The Downsides of Small Space Family Living
Are you considering downsizing your family home in order to simplify your life or save money?
If so, you probably have at least a few niggling questions – What is it really like to live in a small space with other people? What are the drawbacks? After all, it’s one thing to live in a small space if it’s just you, but quite another if you are sharing the space with others.
Simon and I have done the opposite of most people and seem to have moved into a series of progressively smaller spaces as our family has grown.
Today, home is a 35 x 10 ft static caravan, which we share with our 2 pre-teen children – and even this sometimes feels like too much space! Whenever possible, we are out and about in our converted transit minibus – our tiny home on wheels.
But as much as I love living tiny, it’s not all peaches and cream.
For us, it works, and I wouldn’t change it for the world – but make no mistake – there are times when small space living as a family gets hard!
So let’s get real: What are the main downsides of living tiny with a family in tow?
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The Downsides of Small Space Family Living:
The lack of personal space
This is the one that does it for most people. How do we stand being in such close proximity all of the time?!
Actually, in some respects we have more personal space in the caravan than we had in the cottage, where the kids shared a room, here, they do at least have a bedroom each.
Our caravan consists of a master bedroom, 2 smaller rooms, a shower room and an open plan kitchen/living room, as well as an outside decking/garden area. So by tiny home standards, this is pretty palatial.
With the 4 of us at home, there is actually room to spread out and get a bit of space each. That said, I think we all would sometimes say it would be nice to be able to get a little bit further away…
We get around this by being open about it if we need a moment, and if anybody’s door is shut then that means stay away. Simon and I also take turns to take the kids out for walks etc, so that the other gets a bit of quiet time.
As for the campervan, where there really is nowhere to hide, again, honesty is key. If we need space we ask for it. If that means everybody gets kicked out for a walk while one of us gets the van to themselves for an hour, then that is what happens!
Everybody needs space sometimes and it’s fine to admit that. If you are thinking of sharing a small space with other people, you need to put these rules in place from day 1.
Less space means more noise…
As well as getting all up in each other’s faces, small spaces mean that if you are sharing the space, you will hear everything that is going on around you. Walls are thin, and in some cases, non-existent so you gotta get real comfy with those you share your space with.
Again, let each other know if noise levels are creeping up to the point of being anti-social. Noise-cancelling headphones are also a great idea, especially if you work from home.
… and more smells!
Small space living stinks! If you’re cooking strong-smelling food, you have to expect that you will smell it on your clothes, on your bedding, the soft furnishings… There is nowhere to hide!
I don’t really have a positive spin on this one, although you do get used to it, so it’s probably more a problem for those around you! #garlicgirl
(It’s also worth bearing in mind that this would be the same issue if you lived in an apartment alone, so isn’t particular to small spaces family living)
Limited hobby/work space
Do you like to work out? Or have another hobby that takes up space? Maybe you work from home?
I am writing this sat in bed (which could be seen as a perk or a downside of working from home, depending on your outlook) and have already had a succession of interruptions this morning as people have charged in to ask questions or are just generally being noisy a few feet away. It’s just the way it is, and for the most part, it doesn’t bother me, but yes, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate and I find myself dreaming of a designated workspace.
You need to bear in mind that tiny homes usually have the bare minimum of rooms, and those are often multi-functional – so your living space may also be your bedroom, dining room and office. Again, if you are sharing your small space with others, this can become a bit of dance as to who gets to use what space and for how long.
As I have mentioned regarding other points, communication is key (seeing a common thread here?) Small space living requires a certain amount of forward planning if everyone is to get the space and time they need.
Getting rid of your possessions
Most people have a lot of stuff. We were no exceptions, and yes, when we moved, we did need to get rid of many, many things. This isn’t necessarily a bad side, in my opinion, I’m much happier with less, and it took this move for me to realise that.
We get bogged down and overwhelmed by all of our belongings and I definitely felt lighter when we started decluttering. By and large, I am not unhappy about this – I genuinely wasn’t sure about minimising in the first place, but soon found it to be extremely liberating.
If you have a lot of things, and getting rid of them isn’t an option, tiny house living may not be for you. However, some people do get around this by paying for storage for those things they just can’t get rid of, or if their downsize is only temporary.
Related reading: Minimalism for Beginners – How to Live More with Less
The lack of storage
As mentioned above, we got rid of a lot of things when we moved, but even then, we have things still which we need but don’t have a permanent place in our home due to lack of storage.
Seasonal clothing for example – We all have fairly minimal wardrobes, but seasons vary here in the UK (yes they really do – it isn’t all rain!) so we rotate our seasonal wardrobe, putting the clothing we don’t need at the moment in plastic storage boxes under the caravan.
To be honest, every time I need to go under and retrieve something from “the garage”, I come up with any excuse I can not to. Small, cramped, dusty and dark, it just isn’t fun having to crawl around and drag boxes out, wondering whether or not this is the year your winter wear will have been discovered by a family of curious, cosy-seeking rats…
That being said, the design of caravans (both static and towable) are pretty spectacular with regards to inbuilt storage and you’d be surprised by how well space is utilised.
It’s always messy
Tiny homes are great because you can tidy them up in like, half an hour. Trouble is, you can also mess them up in minutes!
If you are being seduced by the pretty images you have seen online of sleek and minimal, gloriously neat and petite tiny homes, you maybe need to remind yourself that children, well, they like to make a mess. Adults too, come to that. It only takes a pile of letters placed on the worktop to turn a tidy space into a disaster zone, visually speaking.
Related reading: Minimalism with Children
There’s nothing to do in bad weather
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”
One of the best things about tiny homes is that they encourage you to spend more time outdoors. But let’s be honest, as much as I do love a stomp in the elements, when faced with weeks and weeks of unrelenting rain and storms, there is only so much outdoor time you can stand.
This can be tricky to navigate with limited indoor space and a family of bored, soggy housemates. But rainy weather is what movie nights and popcorn were made for…
To be honest, unless people with large houses generally have a designated room filled with rainy day activities, I can’t see that having a small house is any worse than having a big house if you are forced into it due to inclement weather! Batten down the hatches and get cosy.
You can’t entertain
It’s harder to entertain – but not impossible. Depends on the type of tiny home of course, but often, small dwellings are built so cleverly they easily allow for times when you might want to entertain.
Tables that fold out to double in size, chairs that slot into gaps usually hidden from view, come into their own for Christmas and birthdays, the ever faithful sofa bed – as long as people keep an open mind and a sense of humour there is no reason you can’t entertain – although your guests might need to bring their own cutlery 😉
Kitchens & bathrooms are undersized
Kitchens and bathrooms are held in high regard across the land. The kitchen – the hub, the heart of a home, and the bathroom – a sanctuary, a place to escape from it all, lock the door and soak in the tub at the end of a long day.
In contrast, we have a teeny, tiny galley kitchen, it does everything we need it to, but having two people in it at the same time involves this strange kind of ballet dance around each other to avoid getting wedged between the cooker and the open storage.
Our shower room is decent sized but obviously has no bath. And I love a bath. For me personally, this is the only ACTUAL downside of small space living. I would love a bathtub… This being said, plenty of people put baths in tiny homes, so it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker (I’ve even heard of people installing them in RV’s!)
Another tiny home bathroom staple is the compost toilet, an idea that strikes fear into the heart of many a mortal…
We actually have a flush toilet on the site we are on, and a chemical loo in the camper van, but I would be more than happy to switch to a compost toilet in both cases, and fully intend to install one in our next project. They are much cleaner and more pleasant smelling than you’d imagine, better for the environment and simple to use.
At the end of the day, if you can cook in your kitchen and get clean in your bathroom, how much space do you actually need?
You need to plan ahead
We have storage spaces, cupboards for things, a small fridge, a tiny countertop freezer… but for a family of 4, we could perhaps use a bit more. To make the most of the space, we need to plan ahead.
We really need to meal plan in order to make sure we don’t overstock, otherwise, we have food sitting around in bags because it wouldn’t fit in the cupboards! This isn’t a bad thing really, as it cuts down on wasted food and spending, but it is something to be aware of. I am not historically the most organised of people, so it’s taken a while to get to this point!
In order to lessen our packaging waste, we also like to think ahead and buy in bulk but this is clearly an issue with limited storage space. We need to be selective and can’t have all the things we like in at any one time.
Haters gonna hate
Hard truth time. Yep, when it comes to how people perceive you, you gotta grow a thick skin.
This by no means a hard and fast rule, but choosing to live alternatively can make people uncomfortable. When we first moved here, there were actually parents at the school our kids went to at the time who straight up started blanking me.
On the plus side, I no longer have to deal with those mums, so I don’t really lose out there, and the sense of community you find amongst those who do get it is immeasurable. I know who I’d rather spend time with 🙂
“Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”
Seriously, life is too short to take to heart the opinions of people who neither know nor understand you.
Related reading: Alternative Living – An Intentional Choice
Do the negatives outweigh the positives?
We have been splitting our time between the caravan and the camper for the past 4 years now, and I love it more and more. Tiny homes have just become more appealing to me and I am more convinced than ever of the power they have to build and foster a strong family unit.
Related reading: Downsizing – 5 things I Have Learnt Living Tiny
It isn’t always easy living in a small space with others, but I firmly believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives. For us, small space living means more connection, more family time, more clarity, less distraction, less waste, less clutter, and more freedom.
There is no one ‘right’ way to live, nothing to say that because this works for us it will work for all, but you won’t know until you try – and I’m so very glad we did.
Thank you very much for this beautiful article. You have described the really useful thing about small spaces. I loved this article because it’s a really useful way to take care.