Why Living Tiny is a Viable Long-term Solution for Families

family of four

By Hari Berzins

If you are interested in redesigning your lifestyle and achieving mortgage-freedom, check out Hari and Karl Berzins’ (tinyhousefamily.com) eCourse, Creating Mortgage-freedom. They are proof that families can successfully live tiny, and are excited to help other singles, couples and families realize their dreams of debt-free living. The winter session of the course is now open for enrollment and begins on January 24, 2015. Read about the course and register here.

Many folks question the long-term viability of tiny houses—especially for families. Can a family of four really sustain happiness in 168 sq. ft.?

There are many assumptions about tiny houses and the people who live in them. The curiosity abounds because we all have to live somewhere, and if we are going to live somewhere could it possibly be somewhere smaller? Or could we possibly live more efficiently in our current home? The underlying desire is a simpler, freer lifestyle.

I read a comment on this recent tiny house article; it’s a comment often made. “I’d love to visit these breadbox homes in three years and see if any of these people could stand it. I know I couldn’t.” So what does it look like in three years?

tiny house

I can tell you. We’ve lived in our tiny house with our two kiddos for almost four years. Our little bread box of a home looks pretty much the same as it did when we moved in, except for the couch. We had to re-upholster that, and it needs to be done again. But the rest of the house is in good shape. The hardwood walls and floors were a great idea because we do beat this place up just by living so intensely in the space. But that’s not what she meant. Maybe she meant could we stand it. Are we still standing? What do we look like? Is our hair standing on end? Do we have permanent scowls on our faces? Are we even still alive?

kids in tiny house

We do look different. The tiny house changed us. We’ve been transformed in the best way possible. But you probably can’t tell by looking at us. Well, except for the kids.

The idea that a family will outgrow a tiny house is true. When we embarked on our mortgage-free journey, we didn’t fully grasp the fact that our kids would get bigger. I mean double in size. It’s bound to happen, and yet, when those guys started taking up more of the couch, it caught us off guard. Now we still manage to watch family movies on the laptop, but it’s less comfortable than it used to be, but that’s okay; it just means our plan was a good one.

We knew we couldn’t (or didn’t want to) live in our tiny house with two teenagers, and our plan was to live tiny as long as it took to build a bigger mortgage-free house. It looks like four will be our magic number. (And it’s right on time since our daughter turns 12 this year.) Four years isn’t forever, but at the start of our second winter in the tiny house when we had just broken ground on the big house, it seemed like we would live in the tiny forever.

build 1

The slow and steady process of building dollar for dollar pushes us to the very edge of what we think we can handle. When Karl straddled the big house roof to put that last piece of metal on in an ice storm last winter, I couldn’t breathe. We finished work for the day and came back into the tiny house with our fear, frustration and worry. Would we have the money to finish the house? How in the world would we get the last rafter in place? Was this the dumbest idea we ever had? Ahhhh! Move over. I need a few more inches. Hang your coat up, honey. Why are these shoes always here!? I just need some quiet. Making it through the dark times together is character building and relationship strengthening. There’s a lot of joy in the pushing through and making it.

build two

Since living in a tiny house with a family is hard, does that mean a family shouldn’t live in one? Nope. Heck, it’s been the best housing decision we’ve ever made.
We built our tiny house for $12,000 in materials costs. (That’s with a lot of salvage and Craigslist finds. We didn’t pay labor since we built it ourselves.) Rent costs $600-$800/month in our area, so we would have spent around $33,600 in rent over the last four years. Instead, we put that money toward building our tiny house and a larger mortgage-free home that will sustain us through the changes ahead. (We own our land and that cost isn’t included in this example. We explain our whole process and plan in our course Budgeting is a huge part of the process—we’ll help you with that.)

build 3

Our tiny house is a viable long-term solution because it is sheltering us while we build a bigger home that will serve our lifelong needs.

Most importantly, it was/is the ticket to our freedom, a homestead that will withstand the ups and downs of our future. This place can’t be taken away due to our lack of ability to pay. We’ve already paid for it. Rather than mortgage our future, we’ve chosen to work hard and sacrifice for a few years for peace of mind and freedom. This simple shift in thinking changes everything.

build 4

Maybe people who make these comments about long-term mean that a tiny house isn’t a good solution because you can’t live in it for the rest of your life. But you could. For the right couple or single, this home could be just perfect to live out a simple and satisfying life. These families have ideas about how to continue living tiny when their kids reach the teenage years.

Our tiny house is a viable long-term solution for us because our tiny house’s role in our family will change as we grow. I don’t think of long-term as something stagnant. We won’t live in this house for the rest of our lives, but we are building it into the big picture of our homestead. Its function will change as our needs do.

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Once we finish the big house, our tiny house will become a bed and breakfast. We’ll meet people from around the world who are interested in alternative housing, mortgage-freedom, homesteading or just visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains. So we end up with two mortgage-free houses—one to live in and one to use as a teaching tool and income stream. It might even serve as a mother-in-law suite for part of the year. This little home just keeps offering possibility.

build 5

And we certainly can’t discount the education living tiny provides. Remember I said we’ve changed. Living tiny is a crash course in simple living. The lessons we’ve learned living in this little house will be with us until we die—it doesn’t get any more long-term than that.

Here are a few lessons:

  • We’ve developed our own way of moving through family issues. Because the issues come up more often than they might in a larger house, we’ve become quite good at quickly working through them.
  • We’ve learned to stay organized, put things away, clean as we go, deep clean often, sort, sift, and let go. This is part of our daily lives. I sorely needed these lessons, and we’re all much better housekeepers and homemakers thanks to the tiny house.
  • We wait a long time before buying things. There’s probably already something around here that can be repurposed for our needs. Living with less and making use of everything we have is quite satisfying.
  • We’ve learned to clean out the fridge weekly. Living with a dorm fridge might sound like a terrible punishment, but it’s actually been a great way to help us stay on top of what we have and eat it up before it goes bad which has made a great impact on our food budget.

Living tiny while designing and building a bigger house has been a great way to go. Since we stripped away the excess, and felt the joy of living with less, we wanted to only make room for what we love in our big house. What we love is making art, solitude and gathering with our friends. Our big house doesn’t have a lot of room for stuff. What we’ve designed is a home with just the right amount of space to create (artistic pursuits need space and solitude) and gather. Giant windows invite the outdoors in and allow less room for collections of stuff. Instead of collecting stuff, we’ll collect views of the changing trees and the sun’s path across the sky.

build 6

If you look at the slow and steady journey of building a mortgage-free homestead as one that will solidify who you are and make you a stronger, more resilient and compassionate person, then this road is for you. It’s hard and wonderful all at once. But when you are done, you get that freedom you long for.

So is a tiny house a viable solution for families? Absolutely! Do you have to live in it forever for it to be viable? No way. Life’s circumstances change and a tiny house is changeable, too. There’s no one way to live tiny. The key is staying in touch with your life and your changing needs. If you continue to honor them then you are walking your path with intentionality, and that’s a great way to live.

build 7

I’m deeply grateful for our tiny house even with all of the emotional and logistical challenges the last (almost) four years have provided. Building home is one of the most empowering things humans can do.

If you’d like to forge your own path to mortgage-freedom, we’d like to help you. Once you free yourself from a mortgage or rent, you free yourself to design life on your own terms. Who knows where it will lead you. But it will be a ride you won’t forget. Are you ready to start the walk? Check out our eCourse and enroll here.

house in the snow

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Roxann - January 11, 2015 Reply

Hi Hari, I love your story. Eventually I intend to have a tiny home, but presently I have some challenges that keeps me put.
Anyway, I wanted to ask if your sleeping arrangements are only loft areas or lower areas also? I believe I would have a problem going up and down a ladder especially if I needed something in the middle of the night. Can you please give me your feedback on both scenarios?
Thanks so much!
R.B in Michigan

    Hari Berzins - January 11, 2015 Reply

    Hi Roxann,
    We do sleep in lofts, though the couch is big enough for us to sleep on. I actually slept there last night since I’m not feeling well. The lofts have worked out for us, but we are considering remodeling the tiny house before we open it as a b&b since climbing a ladder to bed isn’t for everyone. Our remodel plan includes opening one side of the house to a cathedral ceiling and adding a queen sized bed to the far end of the house. This bed would also function as the couch. I think a lower level bed is a good idea if you feel at all concerned about the ladder.

Bob - January 11, 2015 Reply

Seems like the ultimate plan would be to live in a tiny house until the kids are born, then build a second connected tiny house for the kids (maybe with a half bath), then sell it once the kids move out.

Has anyone tried that?

    Hari Berzins - January 11, 2015 Reply

    I think you have a great idea!

    Jen - January 11, 2015 Reply

    really? I live in an 800sq ft wartime 1880 1-1/2 story with low and slanted roof with 3 kids.

    it’s not difficult and my house has probably seen more kids and people come through than not – unless you are sleeping, preparing/eating food, reading or it’s too crummy to go out – its like an igloo or submarine.

    we aren’t home as a society – lessons, school etc so really?

    we rent movies – even if we tried to add extra free time, the monthly costs more than the number of commercial free movies we can rent.

    affordable living is security – what would you do without an address?

    big box junk houses that two people working can’t afford, are never home to enjoy, have others bringing up their kids or leaving them alone, to live up to what? how about actually living?

      Laura - January 12, 2015 Reply

      We are a family of ten living in a tiny two bedroom home with 900 square feet and one bathroom. You can make anything work.

Nancy @ Little Homestead in Boise - January 11, 2015 Reply

Great story. My concern would also be lack of privacy for the parents, you know? To be together, and have some down time. I do find it a bit ironic that there’s a tiny house, then there’ s BIG house? I guess to each there own. Or maybe the house isn’t as big as it looks? Square footage???

    Hari - January 11, 2015 Reply

    The big house is uphill, so it looks bigger in the pictures. It’s 1400 sqft.

    Hari Berzins - January 11, 2015 Reply

    KENT–I can’t tell if my first reply made to Nancy made it through. Please delete the first one (if it made it through) and use this comment.

    Hi Nancy,
    When the kids were younger, the privacy issue wasn’t a big deal, but it is more so now. We have alone time when the kids are at school and we’re both off on Fridays, otherwise, we have to be creative.

    The big house does look bigger in the photos since it’s uphill. It’s 1400 sq. ft. quite a big house compared to our tiny house, for sure.

larissa - January 11, 2015 Reply

Love it, this is very inspiring. I look forward to the ecourse w you. (This spring I think) and a visit to your B&B, which is a perfect way to test out tiny living. Have a great day all

Becca - January 11, 2015 Reply

What an inspiring story

Sue - January 11, 2015 Reply

I took Hari & Karl’s course this past year to help me move toward a tiny home. Even if I never get into one (hush your mouth!), I’ve gotten rid of ‘stuff’ & learned to live with less. As I recall, their ‘big house’ is around 800 sq ft? Compared to less than 200, it definitely IS a big house!
Couldn’t recommend this course more. Fun, educational, connecting with others following similar paths…..& months after completing it, we’re STILL connected with everyone!

Joseph nudd - January 11, 2015 Reply

your story really keeps me going when I hear people quiting or changing there minds about it.you guys did it an are doing it..that’s what I want for my family.the thing is I realize that I’d need buy a parcel of land then park my tiny house on it or build it There. Get it approved to be a dwelling like you guys did..when I’m ready I’ll be taking you e-course to learn more of how exactly you did it. Your house looks awesome by the way!

Rhonwyn - January 11, 2015 Reply

We lived in a little 14′ x 22′ one room with bathroom house on a concrete slab while we waited to build a big house. Had 4 children before the big house was move-in-able. We have been in this big house a long time and 5 children no longer live here. I’ve been wondering whether we should have built large. I miss tiny. I miss the extreme closeness, and well, I miss the kids. Now we don’t at all need all this room. Ahhhh, nostalgia.

    Hari Berzins - January 11, 2015 Reply

    I think of that, too, Rhonwyn. When that time comes, maybe we’ll move back into the tiny house and let the kids have the big house. Who knows? But I’m sure we’ll miss these days in this little house.

Daphne - January 11, 2015 Reply

10 years ago I lived in 1,000 sq ft 1 bedroom, I decided to downsize and moved into 750 sq ft. My current place (for about 6 years) is 294. I am looking at making the move into something smaller in the next 2 years. I LOVE my tiny space but I want to go mobile.

If you are thinking about living tiny, rent tiny for 6 months or a year. It’s not for everyone but if it’s for you, it is wonderful!

Pat Dunham - January 11, 2015 Reply

I loved your article and all the comments. We lived aboard a a 55 ft. boat with 6 children for 4 years and were very comfortable. Boats are not square and at the widest point it was 10 feet, which means, we probably had about 400 sq. ft. The kids always say, ” thanks for the memories”.

Brahmand - January 11, 2015 Reply

Its good but Please send enter picture
With thanks

Austin Martin - January 13, 2015 Reply

Great article! My wife and I considered a yurt for a long time. We never did go that route, we currently have 3 kids, but I feel someday we will!

Nigel Fogden - January 18, 2015 Reply

My wife and I have a five year old boy and twin girls and we live in a tiny – but we live in Japan and here “tiny” is normal for families. It’s easy to forget that how much space you “need” is a very cultural thing.

It’s also easier living small here because places and things are designed for it. You guys have to be a lot more creative.

Anyway, I don’t know what country I will be in but I hope to build my own house one day and it’s encouraging to see people put their heart into where they live!

Nigel Fogden - January 18, 2015 Reply

To the moderator:

Sorry; I meant to write “tiny apartment” in the first line of the comment above.

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