What Tiny Houses Can Teach Us About Living Large with Less

Here are six "lifehacks" we can all glean from the tiny house movement.

Kim and Ryan Kasl sit on the porch of their 207-square-foot home in Minnesota with their two children, Story and Sully, and their dog, Brinkley. Just a few months ago, they lived in a 1,900-square-foot house—and they don’t miss it one bit. Photograph by Matthew Hintz.

Since the conventional-housing market collapsed in 2008, the tiny-housing industry has boomed. Spurred by a desire for more adaptable, sustainable homes, a new school of homebuilders constructs and advocates for homes that more snugly fit their inhabitants’ lifestyles.

But that ethos isn’t just for microhomes. Whether you’re moving into a phone booth or converting your townhouse into a duplex, the tiny house movement is ripe with lessons on paring down that everyone can glean some wisdom from.

Here are six tips for living large in a small space, from the tiny house movement:

1. Upcycle

Fixtures and appliances for smaller homes are hard to come by—but you can meet your needs in creative ways. The Kasls couldn’t find a bath to fit their washroom. Instead, they cut a wine barrel in half to make a kid-sized tub. Old bicycle baskets make cyclist-chic storage. Wooden boxes can become steps or shelves. Look around the RV and boating world for small second-hand appliances.

2. Furnish for Functionality

Transforming furniture is key to a flexible space. You can find tables that fold up against the wall or down into the floor. Sinks can be covered to become counter space. Chairs can stack. There are benches, ottomans, and even stairs that conceal storage.

3. Do You Really Need That?

Say goodbye to photos, DVDs, CDs, and textbooks: a single laptop will usually suffice.Before you downsize, practice by emptying out rooms and sectioning them off. Give your sentimental treasures to family members you know will appreciate them. Opt for fewer, well made possessions, like one nice pen instead of that cup full of old, chewed-up ones.

4. Go Outside

Living in a smaller space, it’s important to have ready access to breathing room. Go outside to have fun (bonus: research shows seeing greenery helps you cope with stress and keeps your brain alert). If you want to get together with friends, go to a restaurant. Need some quiet-time? Go for coffee.

5. Sweat the Small Stuff

Shrinking your house doesn’t equate to shrinking household challenges. Many standard housing concerns—from carbon monoxide to mold to sturdiness—only become more pertinent. Work with experts who understand the unique challenges of tiny houses.Design the space carefully: Which way does the fridge door open? Can the dog get up the ladder? Is this bed big enough to do Kama Sutra in?

6. Celebrate!

While it sometimes feels counterintuitive, downsizing is an upgrade. You’re choosing a life that places experiences and inspiration ahead of status and accumulation. In your smaller space, you’ll find a real sense of grandeur and freedom. So celebrate every step toward smallness.

For more information on tiny houses, and some inspiration, check out:

Kim Kasl’s blog

Full Moon Tiny Shelters

• The Not So Big House