In a recent issue of the SLJ, we talked about food and cooking in small homes. Cooking in a tiny space hasn’t been a problem for us, but I’m worried about how we are going to store bulk food in our future tiny home. Currently, we are using a few strategies to store our bulk food, like turning our storage buckets into furniture, hiding it in cool dark places and storing it in our pantry.
After reading Michael Pollan’s book, we decided to eat more whole food and cook meals at home. Some of our bulk food storage items include whole wheat berries, rice, beans, honey and plenty of fresh produce.
I love having so much extra food in the house. But Logan and I continually talk about where we are going to keep our extra food when we move into our tiny house. I don’t know where it’s going to be stored in such a small space.
But, Logan doesn’t think food storage will be an issue. Some of his suggestions have included:
1. Storing food in small, visible containers to use up the bulk food quickly and to keep an eye on what food we’re storing.
2. Building a tiny food storage shed.
3. Storing food under the house in plastic buckets on pallets.
4. And digging a tiny root cellar.
I think these options will be dependent on where we decide to settle down. If we move to the ranch in the future, I’m not concerned about where to put our extra food because it can be stored in the pantry of the larger homestead house.
What do you think of these solutions? What are your creative food storage strategies?
There are, I’m sure, many for whom the biggest obstacle is actually believing they can build/buy a tiny house, who sit and say ‘oh if only I could do what your doing’, or ‘I’d love to be able to do that but I’m not clever/rich/strong/free enough’, or even ‘I just have far too much stuff to downsize that far’. I spent years planning an off-grid home, always hoping that one day I’d have enough money to buy a piece of land and build the house of my dreams. It was never going to be some mansion in the mountains but even so it was a huge undertaking and I thought that if I worked solidly for enough years I’d eventually get to the place where I’d be able to take a year or two off work and build it.
Life, however, had other plans. I found myself unemployed, getting divorced and having a nervous breakdown. I’d moved from a 3 bedroom house to a room in a shared house. I was steadily going through my savings living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and starting to wonder how long it would be before I was out on the streets. It was during this time that I gradually became aware of the tiny house movement and, in particular, Jay’s Tumbleweed houses. I sat looking around my room and realised that a tiny house would, in fact, be bigger than the room I spent most of my time in. Add a small kitchen/bathrom to it and you’d pretty much be there. I once spent 3 months living in a VW camper I used to own doing fieldwork in the Hebrides, the space became more reasonable as I started figuring out how I might arrange storage.
So, once I decided I could live in the space, it came down to money. With savings dwindling, could I afford to build a tiny house? I’ve always been a bit of a womble and I figured I could recycle a fair amount of stuff picked from skips (dumpsters), freecycle, eBay etc. Reading about Dee William’s tiny house cemented the idea.
Even so, actually doing something about it was harder. I finally decided that I had about enough money left from my savings to pay the rent on my room for a year, just in case I couldn’t get more work in the current slack job market. I could easily see myself getting to the end of that year and then having nothing left. I made a bit decision, one that was very tough, with the agreement of my mum I would move in to their spare room in Ireland and build a tiny house in the back yard. It would mean leaving everything behind but I would have space to live and mum would feed me. I was 42 and moving home. Strangely it didn’t feel like defeat, I was going to follow my dream for the first time in ages.
Then a friend who was starting a new business offered me some part-time work and my girlfriend, who I’d only been with for a few months, offered to let me move in with her so I could stay in London and build it here. I had no idea whether I could, but making the decision was undoubtedly the hardest thing in the entire process. After that, it became much, much easier. Once you’re actually embarked on the journey sheer inertia tends to keep you going.
There have, of course, been many ups and downs. The trailer I bought turned out not to be a good buy, I should have spent more which would have meant I’d have been much further along with the building than I am now, as I’m still fixing the problems with it, although I should be moving upwards soon. Weeks of rain can become demoralizing as you just can’t really build in a downpour. However, you take that time to research, monitor eBay, scour the small ads and freecycle lists. Even though I was again made redundant when my friend’s business couldn’t attract additional funding, this just gave me more time over the summer to concentrate on building and I had a little bit of extra money from the work.
I have always been reasonable at basic diy, but I’d never framed anything, never wired or plumbed a house from scratch, never built a roof or welded anything. I love to learn new things though, and I love a challenge. It costs nothing to spend time on the internet, you can even go to the library or a coffee shop and use their bandwidth if you don’t have your own. I’ve spent many days lost online, learning about all the new skills I’ll need. No-one’s born with the innate understanding of electrical code, or the metallurgy of copper pipe, it can all be learned if you’re prepared to put in the work. I was time rich, and I’ve been using it to learn so many new skills. I’ve also gained many new friends online through the tiny house communities/forums and blogs. I’ve built a network of contacts through whom I can learn, exchange ideas and gain support.
At each stage there’s always been a reason not to do something, but equally there’s a reason to start. The old Confucian saying ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. For me that single step was the hardest point in the entire process. I was having lunch with a very good friend of mine a while ago, just after I’d made the decision to build, not knowing how I’d find the materials to do all this on the budget I had. He looked at me, smiled and said the oft-repeated line from the film Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come’. So far he’s been right, things have turned up unexpectedly just when I’ve needed them. Maybe it’s all about belief.
Designing small spaces for multiple people is a design challenge I’ve not focused on in great detail on Tiny House Design. It has however been the focus of my own future home plans and the core requirement of a design concept I hope to turn into a book called The Tiny Simple House.
In this article I’ll describe some ways of thinking about people living in small spaces that should help you more effectively approach the design of an existing or new small space.
Getting Everyone On The Same Page
Many of the smallest houses you see are built for one person and after a careful inspection it’s pretty easy to imagine how one person could live in less than 100 square feet. But as you can imagine choosing to live more simply and owning fewer possessions is required for this kind of extreme downsizing.
The first challenge of creating a tiny living space for multiple people is to get buy-in from everyone on choosing to live a frugal lifestyle. Compared to overcoming the actual design challenges this initial human challenge is by far the most difficult.
I suspect it’s our consumer culture that has conditioned us to think of a certain set of things as normal so unlearning what we’ve learned is the hardest part. For example, choosing to eliminate most of our possessions and keeping only the things we use regularly is a very hard step for most people to take. Even for those of us who have made the commitment find it difficult to make the time to finally get rid of all the extra stuff. Getting an entire family to rally around this and choose to downsize and simplify is rare.
My best suggestion in this area is to remember that all people change slowly and that the ultimate goal for downsizing usually includes creating more time to spend with your family and friends. Be patient and move forward and don’t leave anyone behind.
Take A User-Centered Design Approach
When you begin noodling over making a small space more efficient for multiple people it’s fairly common to assume one of the following two ideas:
- If one person can live in 100 square feet then four people can live in 400 square feet.
- Four people can live in less than 400 square feet because some efficiencies are found like shared bathrooms and kitchens.
I’m going to suggest coming at this design challenge from a different direction. You see you can’t simply make assumptions like these because different people have different needs and use their homes in different ways. For example a couple with jobs outside the home will have different needs than a couple that lives and works at home. Assuming that the same amount of space will serve these different needs equally would be a mistake.
Instead focus on the specific needs of the individual people today and projected into the future. Then while determining the spaces needed to meet these requirements and keep in mind that the real goal is to end up with a space that meets everyone’s needs while not overtaxing any one person. In other words strike a balance between too much and too little space so that the home truly provides value instead of costing too much time, money or energy.
Here are a few things that people often do together. These activities can often be served by shared spaces:
Here are a few things that people sometimes do as a group, but usually require private or dedicated space.
- Study Time
- Work Time
- Private Time
Considering the needs of the occupants first will always give you a firm foundation to build solutions. Most of us like to think about the solutions first because it’s more fun but doing so will often distract us from the real end goal. When you start with actual user needs you end up building only the things the users need.
You might even want to use the Pareto principal, also known as the 80-20 rule, to help guide your decisions. This simple rule says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So instead of building 100% of a house to fulfill 100% of the functionality, build 20% of the house and get 80% of the functionality. This is a pretty smart approach because we usually only use a small portion of a large home’s functionality but it will always costs at least 100% or our time, money, and energy. So some functions might need to be left out of the design because their value doesn’t offset their cost.
Tips for Small Space Design
Once you have your priorities and people in mind applying some of these common small space design techniques will help you achieve more from less.
1. Think like a boat builder not a home builder
When we think of our living spaces in the context of a traditional home it’s easy to jump to common solutions like 10′ by 12′ bedrooms with walk-in closets. Instead think like a boat builder who must pack a lot of function into every tiny space.
2. Design bathrooms for multi-person use by dividing functional areas
Instead of designing bathrooms to contain everything consider breaking it into functional areas like a separate sink area, sink & toilet, and shower/tub. These individual spaces may take up a little more space than a single bathroom but they allow more people to use the individual spaces simultaneously.
3. Create built-in multi-functional furniture
Keep spaces open and clear by using built-in furniture and storage. This is an especially useful technique for bedrooms, hallways, and kitchens. Some common solutions are beds that can be hidden away, desks and tables that fold-out, cabinets that conceal possessions, and even cabinets that pivot and divide spaces. You could carry this to an extreme too by creating a single open space and then dividing it with floor to ceiling built-in cabinets.
4. Use your vertical space
Every cubic inch of a home must be heated and cooled so why not use it all when it makes sense. Beds with lofts above them can make fun rooms for kids and floor to ceiling built-in cabinets can provide enormous functionality.
5. Reduce transition spaces like hallways
This seems obvious and isn’t really easy to do. The best place to start is to build off a single open area and have rooms open directly to the larger space. You can also get more use out of hallways by lining walls with functional built-ins, concealed appliances, bathroom sinks, and so on.
6. Open up spaces and use subtle transitions
Subtle transitions help define the division between spaces but is more about fooling the eye than aesthetics. Spaces can be made to look longer, wider, and taller by creating visual progressions through any space. But when you close those spaces forming separate rooms you loose the optical illusion so its best to keep spaces open. Also use continuous flooring treatments.
7. Use high ceilings and draw the eye up.
It’s amazing what an extra foot of ceiling height can do to make a space feel larger. If you’re stuck with the ceiling height you have try raising your window coverings up to the ceiling and avoid cutting your walls visually in half with things like wainscoting. You might even try painting your walls one color 3/4 of the way up and then painting the top 1/4 and the ceiling a brighter color. Also be sure to point light fixtures up.
8. Use light solid colors and let the sun shine in
Light always makes small spaces feel bigger. Lighter colored your walls mean you’ll need fewer windows and artificial lighting. Busy patterns will make a space appear cluttered.
9. Include outdoor space in your design
The exterior of a home is often forgotten while you’re focused on making the inside feel bigger. The final product will be much more successful if you consider all your spaces inside and out. Think of the space outside as another room and open the house up to them visually. You’ll be able to achieve the same effects as you can with visual progressions inside the house.
10. Use simple window treatments
Your exterior windows and doors can help you make your space feel bigger. Avoid heavy, thick, and dark window coverings.
11. Reduce clutter, collections, and possessions
This is actually the first step that all of us can do right now to make out homes feel more spacious. I left it for last so that it would be left in your mind most vividly. Eliminating clutter and organizing what we already have will make any space feel bigger and help the occupants feel better.
For more articles on tiny spaces for families see these articles:
- Tiny Paris Apartment for 4 + Dog
- Is Living in Small Spaces Cruel To Children?
- Tiny House with Moving Walls – part 1, part2, part3, part4
We’ve received a number of comments and emails from Small Living Journal (SLJ) readers expressing interest in Do-it-Yourself Projects. This issue contains a wealth of information on building tiny homes as well as a variety of tips and resources.
I’m really excited about this issue for a number of reasons. First, some of the authors have created Podcasts and sideshows to share with you. Second, we included an article from a new participant: Anne Lupton from Small House Building. If you’re interested in participating in a future issue, please refer to our Guest Submission guidelines.
Finally, I hope the stories presented in this issue inspire you to build your own tiny home.
Take a look around and enjoy.
One of the most enjoyable things about having a blog is the people you meet along the way. During the publication of the Tiny House Blog I have met many interesting people who are building or remodeling their homes.
In fact most of the authors of the Small Living Journal I met writing a post about their projects. Recently, I have been getting to know some builders of Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. One of them, Will Pedersen from Abbotsford, BC in Canada kept a written journal (which is available for download at the Tiny House Journal) of his building expenses. He also took photographs of each step along the way.
Will had very little carpentry experience, yet he was able to build his home with a little guidance from a carpenter friend, who was available for questions and assistance when he needed help.
Will’s journal and photos got me thinking that this might be a way to show the average person that they too could build a beautiful home with little or no experience and with some guidance from a professional.
I decided to start a new web site featuring these people and have just made the site live in the last few days. Below is a video I put together from the photos Will took of his build of his Tumbleweed Tarleton.
I hope this video and the Tiny House Journal will inspire you to take the step and make your dreams of owning and building a tiny house come to pass. You can do-it-yourself!
Video Journal of Will’s Tumbleweed Tarleton