Mentally Preparing To Go Tiny
The first thing a lot of people say to me when I tell them I live in a 160 square foot house on wheels is something along the lines of: "I cannot imagine living in such a small space." At the beginning of this journey, neither could I. I was excited at the prospect of designing my first home and building it myself. But I had immersed myself so thoroughly in research and design that the actuality of what living in a tiny house would entail didn't cross my mind that often. So I set out to change that!
If you’re trying to work your way from dizzying excitement to confident steps forward, read on! I’ll fill you in on my journey, and at the bottom I’ll give you some tips for setting up your own tiny house trial, as well as some prompts that I found helpful.
A few posts back, I described how and why I decided to pump the brakes on the tiny house project (it might be helpful to go back and read that first!). I mandated some time off for myself to get some distance from the idea and gain a little perspective. I decided to take a six week break from design and work on my house - as luck had it, the Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo was happening at the five week mark! The reason I wanted to attend an expo was to get to see as many different tiny houses as possible, but I could tour them all the live long day and still not know what it would feel like to live in one. Being ushered through a 200 square foot show house, elbow to elbow with a dozen other people, just doesn't give you the same experience as an actual stay.
I started looking at AirBnB for tiny houses in Virginia available for vacation rentals. Within 5 minutes, I had found a picture-perfect tiny home, built the same size as the house I had designed, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains close to Floyd, AND available the weekend after the Tiny House Expo right at my six week deadline! I booked it right away and my plans were set. I decided I needed to come back from my solo tiny house vacation with some kind of final decision - am I doing this? If I am, should I be doing it right now? The path forward seemed so clear and smooth in my head, but how was I going to handle it when I started hitting bumps in the road? I wanted to put myself through a thorough examination of the risks and rewards, the pros and cons. If I finished the weekend with clear, positive answers to the big questions looming in my head, then I needed to start taking some steps forward to secure financing and find a place to park my future home.
There are very few times in my life I can remember having a true GUT feeling. This was one of them.
In the middle of May, I packed up a bag on a Friday evening, and took off towards the mountains. It was rainy and unseasonably gloomy. I briefly considered putting off my departure until the next day, but shook that notion off quickly. I wanted to wake up in that house, and give myself time to spend a full day there. Traffic was NOT kind, the rain never stopped pounding against my windshield, it got dark quickly, and I was TIRED. But then I got off the highway and drove through the small, sleepy town. My phone dropped out of service, and I switched to following the directions I had printed out at the encouragement of the homeowner, who warned me GPS would be particularly unhelpful the final few miles before arriving. I pulled into the driveway and up the hill, until my headlights swung towards a little tin-roofed cottage with a small porch. I loaded up my bags, picked my way down the path, and let myself in.
There are very few times in my life I can remember having a true GUT feeling. This was one of them. I opened the door, walked in, and I just knew. Even before I put down my bags. I almost started crying. This was what I needed to do. After all my plans, structure, research, and writing prompts, after all of the rain and traffic I battled through to get there, I didn’t even need to stay the weekend... I knew. Instantly. I would, of course, still stay the weekend, but the space immediately felt like the right size, felt the perfect level of calm, felt strangely like home. I felt like I could breathe deeper than I had in a really long time. Immediately, I was sure that this was a journey I wanted to take, no matter what. Which, coincidentally, relieved a lot of the pressure I had been putting on myself to make a decision that weekend. With that weight off my shoulders, I was ready to have an amazing solo vacation weekend.
A play-by-play of my weekend:
I settled in that night with the windows cracked open so I could listen to the rain. I wrote for a little while, responding to some of the journaling prompts I had given myself, then read my book as I fell asleep, and didn’t set an alarm. I woke up naturally around 7:30 to the sound of birds chirping, with a perfect breeze blowing through the open window. Breakfast was provided by way of a well-stocked kitchen and a fresh loaf of zucchini bread, so I made a pot of coffee and enjoyed my breakfast on the porch in a rocking chair, with my book. Mid-morning, the homeowner came down the hill to work in her garden and say hello. We chatted for a long time, and she recommended a few places to visit nearby, so I finally got a move on so I could catch the Saturday morning farmers market.
Once there, I grabbed some groceries for my dinner later, walked around town shopping a bit, then grabbed more coffee and some lunch while I made a plan for the afternoon. After stopping back by the house to drop off the groceries and change, I got on the Blue Ridge Parkway and just started driving. The weather was perfect, so I kept my windows down, played my favorite music, stopped at every scenic overlook pull-off I passed, and eventually followed a roadside sign to a winery. I did a wine tasting with an older couple who were sweet, but somewhat confused by my concept of a fully solo vacation. I bought a bottle of one of the wines I liked and sat in the sun with my book and a glass.
A few hours, and a regrettable, but thankfully mild, sunburn later, I corked the remainder of my wine and headed back down the Parkway toward the house. I spent the late afternoon sitting on the porch reading one of my host’s books - an anthology of essays about tiny living - ate bread, olives, and goat cheese from the farmers market, and of course, drank more wine. I made myself carbonara pasta for dinner in the tiny kitchen and watched a movie on my laptop, with the windows down, a warm breeze still blowing through the house. I fell asleep early while reading my book. The next morning I made breakfast and enjoyed my coffee on the porch in the sun again, before cleaning up and packing my bags. After saying goodbye to the owners, I very sadly started my drive home.
My weekend in the mountains gave me exactly what I needed. I knew that this was the right path for me, logically and emotionally. The overall size of the house was perfect, which reaffirmed my decision to go with a 20 foot length. The things I didn’t 100% love about the layout, like the narrow bathroom, the small fridge, or the small amount of counter space between the stove and sink, helped me nail down any lingering issues I had with my own layout. Beyond the features of the house itself, I tried to check in with myself throughout the weekend about how I felt in the space. It didn't feel cramped or claustrophobic, the abundant windows made me feel more connected to the outdoors, and I enjoyed cooking in the kitchen. Driving home, I wished I could have spent longer there, but more than anything, I was excited to start on my own journey in earnest.
If you are questioning if tiny living is the right choice for you, a getaway weekend at a tiny house can either give you the kick in the pants you need to get started, OR the reality check that it may not be for you. To get your own tiny house vacation on the books, I’ve included some tips and thoughts below!
How do you find a tiny house to stay in? It’s not as hard as you may think! Google is your friend. I lucked out and found my weekend getaway by searching “tiny house, AirBnB, Virginia.” Here's a link to the house I stayed in, so if you are in Virginia, I cannot recommend it enough! I prefer using AirBnB because you can easily see how well rated the host is, what other guests experienced, and a clear list of amenities. That’s not to say you can’t go with other independent rental sites, but make sure to do your research - check reviews, if there aren’t sufficient photos with the listing, ask the host for more before you book.
Here are a few resources for booking your own vacation weekend:
AirBnB They have a great reviewing system, the best listings have a LOT of information, and pretty amazing customer service in the event that anything goes wrong.
Getaway These are not ‘lived in’ spaces, but they are widely available and do give you a good sense of what it’s like to inhabit a space of that size.
Glamping Hub You can search specifically for tiny houses, yurts, almost anything that would qualify as a non-traditional vacation booking.
While you are researching potential houses to book, look for a house that is approximately the same size you are hoping to build - even better if they have a similar layout. That will give you the best idea of whether you need to size up your build, or if you can get away with less square footage.
If you will be living with a spouse, significant other, or kids, it would be a good idea to plan on bringing them as well. I went on my tiny house vacation alone, but naturally, that’s because I was going to be living alone. This may be a key step in figuring out what size house will be best for your family, and it will give you a taste of how you operate together in a smaller floor plan. Can you relax in the living area without feeling cramped? Is there enough room to sleep? Is it difficult to cook enough food for everyone in the smaller kitchen? Figure out your pain points or complaints, and talk about how you plan to remedy them in your own home.
During your stay, be open-minded, but take a critical eye to your surroundings. Is there sufficient storage? Is the kitchen laid out efficiently? When you want to kick your feet up, where are you inclined to sit? Is there enough headroom above the bed?
Lastly, take some time to write out your thoughts. You may not be a fan of journaling - neither was I! But there is something very helpful about taking the time to articulate your exact motivations, dig into some of your worries, and start outlining your plans.
If you do nothing else, at least write a pro/con list. It is one of the most basic tools when it comes to making a decision, but it is worth it! There are lots of pros to going tiny so it’s easier to focus there, but I encourage you to really dig in and pull out as many potential cons as possible. Put anything you're worried about in that column. The sooner you acknowledge it, the sooner you can figure out how to combat those concerns.
I’ve also created a list of journaling prompts below that really helped me, so I hope they’ll help you too! You can just write stream of consciousness-style, create bullet points, or just free associate words - the important part is giving your brain time to process the finer points of what going tiny means for you.
Why do you want to live in a tiny house? What are your primary goals?
What do you like about your current living situation?
What do you dislike about your current living situation?
What makes you most excited about your tiny house?
What part of going tiny are you most worried about?
How long do you plan on living tiny? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Do you foresee any roadblocks, be they personal, financial, or otherwise? How do you plan on dealing with them?
What do your significant other, friends, children, family, etc. think about going tiny?
It’s the kind of project that fundamentally changes your life.
From the beginning, the idea to build my own house has felt wholly different than a lot of major life decisions. By all accounts, it can be a risky financial decision, a huge lifestyle and paradigm shift, and an unimaginable amount of work. It’s the kind of project that fundamentally changes your life. But since the beginning, any self doubt I had couldn't drown out my passion. Don’t get me wrong, I still thought I was a little nuts. I don’t blame my parents, friends, or co-workers for raising their eyebrows or laughing when I told them about it. But it felt achievable, comfortable even, to divest myself of the stuff I didn’t need and live more simply. From the get-go, it has felt almost exclusively exciting, not scary, to be a part of actually building my first home.
So I went with my gut, and jumped in.
As always, stay tuned for more!