How to Move a Family into a Tiny Rental House

We’ve been in our new tiny house for over a month now. As soon as I install one more light fixture in my bed arrives, I’ll do some glam shots.

There was some considerable planning involved to move  two adults, two children, a giant dog and an ancient one from a 2100 sq ft house to our new 700 sq ft digs. Contemplating our move, I did net search for recommendations on  moving a family to a tiny house. (And yes, anything less than 200 sq ft per person does quality as a tiny house!)  Most people who contemplate a move to something smaller either don’t have kids, or simply don’t write about it online.  But there were some gems. Here are my own tips if you’re thinking about such a move.

#1 Get everyone in the family excited about the move.

I sold everyone on our house by focusing on the freedom, extra money, and potential travel you will have when you live in a tiny house. My husband was basically sold on the idea of less housework, but the kids took some convincing. There is a treehouse in our new yard, so that was a bonus, and after the bribery of having a sleepover at the new place, they were in.

We also had several discussions about how we wanted to live in our new house, and how we wanted to spend our time as a family. Two examples: in our old house, my visiting parents had been sleeping on the sofa bed for the last couple of years, after Africa Sleeps took over the third bedroom. We wanted them to have a comfortable place to dwell in our new home, and we did it! The tiny rental house has a basement, sort of. Now, it’s so low that I can’t stand in all of it (Jason can’t stand straight up anywhere down there,) but, there is a little room with a two foot window in the back corner. We spruced it up, and now Mom and Dad have their own guest dungeon! Another example is that Jason wanted to continue to have poker nights in the new house. So we actually have a room downstairs (again, with slightly less than 6 foot ceilings,) that we have left intentionally clear. On the side, we have his folding poker table and folding chairs, and he can now have games with his friends down there, as long as they stay seated, of course.

#2 Measure your new home and make a floorplan.

Yes, I love the architecture and planning, so this was a joy for me. But even if you don’t get a small thrill when you look at a blueprint, planning your space is essential to a grand downsizing. You need to know what of your old stuff will actually fit in the new space, and what you are going to have to scrounge or buy to make it work.

Plan for lots of storage, and think about how you would actually want to live in a space, as opposed to your habits now. We used to recreate in different rooms, but I designed our new house to have one central hanging out area. Also think about how you can use spaces for multiple purposes. For example, the kitchen doubles as the occasional office.

Another helpful process is to think of what your family does in an average weekday or weekend day. This will help you remember to plan for a place for school lunch kits, where to feed the dogs, shoe storage and other mundane essentials. Don’t worry about the 5% of the time special occasion stuff. Yes, we have Christmas dinner with 9 people or more every year. But we sure as heck aren’t going to plan a room around a once a year occasion. We will just bring in a folding table and move some furniture around if we need to. The other 364 days a year need to work see lesson, though.

I used this app to plan our new space.

Rowan Family Tree Tiny House Plan

This is the actual plan of our house… Pretty compact, isn’t it?

#3 Move only the essentials, and leave the rest behind.

OK, so not everyone has the luxury of having access to the old and new home at once. But we made sure we had a month at least of overlap to make the move.

We started by moving just the furniture that we knew would fit the new little house, which in our case was only the beds, one dresser, one sheet of shelves, and two chairs. I kid you not… Nothing else fit properly. Then we proceeded to weed through everything we wanted to bring. I gave the kids six storage boxes for toys, and said “pick the ones you like the best, because everything else is staying. They screamed, but actually it wasn’t that difficult after all. Add to that two boxes of books handpicked from our huge library and the girls’ special little shrines of treasures, and they were essentially moved out.

With clothes, I made everyone try on everything before it left the old house. If it was torn, worn, the wrong size or hadn’t been on their bodies in a calendar year, it didn’t make the cut. This seems harsh, but actually it’s quite liberating to leave all the extras that fill your closets behind.

The point is that you don’t bring stuff to the tiny house to be sorted… It never makes it there in the first place. And yes, we have a shed full of tools and a basement (sort of) full of camping and skiing equipment. But the “one day” gear for the trailer we don’t have anyone or the

#4 Buy or scrounge exactly the right furniture for the space.

Don’t try to squeeze anything into your new tiny space. If you have an antique piece of furniture that simply doesn’t fit, lend it to a friend or put it in storage. But don’t clutter up your space because someone offers you something or you “already have it.”

We had a huge estate sale, and the money I gained selling our old furniture I used to buy new (or new to me) furnishings for the new tiny house. My buff offered me a gorgeous round teak table, but once I realized it was eight inches to big, I politely refused and stuck with one I bought online that had a pedestal. Let me tell you, I am very grateful for those eight inches!

We also inherited a full sized fridge from my landlord. A super nice fridge, by the way. But it was huge in our teeny eat in kitchen. So I called around to my favourite appliance repair shop, and ended up buying a 60 year old mini fridge fixer-upper for $50. I’m so glad we did, even though I have to defrost that old thing once a month. We just buy exactly the groceries we need for the week and have less half bottles of sauces. And the space it saves in the kitchen!

#5 Be militant about the one in / one out rule.

After working so hard to have a well-planned non-cluttered space, you need to set some rules to maintain it. Obviously, the kids need the one in / one out rule. You should have seen the enormous collection of stuffies they had before! If they bring in a new toy, an old toy of comparable size needs to leave the house forever. I cannot tell you how much this cuts down on consumerism.

Adults also need rules… Or at least strong suggestions. Jason is a pack rat with clothes, and a complete shoe-a-holic. So twice a year I take everything out of his closet, throw it on the bed, and make him try on everything before it goes back in. Being both adults, I can’t make him do anything, so there is the inevitable squirrelling away of too many hoodies, but it does remind him to throw out the sock with holes and give away shirts that have fallen far, far out of fashion.

We also have involved our family in our new house frugality. Where do you think all those stuffies came from in the first place? Not us! So for Christmas, I’ve really pushed with my family to get the girls something consumable, or an experience. For example, a day at the spa or movie tickets. Of course, if they get toys, they will have to give away some old ones. Um, Boxing Day should be interesting.

If you are contemplating moving your family to a tiny house, I hope these tips are helpful. It’s been a great move for us, and all of us (even the grandparents in their guest dungeon!) are glad that we have downsized.

Simplifying Life Step 1b: Rent a Tiny House

Tiny house plan

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Jason and I were looking at buying a tiny house. Well that didn’t turn out as we expected! Our financial advisor knew in advance, though. “You will never get a mortgage,” Frugal Tim prudently advised us when we told him our downsizing plans.

“What are you talking about?” I scoffed at him. “We’ve had five mortgages, owned rental properties… All much higher amounts than this.”

“Yes,” he replied. “but that was before you were totally self-employed.”

He was right. Humbly, I admit we were politely told to pound sand by the mortgage brokers. Once you talked out my prof income and Jason’s income at the clinic, both which don’t count, and the rest from our businesses is almost all written off (legitimately,) we barely made above the poverty line over the last two years. On paper, of course.

So we thought hard about this whole downsizing thing, and if we wanted to still do it. The answer was yes. So we decidedly to brave the incredibly cutthroat family with pets rental market in Kelowna. I know people that have been looking for months. And due to fate, luck or my mother-in-law’s prayer chain, we landed a house to rent, one block from where we live now, in two days. Sweet. The owner is an old aquaintence… He’s a prof at the university and we had lectured at a conference together way back when. He agreed that I could decorate at my expense, and I agreed to be the best tenants ever. We signed the deal, and took possession two days later.

So now Jason and I are the proud tenants of a extra tiny house. It’s… Hold onto your chairs… 700 sq feet for our family of four, plus three dogs. The cats are going to the clinic. Obviously a downsizing to a third of our current house size requires some serious planning. So this week and next, I am painting it, have ordered a whack of new teeny furniture, and am cleaning up the yard. Then I take off to Ethiopia with Vulnerable Children Society for two and a half weeks, during which, nothing will happen. When I get back, the real work will begin.

In October, we will move our most valued and useful possessions over to the (did I mention 700 sq ft) house. I plan to have a huge estate sale,  and then this house will be ready for painting and refinishing the floors. After we spif it up, we will put our house on the market at the end of October. Both Jason and I are pretty confident it will sell quickly, without the distraction of our kids, pets and mess in it. And then we will be footloose and asset free (except a car and a clinic.)

Here are some pictures of the new house… The folks we are renting off of are Central American, and have a love of tropical colours! I’m painting it in a more subdued pallets. Stay tuned for the rental renos before and afters!

Tiny house before renos Tiny house before renos Tiny house before renos



Simplifying Life Step 2: Sell Africa Sleeps


One night when my daughters were just little pip-squeaks, I ran out of sleep caps. Couldn’t find one anywhere. The lady I had been getting them from appeared out of business, so I decided to order some online. I soon discovered it cost the same to order 4 or 100 caps, so in a burst of creative energy and an all-nighter, Africa Sleeps was born.


That was 3.5 years ago, and I built my little business with the sweat on my brow and passion in my heart for natural haircare. After a couple of years, the business revenue starting replacing my professor income, eventually allowing me to retire from academia. But at the same time as my sort-of retirement, our family veterinary hospital and pet store launched. We never meant to have two businesses running at the same time – it’s just how it ended up. So this past year I found myself run to the ground, running two businesses, one new and needy and one established and flourishing. I didn’t have much time left over for my charitable work, which I love, and after hyper-prioritizing family time, I had no time left for leisure or sleep.


Something had to go, and it wasn’t going to be the vet hospital we had put all our investment into. Even though we lived off Africa Sleeps, it was obviously the best solution was to try to sell it, and live off the sales proceeds while getting the hospital off the ground.


Yesterday, Africa Sleeps officially changed hands, and had a wonderful new owner in Illinois. She’s an adoptive mom too, with a passion for her kids’ hair, and I know she will do amazingly well with the business. I’m of course very relieved to have the business off my plate, but there are twinges of sadness, too. In very emotional ways, my girls are intertwined with this business. It’s not just that they were the models – I started it for them, and it’s been a source of pride for our family, especially in the African and adoptive family communities. I’m happy that it is over, but like all ending of eras, sad to see it go.


So what are my work plans now? Well, I am planning on spending 3 days a week at the clinic, working 9am-2pm, while the girls are in school. That will leave me one day a week to work on Vulnerable Children Society, and one day a week to run errands and do important cost-saving like meal-planning, still before 2pm. this will be the least amount of work I’ve done in many years, and I so am looking forward to it. I might even discover that elusive thing called free time…


Simplifying Life Step 1: Buy a tiny house


Step 1 to simplifying our lives: downsize into a tiny house.

Ok, so it wouldn’t technically qualify as tiny, but Jason and I are contemplating buying pretty durn small 865 sq ft house. Our offer just left out the side door in the realtor’s hand. We actually put an offer on another house that was 950 sq ft last week, although it didn’t go through. Whichever house we end up with, under 1000 sq ft is quite a small space for two adults, two kids and three dogs (including a 150 lb puppy.)

Why the downsizing? As life is messy, so are decisions complicated.

First, it fits with our long term plan. We had planned in the next five years to buy two lots with small houses, move one house to the back of the other lot, and then build on a remaining free lot. I’m a planner, so I even have a good idea what that eventual new house will look like (passive solar, full of windows, a big courtyard…) This realestate shuffle was more in our three or four year plan, but our mental groundwork was already laid out.

The second reason drives the timing. We have a new business that needs a cash injection. Because our current house is in a fantastically walkable, upcoming neighbourhood, it’s worth much more than we owe on it. So getting the cash out of the house and using it to live on, and feed our business until it stand on its own, is a prudent, timely idea.

Thirdly, and most philosophically, we need to simplify our lives. We never planned it this way, but I’ve ended up running three organizations and having no time left over to sleep or play. Leisure time? What is that? Jason is also extremely busy working six days a week at the clinic, and he finds the added responsibility of maintaining our house, in addition to the time we want to spend with the kids, overwhelming. We want to spend more time camping and going on adventures, and less hours burning the midnight oil at the home computer. Freeing up our cash, lessening our expenses, getting rid of half of our stuff (yes, likely more than half,) has a romantic simplistic allure to it.

You’ve likely seen people posting pictures of their tiny houses on Pinterest, and thought like I have, “how lovely! Wouldn’t that be amazing? But I could never do it long term.”

The question challenging us now is how to make 865 sq ft work for our family, for the next two years.

We’ve had some big discussions with the kids about what that kind of downsizing will mean, and their first reactions were ones of panic. “What?!?!? Get rid of some of my stuffies and toys?!?! No way!!!” My children, by the way, have a lot of toys. Not that we have given them a lot, but they thriftily save their allowance, and are two of the few or only grandchildren on both sides of the family. So they get some pretty sweet gifts. And they love their stuff. But as we talk about Mommy spending more time with them, and having less to clean, the proposition is getting more digestible.

We have a lot of pets, so that’s an issue too. The fish will find a new home, and the cats will go to live at our clinic. We will still have three dogs, though, so a big yard is a necessity. The guinea pigs, currently living outside, will find a permanent home outside at the new house. Don’t worry – they won’t freeze – there are heat lamps for that. The chickens, bless their hearts, just stopped laying in the last couple of months. We’ve held onto them for sentimental reasons, but the two hens won’t make the move. [Insert ax chopping sound.] I’ll start with new pullets in the spring, as long as our new neighbours were ok with it.

At the new place, we’d have a big shed outside for storing bikes, camping gear and off-season clothes. But still, probably 2/3 of our furniture won’t fit in the new tiny house. And the last thing I would want would be a crammed 865 sq ft house, full of stuff. So we will move what we really love and need over to the new house, have a huge estate sale at our old house, and then put our lovely English cottage on the market. Right now it pains me to say goodbye to the most comfortable loveseat in the world, but I know that feeling won’t last. After all, it’s just a sofa. I can guarantee that we won’t miss our stuff – it’s simply grown to fit the space we have. The challenge won’t be missing the old stuff – it will be not accumulating more!

Wish us luck in our tiny house quest. This offer may or may not be accepted, but sooner or later, we will find out tiny house, and Step 1 in the simplify our lives plan will begin.