Tips for Transitioning to a Tiny House

by Jane Roarski

There are plenty of advantages to living in small spaces: fewer possessions, reduced impact on the earth, and lower living expenses are just a few of them. More people are choosing to live more simply, and for some that means using the bare minimum of living space.

While living in limited square footage poses many challenges, a growing number of people are proving that minimizing essentials, combined with some innovative custom remodeling, is enough to meet the task of tiny house living.

Whether your small living space is 1000 square feet or 100 square feet, these ideas can help cushion the transition from a bigger home.

Less is more. If you’re making the effort to live in a smaller space, you’ve probably realized that tiny house living leads to liberation from unnecessary stuff. Moving to a tiny space means letting go of non-essentials. In return, you’ll be rewarded with more time and money, as a smaller home takes a lot less of both to maintain.

storage closet under loft

Storage closets and a kitchen find room under a sleeping loft. Photo credit: Koch Architects.

Love the loft life. Bedrooms can take up a lot of space, but sleeping doesn’t have to. The sleeping quarters in a smaller home are often the same size as the bed itself. With a loft design, the bedroom can be located directly above another room, even though most tiny houses are single level. And when placed on a custom platform, a loft bed can rest on top of essential storage.

two bedrooms

Two bedrooms can take less space than one. Photo credit: Sullivan Building and Design Group.

Build up instead of out. In a tiny home you’ll need to utilize every inch of wall space, and that means stacking items to the ceiling and integrating plenty of shelving. Recessed shelving offers a way to store items on shelves that take up exterior wall space rather than open space from the limited room inside.

storage space front entry

Storage space fits above the front entry in a 117 square-foot home. Photo credit: Evan and Gabby Coulsen.

Think smaller. You may want many of the same amenities you enjoyed in a larger home, so the trick to fitting them in a tiny one is to make each item smaller. Your new space may require a two-burner stove, a combination washer-dryer, and a half-sized fridge. And every item added to the home should include some kind of built-in storage.

90 square foot kitchen

This 90 square-foot kitchen found room for a full-sized fridge and a half-sized dishwasher. Photo credit: Justrich Design.

Create outdoor living spaces. While tiny houses have limited space within, many of them have some exterior living space options. Whether it’s an apartment balcony or a deck that’s twice the size of the home itself, the outdoors can provide the openness, solitude, and even privacy that sometimes the inside of a tiny home can’t afford.

outdoor living space

An outdoor room can double the living space in a tiny house. Photo credit: Lezlee Cheek.

44 Comments Tips for Transitioning to a Tiny House

  1. Jenn

    Love this post! I’m transitioning from a regular house to a 5th wheel trailer. The trailer is quite roomy, but I’m already liking the forced editing of things I keep vs. things I get rid of.

    Reply
    1. Elle

      I’m actually hoping to do the move to a travel trailer myself. I’ve been living in a 326 sq ft studio apartment with a boyfriend and a cat for a year and half now so I think I’m reasonably prepared. And the freedom to hook my home to a truck and move it pretty much anywhere I want is very tempting. Now if only they’d get around to building the giant bridge from Russia to Alaska I could go bum around Europe too.

      Reply
    2. Glynette

      My husband and I moved into a 5th wheel RV about three years ago and absolutely love it. It’s bigger than some apartments. We are now planning the transition into a tiny home on wheels. We are super excited. I’m sure you will absolutely love your new smaller space. And when you go shopping you always have to say, Oh that’s pretty but I don’t have room for that. More money for fun time.

      Reply
  2. deborah

    Good ideas! For me a decent sized counter in a kitchen is a must because I cook from scratch and bake a lot. Even so, all I would need would be two burners and a good quality counter top oven and a small (not tiny) fridge. I could keep my chest freezer in a shed.

    Another “must have” for me is a tub. I could go without a bathroom sink or just have a tiny one squeezed in.

    Shelving over every door and window make a big difference as to how much space you have for storing things. It is always “forgotten” space in all sized homes.

    Reply
      1. Lorraine

        I watched the video on the link, I loved the bathtub/table/seat. Also the underbed storage. Like some others, I can’t do the ladder to the bed (or the ladder back down in the middle of the night to the bathroom). I have downsized to 840 square feet, but am already noticing how BIG it is, for just me. It has such a standard layout, everything has a separate room.

        Reply
    1. Glynette

      I am right there with you on the, need tub and no bathroom sink. We are planning on putting in a all in one washer/dryer in that space and the tub is going to be one of the small square ones that has the side door you open and step into. You can sit and fill those up to your chest. I’m sure they are more comfortable than a traditional tub also.

      Reply
  3. Beverly

    Love tiny homes . . . but I need a first floor bedroom so guess I need to concentrate on a small home instead. Cannot do stairs let alone ladders!!

    Reply
    1. Another Beverly

      Check out the Humble Homes model that has a bed on the first floor that slides under the kitchen — pretty sweet!

      Reply
  4. Cathy

    What about how to not go shack happy in a tiny house during the cold winter months. There is no outside room you can make if you don’t have the right climate. Some tips on how not to get cabin fever in the wintertime would be wonderful.

    Reply
    1. Deb

      As someone who’s been living in my mom’s basement
      (with real ‘6 over 6′ windows but outside my door is the underneath side of the deck)…LIGHT! A fixed (not portable) tiny house with a glass wall
      or as close as you can get with a large window
      would be my ideal. Also,as my space is rectangular
      like many tiny houses, I think a shape closer to a
      square would feel less confining. Maybe a skylight and a place to keep plants like ivy high up would work…

      Reply
      1. Peg

        Deb, I couldn’t agree more. I’m always surprised at the pics I look at of tiny or small home living and how the windows are neglected as crucial to the experience of living in a small space. Nothing makes small living a real joy more than having large windows and an outside space to enlarge the interior experience.

        Reply
      2. Christine

        OH! And here I thought I was the only lone critter, (w/ my hubby of course) dying for want of LIGHT! I live in a cellar too, w/ windows the size of portholes (swear!) right AT ground level, w/ a black wall 2′ away in an alley that hasn’t seen sunshine since easily the turn of the LAST century (1900’s!) When people ask me, “what is your dearest wish?” I just about scream WINDOWS! LIGHT! Hear the rain, see the storms come up, whatever – LIGHT! Even my cacti have died for lack of light and I have gro-lights! Everything else gave up the ghost years ago. Can’t fuss tho, I still have a roof over my head, there’s been way too many who haven’t been able to say that these last years. Never discount what God gives me. Just wish He could give me light! LOL “Not yet”.

        I’m just getting into this “tiny house” idea, and tho I know I’ll never – technically – have one of my own, if God can get this miracle through, we’ll be moving from PILES of JUNK in a 3 bedroom apartment to a one bedroom apartment, and as far as possible, I want to move in Totes!! Pare down, pick and choose, get rid of this behemoth pile of unwanted JUNK that hovers over me like a nightmare. Problem is, I’m in so much pain and like the commercial says, the trick to moving is getting up and I haven’t gotten that far yet. With the promise of light it might be surprising to see how fast I could move, huh? :D LOL! To me the most!

        But this “tiny house” business is really inspiring to me and restful to my mind. I’ve learned a lot. Can’t do ladders tho, stairs maaaaaybe, but no ladders, not in the middle of the night headed “over there”! hehehe! But I did see the COOLEST stairs, each tread covered and held a drawer! How’s THAT for storage, eh? ;)

        Reply
    2. mina

      Cathy, if you have the freedom to design your home or redesign it, I’d add that having as few walls as possible breaking up the space helps it to feel spacious. Also, add paint in a beautiful color that encourages you. White is always the color to open up a space (it reflects so much light which is wonderful in winter). If you painted white on the walls and your favorite color on the ceiling you have the best of both worlds. Or, you could paint the walls your fav. color, and paint the ceiling and trim the same color but lighter shade, which increases the visual space more than a high contrast.

      Have a high ceiling. Choose a murphy bed (on hydraulics) rather than a sleeping loft.

      I agree w/ Deb, and to her suggestion I’d add having your biggest windows on a south-facing wall to get the most sun, unless that’s just a depressing view…

      Reply
    3. Lynne

      I have to agree concerning the ‘winter’ months issue. Living in the lower Puget Sound area for all of my 56 years, the most we’ve ever had enough of warm/dry weather to accomodate an outdoor room was five months – and even then, there were some several-day stretches of rainy and damp days. In fact, even our indoor rooms tend to be slightly damp from mid-September through early May.

      We’re not in a position to move to a drier climate at the moment, and truth be told, we love the green, don’t want to leave it. But I for one need lots of natural light at the same time as a (mostly) dry living space. Everything requires a sacrifice of some kind. :)

      We love all the info we get from this site, it has helped tremendously with our decision to go small rather than tiny.

      Reply
  5. Carolyn B

    Very entertaining article. Loved the photos. I am one who loves small over tiny as I can’t do lofts. I love seeing everybody’s creative storage ideas.

    Reply
  6. Hugh

    The other side of the Coin…

    Iv’e been considering a home purchase recently. Two options… a condo or a traditional 2/3 bed home in the burbs and rent out one of the extra rooms.

    However because of some issues I will not be able to do this for at least a year. Yes the prices of homes will probably go up in that time period… perhaps not, time will tell.

    I like the idea of a tiny house, but the trailer based ones are just too small for me. A Mini Cooper just won’t pull a trailer… and I’m not buying a pick-me-up even if I do live in Texas. I’ve been in a room rental situation for the majority of the past six years so I ‘m used to living small with fewer belongings. Thinking about cutting my total space in half simply will not work. There are items which need a certain footprint and can’t be adjusted downwards. Not everyone wants to climb a ladder to bed, age has a lot to do with this. Also I’m 6’-2” in height and need some physical space around me to avoid the claustrophobic feeling which a trailer based home would certainly foster.

    I’m thinking at least 400 sq. foot… The size of a traditional two car garage. Possibly stretching that up to 600, depending on the floor plan. Tiny houses are a cost savings, initially, maintenance wise and utilities, but the trailer based ones are not for everyone.

    Reply
  7. gmh

    Great ideas- my big house is on the market and I have my eye on one that is almost half the size. I know I will need to sell off some furniture and other stuff and this post just gets me revved up to do it!

    Reply
  8. Teri

    I have been living in 400 sq feet for almost a year now.. its amazing !! It does force you to get rid of all the extra stuff ( I dontated almost all of mine to a battered womans shelter!) I am now wanting to build my own tiny house..my concern or questions centers on climate..I would want this to be built in SWMO where winters are cold and summers are hot.. also lots of tornados..so safety and cooling and heating are an issue I would love to discuss with someone in the know !!

    Reply
    1. Christine

      I might just have a germ of an idea for you. I’ve often wondered about living where all I see is sky – I love watching storms come up – and for so many years my ex wanted to live underground that I’ve had time to think about this. (Don’t think mole hills quite yet!)

      First, they make those REALLY shiny tubes to get sunlight down into the rearmost rooms, but if you’re going to be small/tiny, you could just do w/o extra rooms, tho I’d keep the shiny tubes anyway, see my “root cellar” post above!

      Build it with the front wall floor-to-ceiling, pillar-to-post sliding glass doors and just plate glass. I lived in a house in CA that the ENTIRE back wall of our house was pure glass, top-to-bottom, side-to-side. They held up just fine.

      Now you say, “but tornadoes!” OK, DEEP porch, as deep as possible and still be practical – there’s your “outside room” – because the sides will be cinder block, back-filled w/ dirt to continue your “underground-ness”. They make very strong commercial high-crime-area roll down shutters, that also lock quite securely. With a porch roof (covered w/ earth also, thereby determining the depth of your porch by weight and the cinderblocks will support the roof, as well), you will have only one side, flat, to cover for protection. Just roll them down when the storms come calling. Once they’re rolled up, they’ll be seen as a roll above your porch, but they wouldn’t be ugly because you wouldn’t use them except as storm protection, and that can be for blizzard storms too. Keeps the snow off your porch and keeps you warmer w/ an insulating area inbetween you and the raging winds/deep temps. Open them up after a snowstorm and talk about light then! Whoo!

      This porch allows you to sit out through all but the roughest weather, so you’ll have excellent “outdoor space” as well. I envision the roof as heavy duty corrugated metal, so even a grill underneath won’t be a danger. Then, just roll those shutters down and lock ‘em down when it starts to blow. Voila! A house that you’re safe in and yet still light! A whole WALL of light! It’s VERY “green”, and if built right, it’ll stay dry as a bone, and those shiny tubes will bring SCADS of light like into your kitchen area/bathroom too, (even w/ the shutters down.)

      Always been an idea I had. I’ll never build it now. And you may not either, but who knows who might read this and build my dream for themselves? That would be SOOOO cool if they did and they sent me pics, but maybe one day in heaven I’ll know, hey? :) Don’t know if ANY of this makes sense in anyone’s mind, if you can picture it, but like I said, it’s just offered as a germ of a thought.

      Reply
      1. Edie Rodman

        This round of posts/letters is remarkably interesting and informing. There is a great community feel from all the contributors.
        Christine, your comments are so generous and helpful; I’m sure many of your suggestions will be considered/used by readers.
        I’m not in a tiny/small house, but I traveled for a year in a 200sq/ft RV with my husband and 2 cats and Loved It.
        These posts give me encouragement to find homes for ‘stuff’ I don’t need.
        Thanks, every one!

        Reply
  9. Benjamin

    Sure it’s a hassle to climb a ladder to go to bed (or down and up in the middle of the night for bathroom), but what I really hate is trying to make a bed when you can’t walk around it.

    Reply
  10. Jenifer

    We (family of 3) live in 480 sq ft. It’s really great. I love looking at tiny houses, and probably the smallest we could manage is some of those 120 sq fters.

    I really like this design (http://shabbychictinyretreat.blogspot.co.nz) as it has a little back nook that looks like it fits a double bed nicely. For anyone who wouldn’t want to be up in the loft, this is a viable option. It apparently has two sleeping lofts and a little bathtub in the bathroom. It looks really do-able to me!

    I can imagine that one could do two kids (one in each loft) in that house.

    Reply
  11. alice h

    A good open layout is critical in small spaces. I’m trying to avoid cramming everything in a line on each long wall with only a narrow walkway between. That’s one reason I’m going with a side entrance and as many windows as possible along that side. The only built-ins will be along the other three walls, leaving as much open floor space as possible.

    Reply
  12. Shell

    Always appreciate all the great ideas. Someday…somehow…I dream of doing this myself. I loved the extra put in about the lady in the tiny apartment and where she put her bathtub. So very very cool!

    Reply
  13. MelD

    This is a particularly attractive post, visually, and I enjoyed that.

    I like that Tammy Strobel included French windows in her design – extra air and light and an escape route, I guess. Nice windows, too, which they need for a more variable climate.
    Although I also agree that a squarer footprint would suit me better, obviously if you’ve got a trailer base that isn’t going to be an option.

    Reply
  14. Henry

    Concerning bed/bedroom in tiny houses: One solution is too eliminate it completely–use a Mayan hammock instead. I’ve been sleeping on one instead of a bed for over 10 years. I find it much more comfortable (it has eliminated my back pain and numbness from sleeping on arms). I can also unhook it from the wall and store it on an hanger in a closet in no time at all. With this solution you can increase your floor space, add a tub or additional storage space, etc. Cost varies with size and quality, but you can certainly get one for under $100 that will last for many years. There are many sites on the web, but one with a lot of information is http://www.seasidehammocks.com.

    Reply
    1. Bohemiansunsets

      Thanks Henry, this is definitely an idea, that I can consider (hammock as a bed) as I am single with no children, and relatively young. Do you have a tiny house. I would love to see how this can look and feel, as beds are very traditional and what we are mostly use to in the grand USA

      Reply
  15. Pennie

    My husband and I are considering traveling the USA with our 3 coonhounds and 1 orange tabby. We have looked at conventional travel trailers but they just don’t seem to fit our real needs. We like the idea of living in a Little House, but since we are in our 60’s we find it hard to get into the loft type sleeping area, are their other better options like a murphy bed? Also wood little houses can be heavy & we own a F-150 V8 Supercrew (not 4WD) for towing. Would we need to upgrade our truck to a 250 or better? Thanks, Pennie

    Reply
  16. Good

    I am living with my boyf and cat in a 17m2 house. how many sqft are that?! It was built for the servants of the major house to sleep in, or something. I must say, it is really TINY, but I love it. We have fields and nature all around us, lots of light, oven, a little fireplace that really heats up well, everything is reduced but functional! Here is what we miss:
    -a studio. My boyfriend is making a landscape/architectural project on our only (foldable) table right this moment, and there is NO space left in the living area, so I’m reading on the bed.
    -Storage space. I have nowhere to put my winter coat and travel luggage.
    -A bathtub.
    -Place to put an armchair. And my sewingmachine.

    What we do surprisingly not miss:
    -countersapce in the kitchen. I am a passionate baker, but I somehow manage to do it all on a 30x50cm surface.
    -heat in the dead of winter!! It is really well insulated and the fireplace works like magic.
    -bathroom space. There are no shelves to clutter with my stuff, and I don’t miss’em
    I thought it would be hard to share such little space, but we have decided to not go back on “regular” size, but to buy some land and build our micro-house of our own, once we have found the place we like.

    Reply
  17. Phyllis Bechtold

    I’m a 61 year old divorce’ who currently owns two homes. I am planning on using one as my main home and will sell the other (which is located on family property) to my niece. I’m thinking of building a tiny home (cabin) on my 40 family acres to use when I’m in the area visiting. I don’t want to attract the attention of county government, so I plan on building a portable shed within the sq. ft. limits so no building permit is needed. There will be no electric, septic, or water. I’ve been reading and reading everything I can get my hands on….I’m very excited! Does anyone have any ideas? I’m thinking composting toilet, collected rain water and bringing in drinking and cooking water, and either gas generator or propane for heat and lights. Am I crazy???

    Reply
    1. Heather

      Phyllis-I have been living full time in 250 sq ft travel trailer and there are many jolting experiences to living off the grid like you are planning. My first 8 months I had no water and it was rustic living at it’s finest. Not many words for no sewage or way to wash items. It is essential to avoid infestation of bugs if you are washing dishes outside, do this far away from the shed. Consider coiling a dark hose on the roof for warm water and showers. Solar oven can be made easily and cheaply. More than the difficult parts there is a ton of self evaluation of what you are all about being that intimate with yourself in a small space. Get ready for some adventures and find out what your ready to live with and without.

      Reply
      1. alice h

        I lived off-grid for many years in various tiny shacks and shanties in the Yukon. The number one thing you discover is that you will be toting things in and out a lot. You can make the processes simpler by inventing various methods to deal with stuff but ultimately you need to be in reasonably good shape for “bucket and chuck it” plumbing or have help to deal with chores.

        I still remember how excited we were the day we upgraded from kerosene lamps to propane lights. No more daily cleaning and filling those stinky things! Propane lights are noisy and hot but you get used to them fairly quickly. If you have any possibility of using solar for LED lights it’s a much better way to go.

        There are plenty of ways to deal with laundry off grid and I’ve never had bug issues with dishes, other than too many mosquitos to do them outside. Dealing properly with grey water and toilet composting is essential and there’s lots of good info out there. http://humanurehandbook.com/ is a useful read.

        Reply
  18. M. Michael

    When we moved to our boat, I discovered that drug and other stores in university districts carry many smaller sized appliances like coffee makers, toaster ovens, etc. and other interesting items for living in smaller spaces.

    Reply
  19. Gail N

    Been living in a 30′ motorhome for 11 yrs. One thing that will creep up on you is the clutter. Be very careful! Clutter is taking over again, need to sort through and file or recycle. My son was 5 and now is 16. I’m building a small house.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>