“Surviving” with Mom in a Tiny House

Melia Robinson, a writer for The Business Insider, recently spend a three nights in a tiny house for rent in Plattsburgh, New York with her mom. Her reasons for doing it were simple, but her experience was far from ideal. What she and her mother experienced might explain why some people avoid moving into a tiny house or give up on the dream after just a short amount of time. Before buying or building your own tiny house‚ÄĒgiving one or two of them a spin might give you better inside into the lifestyle and the best designs.

Melia wanted to see if size really did matter and wanted to experience what a 168 square foot “micro home” could offer. She mentioned in her article that not only are tiny homes cozy and easier to manage but monthly bills would start to look like “chump change.” Melia and her mother, Vickie, rented The Little Great Camp Cabin owned by Les Delorimier near Lake Champlain. The tiny cabin has a living and dining area with a breakfast table, a small balcony with two chairs, a sleeping loft and a small bathroom with a flush camping toilet and shower. The house was built over the course of a winter for $26,000. The house has electricity and lighting and propane for cooking and heating water.

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What Melia and her mother liked best about their stay in the tiny house was the feeling of being in a treehouse and how the small space forces you to downsize. They also appreciated how close they could be to each other and how the small space also allowed them to seek out their own relaxation areas: mother took the downstairs futon and daughter took the loft. On the other hand, what became problematic was the issue of too much stuff. Each of the women’s personal items spread around the house and Melia realized that their current lifestyle did not fit into 168 square feet.



Other issues the women faced was the feeling of being cooped up, using the more basic toilet and dealing with subsequent odors, having to take turns in the kitchen and the inability to sit or stand up in the sleeping loft. In the end, mother and daughter relished having to go back to their current homes with designated areas for sleeping, eating and going to the bathroom and admitted they were “gluttons for space.”

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Photos by Melia Robinson/The Business Insider


By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]



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Kathleen Kalinowski - September 16, 2014 Reply

Tiny home living is not suitable for most people in my opinion. You have to truly commit to a hard core philosophy of less is more and it helps to be naturally tidy, too! I do think that most people can be comfortable in smaller houses but tiny houses are just too small for most.

Becca - September 16, 2014 Reply

Well at least you gave it a try! I’d imagine it’s not for everyone ūüôā

Jill - September 16, 2014 Reply

I am a voracious reader and I can relate to the having “too” much stuff. Also I think tiny or small only really works if you can find your Goldilocks space. That means something that is just right for you.

    david - September 16, 2014 Reply

    I’m voracious too:)

gmh - September 16, 2014 Reply

I like reading about different paths to tiny home living, or even about those who change course after doing their own research. This helps me with my planning for the future. I recently went from 1800 square feet with a 2 car garage to 1200 square feet with a 1 car garage. There are challenges, and every inch counts, but I still imagine tiny living is in my future.
Thanks for giving us a variety of articles and ideas!

Jacqueline Johnson - September 16, 2014 Reply

3 days? Sorry, but that’s not exactly a serious “study”. It is a hotel stay. Problems like many here would be worked through in long term living situations.

168 square foot however might not be ideal for 2 people, around 100 square feet for each is ideal.

So perhaps a real test, involving a tiny house more suitable for two people (altho there is no reason it can’t be done in 168 sq ft.) for a longer period, 6 months to a year, instead of what was essentially “camping”” and not “living” in a tiny house.

Eliza - September 16, 2014 Reply

I currently live in a small house and I agree, clutter is a huge issue, even for those of us who try to ‘live simply.’ I work in a field that generates a lot of paperwork, and I have stacks of files, ‘to do’ projects and forms, not to mention my own mail, bills, catalogs, etc. Not everything can be scanned and filed digitally, as has been suggested in previous posts to this blog, and in some cases I don’t want to put a document into my laptop—the handmade card from a friend, an Italian postcard from my daughter.

One thing I’ve noticed about a number of tiny-house dwellers is that they’re usually young, with little of the baggage those of us in our 50s and 60s end up carrying. No heirloom china, no toys that used to belong to one’s now adult children, no old photo albums from grandma’s attic. I’ve put a number of things in storage, but I’ve been thinking that for the amount I pay in storage plus my rent, I might as well move into a nicer one-bedroom apartment. No, I won’t have the solitude and privacy of my little house, but I would have space for a file cabinet and bookshelves, and a real kitchen. It’s a trade off, but after living small for almost a year, I think I’m ready for something with more space.

Wendy - September 16, 2014 Reply

First of all- I applaud you for even trying it. You must have a great relationship to even want to attempt it. My daughter and I shared a small loft (probably about 12′ x 24′) part time while she was in school, and it worked. But it was only part-time and we had limited “stuff” there (we went home on weekends), plus she was gone most of the day at school, so I had the place to myself then. Especially at your age- I think there is a strong need for independence and to separate yourself from your parent, so living so close together would be tough. Might have worked if you had two “mini” houses so you could each claim a territory, with a common living area in between. Great that you gave it a try, though! Maybe you can find something that will be a compromise between tiny and “normal” sized living. As far as the “stuff” issue- nothing helps me deal with “stuff” better than watching a couple of episodes of Hoarders, lol. Every time I watch it I end up taking a carload of stuff down to the community rummage sale to get rid of it.

Bev - September 16, 2014 Reply

I agree with all of the above comments, especially about the “Goldilocks” space. This rental might not have been designed inside as functional for an older adult to sleep in well, having an upper loft. I think if a person mindfully downsizes into what will work for them, tiny or a small home might work. You really do have to know yourself and know what is truly important in a home to you. When two people are cohabitating, that knowledge, along with the needs of the “couple as a unit” are critical.

Zboatman - September 16, 2014 Reply

Trying to transition to a “Tiny House” in a day is not realistic. I moved from a Sailboat to my Cottage (192 sq ft.) and found it huge. It is all a matter of perspective. I think you would want to make this a multi-step process of down sizing to a point where you are comfortable. You may be able to get to a point where 162 sq ft works but that is not the place to start if you are coming from 1200 sq ft. Just my 2cents.

Wilbour - September 16, 2014 Reply

To be honest, 3 nights stay just shows how you cannot still live a big house life in a Tiny house. You must make a fundimental shift in your lifestyle. I camp with my wife and special needs child in a 160 sqft cabin without a problem. We can spend weeks at a time with limited items. Then we go back to our spacious 1000 sqft home where we raised 4 children (plus assorted cats, rabbits ect.) 3 nights stay only shows you how much you must change not how easy it is, but once you make the change, you will wonder why you needed so much in the first place.

Kirie - September 16, 2014 Reply

To a certain extent, it depends on where the tiny house is located and the season. For example, in Washington State’s brief summer, my husband and I move to our tiny house for reading, writing, meditating, and sleeping (in a tent beside the tiny house, actually, because we like the air and larger bed in the tent.) In Ojai, California, one of my tiny house idols, Vina Lustada, lives indoors/outdoors in the tiny house she designed and she and friends built. But in Ojai, you can live outdoors most of the year. And her partner has a separate building nearby to use as his studio. Also the tiny house mom/daughter rented is in a neighborhood. I think tiny houses with more privacy outdoors lend themselves to an escape for the partner and/or family members and pets. Native people here in Washington State used communal lodges in winter, and spread out to more private summer camps when the weather was more friendly.

On the other hand, many in Manhattan live, often with others, in spaces as small as 400 square feet. But there, you can escape to the streets and cafes and other often free spaces.

Jane - September 16, 2014 Reply

I’ve lived in large, and I’ve lived in very small. I loved the freedom of not having stuff to pick up and clean in the tiny, although I really loved my ‘stuff and toys’ when I went back to larger. I live in about 700 s.f. right now, and am looking forward to my new tiny house of 192 s.f. Getting rid of so much stuff on a permanent basis is daunting, yet liberating. Almost everything can be digitized these days, (papers, music, photos, movies) and I don’t need to cook for 20 or dress up for work anymore. Easy peasy to go smaller on so many things. Years ago, tiny was not an option, but now, it’s a relief. So many of us live long enough to want or need a big change.

Patty - September 17, 2014 Reply

The first home my husband and I owned was 750 square feet, 2 bedrooms 1 bath, detached garage. We lived there comfortably for ten years. By then we had 2 sons and things started to feel a little tight. We bought a larger house to raise our boys, but lately have been thinking about building a copy of our first little house. I think it was the ideal size for 2 people.

Roxy - September 17, 2014 Reply

I have lived in a tiny house for 6 years, mine was 288 sq ft. I’ll never get how anyone could live in less space than that. Last year I added a bedroom and small kitchen so my home now totals 488 sq ft and it is very comfortable for 1 or 2 people. I still have to have a shed to keep items like Christmas decorations, lawnmowers, etc. My home is not on wheels, it’s on my own land and I love it.

Valerie - September 17, 2014 Reply

The article said that the two women were glad to go back to their homes. If the two do not live together in larger homes, living together, even temporarily, in a smaller home is an important confounding issue. Whereas each might realize aspects of the tiny home for which she is not suited such as the bathroom facilities, trying out a tiny home and living together in a home should be two separate trials.

Pat - September 17, 2014 Reply

When Melia’s article was first published, I read it on a link I found elsewhere and was a bit annoyed. She did a nice job of talking about the experience, but if she was assessing the tiny house movement and the people who are a part of it, I think she came into the test without understanding tiny housers.

From what I’ve read, tiny housers, don’t just decide to go tiny one day. It’s a decision that most have worked through based on their wants, needs, and values. Many-not all-want fewer expenses to free up money and time. Many-not all-want to avoid a 15-30 year mortgage (dead pledge). Many-not all-want to enjoy the outdoors more or volunteer more in the community. Some want to have a smaller environmental foot print. Based on the blogs I’ve read and interviews heard, the move to a tiny house is a carefully considered decision. The tiny house for many is a mindset, a value system, not a weekend away with all the usual baggage.

That said, tiny houses don’t always do for the person what was intended. And tiny houses are not a silver bullet/cure all for life or life’s problems as Tammy Strobel of RowdyKittens.com has aptly pointed out. Sometimes the houses work for a season of a person’s life, not for the entire life. Those who realize the tiny house isn’t working or those who have moved through that season go on to something that fits their life better. It works for some, not for others.

I applaud Melia’s weekend experiment and appreciate her reporting. In her three days, she learned that tiny houses aren’t for her without having to make a major investment. Perhaps her sharing of knowledge will help someone who is considering such a move to avoid a mistake. And that’s a good thing.

    KMB - September 18, 2014 Reply

    “Sometimes the houses work for a season of a person‚Äôs life, not for the entire life.”

    How wonderfully put! The ephemeral nature of our housing needs makes the “dead pledge” obsolete. Wish the American Way would acknowledge this reality. The Tiny House movement questions conventional wisdom–Thank You!

Lisa E. - September 18, 2014 Reply

This TH is 168 sf but you can get a Tiny House On Wheels (THOW) up to 24 feet long (576 sf). A side entrance would give each person their own “end” of the house, too.

As for boredom, you need to be a personality type that is a self-entertainer: reading, writing, drawing, needlework, gardening, crafts, etc. If you rely on other people to provide your entertainment then this probably isn’t for you.

Part of the problem is the type of roof. A gable roof won’t provide as much space upstairs as a gambrel or barrel roof would and if you add a couple of skylights, it gives a different impression. I’ve often thought there was too much headroom downstairs and wondered how much could be borrowed from downstairs and reallocated to the loft. If you are 5’7″ tall, you don’t need a 7 foot ceiling in the kitchen.

I also think it is harder to live in a small space with a parent than it does a lover.

For some, living in a TH is the alternative to living in the streets or out of a car.

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