researching what I could get for her, it seems that she sells for up to $20, on a good day, new in box. I have a two-year-old daughter who doesn't have any Barbies yet, but loves baby dolls and cherishes every moment that she is allowed to hold my American Girl Dolls. The dolls in the "pink aisles" at the store leave something to be desired. The heavy make-up and sexy outfits marketed to toddlers and young girls concern me. Should I sell the Swedish Barbie in the beautiful outfit and buy a scantily-clad Barbie doll at the store in a year or two, or should I stash the Barbie in our limited storage space and give it as a gift? My gut says to stash it for later, but my husband wants it to be put on Ebay. (For the time being, it is stashed. I can always get rid of it later.) I could write an entire post about my struggles with thinning out my books . . .

For a family of four or more, sacrificing appliances like washers and dryers can make a lot of extra work for everyone. I purchased a Wonderwash and Nina Soft Spin Dryer from The Laundry Alternative and tried using them for a few months before making a decision about a washer and dryer in the tiny house. The Wonderwash is a step up from a bucket washer, and has a nice crank on the side for manual washing. The tub can actually hold more laundry than I had anticipated, and it does a nice job. The spin dryer requires some forethought in that you can't wash your pants in the morning, run them through the spin dryer, and expect to wear them right away. I does get out more of the water than a regular washing machine's spin cycle. However, having a child in cloth diaper meant that I had to do two loads each day to stay on top of the laundry. If it piled up, it was very intimidating and my arms would get sore after about three loads. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to put a full-size washer and dryer into the tiny house, even if it meant
sacrificing something else. I really liked our front-loading washer and dryer that we used to have, so we plan on getting something similar, whether new or used. A single person or couple may be able to get away with using the Wonderwash and spin dryer or a laundromat, but my husband and I will be working full-time for the time being, and every minute that we can save laundry-wise is a minute that can be spent with the family.

Many tiny houses have cook tops and toaster ovens instead of regular full-sized ranges. Some people replace the stove with a microwave. With a growing family daily cooking and baking, this wasn't something I was willing to do. I want a gas stove and oven that can accommodate four pans on top at the same time and my regular baking pans in the oven. We could probably manage with an apartment-size range, but we recently acquired a full-size used gas stove/oven that fit all of our criteria, so we will use that. I'm not going to lie; I am excited! A lot of tiny houses use small dorm-size fridges or coolers instead of full-sized fridges, but again, that won't work well for us. The supermarket in town is pretty decent in terms of supplying us with the basic necessities, but unless I catch a good sale, I generally have to stock up on food when I am downriver. The closest big supermarket is nearly two hours away. We need to have sufficient fridge and freezer space to store a few weeks worth of food for our growing family. We also have a chest freezer which comes in handy when my husband provides us with venison or moose meat. The chest freezer isn't going to fit in the tiny house and will likely have to stay outside. A full-size fridge/freezer will be in the kitchen of our tiny house.

I spent a great deal of time this year researching toilets or all kinds. Composting toilets are pretty common in tiny houses because they can be as simple as a dressed-up five-gallon bucket. However, since we don't own the land we will be building on and won't have an adequate location for composting or using our "compost" in a flower garden, we are opting to hook a regular toilet into the town water and sewer. Eventually, on our own land, we will plan to have a well and septic system. Another popular option is an incinerating toilet, which I thought would be terrifying for potty-training-toddlers. We are not taking our house on the road and only intend to move it a few times, so it isn't necessary to have the house be super-portable. We are also putting a tub into the tiny house, because we do have little kids and they take baths. Heck, I may even take baths sometimes. We are opting for a lightweight acrylic 4.5' soaking tub. Our bathroom is luxuriously large, for a tiny house, but I think we will appreciate the elbow room during bath time and when we are potty training our children.

Electronics-wise, we got rid of our desktop computer and are using a laptop and ipad. We haven't had our printer hooked up since October and are trying to decide if it will make it into the tiny house. We have a 42" flat screen TV that we intend to mount on the wall in the living room and our DVD player is drying a slow and terrible death (it will eventually be replaced with a DVD/Blue Ray player, but we are limping it along until then).

We are definitely sacrificing floor space and head space in our 8' x 36' tiny house. It is a trade-off. If we didn't need a walk-in bedroom downstairs, we would have more living room space. Eventually, we may knock out the wall to the baby's room and expand our regular living space. We have tried to organize our tiny house to maximize the small floor space that we have. We have a galley kitchen and sliding doors for the bathroom and baby's room. We have incorporated a lot of windows and a high ceiling in the entryway to make the space feel larger. We will have a table, but benches instead of chairs. Our stairs will be steeper than normal stairs and will have storage space under them. Stairs are becoming increasingly popular over ladders in tiny houses, simply because they are easier to use. With little kids, we felt that stairs were a necessity. Our sleeping lofts will have 4.5'  from the floor to the peak of the barn-style roof. Our house has two sleeping lofts--one for my husband and me, and one for the kids. Their loft is bigger than ours, since they will likely be playing up there and storing some toys and clothes in that space as well. Ours will have some storage space and sleeping space, and that is probably about it.

We spent months planning our floor plan. It changed probably hundreds of times. We looked at thousands of pictures online, and watched numerous Youtube tiny house tours. Our primary goals with this tiny house are to be debt-free and living in our own space for 10-15 years, until we can buy our own land and build our farm. Every tiny house owner has different goals to consider and is willing to make different sacrifices. We are going to need a shed of some kind to hold things like skis, snowshoes, camping and climbing gear, bikes, seasonal clothing, tools, snowmobile helmets, and other similar items. We do so much outside that it would be senseless to get rid of that equipment.

As we build our tiny house, I will continue to update this blog with pictures and posts about the process. It has taken a lot of planning to get this far, and I am sure we haven't thought of everything!


  1. Hi! I'm super interested to know how you're building is coming on your tiny house! I'm a Momma of 2 looking at large life changes and would like to build a tiny house. I also would like to have a full size washer and dryer and kitchen appliances... Would you be willing to share your plans with me? Thanks, and God bless!

  2. Hi! I'm super interested to know how you're building is coming on your tiny house! I'm a Momma of 2 looking at large life changes and would like to build a tiny house. I also would like to have a full size washer and dryer and kitchen appliances... Would you be willing to share your plans with me? Thanks, and God bless!