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Tiny House Living Expectations: Simplifying or Roughing it?

Tiny House Living Expectations: Simplifying or Roughing It? Article by Laura LaVoie

This post on the realities of tiny house living over at Trying on Tiny was brought to my attention. In it, Audrey mentions the unexpected things they’ve had to face since moving into their tiny house; and not all of them have been pleasant.

Audrey and Tomas chose to downsize their lives and hired a builder to construct their tiny house. Because of their lifestyle, they weren’t able to be with the builders on a regular basis and it wasn’t until they had their little house delivered to their doorstep that they realized that there were some things they hadn’t considered.

Audrey mentions some of the challenges that have come up including mold issues surrounding a leaky drain and chores they took for granted in their old life.

She calls her expectations something of a “Tiny House Fairy Tale.” Audrey had a perception that downsizing their lives and moving into a cute little house would solve all their problems not create new ones. She writes, “It’s simple to flush a toilet; it’s not as simple to carry a urine bucket outside and ‘fertilize the garden’.”

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

Matt and I had a bit of a different experience. Because we built the house on our own we were very aware of any issues that could arise such as mold. We chose not to add indoor plumbing or a built in stove eliminating issues surrounding those systems. However, I understand that not everyone who wants to experience tiny house living can go through this process. Since Matt and I “camped” on the land while we built the house we got quite use to living off the grid so moving into the house just felt like an extension of that.

This is why I think having an expansive online presence is so important for the tiny house community. Stories like Tomas and Audrey’s can go a long way to educating others about what tiny house living is really like. Some people, like Matt and I, offer the story of the building process and the living process. Other bloggers have their homes built, like Tammy and Logan, who were a big part of their own building process. These stories matter in our community because we can learn from each other.

Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

What have you learned from living in a tiny house? What do you think tiny house living will be like? What are your expectations?

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Laura LaVoie is a writer who has been living off the grid in her own tiny house in the mountains of North Carolina. To learn more about her visit her blog.

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 22 comments… add one }
  • dave
    December 24, 2012, 1:46 pm

    I love that someone is willing to talk and write about the downsides of tiny houses in addition to their obvious upsides. As the owner of a small house, I can testify that most of the issues the author of the original article bring up are not unique to tiny houses, in fact, they are FAR tinier problems than what I face with my 750 sq ft abode. Mold isn’t fun at any time, especially when its the result of contractor negligence, but they have a beautiful tiny house, with minimal expense to cool and heat. I loose my shirt every summer in Phoenix bringing the temp down from 115 outside to a bearable 85 degrees inside. The upside of this climate is that the heat hardly goes on in the winter. Pluses and minuses to everything.

  • December 24, 2012, 4:07 pm

    We (husband, son, and myself) live in a ‘McMansion’ of tiny houses, at 400 square feet. Having owned a large home of over 2,000 square feet, my perspective is that at least if I have a leak – which we do, at the moment – it will be a lot less expensive and involved to fix. Often we have been able to do the work ourselves. I think I am more interested in tackling the problem myself instead of hiring a contractor since my house only cost (initially) $12,500, as opposed to a $200,000 home needing kidd gloves 🙂

    • December 26, 2012, 1:39 pm

      Thanks for sharing Debra and good luck on fixing the leak. Great hearing from you. Hope you enjoyed the holidays with your family.

  • Keven
    December 24, 2012, 5:18 pm

    Living small does make you think and plan. Preparing your fire the night before means striking a match is all you need in the morning. Toilet maintenance in the morning makes the “last stop” at night easy. It has made me more willing to preplan many of my daily tasks.

    • December 28, 2012, 12:21 pm

      Thanks Keven! Being prepared makes all the difference in the world doesn’t it..

  • Carolyn B
    December 24, 2012, 11:27 pm

    Terrific post showing the realities of tiny life, even the after-the-honeymoon phase. Good job.

    • December 28, 2012, 12:20 pm

      Glad you liked it Carolyn! Thank you!

  • alice h
    December 25, 2012, 4:51 pm

    Life in a “real” house is quite different from a “simple” tiny house and a lot of the problems come from a lack of familiarity with some very basic issues, not necessarily due to a house being tiny. I’ve lived with “bucket and chuck it” water systems, wood heat, critters, winter tent life and an assortment of Yukon cabin life issues at various times for many years. It’s amazing what a simple, self-invented labour saving device can do and there are tons of little things you come up with to make life easier once you’ve lived with a situation for a while. Simple things like making sure you have a good pile of kindling and fire starter(dry paper, etc) at all times can make a big difference when you finally get back from town at 2 am to a frozen house, already grumpy because of truck trouble. Breaking down a problem into it’s basic components and solving them by looking at the situation is a lot more sensible than trying to make something meant for a totally different life work. Prepare for the worst, then laugh when it doesn’t happen or be smug when you whip out your handy solution. Keep systems as simple and flexible as possible and have backups for all basic functions. Make sure you can access anything that might require tinkering with later without having to dismantle too much of your house. When in the planning stages pay careful attention to other people’s experiences and warnings and do a thorough breakdown of just exactly what’s involved in making something work. After part-timing in a 13′ Boler trailer for 6 years I’ve got a fairly realistic idea of what I need and more importantly, what I DON’T need.

    • December 28, 2012, 12:20 pm

      Nicely put Alice, thanks so much!

    • September 9, 2013, 1:06 am

      This is great advice, and I flatter myself 🙂 that I’m following it as I move through the stages of designing and building my TH, Oliver’s Nest. Learning from other TH dwellers has helped me in deciding systems ranging from framing to if I want to risk plumbing. I am currently living/long-term camping in a small camper and that too has helped. I recommend to those who are planning on their own TH to live in a camper or even a large tent for several months. It’s a real eye-opener.


  • Chris
    December 26, 2012, 4:26 pm

    “It’s simple to flush a toilet; it’s not as simple to carry a urine bucket outside and ‘fertilize the garden’.”

    lol…is it really that hard to carry a bucket or am I missing something? Do you have to fight a dragon on the way to the garden?

    I only see first world problems with Tiny Houses so far, any real problems? or problems that do not occur in any size house? (Like mould, can occur in any sized house)

    I’m guessing not.

    • December 28, 2012, 12:19 pm

      Haha Chris come on you know what she meant but I totally get you.. It’s really not that complicated, only when you compare it. And for most of us the benefits outweigh the cons. And it’s all in how you look at it.. Thanks for the comment!

      • alice h
        December 28, 2012, 5:01 pm

        Best thing about a bucket compared to a flush toilet, you’ll never need a plunger!

  • LaMar
    December 29, 2012, 8:22 pm

    Well I went from sleeping in my truck (damn steering wheel) to a small camp trailer to a larger travel trailer to finally building my own 14×14 solar cabin.

    So you could say I have tried them all Lol!

    If you are downsizing from a larger home to a smaller the adjustment curve will be bigger and you may feel claustrophobic and have some stress and anxiety for awhile.

    The small lifestyle is not just an adjustment of living space but also an adjustment of attitude and if you don’t deal well with change it may not be the best option for you.

    I did not just choose a small cabin for financial reasons. I had a much bigger picture in mind of living as sustainable and self sufficient as I could and my cabin is just part of my homestead plans which includes gardening, raising animals and producing my own energy (solar and wind power).

    I also use this lifestyle as a teaching tool and incorporate it into the videos and books I write to help guide other people that want a simple sustainable lifestyle.

    So I may not be typical of small home owners and I do not plan to make my house bigger or sell it or move to another house any time in my lifetime.

    I think people like me that have had big homes and then suffered loss and had to start over again having a small house with no payments. less stress and freedom makes all the little inconveniences trivial in comparison!



  • Dean Hutchins
    December 30, 2012, 1:31 am

    Regarding the humanure issue. For those in USDA zones 7 to 10; Black Soldier Flies (BSF) are a serious consideration for the treatment of personal waste. The even bigger upside are the benefits you get from the larvae if you are a stationary dweller. They digest literally everything other than bone, plastics and rocks. This means meat scraps, vegetable matter, paper waste, humanure solids, pet manure, yard trimmings, road kills or dying off of your own small livestock and so on. This is a serious consideration for me, I’m USDA zone 7a. Research them on YouTube.

    In return they give you high omega 3,6,9 fatty acid rich and protein rich chicken feed in the form of self harvesting larvae. In turn your free range chickens are healthier, the eggs are richer and the finished material is dynamite garden fertilizer. For those doing Aquaponic gardening they are dynamite fish food too.

    Those of us who are disabled and perhaps doing container gardening this a big bonus. Containers are very intensive users of nutrients and organic components to revitalize the soil can be costly.

    My personal concern about GMO foods, chemically grown foods and rancid fats in processed foods have pushed me to the point of trying to produce 100% of my own food. I’m not there yet but it won’t be much longer and the goal will be achieved.

    Combine that with a limited amount of funds as a retiree, the gypsy life is not a realistic option. It costs more because you can’t store up food you produced at a much lower cost than purchasing from others.

    Farmer’s markets have helped but then again you have the matter of traveling to the market. My local farmer’s market has only one organic farmer with limited fare. The next closest 3 markets are 30 miles east, north and west of me.

    Going tiny conserves some costs, materials and resources but if sacrificing independence is part of the equation then it has become more of a burden than a blessing as well as a burden on those around me.

    My future permanent structure after 4 years in a 240 sq. ft. camper is triple that in area. It’s made of galvanized structural corrugated steel and cost only $3500 delivered. It can withstand tornadoes and even falling tree branches without much concern. Once insulated it can be heated for a song.

    Concrete will cost another $3000 but the slab will become my thermal mass for a refractory rocket mass heater stove. To finish the interior it’s estimated at about another $4000. I have cabinet making skills and do all my own plumbing, electrical, etc.

    I’m growing bamboo for a continuous renewable fuel source for my rocket stove, building material for future projects and wildlife barrier for my orchard because deer are more of a nuisance than a joy here in Arkansas.

    Food preservation and processing requires space. Lacto-fermentation of foods requires relatively steady temperatures. A 720 sq. ft. Quonset Hut sounds huge until you fill it with food and equipment for independent living. Eliminating plastics means more glass and stainless steel containers. Storing in food mason jars whether canned, dehydrated or fermented foods still takes up space.

    Planning ahead is essential for not just daily living but for each upcoming season and year.

    Tiny house thinking has caused me to re-evaluate many things regarding storage, energy consumption and creating a lifestyle conducive to accommodating my disability and aging process in general.

    I firmly believe that self sufficiency is the ultimate level for managing personal and local resources in a responsible manner. Being dependent on others is something I personally want to reserve for my final years of life when I can no longer care for myself at all.

    Less traveling, less fuel burned. Healthier food production, better quality of life. Proper management of personal property and resources means less burden on your surrounding community altogether. Producing some high quality surplus at a low cost to others is the beginning of a realistically sustainable economy that benefits you and your neighbors. I’m not here to take care of the whole world, just my corner.

    • TL Daniel
      July 3, 2015, 4:26 pm

      Dean Hutchins!..Hopefully your above plan has occurred or is occurring…This is the type of additional info I’ve been searching for. On my property, I already have the constructed steel building, with concrete pad, which was here upon purchase. The house we live in is in fair condition but have my father and kids to think of and space is limited. I would rather focus on the steel building for additional space whether we call it a work shed, that is fine. (ie: like moisture issues, best insulation, just thrifty but sensible brainstorming ideas for complete living space) thx and hoping u will c this, old post i c.

  • Cindy W.
    December 30, 2012, 1:51 am

    I also wonder what the negatives could be in a small house.
    The way I have lived -in an apt.- has been fine but got too expensive for my taste (and pocketbook) so now I rent in a tiny 400sq’ cottage. It has a few issues of its own –which could indeed happen in tiny homes. Luckily I have a landlord who is a contractor/can fix anything.
    old cottage, finally double pane windows, but insulation is junk/not there. T old plaster walls feel like ice all the time. So I wonder just how well a tiny home can be insulated? especially the floor!
    Then there’s the moisture/mold issue.This cottage has no vent in the tiny wack design of a kitchen.So when I cook anything/boil water–all the windows steam up.I begged and finally got him to install a bathroom vent!
    Then there is the heat issue. This cottage has a very old design to heat it-which is not safe and I don’t use. (floor furnace centrally located in house. just blows cat hair and dust around, the huge grate gets burning hot and cat toys if landed on it would catch fire. So instead I use electric oil filled radiators (yes electric bill goes WAY up for 3 month a year.!!)
    but I really have no choice. In a tiny house, how does the heating work there? a gas fireplace–but it doesnt hook up to a thermostat no? does it turn on its own? probably not. I work long days (18hr) and shiver thinking even now how cold a tiny house would be when i got home. Are there ways to get around this? I have cats, lord I don’t want them to freeze to death. I am so excited about moving into a smaller home–salivating at Jay’s new community. 🙂
    but then there are the same things you worry about just like apt living….neighbors-loud,smoke,animals,windchimes(yes I know they sound nice, but I have a sleep disorder and wake up when a pin drops or never falls asleep with noise. 🙁
    I’m hoping by the time this new “village” he is building, more answers will be there.
    I guess I am lucky, I can afford to live in a nice apt/small house, but I don’t want to. I have too much s#@t!! and it collects dust. I spend half my life in hotel rooms -sort of same size, but I just want simple and cozy and to do my thing -read,etc,sleep (when I’ve been up all night working)
    So yes, I always worry about the drawbacks, but I realize they are everywhere. I just have to find the place I can call home and settle down -I’m getting to old to move again.

  • December 30, 2012, 4:22 pm

    The best part tiny houses is that all of your questions can be answered with “any way you want.” How much insulation? As much as you like. How to do the heating? However you want. Tiny houses can be built to spec and are entirely customizable. And since they are small all of these things can be done at a reasonable cost.

  • January 1, 2013, 5:25 pm

    I lived in small apartments, then bought my own (big) house. Now I’ve sold it and am living in a 600 sf house. Not tiny, and completely on the grid. I love living smaller, but what I haven’t said often is that I know I couldn’t have done this just four years ago.

    Part of the answer to the question of the article, whether living smaller is simplifying or roughing it, has to do with the perspective, the creativity, and the values of the person doing it. It also has to do with knowing ourselves. For me, emptying a sawdust bucket would be rough, but owning only a mini-fridge is only a minor inconvenience, and living without a stove is simplicity. Someone else would list the three in a different order. The good thing about living small is that we make the rules. We can choose what works for us.

    As for another statement in the article: No lifestyle is going to be a fairy tale. But with a little creativity and elbow grease, it can be what we make it, and that can be pretty good.

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