January 11, 2021

Could You Live In a Tiny House?


Over the last few years, various TV home improvement channels have dedicated a fair amount of time to extolling the virtues of tiny house living. Young couples just starting a life together, retirees looking to simplify, a family that needs to cut expenses, a single who doesn't need much more than a roof over her head and a place for her hobbies and entertaining a few friends, are shown adjusting to a few hundred feet square feet and calling it home. 

A tiny home could be a small trailer or RV., a houseboat, even a treehouse. It might be manufactured by a company specializing in such things or built by hand by someone who wants everything to be just so. 

Space under the ladder to a sleeping loft becomes dresser drawers. A door slides out from the wall, with a compact clothing closet built-in. A kitchen contains everything from a simple hotplate and dorm room-sized refrigerator to a gourmet cook's dream.

The way every inch is used to make the space more livable and convenient is, frankly, amazing. For those who want to seriously down-size and make a much smaller footprint on the earth, tiny houses are quite attractive.

What size qualifies as tiny? The answer varies greatly. I have seen some people shoehorned into no more than a small RV, or as large as 700 squarer feet of living space. The average seems to be somewhere between 200 and 300 square feet...about the size of a larger master bedroom in a traditional home.  

With the number of possessions radically reduced, minimal utility costs, and usually no mortgage, tiny house living is a tight budget's best friend. The average cost is usually in the $30-$40,000 range but can be much more inexpensive or much higher, depending on the amount of customization desired.

Betty and I just met a couple who have sold their large home and virtually all their possessions. They are in the process of buying an RV that will become their full-time home for the next several years. 

So, that raises the question: Could you, or would you, live in a house or motorhome that small?

Could you be happy in a space about 85% smaller than the average American home? How about less than half a typical one-person apartment?

Is a tiny home a good choice for a single retiree or couple? Or, is that amount of closeness just a little too close for you?


61 comments:

  1. We've been traveling by RV for years and have been on the road for 4 to 6 weeks at a time. We've never considered full-timing due to business and personal commitments and our desire to live near our families. But your post got me thinking - could I live year-round in an RV or tiny house? And I'd have to say probably not. While I have no problem living in a small space for extended period of time, there are some things that would be too difficult to give up permanently - a laundry room with a large pantry and space for an extra freezer, actual office space and our two big roll-top desks and, most importantly, the room for family gatherings at the holidays (under normal circumstances anyway). Plus, Alan would die of frustration without his shop, and what good is having Mr. Fix It around if he has few tools? So, although I do appreciate the creative designs and definitely see the appeal to living simply in a tiny house, it's not a lifestyle choice I'd be likely to embrace.

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    1. Our longest RV trip was 7 weeks; the last few convinced us we need more than a 28 ft. motorhome could provide. Both Betty and I have our own creative pursuits that require some elbow room.

      While most tiny houses do manage to squeeze in a washer/dryer, an extra freezer and large pantry aren't likely.

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  2. I like watching those shows but I would not chose to live in a tiny home or an RV. When I was younger, I dreamed of driving around the US living in an RV, but over time (the older I got) I realized that the stress of driving a big vehicle especially in large cities would scare me. Like Mary, I like having a nice laundry in the house and full size appliances and large shower. I did downsize from 2,500 SF to 1,400 so I am happy with that.

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    1. We went from 3,300 sf to just under 2,000, and believe we could cut again without too many problems. But, Betty is a bit of a collector and there is a limit to how small we could go.

      Like you, we gave some though to RV travel for at least half the year, but found the stress of small spaces and lack of much storage were bridges too far.

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  3. We spent much of the last 13 years living and traveling all over North America in a 28' motorhome. So, maybe 200 sq ft of interior living space. Of course the idea is to be in nice enough weather most of the time that you spend a lot of it outside.

    Right now, we are traveling and staying at Airbnb rental apartments in Turkey, and sometimes we wonder why people need all this space.

    And in the spring, we will pick up a brand new 20' motorhome in Germany that we will live in and travel Europe for a couple of years. It even has a drop down bed in the living area so that there is really no wasted space.

    So yes, for us, it works really well. But I know that it wouldn't work for everyone. It's good that we all like different things.

    www.travelwithkevinandruth.com

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    1. I am glad to hear from a tiny living supporter. I can imagine going from 200 sf into an Airbnb rental would be a bit of a shock..."what do we do with all this space!"

      One constant problems we had in our RV travels was spotty/poor WiFi service. Campgrounds' idea of good signal strength isn't what most of us depend on for blogging, entertainment, and personal communication. I will admit, though, after a while not being as connected was not necessarily a bad thing. We had become too dependent on streaming services.

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  4. I've been looking at that! I definitely don't want the sleeping loft and everything on one floor. I didn't think about the laundry room though. MY biggest issue is WHERE. There are so many reasons to live in so many different places! Maybe I can afford a few tiny houses and move between them?

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    1. Many of the tiny homes featured on the TV shows are built on wheels. The owners have the same feeling you do: spend a period of time in one place and then have your home towed somewhere else. It isn't cheap, but probably more so than having a few of them scattered around the country!

      A stacked washer/dryer is almost always included in a tiny home, but room to hang things seems to be quite limited. I gather those who choose this lifestyle keep clothing purchases low.

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  5. All I'm saying is that if I did live in a tiny house I wouldn't be spending much time at home!

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    1. I am with you there, Tom. For me, it wear thin.

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  6. I need a bit more space than that in the long term. But I could definitely see it for a few weeks or months if there was a end in sight. Two of our 'kids' are planning to take their two young kids and live on their sailboat for a year or so. It's been their dream for ages, and they will likely go this year or next. It's crowded for me, but they have had basically lived on it most of the summer for years, and their kids were on it as babies from day one.

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    1. Unless that is a really large boat, the livable space on a sailboat must be even less than the smallest tiny house. Of course, I guess they spend a lot of time on deck and stop at ports or beaches. And, clothing is very basic. I will admit that sounds like quite an adventure and a serious memory-maker for the whole family.

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  7. I am fascinated by the Tiny House movement...look at them online often. To me, it would would be like living in a dollhouse. I love how every inch of space is used. We've taken vacations as long as 3 weeks living in an RV and I know that's my limit for living small. Did it every year for a decade. Also our first house was only 700 square feet. However, I WISH I was able to let go of the materialistic side of my personality and live in a Tiny House. Given a choice between a Tiny House on a lot some place or an RV, I'd pick the house. RV's have to go into repair shops from time to time or get into fender benders and then what? You're stranded someplace you might not want to be. Been there, done that.

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    1. I am with you, Jean. I need roots somewhere, even if only in a small house. Before we left the RV lifestyle, our two longest trips were the aforementioned 7 weeks, and another of five. I found I was much happier giving up space and familiarity for 2 or 3 weeks. Then I longed for home and room to stretch. Oh, and not having to find a laundromat.

      I do find when we watch those shows we have the urge to make better use of the space we do have, and declutter to make life simpler.

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  8. I could live in one for short trips ,but full time? Nope. I am extremely claustrophobic and thinking of being confined to such a small space (however well thought out it was) is a no-go for me.

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    1. If I were an avid outdoors person and much younger, I might be able to do it for a period of time. The tiny home would be starting and stopping point for lots of hiking, biking, skiing, or other activities. That way, the smallness wouldn't get to me.

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  9. We have a robot vacuum and every day it gives us the number of square feet it cleans. When we came down to our one bedroom apartment in Mexico, we were concerned about whether or not there would be enough space for the two of us. We were both surprised when we realized that the living space in our one bedroom apartment was about 600 square feet compared to the 550 square feet in our two bedroom house back in the USA! Of course, that doesn't include the full basement underneath the house where stuff gets stored. :-)

    And we have been very happy in our little one bedroom apartment and hope to re-up our lease for another 12 months. It is in a middle class Mexican neighborhood, the rent is about $360.00 a month and the only extra cost is for electricity, which runs us about 20 bucks a month and high speed (100 mbps) for $15.00 a month. It even includes a maid who cleans the apartment the way we would spring clean once a year back in the USA. She even does the laundry. :-)

    I think we would be fine in a tiny house or RV, but only if it is one level. But I guess our current house in the USA probably is about the right size for us to age in place already.

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    1. Just curious where in MX you live.

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    2. We are in Puerto Vallarta :-)

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    3. Wow, those prices are really attractive for what you have.

      I hope you come back to read the comments, because, like RSB461, I would be interested in what part of Mexico has such great rates.

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    4. I have traveled extensively to Mexico on business and some vacations but never been to PV - have always heard it was nice. We were planning to go there last February but for a few reasons went to Rocky Point instead - maybe a trip in the future when travel makes more sense. Like Bob I live in Phoenix and winters are relatively mild but after a few years even lows of 40 and highs of 70 in the winter make me yearn for a warm weather getaway

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    5. If you want to be in an ocean front condo with a swimming pool, balcony, smack in the middle of the downtown area that has a lot of staff, then you are going to pay a LOT more per month! We don't care about any of that. Ubers are cheap and because we are pretty centrally located, we can walk/roll to most of the places we go to routinely like Costco, Petco and Sorianna (chain grocery store). When covid is more under control, we can take buses the entire length of the bay and the cost of a bus from the airport to the southside is 50 cents each.

      We don't live like tourists (seldom see all that many in our neighborhood). Most of our meals are at home or at little Mexican restaurants or taco stands. We buy fresh fruit and veggies (whatever is in season) off of the trucks that come through the neighborhood. But my spouse is fluent in Spanish, our apartment is one level in a relatively flat area of Puerto Vallarta and the apartment allows our two cats (my spouse had to enclose the entire metal grate with marine grade quarter inch hardware cloth to keep them safe) :-)

      We are only 10 blocks from the ocean and a public beach, so it is easy to roll/walk over when we feel the need to sit and watch the waves and the pelicans fishing. Seafood is fresh, plentiful and reasonably priced and if we want to go to shows (after covid!) there are a ton of them and movie theaters with english language films. Lots and lots of free cultural events and music (again, not during Covid). But we have been coming here on vacation for over 18 years, have snowbird and expat friends and they have helped us a ton in finding the right apartment in the best neighborhood and getting settled in. :-)

      Oh, and our apartment has high ceilings, three separate ceiling fans, air conditioning, gas stove and oven and a washer with a gas dryer. It suits us perfectly! We rent 12 months of the year (so we can store our stuff) and the rent is cheaper doing that then it would be just renting for high season. And all of the plumbing and street sewer lines were replaced a couple of years ago, so the water pressure and toilet aren't an issue, which can be a problem in the more highly developed areas. :-)

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    6. Thank you, Figgie, for all the added details. If we didn't have family and grandkids in the Phoenix area, PV sounds like something we would check out. It is really amazing what you can get for the money and still be only as stroll away from the ocean.

      Good for you!

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  10. Nope. I'm a quilter and hubster is a woodworker. We each have a space near 14*19 plus I have a long-arm w/12f frame in the living room along with my upright grand piano and my desk with docking station (this room is PACKED as it's not that big. In our 1650 sf the only space rarely used is the dining room as we set up a bistro table in our family room at the big window. (DR has no natural light).

    We've been working on our hobbies for decades and have no intention of giving them up because of retirement-I am retired and hubster says another 3-6 years depending on how long he loves it!

    We have no debt, prop tax is relatively low and we're stayin' put. We've talked about renting an RV for an extended road trip. Yes it is spendy, but we've planned for that expense.

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    1. I'd encourage you to try an RV trip with a rental. It is quite an experience and something that I think almost everyone would enjoy, at least once.

      Yes, you need space! Luckily, we have a three car garage, but only one car. Betty has taken over one space for her art, and the third slot is for storage and some woodworking equipment. She also has a bedroom that has been converted into her office, while I have a smaller space, formerly a den, that works for me.

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    2. I really want to do Route 66. It seems the perfect trip for an RV experience. 3 maybe 4 weeks? I hear many eateries and accommodations along it have closed over recent decades so this gives us total freedom to roam the country :-)

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  11. My brother often picked out the smallest possible dwellings spotted on our Sunday drives, saying "That's my house!" He had a very small A-frame rental while in college and often used a hibachi to cook packet dinners outside. I think he could live in a tiny house full-time happily. He's had a small New York apartment for years and he and his wife and dog thrive there.
    On the other hand, I have hobbies that require storage and work space that needs to be closed off from living areas due to my husband's sensitivity to wool. He needs space for his interests as well. Our living room is full of computers and our kitchen has many appliances, so a tiny space isn't in the cards for us.

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    1. If he has experience living in a typical NYC apartment, then he has already lived the lifestyle. His fascination with them on the drives may be all the windows and open spaces that make them feel much larger than what he and wife (and dog) are used to.

      We could never fit our hobbies into a typical tiny house. There would be no way we would not get on each other's nerves!

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  12. Na, I'm at 875 in my two bedroom one bath. I could go down to a one bedroom if I absolutely had to, but tiny house no way.

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    1. Your hobbies would not be happy. 875 sf is good-sized and I bet that second bedroom is either used for relatives or holds a bunch of your quilting stuff. And, you need a decent-sized kitchen.

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  13. We thought about it for a very short time, but decided we're fine right here. We own our home, 1175 sq ft & have a wonderful life right here! We both have room to have our hobbies, etc. Kids love to come home for meals (in a normal world!) & we have lots of room inside and out in the yard.

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    1. Stay happily where you are!

      We have a guest bedroom that gets little use. Maybe a murphy bed to free up floor space for other uses would make sense.

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  14. Living with my spouse in retirement, I don't think a tiny house would work for our marriage. Having a way to get alone time - separate offices, in our case - keeps me sane (he'd probably say the same thing). Although our current house - and especially the yard - is more than we need, down sizing for us would still mean at least three bedrooms (one to sleep in, the other two for our offices/workspaces/hobby rooms/me zones).

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    1. Once someone gets used to enough space to have private-me time, I would think it would be tough to go so small. Most of the people featured on these shows are young, or single. Every once in awhile there is a couple with a few kids who want this lifestyle. For honesty's sake, the producers should go back to those couples in a few years and see if they are still sane and happy.

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  15. I have a good friend who lived in a small travel trailer through college and then on a boat for decades in his single years after divorce. All that time living in small places made him an expert in small living. When he retired he moved to a regular ranch house with a big barn. This lets him build furniture and cabinets and tiny houses he sells. His personal tiny house is on wheels and was featured in several magazines. He uses his tiny house like an RV and travels every summer for months.

    I could not live that small. My wife and I need at least 2000 ft plus a big garage. We live inside a lot.

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    1. It is interesting that you know someone who has lived this way. I wonder how he first felt when he moved into the "normal" house with a barn. I imagine a change like that could be overwhelming.

      Of course, now he has the best of both worlds, with his tiny house on wheels, ready to go.

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    2. I don't think my friend would have moved into a regular house if the 2009 recession had not forced lots of decisions. His business of 30 years was in big trouble. He had grown to hate running a business in LA. His LA business partners mother needed help and had a big house and barn. She lived by herself in the deep south. So my single friend closed up the last of his business and moved into his business partners Moms house in the deep south. He got free rent and a big barn to hold all his business stuff and some company. He could sort of retire under this arrangement. He found a good home and lots of new friends. He is still in the house. The Mom has passed. The business partner has moved into the town nearby. He is busy and loving life.

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  16. I've watched all those shows and dreamed, too, but mobility issues would stop me. While I exercise vigorously now, climbing ladders has at times been problematic for me and impossible for my husband.

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    1. A tiny house without some sort of loft would just be too small, except maybe for a single person who didn't own much or need much. I know the two of us could not safely navigate the type of ladders these houses use.

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  17. I love my husband, but we would probably kill each other within a week trying to live in something that small.

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    1. The same for Betty and me. I am surprised we made almost two months in the RV!

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  18. My husband and I have a tiny house, 400sq. ft., in an RV park at a lake an hour from our home. We like to go there on weekends and occasionally for a week. It has full sized appliances and a nice sized shower, though the bathroom is very small. We also have a stacked washer and dryer. We have an attached covered deck approximately the same size as the tiny house. We love it short-term, but would never consider living there. Our RV park doesn't allow full time residency, but some of the nearby parks do. My observation has been that a retired couple moves in and over a period of months you see little outbuildings being added, a carport, a storage building, etc.as their possessions spill over into the yard.
    That being said, I can also see how it would be appealing on a small,fixed income. We paid $43,000 for the previously owned tiny house. We pay $2425 a year for our lease, which includes water, trash bins, sewage services,yard mowing, and use of a very nice shared fishing dock and boat house in a gated park.
    While it's fun for a break, I'm always glad to get home to our 2700 sq. ft. house where I turned one bedroom into a craft room and my husband turned one into an office/hobby room!....Glenda

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    1. Your approach to tiny housing is one I could accept! The approximately $200 a month for the lease and the services is very reasonable. I guess only electric and any insurance you choose to have would be extra.

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  19. My husband retired at 50 and we travelled for 2 years in a 29 foot travel trailer. I always said that we had everything our house had except and a washer and dryer and ROOM. we loved it and were sorry when we had to give it up. Since then, we've owned small and large houses and one at nearly 3000 sq feet. Could I live in a tiny house? Definitely. You just have to be organized.

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    1. Organized and willing to own less stuff...both good things. Thanks, Anne, for illustrating an example of a couple that has moved back and forth between small and large and figured out how to make each choice work.

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  20. My house is small, at 912 sq ft, two bedroom, one bath and it works for just me.

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    1. When you think that is small, just imagine a house 70% smaller, and you are at the size of those who live in the houses you see on TV or magazines.

      Not for me.

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  21. Especially since I have now lived through (or, am CURRENTLY living through) a pandemic, I can’t imagine living in smaller space. Ken and I have hobbies that take up space,I need a BIG KITCHEN, a freezer, and room for my Le Creuset pots and pans! And we love our yard, patios, pool and hot tub. I cook on our grill at least once a week even through the winter. I like having room. Being in this lovely house of almost 2400 square feet is making this isolation bearable! We lived in a 4000 square foot home for years with large outdoor spaces, and that really was too much for the two of us.Downsizing was easy but this is as far “down” as I can go!! Regarding the Mexico thread here: We started visiting a small fishing town north of Puerto Vallarta , called Bucerias. Many Canadian expats live there full time.VERY affordable.Beaches are quieter and cleaner, many small local restaurants. I’d enjoy spending a month there every year.We had a trip scheduled for March of 2020, and cancelled just before borders closed. We will return when we can! But I can’t imagine giving up my regular house. We’re homebodies. .And who knows, this may not be the last pandemic of my lifetime!!!!I We looked at RV-ing, before we retired, but the further into the costs and all the driving,etc. we got, the more we backe doff... and decided a nice cozy airbnb allocations we enjoy,works best.I like renting houses,casitas,apartments. We had a rental in Bellingham,Washington booked for most of July 2020–another Covid cancellation.. but, soon,we’ll have our vaccines and be able to go again. Small spaces are not for us.

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    1. Just the space forb your watercolor art and Ken's model ship would take up more than half of a tiny house!

      Thanks for the added info on Mexico, especially the name of a town people who are interested can check out. At the moment Betty and I are thinking that a few weeks in Hawaii may become doable by late summer. It all depends on the vaccine and people's willingness to take more personal responsibility.

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  22. In retirement my father and his wife spent at least 6 months of the year pulling a travel trailer all over the continent, he did this for 20 years until he was 81. He started with what I would call a medium sized trailer but every few years he upgraded to a larger model finally ending up with a 37 foot model with multiple pullouts etc. As he said to me "I live in this more than I live in my house and they can feel pretty small after a while".

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    1. Wow, twenty years of spending half one's time in a trailer until age 81. That is something. Obviously, he loved the lifestyle.

      Frankly, I found driving a 30 foot RV with ten feet of car being towed behind me pretty intimidating at a much younger age!

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    2. He had a 5th wheel trailer that he pulled with his pickup truck. With the 5th wheel over the axle of the pickup he felt it gave him more control (as with transport drivers I imagine you get used to it after a while) and the total length of the trailer plus pickup was less than the combined length of both. He also had the pickup available to drive normally once the trailer was parked.

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  23. Our Tucson place is 620 square feet and our new Washington apartment is about 800. Right now our garage in WA is full of stuff that still needs to be downsized. But we have "done Covid" in these small spaces and we are fine.

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    1. I have been inside Park Model homes, like yours in Tucson. They feels quite spacious with a nice flow and fully equipped.

      I know your full house in Washington is pretty large, so the downsizing into the basement apartment is a task I am glad I am not facing!

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  24. We have a pick up and camper. Quite small when you think about it. However, it has all we need. I can do it for weeks at a time when we are moving and doing things. However, once we lived in it when getting son ready to move (including working on the house to sell). It was about 3 months and it was way too long. We were both doing some online work as well. Not moving daily (or every few days) let things pile up more than we liked. Even with his porch and a couple of chair left inside, I was glad when we got home to a big house. I also would not like the loft. You can't stand up and those stairs would be hard for me to be safe on.

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    1. The loft idea is really for people a lot younger than us.

      Our very first camper from the late 70s was a Chinook...about the same size as a camper shell on a pickup. It was fine for short trips, but once we had a baby and dog, not so much.

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    2. We have done it with one extra person and two dogs for 3 weeks. However, we spent most of the day in the cab of the truck or out seeing things.

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  25. Yes pets in small houses or tiny houses is a real issue. My tiny house friend is a cat person. He had a boat cat and now has a barn cat. I bet having a medium to big dog in a RV or tiny house is challenging. The animal needs move around space and there is not enough....

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    1. It would very much like the problem of a big dog in a small apartment on an upper floor, except in a tiny home you can usually let the animal out a door.

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  26. Yesterday, I was interested to notice a small trailer park on the shore of a lake where many of the the trailers were tiny homes rather than traditional trailers. (They were larger than the very small tiny homes but had the same style.) It made me wonder what the difference is between tiny homes and trailers. We’ve travelled in a truck and camper or small RV for up to 8 weeks in the summer, and loved it. But we were also happy to get get home to our great big house at the end of our trip. And, here in Canada, it’s winter most of the time, which means a lot of indoor time.

    Jude

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    1. Just looking at them, it would seem more difficult to safely tow a tiny home versus a trailer. Aerodynamically, tiny homes would require more power to pull. Also, I assume they don't come with the remote brakes that trailers have that can be activated from the tow vehicle.

      All in all, if I wanted to take my home with me, I would just buy a trailer!

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