What It's Really Like To Live In A Tiny House

One real-life tiny house dweller and her husband reveal the truth about life on the small side.

March 20, 2017
couple stands in front of a tiny house
Kevin Pieper, from the Reader’s Digest book Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote—Plus More Stories of How You Can Too. Used by permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc.

Tiny house living isn’t for the outdoor averse–or those with a burgeoning shoe collection, according to Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, the author of Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband And One Remote—Plus More Stories Of How You Can Too. Fivecoat-Campbell lives with her husband Dale (and currently five rescue dogs) in the Ozark Mountains, in a home made up of only a 10-by-10 foot bedroom, combined living room/kitchen, full bath and laundry/pantry, plus a large deck and covered front porch. 

The couple has a love of nature and the outdoors, and also greatly value sustainability and minimalism. To get the real deal on the ins and outs of actually living inside a tiny house, we spoke with Fivecoat-Campbell. 

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(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how; get your copy today.)

Q: What inspired your desire to build your own tiny house?

At first, it was our vacation home, where we came to enjoy the natural beauty and lake. We intended to build a larger 1,000-square-foot home after retirement and use this one as a guest house and my office. But in 2007, my mother died and the recession hit. We were in need of a change and decided to downsize into this house.

tiny house bedroom
Kevin Pieper, from the Reader’s Digest book Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote—Plus More Stories of How You Can Too. Used by permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc.

 

Related: How To Find An Affordable Natural Organic Mattress

Q: What are the positives of living in a tiny house?  

The benefits are many: lower utility bills, mortgage payments, and insurance costs. Tiny house living forces you to be mindful of everything you bring into your home because there isn’t endless space for clothing or shoe collections. As a matter of fact, there’s very little non-essential consumerism. We have a “one-in/one-out” policy. If we buy something, something else has to be donated immediately. Tiny houses are about living only with the things you love, so sometimes you’re forced to give up something in order to have something else. We also aren’t wasting money going to Big Box stores buying 10-gallon ketchup bottles because there’s no room to store anything like that.  

Q: How does a tiny house fit with your environmentally sensitive lifestyle?

We built with 2 x 6 walls rather than the code-required 2 x 4, which means more insulation, better heating and cooling. We’re perched on the side of a mountain and we grow organic food in deck containers. I buy the rest, locally sourced from organic farmers, at either the farmer's market or one of two health food stores in our town.

Q: What's your favorite part of your tiny house?

I love my outdoor spaces. We entertain on the “The Party Deck” outside, and in the mornings, I spend time on the covered front porch with my coffee, where I can watch a gentle rain on a warm day. Inside, I love my kitchen. Since this ended up being our forever home, we built a fully functioning kitchen with appliances and lots of built-in cabinet space, in the same room as the living room.

 

tiny house living room
Kevin Pieper, from the Reader’s Digest book Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote—Plus More Stories of How You Can Too. Used by permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc.

Q: Any challenges of tiny-house living?

If you entertain a lot, there really isn’t room for that. We only entertain during nice weather when we can have people on the deck. Even in a larger house, crowds make me nervous when I’m cooking, so two additional people about gives me hives if we can’t be outside. One couple I interviewed in my book entertain year around, and simply provide electric blankets and huddle around the fire pit in the winter if they’re not out enjoying winter sports. We’re not that winter-hardy! 

Q: Was there anything that went awry during the building process?

We contracted to have our home built while managing from 300 miles away. As a result, our house is actually facing the wrong direction, due to a miscommunication with a relative who was overseeing the project during a week we weren’t here. The front looks out at the woods and the house rear is the first thing you see when coming down the driveway. The builder didn’t think it was right, but had no way to reach us before they laid the foundation. Once we discovered the problem, we didn’t have the money to fix it. It makes for a unique setting, though and a story to tell! It’s difficult managing the building process when you’re far away. 

Related: 30 Most Beautiful Tiny Houses We've Ever Seen 

Q: How is tiny-house living going, practically speaking? Any changes?

After a year of working out of the house, I decided I needed a writer’s studio and we built one: 320 square feet with a bath/shower for guests. We also had an off-site storage unit, until we built our metal barn in 2008.

Q: What else would you change about your tiny house, if given the chance?

A raised, cathedral ceiling always makes a small space feel more spacious and I would do that if I could do it over again. We added cathedral ceilings in the writing studio and it made a difference with regards to feeling like it is bigger than it is. I would also put taller windows in for more light. 

Q: How could a person know whether they’re a good fit for tiny house living?

Most tiny house dwellers are outdoors people. If you love spending most of your life outdoors, are adventurous and travel a lot or you don’t spend much time at home, you’re probably a good fit for tiny house living. People who think of themselves as homebodies, or like to stay inside even when the weather is good might find a tiny house confining. 

Related: Help Plant An Entire Forest By Shopping At This Eco-Friendly Online Store

Q: What are some tiny-house tips that anyone could use?

The one-in, one-out policy prevents accumulating clutter, which can add up very quickly. In construction, maximize space with built-ins. Think of every bit of dead space as a possibility for storage: Under the stairs, cabinets above doors, built-ins under your bed, or deeper closets. 

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