’10 lessons I learned living in a tiny house’
Golden Bay writer Charlotte Squire learned a lot about life in downsizing her family into a 27sqm home
Words and photos: Charlotte Squire
I feel compelled to claim my family built our tiny house with our bare hands from recycled materials and we now live off the land – and keep bees. But this is not the case. Nope, I’m more the creative, dreamy type, I write and sing for a living. He’s a sensitive, poetry-writing sort of guy, working in mental health and his homecraft skills stretch only as far as wood chopping and lawn mowing.
I thank George Clarke for my passion for tiny houses. They made my heart sing when I first discovered them. He (my Hubby) and I had been searching for a low-priced housing option for our family of four (a nine-year-old and a toddler) for years. Someone had offered us half an old villa, which was exciting and innovative, though the council didn’t think so.
I loved the concept of tiny houses for their clever design and storage, their often natural materials and their delicious “cosy” factor.
For a year I observed the living habits of my family. I realised we were a close-knit bunch who generally clumped together like bits of hokey pokey in a packet. We’d cuddle up on the couch, using only about ten percent of the living room. We generally liked to sleep together, marae-style, even though everyone had their own room. Even when I cooked, they’d hang out near me. I realised we used only a small percentage of our three bedroom – plus an office – rental.
I couldn’t ask my family to downsize their lives into a mere 27 square meters … could I? That question was answered when we decided to hold-off buying land. It’s a challenge to buy a small parcel of land in rural Golden Bay due to zoning. So I put the word out via Facebook that we were looking to lease land and we were offered land with a shed, a large office space and spare land. This seemed to meet my husband’s need for a man-space, my need for a small office and my son’s need for his own room – the office could be divided into two. All that was missing was the heart of the home – a tiny house.
I’d been eyeing several on Trade Me, rather obsessively, and when the price of my favourite one dropped by $20,000, I bought it, fast. I loved its long-lasting cedar construction, wool insulation, double glazing, a cute little fireplace and composting toilet.
I am a bit of an over-thinker, and there were moments of freaking out, during which I wondered what on earth I’d got my family into. My husband had been happy to continue renting, but my compulsive desire to own our home won out.
We had to get the 3.5 tonne-4.5m high dream house 320 km from Christchurch to Golden Bay. It took some time to work out the best way. Towing companies didn’t know what I was talking about. A helicopter pilot laughed me off the phone.
Then an incredibly kind member of the tiny house community in Christchurch offered help and towed it with his late model 4WD vehicle. It took him nearly a week. He stopped at friends’ houses along the way and received a lot of attention. His challenges included getting the speed wobbles at 65kms per hour and (even pre-Kaikoura earthquakes) the coastal tunnels were a bit tight. The Takaka Hill, our winding, fifty-kilometer gateway to Golden Bay, was the easy part.
TEN LESSONS I LEARNED LIVING IN TINY HOUSE
1. Getting rid of stuff takes longer than expected
I found it stressful downsizing from a larger house even though I started six months before the move. It took time to recognise how drastic we had to be – our new tiny house would fit into less than half our old living room. Once I accepted it, I became ruthless. Now I cannot buy new stuff without being clear where we’ll put it, or what we will get rid of to house it. At my toddler’s last birthday I asked people not to bring presents. He already has enough, and he’s happiest at the beach anyway. I don’t miss stuff.
2. Tiny house living is a major life change
When our tiny house arrived I was awestruck by its size. At 4.25m high, it seemed enormous and towering on the outside yet tiny on the inside. I wondered if my 182cm husband would fit in the low-ceiling-ed kitchen. I worried that the loft would fall down if we all slept in it. It was rather alien at first.
3. A family needs more than one key space to live in
I knew my husband needed his man-shed, my nine-year-old needed his space and I needed an office in which to write. I often feel grateful that we have all these ingredients in a separate shed and sleep out/office. We all have full lives and when we do come together in our small living space it can feel a bit overwhelming. For my time out, I sometimes nip off to the office to play music and Hubby spends hours in the shed or in the garden.
4. The tiny house community wants to help
People have been consistently, generous and helpful each time I’ve asked for help in tiny house Facebook groups. I’ll never forget the lovely man who towed our home up the country. The tiny house community helps each pioneer through council regulations, weather conditions and close living.
5. People love tiny houses and want to visit
Now that we own a true-blue tiny house we are minor celebrities. It seems as though everyone wants to buy one, one day. And many like to pop-in for a look. Please note: it takes effort to maintain that clear-surfaced, serene, tiny house look. Actually things get messy fast but they’re quick to tidy too. However, as I don’t like to tidy I’ve had to adjust. Netflix has helped. The thing is, on the days when I leave the mess, people will – unexpectedly – visit. Yes, that very day.
6. Use tie downs to windproof your house
We had a rough night within the first month with extreme winds. Hubby was out and I lay beside my sleeping kids listening to the house creak and feeling it rock, wondering if I should evacuate. It’s hard to tie down our place as we’re wedged in between the shed and a sleep out. Eventually, I took the kids into the sleep out but then the trampoline smashed through the sleep out window, stopping about a metre from us. My husband arrived home to a traumatised family. Note: the tiny house came through fine.
7. There’s more wear and tear in a tiny house
We will probably swap our lovely, new, off-white woolen living space carpet for wooden floors soon. Even in six months it’s been crossed so often that it’s already worn and stained. Our new custom-made couch is beginning to look worn too.
8. It’s good to have a covered outdoor space
We don’t yet have this, and I notice it. We did get a deck built and this is invaluable though it awaits its roof.
9. Flash compost toilets can be high maintenance
Ours is great for what it is – a fan removes odour, a flap hides all matter away nicely, and we use this great-smelling natural spray to help things biodegrade faster. However we’re emptying it every three to four days into our worm farm. Too. Much. Work. I’m beginning to miss the flushing toilet. Yes, it’s come to this.
10. Overall, this is a great step into the world of home ownership for us and we adore our cute little house. I’m so used to living in our small space now that normal-sized homes feel enormous.
My favourite moments include snuggling together at night time upstairs on the mezzanine floor, baking in our rather impressive full kitchen (it even has two sinks) and hanging out together watching movies on our huge couch (which of course doubles as storage). The highlight of last month was lighting our new, tiny fireplace and feeling the place heat quickly. My next exciting mission is to get a woodhouse. Tiny house living rocks!
OTHER TINY HOUSE STORIES YOU MIGHT LIKE
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- Q&A: New Zealand chef Peta Mathias on love, aphrodisiacs and why travel is good for the heart
- Inside a rabbit fur fashion designer’s 10sqm, solar-powered eco cabin in Central Otago
- The Christchurch couple living self-sufficient dream in their half-acre urban garden
- A gin lovin’ couple drink guilt-free with Ecology + Co – their alcohol-free gin with a botanical twist