In 2016 we had to leave the cottage we had lived in for 13 years when our landlord decided to sell.
It was an old ramshackle cottage with low beamed ceilings and nooks and crannies aplenty (and dust, so much dust!). It was pokey and cramped, in the delightfully cosy way that cottages often are, but we loved it, and it had been our home for many years.
Naturally, we were sad to leave, but it was never supposed to have been our forever home. So, ever the optimists we decided it was probably for the best, it was a small place – now we could get somewhere bigger! Looking around, we fast came to the realisation that we had been living in something of a cocoon. Our rent hadn’t gone up in the 13 years we had been in the cottage, and in the meanwhile, property prices had sky-rocketed!
While we could have found somewhere, it was disheartening to know that all the effort we had been putting into saving money was going to have to come to an end. We would have been living at the very edge of our means – not impossible, but not ideal either.
Related reading: 3 simple ways to take control of your spending
So somehow, instead of getting the bigger place for our growing family, we ended up making the decision to temporarily downsize by buying a static caravan while we worked out our next step, and save a bit of money in the meanwhile.
Years later and we are still here – living small has far surpassed our expectations in every way, and what had initially been a temporary solution to a problem surprised us all by turning into a longterm lifestyle which we love.
Tiny house adventure
The average terraced house in the UK today is between 688 square foot for a smaller home or 1087 square foot for a larger property. Detached homes (approx 4 bedrooms) are even larger, measuring an average of 1582 square feet.
By comparison, our current abode is a compact and bijou 350 square foot.
And I absolutely love it!
I have always loved the idea of small space living, but I was apprehensive in the beginning, I’m not gonna lie.
I love watching tiny home shows, and pouring over gorgeous tiny homes on trailers and rustic woodland cabins on Pinterest, (and comparatively what I refer to as our ‘tiny’ home isn’t even really all that small) but I still wondered how a family of 4 – somewhat dysfunctional – characters would get along in such close proximity on a day to day basis. We have always loved camping and get on best when out and about in the van, so we hoped that it would be ok – but this is different – this is life!
Related reading: Campervan France on a budget
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you were to buy something after following a link on this page, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can check out my disclosure policy if you'd like more info. Thanks!
We have now been living ‘tiny’ in our caravan for over 2 years, these are 5 things I have learnt:
1) We needed better space, not more.
One of the most eye-opening things about our move was the fact that we just don’t need that much space.
Back in the cottage, I had always thought we needed more, but it turns out we just needed better. We have 3 bedrooms now. The kids used to share one large room, now they have one small one each (measuring approx 7×6 foot). This comfortably fits their beds, a sizable bookshelf each, drawers for their clothes, shelves for cuddly toys and still has space for various storage containers for their toys, as well as affording them a bit of privacy each.
Everything is smaller – but because of that, we have become more organised. Everything has a place, and we’ve needed to keep on top of our storage and living solutions.
We used to have a fixed dining area and separate living area but decided to swap the table out for a fold away one which I picked up at the recycling centre for £3. When folded down it fits like a glove in a gap beside the sofa. This gives more floor space when the table is not in use, but it’s super easy to pull out when we want to eat, work, play board games or create an elaborate science-based mess.
We have a pull out sofa bed so guests can stay over. On Halloween weekend 3 of my best friends came to stay – that’s 5 adults and 2 highly energetic kids in a 350-foot space! It wasn’t without its moments, but it’s absolutely the stuff memories are made of!
On Boxing day last year, we even squeezed the 4 of us, my parents, my friend and her husband and one of my brothers for an impromptu festive song along – fiddles, ukuleles and mandolins wedged in among dancing kids, discarded toys and wrapping paper – a squash and a squeeze, but absolutely one of the highlights of my Christmas!
My point is, entertaining absolutely CAN be done in a tiny house as long as people know what to expect and are willing to bring along a sense of humour (and maybe also extra cutlery!)
2) We had SO. MUCH. JUNK!
We decided to get rid of a lot of stuff prior to moving, seeing it as a good time to re-assess our needs and rid ourselves of the clutter.
We made a mountain – an absolute mountain of stuff in what had previously been our dining room – watching it pile up was a revelation.
I had always been a bit of a hoarder, but something ruthless awoke in me as we got into it and I started getting rid of EVERYTHING! As we systematically went through our belongings we watched this heap grow with a sense of alarm – Why did we keep all this STUFF? Were we ever going to use or even look at it again? Some of it was actual honest to goodness rubbish, things so broken and destroyed that you couldn’t fathom what they were still doing carefully packed away with all the other lost things. This Aladdin’s cave of crap all went to the recycling centre, and happily so.
The rest I took to the car boot sale – I did one every week and whatever didn’t sell I took to charity shops. And I felt so much lighter without all this junk, which I think had been weighing me down psychologically for all this time. If you asked me today what was in all those boxes I got rid of, I honestly couldn’t recall a single item.
When we moved we took with us only the items we loved or needed (the children obviously “loved” and “needed” a lot more stuff than is ideal, but I couldn’t inflict a total cull on their stuff! Nevertheless, they both bravely made piles of toys they didn’t play with so often and were happy to part with, and off to the car boot sale it went. Turning toys into money it seems, had a certain appeal to them!)
Related reading: Minimalism with Children
As a result of scaling down our belongings, we were better able to utilise our new space and not just cram it with unnecessary fillers. When you can only fit so much stuff into your home, you naturally think hard about what things you want to keep.
This careful analysis of your most treasured belongings really makes you evaluate your priorities. I surprised myself in discovering a deep connection to items I had almost forgotten I owned, so buried had they become amongst all the clutter. Now I am surrounded by things that bring me joy and can actually appreciate them all the better.
Related reading: Decluttering for a better life – Less mess, less stress!
3) We WASTED so much time
It never ceases to amaze me how much time I used to spend tidying, vacuuming, cleaning, and re-arranging at all the homes we have lived previously (not that you would’ve known that to look at them – it’s always been more organised chaos than, y’know, actually organised…).
It’s so quick now!! I remember drawing up a deep clean plan in the last place, where I actually had to allocate entire days to just one room or area of the cottage. On a REALLY messy day now (and yes, we have those often – The flipside of quick-to-tidy is quick-to-destroy) I can still tidy our entire house from top to bottom in a few hours – even quicker if we all work together.
Because we no longer spend all our spare time tidying, we have free time to do other things, to get outside, to spend time doing things that matter. There is less tidying and more talking, less washing and more walks, less cleaning and more clarity, less labour and more laughter.
Related reading: Downshifting – Work less, live more!
4) My family thrives in small spaces
Likes cats in boxes, if we fits, we sits. Maybe it’s an increased sense of security, some kind of sensory, cosy hug we are receiving from our small environment, I don’t know, but I do know we have grown much closer as a family. Physical proximity has lead to stronger bonds.
We are always happy to spend time together, we eat together, work together, have regular family movie nights, play games and music and are always within calling distance of each other if we need help with something or just want a chat/hug.
One question we get asked a lot is how we deal with personal space. Simon and I are very much introverts. We need alone time in order to recharge and this was a big concern for me from the beginning.
We talked at length about privacy and space before we moved and had agreed to respect the closed door rule: If any of us needed a bit of head space then they would close their door and would not be disturbed. But actually, this hasn’t been an issue in the slightest – we just seem to get along…and for the most part, doors have remained open…sometimes even when you’d rather they wouldn’t – small space living, toilets and uninhibited kids aren’t a good combo!!
Related reading: The Downsides of Small Space Family Living
5) We can live outside as well as in
We use our outside space so much more now. Despite having had a beautiful garden with plenty of space at the cottage, we really didn’t use it to its full potential.
Now our patio table becomes our main dining area for the duration of the summer months, with almost all meals being eaten outdoors. We watch the sunset, and the moon rise. The kids found a telescope at a local charity shop and took turns stargazing (they broke it soon after – but it was nice while it lasted…).
We have developed a stronger relationship with nature and the outside world. Our outside space acts as another room, we can spread out as a family when we need to and when weather allows. As a result, we get to see and hear much more of the wildlife in our area; foxes, pheasants, garden birds, bats, and rabbits make a regular appearance, as well as an abundance of bees, butterflies, beetles and other assorted creepy crawlies.
We knew when making the decision to downsize that we would need to have more days out to help combat the effects of living in a small space. We get out and about as often as possible, and can cheerfully go out in all weather, knowing that we are returning to a cosy little haven at the end of the day, which will warm up in no time at all, owing to its compact size. Tiny homes are more energy efficient, consuming significantly less energy than larger dwellings and requiring fewer materials to build. So as well as being practical in this regard, it’s also nice to know we have reduced our carbon footprint a little bit in making this switch.
Read also: An introduction to Slow living
Tiny houses forever!
Living tiny isn’t for everyone. I have dear, cherished friends, who are utterly supportive of how we live but repeatedly tell me they don’t know how we do it, and they just couldn’t handle the lack of space. But for us, it’s been nothing short of life-changing.
Somehow it has affected me in ways I can’t even understand. I just feel more myself here. I feel more confident. I feel no need whatsoever to impress people. I care less about possessions – I have less stuff, and I feel lighter for it, everything I own is special to me and accessible. I have my family around me and it’s joyful. Having less space and less stuff has made room for more important things, we spend our spare time doing the things we love, we HAVE spare time come to that!
It was only supposed to be a temporary measure. I thought at the beginning of this journey that we would eventually live somewhere bigger again, but it didn’t take long to realise that I genuinely don’t want a big home now. Whilst we don’t intend to remain in our current home long-term, as it’s always been the plan to build our own home, I know that when this day comes it’s going to be epic… and it’s going to be TINY!
Related reading: Alternative Living – An Intentional Choice
(Here are some recommended books if the topic of tiny has piqued your interest!)