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.