Who do you Have to Convince of Small Space Living?

The Belle Writer's Studio solved our issues regarding work space and privacy

In case you missed it, Kent started a conversation over on his Tiny House Blog last month about how to convince your spouse to live in a small space.

I didn’t have time to join in the discussion, but wanted to make a few points about living small and making it work for two people.

For us, there was no “convincing,” neither of us actually thought we would be staying in a 480-square foot space and if we had known what we know now, I doubt either of us would have made the move.

Truthfully, I told my aunt a few months after we got here, “I cannot live in this small of a house!”

While some couples embrace the idea of small space living and the ideas behind the Small House Movement, we both needed convincing.

As our lives unfolded here in the fall of 2007 into 2008 and the reality set in that if we built an additional 1,000 square foot home and used Our Little House as a guest house/writer’s studio, we would be in debt into our 80s, we began looking at why we felt we could not live in such a small home.

My reservations at the time included:

  • Giving up my stuff.
  • Working in a tiny space that felt akin to
    working from an airplane seat 10-12 hours per day, every day.
  • Privacy

We began tackling one issue at a time. As I’ve written before, my mother became a slave to her stuff. It was a nightmare for me to go through it all, sell it, store it, move it and store it again after she passed away.

I had to ask myself, “Do I really want to have to deal with a bunch of stuff and a large house when I’m too old to maintain it all? Do I want to leave it all for one of our loved ones to deal with after we’re gone?”

The answer to that was simple. We wanted a freer lifestyle that allowed us more time to enjoy the beauty of the country, mountain and lakes that now surrounded us. We didn’t want to spend time dusting knick knacks, scrubbing extra bathrooms and washing windows.

The actual release of that stuff proved to be harder and we’re still dealing with some of it (Moms and ours).

Once we decided to add an additional metal building for Dale’s work, privacy became less of an issue, but I still needed a workspace.

We called contractors back who gave us bids on adding on to Our Little House and constructing a larger home and asked them to give us bids on a small office space that would also give us a storm shelter.

We learned while we still would incur debt for this space, it would be far less than building a whole new home and the debt could be paid off in a much shorter span of time.

The studio also solved our remaining issues of privacy (I can come here to read or work) and it provides privacy for guests as well.

For us, it was a learning process. As time passed, we learned it was not the size of the house that caused us issues, but where it was located. While we love the benefits of our rural property, there are times when we miss city services and convenience, and we continue to miss our loved ones we left in our hometown.

For anyone who has to convince someone of small space living, that may not be possible. This isn’t a life for everyone. However, if your partner is open to it, I would advise you to rent small spaces while on vacation (we did this before building even though we didn’t know we would live here full time), try to look at the long-term of what you could and couldn’t live without.

List the benefits and what may be issues or what issues you had after a week. What can’t you live without?

All this becomes important in a small space because the reality is that you’re going to be sharing a remote, you’re going to be sharing a bathroom and you’re going to be together most of the time, particularly in bad weather.

You have to like each other a lot to make it work.

Do you have a partner who wants to live in a small space or maybe one who doesn’t and you do? Have you been through this? How did you resolve it?  




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29 Responses

  1. Dewanda says:

    I have lived in a 3 bedroom mobile home for the past 26 years. I used to dream about having the BIG house for years. Now that my boys are grown, I never use the other 2 bedrooms. I have decided we as Americans base our value on Stuff so I have been in the process of getting rid of things. I have found out that I don’t miss them a bit. When we go to our camper that is 30 ft. and compact, I actually feel more relaxed. If I were single, I could easily live in it comfortably. Why keep things around if you never use them?

    • Kerri says:

      You’ve discovered why the Small House Movement is so popular, Dewanda. People are finding freedom FROM their stuff! I hope you get to realize your dream. We also had one room in the house that was never used. Wasted space.

  2. Carl says:

    As a single person with a way to big house (1300+sq’) I bought into everyone’s story 16 years that bigger is better. I have closed off part of the house and am on a 4 year project to declutter and then downsize to a smaller house. I am thinking of 700-800sq’ at the most. It is hard getting rid of things but each week I try to donate or trash 1 extra bag or box. A year into it and it is working well, and getting easier. I regret buying into everyone else story of bigger is better. I like small and efficient. I envy you for allready going thru downsizing to a more cozy house.

    • Kerri says:

      Don’t beat yourself up, Carl. It is a myth most of us bought into. The important thing is that we realize now that it is not the lifestyle for us. Good for you attaining your goal!

  3. Freth says:

    5 years ago, when we left our 2,000 sq ft leased home to move back near the children … we temporarily rented a 386 sq ft cabin. It was $1,000 a month cheaper than our previous residence. 5 years later, we are still here … and have actually adjusted to it. There’s a common room that is our living rm, dining rm, computer rm, library, and kitchen. There’s a tiny bathroom with shower. And 2 bedrooms. One bedroom has the king-sized bed, the other bedroom is our walk-in closet/man-cave. The wife uses the common room or retreats to the bedroom for alone time … and I retreat to the closet/man-cave or walk over to my neighbor’s shop. We have been gradually downsizing possessions … giving away all that stuff that is really nice, but we haven’t used in may a year. A lot of our boxes books are being converted to e-format on our nook color or kindles. then given away. And we just aren’t motivated to move on. We like our cabin in the trees with the fishpond outback, along with the pastures to pick blackberries and scoop up fertilizer for our garden boxes.

    • Kerri says:

      Sounds like you’re living a wonderful life, Freth. Another “accidental” small house dweller. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. I remember growing up I always shared a room with my sister until my older siblings headed off to college and then I finally had a room to myself. My kids have shared their rooms over the years, now they have their own. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t better for kids to have to learn to share like that. I do applaud your efforts to keep things simple.

    • Kerri says:

      I agree. As the youngest child of mid-life parents, I had my own room from about age 3 on. When I was 15, we hosted an exchange student who had to share my room. It taught me a lot about sharing, patience and compromise. I agree that it also makes siblings closer. If we had children, I’m not sure I would want to give them each their own space until they were much older.

  5. Heather L. says:

    We have a neighbor who is single and lives in a huge two-story house. I’ve never seen her have guests, so I wonder what she does with all that space. Is it too much for her to clean and that’s why she doesn’t have anyone over?

    We use every bit of space in our house, which certainly isn’t as small as yours, Kerri, but I wouldn’t want anything larger.

    • Kerri says:

      I’ve often wondered about singles who never entertain who have huge homes. Or even a couple. Dale and I do not entertain enough to worry about the size of the home and it’s only been a factor 1-2 times since we’ve lived here. Typically, we entertain only in good weather months, that is what the Party Deck is for!

  6. I’ve come to hate the idea of wasted space. My husband and I use almost all — but not all — of our new condo. The extra space is a bedroom and bath for guests, which is nice when they’re here, but sometimes I think we could have done just fine with less.

    • Kerri says:

      Yes, having the extra space for guests is nice. But I think one has to look at just how often that occurs. Unfortunately, for us, it hasn’t occured as often as we thought it would. If I didn’t also work here, the studio would be quite wasted space.

  7. Carol says:

    When I measured the actual space we use in our house now (1000 sq ft) it turned out to be about what our retirement house is: 480 sq ft. My husband still isn’t sure about the move but I have 38 months to convince him, that’s when I retire! The hardest part will be purging our stuff, he loves his stuff!

    • Kerri says:

      Is there a possibility for a storage building or garage, Carol? My husband actually has more space with his garages here than he did in the city. That makes him happy! 🙂

  8. Mat says:

    I weighed in on the thread at Tiny House Blog, and here’s my thoughts:
    “For the last 3 years, I’ve been fairly…obsessed…with the efficiency of design that good, small houses are blessed with. I talked to my highly skeptical wife a million times…but she didn’t get it. She’d look at the plans I drew up and just didn’t believe that we could have plenty of room in a place roughly the same size as the ground floor of our house (about 620 square feet).
    THEN! We went to Ikea. And they had 2 or 3 compact “apartments” where they framed out apartments and furnished them. Cool, right? WELL! They also had a 590 square foot, 2-bedroom house that you could get lost in. We walked through and everything was perfectly laid out–with lots of storage and space. Heck, there was even a 9′ x 8′ sectional couch in it! That did it for my wife. She could see it, touch it, experience it. Granted, it was missing a couple of amenities (laundry and a full-sized bathtub) but the concept was sound and brilliantly executed.”

    I think many people need to “experience” a small house to be truly comfortable with the idea. Lots of us spent too much time in poorly-designed apartments with shoebox rooms that were designed by lazy architects who didn’t think about window height, hanging storage space, or traffic flow.

    • Kerri says:

      That is an excellent point, Mat. Good layout and efficiency is definitely key in a small space. There are so many plans and ideas one can get now from companies and builders. We did not plan to live in our little house full time, but if we had, I would have done so many things differently. My other suggestion to people is that even if you have tried something out and you think it will just be a small retreat, design it as if you’re going to live there full time. Because you never know when you just might.

      • Mat says:

        A couple of years ago, a friend of mine asked me to design him a vacation cabin–which I happily did. I had a really nice, cohesive design in the bag when I asked him if it would also be a retirement house…and man, that changed things. If memory serves, I had to scrap the first 30 hours of work.
        I think it’s the details that make one house easier to live in than another. A series of coathooks. A linen closet. A deliberate, 2-person kitchen. An open line of sight.

        • Kerri says:

          Definitely Mat. If I knew then what I knew now – a dedicated kitchen pantry and a linen closet would have definitely been in the cards. I also wanted to universal design on my last home, just in case we have mobility issues as we grow old. Ah, well…..

      • Carol says:

        I love the Ikea set ups in the store. It sure gives me a lot of great ideas!

        • Nanci says:

          Kerri, we have lived in our little cabin for four years now. My only major complaint is the kitchen. Sigh. Pots & pans stored in the oven. Cupboard shelves that are not high enough to allow me to put boxes upright inside. Not enough counter space. Other than that, we have learned to live vertically and use under-the-bed storage. It is definitely a lifestyle that we had to get used to. We only entertain in the summer when weather allows for a gathering that is held outside. There are certainly drawbacks HOWEVER, we DO NOT live in the noisy city, have elk and deer on our property on a regular basis, and our neighbors are ever so friendly. We can’t imagine going back to the city!

          • Kerri says:

            Sounds like it is working out pretty well, Nanci. I think unless you custom build your home and know what the use will be (i.e. in our case a full time residence rather than a weekend home) there will always be some design challenges, no matter the size of home. Kudos for living your dream and liking it!

  9. It has always been important to me that we have enough room in our house to accommodate both our adult daughters and their boyfriends when they come for a visit (and someday, I hope I can add grandchildren to the mix!) For that reason, when my husband and I bought a house about a year and a half ago, we actually up-sized instead of downsizing. Our current home is not huge but big enough that our entire family, including daughters and significant others, can all be here at once, comfortably. I also like that we can have large family gatherings with enough room for everybody to move about and socialize freely. I come from a big Irish clan and it has become more and more difficult to get together under one roof, because no roof was big enough for all of us to gather under at the same time!

    However, even though the house is pretty big, I am very adamant about preventing the accumulation of “stuff” to fill it with. Going through all of our belongings when we moved, convinced me that we could do without lots of the stuff that was stored in our basement and attic for years. I lost count of all the trips I took to Goodwill, while preparing to move, to get rid of junk that was no longer needed. I vowed to be diligent in our new house, about keeping our crap and clutter to a minimum, if not eliminated entirely. So far, we’re doing pretty well, though my husband tends to be somewhat of a pack rat and is a challenge in keeping the house crap-free.

    It’s possible that at some future date, we’ll have to move to smaller digs and I think if that time comes, I’ll be fine with it. And, if I’ve done a good job of keeping our lives free of an accumulation of useless stuff, the task of moving will not be so bad. I have a sister who moved from a rambling farmhouse to a cabin of less than 500 square feet and she’s quite content. I admire people like you and my sister, who have pared down your lives to a manageable and comfortable size and space. At another stage of our lives, we might be joining you in the “small house” lifestyle. Until then, I guess no matter the size of your square footage, there’s no place like home!

    • Kerri says:

      I think most people go through that phase of their lives, Kathleen. I think that is part of the reason my mother loved moving to her dream home. There was plenty of room for everyone at the holidays and we weren’t sitting on each other’s lap while we ate the meal. We didn’t really face that question, given our daughters are overseas and can only return every so often. I certainly wasn’t going to plan the next phase of our lives around cleaning a huge house for a few visits, at best. 🙂 I also watched my mother have to sell her beloved home only a relatively short amount of time after attaining it because it was really too much for her to take care of alone in her 60s and too much of a financial burden when on a fixed income. It’s good you’ve cleared the clutter and the unnecessary.

  10. Olivia says:

    While our house is not a tiny home, it is a small home. I find it larger than I need; DH finds it too small. He likes his stuff and can’t part with anything; I am constantly purging. I like a minimalist look – lots of empty space, bare white walls with just a very few pictures; he would love to line the walls with his photographs (he is a professional photographer).

    Can you say total opposites?

    Still, while I constantly fantasize about a teeny, tiny home, I suspect it would be unrealistic in our cold northern climate where we are confined to barracks for the better part of the year. I would likely wind up like one of those old prospectors who went mad with cabin fever. if we lived in a more hospitable part of the world I would seriously consider a teeny, tiny home.

    • Kerri says:

      I don’t know, I don’t think I could do the teeny tiny 170 square foot house, not with someone else. The big question when we were building was putting a wall up for a separate bedroom or leaving it open as some studio apartments are designed. While it would have made the space feel bigger, there are some nights I like going into the bedroom and reading while Dale watches tv. I think we’ve gone as small as my psychie would allow. 🙂

  11. I certainly could do a smaller space, but super small? … I fear would make me anxious since I have spacial issues. It’s good that you have your separate work space (now) and also your storage space (right?). I’m sure that helps make your actual living space more doable.

    • Kerri says:

      Yes, Roxanne, when you eliminate the need for work and storage space in he house, that leaves very little that is needed for actual living.

      • I’ve always wondered. Do you park inside your storage building? Or do you just park your cars outside?

        • Kerri says:

          We park our vehicles in the buildings. Dale parks his truck in the garage next to the house because he uses it everyday. Mine is in the actual storage building. We cannot leave them outside as there are wood rats here that next under the hood and eat the wiring! Dale had to leave his truck out for about a week once and in that week, you guessed it, there were rats!