After three seasons of living tiny, we’ve learned … a lot. Traveling with a 112-square-foot cabin on wheels is only as good as you make it. Here are a few tips for moving into your van, Westfalia, or tiny cabin.
A small space creates coziness. A natural-born romantic, I love the idea and ambiance of small, warm spaces. It can be the best option for reading a book, playing instruments, and stretching out after a long day in the mountains, and sometimes it’s great to share that space with others, like your ski bum friends… and their friends. Our first year living in the tiny house, we packed five people in for two and a half months (that’s 22.4 square feet per person). We never did that again. In the following years, we did multi-week stints on Roger’s Pass with four people, had parties at the Banff Film Festival with 20 friends, and hosted a deserted ski bum here and there for a night or two. What’s the take away? Limit the number of people who are going to call the tiny living space their home. Let friends enjoy it temporarily, but soak up as many nights alone or with one other person as possible.
There are things you won’t need in your small space: extra balaclavas, a blender, books you’ve read three times, hula hoops (actually, keep the hula hoops), decorative plants, random knick-knacks, and the soccer shoes you haven’t used for ten years. Give it all away! It’s such a cool feeling to unload the things you don’t need. People have heard me say this for years: downsize your possessions to upscale your experiences—it really works. I mean, how much enjoyment does that blender really give you, anyway?
Figure out where you’re going to shower (at least once a week). Is there a recreation center near the ski area? Hot springs? Do you have friends in town that will let you use their shower? Campgrounds work for summer tiny living, but winter requires a bit more resourcefulness. Make friends, Google public facilities, or bring baby wipes, but please, shower at least four times a month. The road grime will catch up with you, and it won’t be pretty when it does.
Do you have a Chihuahua, Saint Bernard, Lab, Retriever, or mutt that loves the snow as much as you do? I don’t, but I can guess that the extra body in a small space will either make the experience complete or it’ll be a complete disaster. Provide a doggie bed and bring your pup skiing with you. But don’t keep your dog cooped up all day or you’ll find your boot liners chewed.
The same goes for glacier camping or backpacking or any other extended adventure in the backcountry—forget the iPhone, wifi, this device or that one—they won’t serve you here. Play for the past not for the future. Enjoy the time in your tiny space without the complications of modernity. Play an instrument, read a book, write a letter. Kick it old school.
We never did this well. That’s why I am telling you to do it now, so you don’t eat quesadillas for three years straight. Go to the grocery store once, with a list, and buy everything you need for carefully planned meals: oats with chia seeds and dried fruit (dried fruit is better than trying to salvage frozen bananas or bruised apples), sandwiches fixings, pastas, curries, and yes, quesadilla supplies. Get everything you need once so you’ll be free the moment you leave the checkout line. That means no running into town to get tortillas because they’re gone or buying protein because you’ve only eaten lettuce for four days. Plan it out, and you’ll eat well and live well.
We have a wood stove with a drying rack that extends from the wall up to the ceiling above the stove. It’s the optimal way to dry gloves, goggles, boot liners, and other soaked goods in our tiny house. Consider how you’ll dry your gear overnight. Options range from small space heaters and stoves to leaving your gear in the lodge or simply packing enough extra gloves to get you through a storm cycle. If you go with a wood stove, make sure there’s adequate air circulation between the heat shield and the wood stove (a nice, expensive piece of copper is best).
Buy a $0.99 spiral-ringed notebook and start writing down quotes as soon as you hear them. Living in a small space is sure to generate wild experiences. Write it all down so you’ll remember all the outrageous times that made the whole lifestyle worth every ounce of your sanity. The notes will come in handy when you write your own version of “Tips for Living Simply.”
Live the lifestyle as long as it makes you happy. I hear a lot of tiny lifers talk about how they’ll never live in a bigger space again. It doesn’t have to be that absolute. Try it out. Love it. Hate it. Do it again. Move back into a regular house and then back into a tiny space. The lessons you learn while living tiny will stick with you forever. You don’t have to be a tiny dweller for eternity to change your perspective. Tiny is just a word until an experience comes along and gives it meaning.