In the same way that I like dogs, but am not a "dog person," I admire people who make the drastic change to downsize into a tiny home even though I know it's not for me. My family and I enjoy watching the tv show Tiny House Nation and I've learned some important lessons from the show that anyone can apply no matter the size of your home.
If you haven't seen the show, here's the setup: John, the host, and Zack, the builder guy, help people design, build and outfit a tiny home (under 500 square feet and usually much less) to live in. While Zack is off doing all the actual work (I jest, John, I jest.), John meets with the person, couple or family to learn more about them and what they need in their tiny house.
Here are five lessons the show has taught me:
1. It's not how much space, but how you use the space.
Although there is certainly something to be said (and to be enjoyed) about open floor and wall space in a home, seeing how much utility this show squeezes out of every inch of a tiny home is inspiring. It's a good reminder that you can live in a McMansion and still be riddled with clutter and disorganization or have room layouts that don't work.
2. "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
To mentally prepare them for tiny house living, host John often takes participants through exercises to simulate cramped quarters and many of these focus on communication. For example, in one episode he had parents verbally guide their blindfolded children through an obstacle course. In another, a couple was chained together and forced to inform the other when they intended to walk and in which direction.
John's point is to illustrate that communication is key to harmony in a tiny house. In my own smallish, but definitely not tiny apartment, there's sometimes friction about everyone in our family getting time in the bathroom in the morning or agitation that the dining table is being monopolized or that two people want to watch different tv shows. The lesson is that we can all improve how we communicate at home.
3. You can't have everything.
In nearly every episode John coaches someone through letting go of material items before moving into the new tiny home. One young couple, about to move into a 210 sq. ft. tiny home, struggled with giving up brewing equipment (his) and an exercise pole (hers). These weren't items sitting around unused or collecting dust. They were valued items that there just simply wasn't room for. In the end, the couple gave them up wistfully but graciously.
So many of us can learn from this. Either we need to identify the things we aren't using that are taking up space in our homes or we need to come to terms with things that we do use and enjoy, but that are hindering our home in some way.
4. The importance of a "Yes Man" (or Woman) in your life
This guy is Zack. He plays a big role in the design and building of the tiny homes on the show. In many episodes the producers (via John) like to throw a wrench in his plans with last minute changes along the lines of, "by the way...the homeowner needs to store a boat in the house." With only the briefest flash of "are you kidding me???" crossing his face, good natured Zack puts on his thinking cap and comes up with a clever plan to solve the problem.
My older sister is my Yes Man. When a home project seems too tricky or bothersome and I feel like throwing in the tea towel, she counters this energy with enthusiasm and confidence that we can figure it out. Frankly, her pluckiness is sometimes annoying but she has helped me see through many projects over the years. I'm not suggesting your Yes Person should go along with or facilitate every zany idea you have, but they should help you think it through and surmount the obstacles in your way if you decide to go for it.
5. Your home supports your life
I've seen most episodes of this show and I can't recall any participant waxing poetic that its been their lifelong dream to live in the smallest dwelling possible. Some people cite their desire to leave a smaller ecological footprint, but most tiny home-ers seek the freedom that lower housing costs and a portable home bring: freedom from debt, freedom to travel, freedom to pursue their hobbies.
Your home isn't just a place where you sleep at night. It should support your ambitions and reflect your values. If you love to entertain, your home should support that. If you love to cook, your home should support that. If you love to make things, your home should support that. You get the picture.
Re-edited from a post originally published 10.11.15-NT