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How to Get Along as a Couple in a Tiny House

This is a guest post by Jane Dwinnell as a part of her series Tiny House Travels: Chronicling Life on the Road. Today’s topic is their experiences while living together in their tiny home and more importantly- how to get along as a couple in a tiny house.

January 10, 2013

A friend recently said, upon seeing the tiny house for the first time, “That’s a closet! You’ll kill each other!”  Well, after 4 months living in the tiny house, and 3 months before that living in an even smaller boat, I can tell you that we’re both quite alive.

But so many people wonder how we manage to get along in such a small space that I thought I’d share what works for us.

How to Get Along As a Couple in a Tiny House

Be polite. It is a tiny space, and two people will often be passing one another in snug areas. “Excuse me, I need to get by,” works well, as does waiting until the other person is done what they’re doing before you ask to get by. Even if you know each other well, please, thank you, and all those other social words are still important to use.

Living Together in a Tiny House and What It's Like

Be direct. This is part of being polite. As much as I would love to be a mind reader, that’s not going to happen any time soon. If you need to get to the storage, the bathroom, the sink, or plan to do some activity that takes up extra space, tell your partner. Ask when would be a good time. Talk to each other about what you plan to be doing and when, and figure out what would work best. We like to take showers one after another so that we only have to empty out the shower room and clean up afterwards once. But we need to coordinate when that will happen.

Be patient. Dinner may have to wait if the kitchen counter is being used for a different project. The water tank may have to be filled before you can wash dishes, or the batteries may need to be charged before you can use the computer. It may take 2 people to make the bed, and the other person won’t be home for a few hours. It’ s really like negotiating with your partner no matter where you live, just magnified because it’s a small space and many things and places are used for double-duty.

Have at least two comfortable living areas. No couple, no matter how happy, wants to spend every single minute of every day together. We all need our space. Weather or other circumstances may require that you both be inside all day, so it helps to have two cozy places to be for whatever you want to be doing — reading, writing, crafts, playing music, etc. It also helps if you have a fight and need to get away and cool off, and going outside isn’t practical.

Spend time outdoors and/or away from the tiny house. Everyone has their own interests and things to do, and not everything needs to, or should, take place in the tiny house. It is a small space, and many things can’t happen there.  Go out for a bike ride, a swim, a run or a walk. Head to the library or the movie theater. Many people who live in tiny houses have jobs, volunteer or paid, that take them away from home. No one stays home (in whatever home they have) all day, every day even if they work at home or are retired. It’s a big world with lots of interesting things to do — go do them!  At the very least, have a table and chairs that you can set up outside in good weather and use them (and those folding chairs can be handy when you entertain guests inside your house).

Respect the other person’s needs. My partner likes silence when he reads. I like to have music or the radio on. I can go in another “room,” go outside, or use headphones. There are always several ways to solve any potential conflicts. It helps to understand each other and your differences, and work together to figure out the solution that works for both of you.

In the end, just be up for change. Maybe the storage isn’t working out quite right, or the way the counter is set up is too cluttered. Maybe the lighting by the bed isn’t right for one person. Because the house is so small, many things have to double up, and it can be a hassle to move things to get at other things. As you live in the house, you’ll figure out what systems work best for you, and that may involve redoing something you’ve already done. Relax about it, and think of it as an adventure.

When we were first together and building our first house, we were warned that building a house with your sweetheart was a bad idea — most couples break up. On the other hand, if you and your partner survive house building, you may find that your relationship strengthens. In 28 years together, we’ve built 5 homes, renovated 2 others, and built several outbuildings. We think we’ve got one more house in us. We’ve learned a whole lot about each other and our relationship, but know we still have plenty to learn. Living in a tiny house is just one more way to grow as individuals, and as a couple. We love it!

Jane Dwinell and her partner Sky Yardley, are retired, and live and travel in their tiny house. She is the author of Freedom Through Frugality: Spend Less, Have More, available exclusively on her website, spiritoflifepublishing.com. “Like” Freedom Through Frugality on Facebook for photos, tips, and adventures.

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Rickey January 12, 2013, 8:31 am

    These are good points. We lived full-time in an RV for 3 years. Politeness was most important. It is not fun being mad or irritated in such a small space. I definitely agree with the point about having a way to be outside and away from each other.

  • Casey Friday January 12, 2013, 11:21 am

    I can’t wait to live with my wife in our <200ft^2 house, when it's done. We're the same, in that I like music during the day, and she likes silence more, but that's why I have a wonderful set of Sennheiser HD595 headphones.

    I'll surely be writing about what it's like to live in such a small place with another human!

  • LaMar Alexander LaMar January 12, 2013, 11:31 am

    Ha!

    My first thought was build two small houses- his and hers!

    The best advice I would give is to spend more time outside away from each other and then you will appreciate the closeness of a small house when you are together.

    LaMar

    • JanneZack November 24, 2014, 10:39 am

      I, too like this idea. I would like to explore te tiny house living but know that I e would never be enough for both me and my hubby. So two would be nice no think kitchen, bath and a small relaxing living room area with a sleeping loft for guests in one, and adjacent, a ground floor bedroom and closet. The loft could be for storage (or non existent). The bedroom/closet trailer wouldn’t have to be as large. And if the entry doors to the two units were located on the sides (rather than the ends) of the trailers, you could park them side by side and add a small deck with an awning in between (in case it is raining) to go from one to the other. My hubby, though would want a potty in both units :). We could probably work that out.

  • Nori January 12, 2013, 11:35 am

    Terry and I have lived in a very small house for about 11 years and I can attest to all of the above. We do take the opportunity, when conditions are close, to hug as we pass, squeeze a shoulder (or butt), give a quick rub. The TV has wireless headphones and we both have private places we can escape to when we need room to breathe.

    Relationship takes work no matter where you live, it’s just a different looking glass when living in a small space.

  • Carolyn B January 12, 2013, 12:30 pm

    Good article.

    One submission for thought re: “No one stays home (in whatever home they have) all day, every day even if they work at home or are retired.” Some chronically ill or otherwise disabled people like myself are stuck at home for days on end and inside, especially in the winter. I think you write a good article and would enjoy reading your thoughts on expanding our worlds from the inside of a house. Thanks.

    • Nori January 12, 2013, 6:27 pm

      Uh, we do! Terry’s retired, I (sort of) work from home. We’re not social so we don’t go out a lot. The trip to town to do shopping is a chore we try and foist off onto each other as we’d rather be here.

    • Cahow April 1, 2013, 4:18 pm

      “No one stays home (in whatever home they have) all day, every day even if they work at home or are retired.”

      Glad to see that this statement caught some other eyes, too! But first: Jane, this was a beautifully written article that should be a mantra for successful relationships. It’s the credo that my husband and I have followed since our courtship and we’re still goin’ strong, 43 years later!

      Now, back to the quote: both my husband and I work in the Construction Field, so we are outside, in EVERY conceivable weather situation that the Tri-State area of Illinois/Indiana/Michigan can deliver. There are many days that I put 250-300 miles on my truck, going from client to wholesaler to job. Days are long and brutal and we LOVE it that way: 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, as long as the weather holds.

      In the Winter, we retreat to our small home in Michigan. I will honestly not leave the property for weeks on end, only going as far as the bird feeders to fill them up. The cottage is where I retreat to recharge my soul, spend 8 hours in bed with my Kindle, bake endless trays of shortbread, and spend time with my honey, canoodling. At my age, I’ve “seen it all and done it twice”, so I have nothing more to prove. I never had a Bucket List but if I did have one, I’ve crossed every item off of it, thrice. Now, it’s time to relax while we still have our bodies working, and store up the mental/physical energy for the next season of work.

      I imagine, that when I retire (can only speak for me), I might want to leave the cottage more times per month, but I doubt it. We have a pond where all the wild critters come to drink and play and two nights ago, the Spring Peepers finally began to sing. The migrants are just beginning to fly North, and I have over 10,000 Spring bulbs to enjoy, that I’ve planted over the past 15 years. So, there are some people, that willfully don’t want to leave their Paradise, for all the enticements out there.

  • Jane Dwinell jane dwinell January 12, 2013, 12:43 pm

    Hi Carolyn, Thanks for your comment. I wondered about the ill and disabled when I wrote that line, but then I thought back to the times when my family members had broken bones and other severe injuries, and I remember how desperately they wanted to get outside! (I took my daughter skiing with 2 broken arms, and that was quite the project). Thanks for reminding us that not everyone is able to get in and out easily, and can definitely get cabin fever! I recommend a stack of old comedy videos:^).

    • Carolyn B January 12, 2013, 5:58 pm

      Good plan, Jane. My computer comes with the ability to play DVDs so I need to hit up a few old friends for some movies when I get tired of the tiny life internet world I check in with every day. Looking forward to more articles from you.

  • Dawn January 12, 2013, 2:13 pm

    What a wonderful article, Carolyn! My husband and I live in tight quarters and have learned to put into practice many of your suggestions over the years. And as one commenter said, we also take the opportunity to hug each other as we’re passing in our tight space. It reminds us of our love for each other. And the headphones have worked well for each of us, especially when one is working and the other wants to watch t.v. or listen to music. I also agree that there should be different ‘sections’ of our tiny homes that we can go to when we need alone time. And as far as being polite, who better to be polite to than our best friend and closest neighbor! Great job!

  • Glema January 12, 2013, 2:24 pm

    Hi Carolyn,
    I am often home and I find that watching some travel type shows or wilderness adventures help relieve the feeling of “stuck” inside. Also chat rooms for other states or other countries who have some people who speak English, are good ways of “getting out” without having to pay a lot or change into appropriate attire for the trip etc. hehehe When alleles fails, I make a gratitude list for all I have and find I’m not missing a thing! May God bless you! Tc everyone, I’ll drop in for coffee with you another time 🙂

    • Carolyn B January 12, 2013, 5:55 pm

      Thanks for the suggestions, Glenna. I do tend to live on Facebook and the rest of the worldwide web. I need to invest in an e-reader or find out how to do that with a desktop and I might be set.

      • Nori January 12, 2013, 6:48 pm

        Ereader software runs on a PC and it’s a free download.

        Before you by a reader, have a good idea what you need first. Be conscious of how much the reader weighs, whether it has a backlight and if the screen is readable in daylight. Know what your requirements are before you spend the money.

        Different readers use separate formats. Kindle uses a proprietary DRM enabled mobi format. My TX uses PDB, many readers use EPub or will read multiple formats. If you’re going to convert books from one format to another, the Calibre (pronounced caliber) Library software (free) does an excellent job.

        If you need to ask questions about readers and get a feel for what you will prefer, there is a very good set of forums on mobilereader.

        • Carolyn B January 12, 2013, 7:05 pm

          Nori, thanks for the tutorial on readers. I’m grateful.

  • Glema January 12, 2013, 2:26 pm

    When all else fails even hehehe sry.

  • Debra Jordan January 15, 2013, 12:09 pm

    We do to – we may be an exception – but we work in an even smaller 8 x 18 foot trailer next door to the house. Most of our ‘Awake’ time is spent in our workshop. I agree, politeness is the ‘grease’ in a tight situation 🙂

    Happily married for 27 years and counting.

  • Ruth January 17, 2013, 7:50 am

    Hi…wonderful topic here! My husband and I lived in an RV and then a 5th wheeler, full time for a few years as
    traveling volunteers (great life!) and we were polite and courteous all the time…almost never a disagreement since we were on the same page with most things. He used to love to visit with the neighbors or take a short hike, and I would take that time to read, cook, or whatever, with no distractions and I loved it. We worked out any difficulties together…there was always a way, always keeping in mind that “We” were most important.
    Thanks!
    Ruth

  • Rob Gray June 14, 2014, 6:02 pm

    +1 to all the above. We’ve been living in an RV for 13 years and now building a house from two shipping containers. One of the main things is headphones for the TV and for music, that solves a lot of problems 🙂

  • Gaz June 15, 2014, 8:34 am

    Seems these rules would be good to put into practice for any couple…..in any size home.

  • Jay Merrett November 24, 2014, 11:11 am

    My parents spent many years on the road ½ of the year in an RV. Their house is not huge, about 1000 sf but each has their own space to spend some time. Dad spends most of his morning outside. Mom reads. They also have their time together watching movies and sports. They are celebrating their 53rd anniversary this year and hope to hit 100! 🙂 They still spend much of their time taking care of each other but they both take care of themselves too. You need to be happy with who you are by yourself before you can be pleasant company with someone else around. My wife and I are building a Tiny House (240 sf) out in the woods of East Texas. A year of planning, a year of building together and we’re closer than ever. I look forward to the time that we can retire to the new property and start a new life! Come see what we’re up to at http://dreamsbytheacre.blogspot.com

  • Karen November 24, 2014, 11:48 am

    We RVed full time for three years and moved into that RV again for seven years prior to ordering a Tiny House that is 415 square feet. These are great points! There are couples that just cannot live that close, however. We met a few while traveling, and it wasn’t pretty.

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