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Families living in very small spaces: need advice! *UPDATED* 7/2/11

post #1 of 55
Thread Starter 

DH, DS (18mo) and I are currently living in a rented 4 bedroom ranch style home with a huge field, garage, basement: pretty much the works. We are unhappy with the community in which we are living and are tired of renting and have been contemplating a move back to where we were originally living.

A mortgage is out of the question as we have no credit and heaps of student debt. We've been contemplating building one of these http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ and buying a piece of land to put it on.

Coincidentally, we were recently approached by a friend who is a potter who is looking to sell his (very, very small) post and beam style studio as well as the 2 acres surrounding and is willing to convert it into a tiny cabin. He's also willing to owner finance on very reasonable terms. The property is situated in a valley between a mountain and a river so it is completely breathtaking and is about 15 minutes away from the crunchy bustling town we love so much. It currently has electricity but no plumbing or heating source. It is one open area with a loft upstairs. It is most defiantly equal to or less than 700 square feet.

SO my questions:

How do you make living in a small space work for you and your family? How small is your small space and how large is your family? Pets? Tips? Pictures?

Any ideas for: tub, heating, stove, refrigeration, storage, sink etc... that would be space saving?

Are we totally crazy for even contemplating this type of move? The reason we moved in the first place was because DH got a job in this community, so it would mean he would have to commute about an hour and a half every day to work, and the winters are VERY harsh here.

The house we are in is very comfortable but there is no real 'community' in the area and we probably won't be in an 'ownership' type of place for a long long time, so that rules out ever buying it.

I feel like this is the type of opportunity we have been waiting for, so why am I totally freaking out!

Edited by GreenGranolaMama - 4/23/11 at 5:05am
post #2 of 55
i don't know how big/small our place is. it is a one bedroom apartment. i share it with DH and 2 yr DS with whom we cosleep.

Downsize everything. live minimally. if you were going with a tumbleweed, it's the same deal.

i would recommend a very efficient, small stove for heating (wood burning would probably serve you well), a small kitchen with appliances that suit the space (think a small galley like on an RV). take inspiration from traditional japanese living. futons that can be put away (even if up in the loft space during the day) are a great idea for sleeping.

anyway, some ideas.
post #3 of 55
We live in 900 sq ft. It has 3 tiny bedrooms, a 10 by 10 living area, and a 10x5 kitchen with an attached dining area. We live in the city so we have a small backyard. We're a family of 4 (5 & 6 year old kids) and an inside dog. And we homeschool, so we're home a lot. We moved here 3 years ago from about 2900 sq ft. And I have to say, I love it! If it has high ceilings so that you have the option of creating loft space, if for nothing else than storage, that would be handy. We are really selective about what we bring into the house because we don't really have the space for extra, unneeded crap. Also, you can always expand to create living space outside for the nice months. I would keep in mind though that reselling it may be tough but than again, you have enough land that you could add on. Go for it!
post #4 of 55
I dont think 700 square feet is that small
We are a family of 6 who has been living in 220 square feet for 2 years while we build our 1000 square foot home.. It is what you make it. We got rid of ALOT of crap and stored only what we really wanted to keep, beautiful kitchen table and wooden kids toys, photos, memorabilia etc
We have 5 acres so our 4 sometimes 5 kids are outside ALL the time! We also built a greenhouse over our 5th wheel that gives us outside living space even int he rain and also covered storage area.
post #5 of 55
pictures ya'll. mine are around here somewhere.
post #6 of 55
I think it sounds lovely! I'm confused about your dh's commute though. If you move to this place it means he will have a long commute? I think that would give me more hesitation than the smallness of the home.

We are a family of four and used to live in a 650 sq ft home. It's totally doable. Like others have said the best thing you can do is get rid of stuff, lots and lots of stuff. Keep only what you love and use all the time. The less stuff you have in your small space, the more you will enjoy it.

For heat I would do a wood stove, just be sure to maintain it well. I'm not sure about the plumbing. I wouldn't be too keen on that. I've heard good things about sawdust toilets and I think you can have that indoors. Will you be hauling water? Can you set up a tank?
post #7 of 55
I, personally, would want a full size bathroom.
If you make the loft area your sleeping area, and for sleeping/clothes storage only, you can maximize your downstairs living space.
This refrigerator may be an option, as it is tall rather than wide.
Having a kitchen island and a wall of cabinets would give you a nice cooking space and would keep the openness that will make the space seem larger.
Open kitchen shelves will help keep kitchen stuff to a minimum, since things will be open to be seen. Anything that allows you to maximize lower cabinet space is worth the cost, IMHO. Kraftmaid has nice lower cabinet storage, as do Ikea cabinets
Maximizing Small Kitchens
post #8 of 55
Thread Starter 
Hey everyone thank you so much for your replies! Sorry I am so slow getting back, we got married last weekend so everything up until now has been a blur

PatienceAndLove- that fridge is gorgeous! It's out of our price range but I like the idea. Our ceilings are tall so we defiantly want to take advantage of vertical space.

Anniegirl- He has a few potential job opportunities that are (much) less of a commute. I would be really happy if one of them worked out- he works with children with behavioral disabilities, so there are several different routes he can take. I CAN'T wait to start getting rid of 'stuff'!

We are defiantly going to drill a well, but when is the big question. We may have to go w/o for a bit. We have tentatively decided on an electric composting toilet.

Heating: We are thinking of getting a pellet stove- I have a friend who is selling one, so I think we are going to go take a look. Anyone have experience using one?

Next time we are out there I am going to take some pictures and post them...
post #9 of 55
The place sounds adorable, but the commute would be a deal-breaker for me. I'd hate to lose that much time per day with DH.

I hope everything works out for the best for you!

ETA: Sorry, just read your reply. If your DH can get out of the commute, I say go for it! But 3 hours of driving each day (longer in bad weather) sounds pretty grisly.
post #10 of 55
pellet stoves work very well (it's the same heat as wood burning, as it is typically made from wood shavings, etc), and getting a good one used is a great way to both recycle and save money. the composting toilet is an excellent idea (i would check out pathtofreedom.com, as they have a composting toilet and have good insights about various models), and you can do a rain catchment and greywater recycling system probably before drilling a well. it can work nicely.

also, a small, "under cabinet" fridge might also do nicely for you, but it depends upon how you eat (or plan to), how you preserve, and so on. essentially, we have a tiny fridge, but we eat so much fresh (and quickly) that it is hardly full. it may be that we can do without a fridge fairly soon, depending upon a few basic factors.

anyhoot, you might look into living without a fridge (just do a google search), and might just get a small freezer to store things from the summer frozen, as well as a larger pantry space to hold whatever you might can or preserve and keep as dry goods.

just an idea. saves on power too.
post #11 of 55
Thread Starter 
Wanted to update and add some pictures just incase others had ideas about how to use the space. Here is the FB public link, let me know if it works ok : ) !

post #12 of 55
While I don't think I could ever downsize enough to fit my family into that amount of space, the real issue for me would be the commute for DH. 3 hours a day? And probably triple that in bad weather? Nope. I wouldn't ask him to do it, and I wouldn't want him to for my own selfish reasons. Can he work from home at all in this job? If so, that would help, and as far as the amount of space for living, you could still build a tumbleweed on the property and double your square footage.
post #13 of 55
Love the pictures! Dh and I lived in a handbuilt 300sqft studio house for 7 years. It was a tiny place on 20 acres of forest right by the city. The weather could be bad in the winter, but normally it was a short commute (either straight up hill or straight down hill lol). We loved it, and only moved when we decided to buy a place.

If you can fix the commute, I would do it! Our place had a very clever design with all the plumbing utilities and storage in one 6 foot square "cube" right in the middle of a long rectangle room. This separated the areas into "rooms" and left a galley kitchen along one side. The counter folded up and down against the wall and the appliances were small. The 2nd side of the cube was a tiny bathroom with shower and a small closet along the hallway. The third side faced the bed area and had more closets. The fourth side was blank and faced the sitting area; we put a futon there. One 14' long wall of the bedroom/kitchen had built-in cupboards with a countertop and my dh built another 14' long desk/counter area in the living room. We had very little actual furniture.

Look at fixtures for boats to find the best space saving designs and fold away counters and such.
post #14 of 55
i think it's going to be awesome.
post #15 of 55
It's really nice and you get to outfit it to your taste, perfect!
post #16 of 55

It looks like you jumped into it!  How wonderful for your family, I'll be you love it!


I really hope you haven't bought a pellet stove, though.  They need power to run, if the pellets get wet (read, slightly damp) they are useless (and expensive!), and you can't cook on them!


A good woodstove (even a safe used one) is heat even when the power is out (which happens quite often here in the country, we are about 15 miles from any city, but totally in the country), cordwood can dry out if it gets wet, and will sometimes burn even if it's wet (pine with lots of pitch!), and can often be a cookstove with cast iron pans.


We would not ever own a pellet stove again, it was terrible, we were freezing in the depth of winter, it only heated about 200 square feet of our house, and when the ice pulled the power lines down and there were 2 feet of snow and ice outside we were up a creek.  Now we have a fireplace, but I'd love to have a woodstove in our forever home!

post #17 of 55
Originally Posted by coyotemist View Post

I really hope you haven't bought a pellet stove, though.  They need power to run, if the pellets get wet (read, slightly damp) they are useless (and expensive!), and you can't cook on them!


A good woodstove (even a safe used one) is heat even when the power is out (which happens quite often here in the country, we are about 15 miles from any city, but totally in the country), cordwood can dry out if it gets wet, and will sometimes burn even if it's wet (pine with lots of pitch!), and can often be a cookstove with cast iron pans.


Yes, I just want to reiterate this point as I was going to post the same. I would never get a pellet stove as my heating source b/c you need electricity. Get a good wood stove. 

If where you live in Maine is anything like where I lived in VT you will lose power often as the heavy snow breaks trees which break lines. Our power was always back (well, almost always) in a matter of hours. But they would have been some COLD hours. cold.gifAs it was we had a wood stove, and our cook stove and wall heat ran off of LP gas- we had 2 80 or 100 gallon tanks. Gravity fed water (which needed a pump for any decent pressure but still ran without it). 


When the power went we would set up our rechargeable camping lights (which were always plugged in and charged), had water and cooking on either stove, plus our gas heat still worked, just not the blower. It was awesome!

And your house will be toasty with a fire at 700sq ft. Our house was about 500-600 sq ft and we would walk around in t-shirts in the dead of winter! thumb.gif


The place looks cute- good luck!

post #18 of 55


Congratulations! I was born and raised in rural Maine. It's the best. My parents built a house the year I was four and we went one winter without plumbing and many years without central heat. Here is my feedback on your plan:


1. Awesome!

2. The commute needs to go. Sounds like your DH knows that and is working on it. 

3. Compost toilets stink. No, really. No, REALLY. My extended family just bought a top-of-the-line one for our camp, and it's revolting. If you must use one this year, see if you can build a lean-to on the side of the house to put it in. 

4. Having power is essentially non-negotiable given the whole isolated darkness thing.

5. In that size house, a standard wood stove will serve your heating needs very well. I would probably choose to have a small wood-fueled cookstove with an oven, and no electric or gas range. But that's a very personal choice - the kinds of food I cook are well suited to a 19th-century stove. 

6. Shelving. Shelving. Shelving. 

7. I have known people who built a semi-attached "bath house" to solve the issue of a bathroom gobbling up space. It also provided a nice haven when all that family togetherness got a little intense. It was heated with a space heater. 


post #19 of 55

That sink is just gorgeous! It looks like it's definitely doable. Simplify, declutter ruthlessly, and utilize vertical space for storing the things you do want to keep.

post #20 of 55
Thread Starter 

I wish I could be quicker with updates! Thank you all so much for the input and ideas!!! Ok so to update-


-We remidied the DH job situation- he has an 'in' at a place that would only require a 30 minute commute and there is a ride share program in the area as many, many people have to commute to get to their workplaces, so this is a plus.


-Pellet stove: Mouso, you REALLY got me thinking about it, we did buy one but only because a friend was selling on and gave us a killer deal on it. But... after thinking (and talking with our new neighbors- the power goes out all.the.time) we resold it and are looking into one of these http://www.jotul.com/en-us/wwwjotulus/Main-menu/Products/Wood/Wood-stoves/Jotul-F-602-CB/

it is tiny and has a cooktop. 

 Our target date for having this place livable is by next fall. So it would be 4 of us living in 650 sq feet. Is this total insanity? I am trying to convince DH to talk to our friend (who we are owner financing the property/ and who we are paying to do the building we can't do ourselves) to think about extending the life of the project so we can add a bit more on before we move in. DH is VERY against this idea because we are set to start making payments on the property when we move in, he doesn't want to wait any longer to make payments on the property- but there is no way we could afford to make property payments and continue to pay to rent the house we are living in now. Money is tight. Very, very tight. We could eventually add a bit more on, but who knows when that would be.


Edited by GreenGranolaMama - 4/23/11 at 5:07am
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