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I Live in a Tiny House—Here’s What Most People Don’t Know

More people are interested in living a bigger life by downsizing in a major way...but there are a few essential things they need to know first.

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tiny house family
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

It’s not just a house—it’s a lifestyle

Tiny houses aren’t only capturing people’s attention—they’re turning into a full-on movement. People from all walks of life are choosing to downsize their lives by living with less and in less space. So, just how tiny are tiny homes? In America, the typical home is around 2,600 square feet. The typical tiny house, on the other hand, has square footage between 100 and 400 square feet. (Yes, you read that right.) Tiny houses come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on the size, the kits are all typically under $50,000. Here are some of the coolest tiny homes in every state.

My husband and I have been in our 192-square-foot home in Upstate New York for a year and a half. Our reasons for choosing this lifestyle include the financial freedom that comes from mortgage-free living, more free time because we have less house to maintain, and clean living in a more eco-friendly and sustainable dwelling that aligns with our focus on the environment. Plus, because we save money from not having to pay rent or a mortgage, we are able to travel more frequently. Of course, there are also some challenges that come with living in a tiny house, but we’ve figured out a few key ways to make this lifestyle work for us. Here’s what it’s all really like.

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tiny house living
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

The outdoors become an extension of your house

To make living in a tiny house work, you really have to like the outdoors. We are generally outside all day and sometimes consider our home just the place where we sleep. We are always walking or hiking, and I’ll cook outside when the weather is nice. The winter can be different, but snow doesn’t keep us inside—we both have a good pair of snowshoes! When it’s raining or storming, it can get hard, but the wood-burning stove changes the ambiance of the house. Yes, we can get stir-crazy on bad-weather days, but that can happen in a house of any size.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You have to find your own space sometimes

With both of us working from home, sometimes we have to get creative finding our own individual space. I work for myself as a communications consultant primarily with charter schools, and my husband, Todd, works in construction project management. Because we spend a lot of time outdoors, it has worked out well, but everyone needs their alone time. Todd travels for work, so that’s one way we have time to ourselves, but one of us can also simply go for a walk or a run or meet with a friend and do something on our own.

Overall, living in a tiny house has been great for our relationship. We both believe that we have become better communicators. Because we are in such close quarters, we resolve issues quicker by diving headfirst into whatever arises. I also tell people that you really have to like your significant other if you live in quarters this small. I mean, not just love the person, but also really like them! Here are some more communication rules every couple should follow in their relationship.

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bed in tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You can fit a king-size bed in a tiny house, but changing the sheets is difficult

Our loft is made up of our king-size bed. (Bet you never thought you could fit a king-size bed in a tiny home!) The headboard even acts as our dresser and can be used for other storage. While neither of us can physically stand up there, it is possible to sit up without hitting your head. Changing the sheets can be a struggle, though. It takes a lot of maneuvering, and it’s definitely a one-person job.

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sink tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

Most tiny homes don’t have septic or well systems

A lot of tiny homes don’t have traditional septic tanks; they instead utilize a composting toilet. Disposing is really simple. A composting toilet turns solid waste into compost by creating an oxygen-rich environment where aerobic bacteria break down the waste pile. And there’s no port-o-john smell because a continuously running fan pulls the air out.

When it comes to water, each house operates differently. Many tiny homes will source water from a town water line, a well, or an RV hookup. Our water—for the sinks, shower, and washing machine—all comes from the same source: the well on the property. We connected to that, and we simply use that water source; we don’t need a filter.

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tiny house closet
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You learn to live in five outfits per season

When we moved, we each pared down our wardrobes by about 80 percent. If it hadn’t been worn in a year, it had to go. We have a closet in the loft, and we also store stuff in bins in the storage shed attached to the house for the different seasons. Now, if we buy something new, something has to go, and we only keep clothes that fit. Remembering those rules helps keep our wardrobes minimal. I don’t usually buy fast fashion and prefer items that are well made and will last for many seasons or years. While I wouldn’t say that my wardrobe just consists of the basics, I would say that I am very intentional about what I purchase. I only buy items that I really love and that make me feel good when I am wearing them. If you’re looking to organize your own closet, check out these 9 genius rules for deciding which clothes to keep or toss.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You can store stuff anywhere

Many people are surprised by how much storage we actually have. You find that you can store things almost anywhere. Drawers built into the stairs, under-the-couch cushions, and the headboard all become potential places to store things. It was part of the planning. You utilize every inch so there is no wasted space. Renting a storage unit to keep stuff wasn’t for us, as doing so defeated the purpose of why we wanted to live in a tiny house. Here are another 14 clever storage hacks from people living in tiny houses.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You can’t fit many people inside

When your tiny house is in an area that gets all the seasons, this can present a challenge when entertaining, especially in the winter. We do the bulk of entertaining in the summer when we can utilize the outdoors, but around the holidays, inside, you really have to maximize the seating. We once had six people in the house at once and that felt tight, so I’d say four people are the maximum number we can fit comfortably inside.

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wood stack
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

Wood is on our mind year-round

In Upstate New York, winters can be brutal, so we plan ahead—way ahead. I remember stacking wood on the hottest day of the year! Since our wood-burning stove is our primary heat source, wood is on my mind all year long. We have wood stacked all around the house, and it is a constant job bringing wood closer to the house. You really work for your heat, but I don’t mind this chore because 1) I get to be outside and using my body in a way that I know will yield a benefit later, and 2) I love the idea that I am doing work that will keep me warm. I hate being cold, so seeing a huge stacked pile of wood reassures me that we will be warm all winter!

More broadly, though, I see the process from beginning to end rather than simply turning up a dial on a thermostat. I feel a little more connected to my life and the processes of my home. There is an idiom that says something like: “Heating with wood warms you twice”—once when you cut and stack and then again when you burn it.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

Minimal maintenance but frequent cleaning

In general, a tiny house is a lot easier to maintain because of its size. But dirt and clutter build up quicker and are noticeably faster. In a small space, you clean more often. But, that said, since it’s a small house, it doesn’t take as long, and a good handheld dustbuster is all you really need. It takes about an hour—max—to get everything clean.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

Financial freedom

When it comes to a tiny house, there’s usually no mortgage because these homes can be hard to finance. But not having a mortgage is a huge weight off our shoulders. Plus, with all the windows and being outside more, electric bills are lower. We have also become more frugal naturally, because we are constantly thinking about space, which, in the end, makes us more financially aware. Before, I could mindlessly purchase something that was “cute.” Now, I have to think, Do we really have room for this? It is really eye-opening how mindlessly you can be spending money on things; those things take up space and dollars. Still, make sure you know these hidden costs of owning a tiny home.

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tiny house kitchen
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

Everything is right at your fingertips

While one might think you get claustrophobic living in a tiny house, it can be more claustrophobic being surrounded by clutter you don’t need. You really get down to knowing what you need and what you don’t—and also knowing what you have and where it is. Cooking becomes easier, too: When we go to my parents’ and I am helping with the cooking, I am literally running all over the place looking for different things. In our tiny home, everything is literally within arm’s reach.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You can take your house with you

While tiny homes can be built on a foundation, most are built on trailers. Some people choose to buy tiny homes to travel with them, but we like to say that we get to travel because of ours. Since there is no mortgage and the maintenance is low, it’s easier for us to close up the house and hit the road without worrying about the things you would with a normal home. Though our house is on a trailer, we will not move it until it’s necessary, if/when we have to move. We travel with our camper and our car for now. Don’t miss the best campsite in your state—and every other.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

Financing and insuring your tiny house can be a challenge

Financing and insuring a house relies on having an accurate assessment of the structure, but with a tiny house, that value can be hard to determine. We opted not to insure our home. While everyone is different, we decided not to because the cost of insurance sometimes isn’t worth what the home is worth. We did take down some threatening trees, however. But, as more and more people are opting to live in tiny homes, more companies seem to be taking the risk to make it easier to insure and finance them.

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tiny house
Courtesy Jessica Mokhiber Palmer

You can’t just plop down your home anywhere

While codes and laws change from state to state and even town to town, in general, you can’t just park a tiny house anywhere. If you don’t own the land, you can rent it. For example, if you find a spot of land you like, like a Christmas Tree farm, you can offer to pay rent to the owner or even work the farm in exchange for rent. We live on a family member’s plot of land and split some of the bills with them in return, including electric, propane, and a portion of the property taxes. We do not have cable, and my husband’s employer pays for our Internet and his cell phone.

Setting up electricity was also pretty standard. We have standard switches and plugs, but we have an extra benefit of USB outlets that plug right into the wall so we can charge our phones and whatever else.