7 Lessons From 3 Months Living Tiny
Where has the time gone? I feel like just yesterday I was tapping my foot, anxiously waiting for my house to arrive in Virginia. But as of this week, I have been living in my tiny house for over three months! As with any big project, it certainly hasn’t been a bed of roses 100% of the time, but even taking into account the bumps in the road, it’s safe to say that I’m completely in love.
I’m still new to the tiny living world, but I wanted to share some of the best things I’ve learned from the first three months in my house. If you are a tiny house newbie like me, or you’re just making a move into a new apartment or house, I hope these lessons and tips are helpful for anyone trying to get themselves settled.
Spend time just BEING there.
When I first moved in, I felt like I needed to fill every hour of my spare time with working on the house. I spun my wheels for a few weeks, feeling like a bit of a failure that SO much got done before I moved in, but SO little was getting done now that I was living in it. Looking back now, I realize I should have gone easier on myself. I had just finished building my house AND getting rid of almost 80% of my possessions! Moving into such a small space is a big enough adjustment as it is, without putting undue pressure on yourself to get every single little project done as soon as possible. Now, I make it a point to let myself occasionally just waste a Sunday enjoying being in the house, doing what I normally would do in a new place - cooking, lazing around watching Netflix, reading, or just sleeping in.
Take time away!
In my experience, nothing makes a new house, a new neighborhood, or a new city feel more like home than spending time away. As important as it is to spend time adjusting to being in the house, plan trips out of town too! No matter where I’m living, I’ve always found this to be true. Whether it’s just a weekend away at my parent’s house, or a fun vacation across the country, that anticipation of getting back to my own space, the one I’ve curated and put so much energy into, makes it feel more and more like home. I spent almost two full weeks away for the Christmas holiday, and by the end of it, I was so excited to get back to my own space and settle into my routine again.
You can also plan trips away that allow you to get stuff done! I'll plan weekends away to spend time with my parents, and as an added bonus, I get to work with my Dad in his wood shop to get a project built. Or I'll organize a weekend trip to DC to visit my sister, and include a stop by IKEA on the way home. When I needed to seal my countertops, I knew that they would need 7-10 days to be left alone and cure. Instead of trying to dance around using the counters, I organized my schedule so that I was either housesitting or traveling for the better part of two weeks and when I came home - I could start cooking again as usual!
Make lists. Lots of lists.
Like I said, don’t put pressure on yourself to get EVERYTHING done immediately. Reducing that pressure is much easier when you put all of those things you need to do, to buy, or to fix that are buzzing around your brain down in one place. Create a note on your phone, and anytime you have the thought “oh, I’ll need to do that at some point,” or "I need to buy one of those,” or "I should look into upgrading that,” open that note and drop it in. Or you can keep it old school and write it in an actual notepad. I found that I like having my list saved as a Google Doc - that way I can make edits from my phone, but if I access it from my laptop, it’s a bit easier to reorganize the items by priority, make additional notes, and add links for things I want to buy, so everything is one place.
You will almost certainly go off-budget and that's OKAY.
In a perfect world, the budget you create when you start your project will be exactly how much you end up spending. But no one is perfect! Sometimes you miss that sale weekend you were relying on. Or the chairs you wanted are sold out and the only other ones you like are $50 more expensive. Or the kitchen faucet you bought is -comically- small for the sink you bought and you missed the return window. (Can you tell I’m speaking from experience yet?) All you can do is try to be frugal wherever you can, and be ready to compromise when you need to. It's also important to recognize when a slightly higher cost may just be worth it. Choosing an appliance that is more expensive but is also more energy efficient will save you money in the long run. Decor items that are timeless and built to last will serve you better and longer than trendy, lower quality items which will look outdated by next year. Reconsider buying those cheaper light fixtures that are passable but not -really- what you want, if you're just going to replace them in the near future. Save yourself the money of buying things twice and give yourself permission to spend a little more right now (within reason).
If I had jumped the gun and bought every single thing I needed to instantly make my house a tiny Pinterest dream castle, I would be beyond broke.
There’s also a lot to be said about pacing, so if you're on a limited budget like I am, I recommend trying to spread your additional costs out. I was pretty diligent in creating and adjusting my budget for all of the items for my house leading up to my build, down to cabinet handles and painters tape. But I realized very quickly after moving in that there were lots of things that I had overlooked putting into my budget, because they were, well, small. How naive I was, thinking that lightbulbs and toilet paper holders would all be cheap! If I had jumped the gun and bought every single thing I needed to instantly make my house a tiny Pinterest dream castle, I would be beyond broke. And this is where those lists I mentioned before can really come in handy! If there is something I want to invest in for my house, I get an approximate cost, and it goes on the list. The list is prioritized by how much I truly need it, versus how much I might just want it. Once I get my paycheck and after my necessary costs and monthly savings contributions are covered, I take a look at the list and try to pick one or two things towards the top of the priority list that aren’t too expensive. I also put a percentage of each paycheck into a separate savings account so that when I want to go for one of those larger projects or more expensive items in a few months, I have the money to do it! Even better - put some of those things you want in an Amazon wish list. I’ve had multiple people ask me what I might want as a housewarming gift, so now I have a whole list I can easily send them… or to just buy a little something when I feel like treating myself. There is NOTHING wrong with going over your original budget - after all, you’re building a house, with hundreds of decisions to make, parts to buy, and things to decorate. Just pace yourself!
Ask. For. Help.
This can be one of the hardest things to do, especially for someone who enjoys being really self-sufficient (like me). But don’t take the DIY spirit so far that you feel like you have to Do It ALL Yourself! Many hands make light work, even in tiny spaces. I found that if there was a project I was running in circles on, or continually putting off for no discernible reason, the best way to get through it was to ask someone to take it on with me. Just having someone else to talk through a problem with is a huge help. Or to save you when you’re about to do something wrong (a lesson my dad and I have learned MANY times!).
One of the benefits of tiny houses being so trendy right now is that you will meet tons of people who want to learn from your experiences. I have had an unprecedented number of people approaching me asking me if I need help working on my house - why doesn't that ever seem to happen when you're moving, or trying to paint a normal, huge house? So, I implore you: don’t avoid asking for help! Invite people over one at a time for smaller projects, or have a painting party with a whole group. Buy breakfast or lunch for the people who pitch in and, duh, say thank you! Send them photos of the finished project or space to remind them how much you appreciate their help. You may even convert some new tiny living enthusiasts in the process!
Don’t stress too much over downsizing.
Downsizing can be an incredibly arduous project, and when you pile it on top of building a house/getting ready to move into a space a fraction of the size you’re used to, it can feel nearly impossible. I’m here to tell you: you will get rid of a lot of stuff before moving in. You will also get rid of a lot of stuff after you move in. There is a unique kind of clarity that comes with actually being in your new, smaller space along with all your stuff, instead of just imagining it. When you are tripping over that box of dish-ware you hardly ever use, or trying to find a place to store those ratty shoes that you haven’t worn in a year… the decision to get rid of them will get MUCH easier. The best tip I can give anyone who is downsizing is this: give yourself as much time as you can. Downsizing is a marathon, not a sprint. If this means you need to rent a storage unit for a month or two after you move into your house, that is okay! Everyone’s process is going to be different, so if yours takes longer, don’t worry. Set a schedule and keep to it, even if you’re only tackling one shelf of the linen closet every week.
Downsizing doesn’t have to be about throwing away all of your prized possessions. For me, it’s been about getting rid of anything I don’t consider a prized possession.
I was also surprised by how much stuff I was able to keep. When people ask me about how much stuff I kept, some people expect me to say I have one bowl, a spork, a toothbrush and two outfits. My house is on the small side of the tiny spectrum, clocking in at 160sf (200sf if you count the open loft). But I still have roughly 20 pairs of shoes, a camera bag full of gear I haven’t touched in about two years, a standard size standing Kitchen Aid mixer AND a pasta maker, more art than would ever fit on my walls, a whole bookshelf full of books, AND three bathrobes. Three. Downsizing doesn’t have to be about throwing away all of your prized possessions. For me, it’s been about getting rid of anything I don’t consider a prized possession. Now, everywhere I look, I see the things that I love and cherish, with none of my old useless crap getting in the way.
Invite people over before you are ready.
If you find yourself getting bogged down by slow progress, low funds, bad weather, or just general exhaustion, inviting a few people over will help you step back and celebrate your progress.
Especially if you are DIY-ing your house, your to do list after move-in will be nearly as long as your to do list before move-in! Aside from a few family members and neighbors, I avoided inviting anyone over for a long time, because I still have so much to do. But I guarantee you, no one cares that things aren’t finished. They are excited that you are excited. I found that starting to invite people over does a few important things for me. Firstly, it gives me a kick in the pants to get some of those unfinished projects done before they come over. That unorganized corner of boxes under the stairs or that bit of painting you haven’t finished? What better time to knock it out than when someone is about to come over and admire all your hard work! Secondly, by getting to talk to someone all about my house while I show them around, that passion and excitement comes out in full force and gives me a huge dose of motivation to get more projects moving. If you find yourself getting bogged down by slow progress, low funds, bad weather, or just general exhaustion, inviting a few people over will help you step back and celebrate your progress.
Less than three months of work between these two photos!
I hope these lessons are helpful to any of you who may be getting ready to settle down in your own tiny, or just getting comfortable in a new apartment or house. As always, if you have any questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow my day to day progress on Instagram @Pocket.Manor.