Big Little Spaces tells the real stories about tiny living and carving out a tiny space inside any home. From downsizing to live in a skoolie to transforming a messy closet into a cloffice, we’ll peel back the layers of all types of tiny spaces.
Parenting in an average-sized home is challenging enough as it is, so it’s understandable when parents wince at the idea of moving into a less than 400-square-foot space with their kids.
However, that’s not stopping families across the country from leaving conventional-sized homes for tiny-house living. And what some of these families have discovered about parenting in a tiny house may surprise and inspire you. Here are seven things no one tells you about living with kids in a tiny house.
1. You Actually Get Closer as a Family
And not just in the physical sense. Former Marine, Jessica Rambo, 34, lives in a tiny house on wheels with her son Liam, 10, and part-time with her daughter Skyler, 13. “Living tiny has really reconnected my children and I in a personal and emotional way,” she said. They built their skoolie, The Painted Buffalo, themselves in 2019 and have explored 31 states together.
The low cost of tiny house living also allows people, like Alexis Monkhouse, 25, to spend more time with their families and less time working. She’s raising her 22-month-old daughter, Nalini, in a tiny house in Florida. “[Living tiny] enables me to work part time, or even for a few months a year so that I have more time to spend with [Nalini], which at her age is my number one priority.”
And when tempers flare, the close proximity seems to force some families to deal with issues instead of letting them fester. “We don’t have the room to storm off and ignore disagreements, we work them out,” says Macy Miller, 37. She’s been living tiny for nine years, and shares her home in Idaho with her partner James Herndon, 41, and their kids Hazel, 6, and Miles, 5.
2. You Can Live Tiny While Raising Teenagers
Sam and Breanne Sims are raising their teenage kids, Keegan, 18, and Emme, 16, in their custom tiny home in Nebraska. She says raising teens in a tiny house isn’t much different than a regular house. It’s still like working a miracle to get them to do chores or wake up in the morning, “though it does have the added difficulty of having to climb a ladder to get into their rooms,” she said, referring to their lofted bedrooms.
They’ve lived there for the last five years and enjoy spending time together in the kitchen.
"You get to be in close proximity the entire time so you get to work together,” Breanne said. “But it also leads to lots of conversations that don’t always happen with teenagers.”
Keegan and Emme are used to living tiny now and think it’s nice. They’ve each got their own rooms, but admit to wanting more space sometimes. “It’s hard to have lots of friends over, so you gotta have other places to hang out,” Emme said.
To solve the problem of not having enough space to entertain, she and her brother started their own arcade business downtown. Their parents were totally supportive. It’s just one of the many things that they’ve been able to do with because of the tiny-house lifestyle.
3. Adult Time Can Be Hard to Find—But It Is Possible
Finding alone time as a couple is the biggest challenge of tiny house living, confesses Jacq Marines, 27. She lives in a 300-square-foot skoolie with her partner Marc Marines, 28, and their children Wren, 7, Rogue, 4, and Rebel Grey, 2. Together they’re the Barefoot Bandits.
“I will be honest, having children in a tiny space doesn’t leave much room for, ahem, you know what; but we make do and still find other ways to love each other,” she said. “We always appreciate sleepovers at grandma and grandpa's [house] though.”
Parents of teenagers, the Sims made sure to build private spaces into their tiny house. Each room has sound dampening and their master bedroom is far from the kids’ rooms.
As for Miller and Herndon, they build a couple of hours of quality time alone into their daily schedule. “This is the time for us to have real conversations, watch grown up TV and just keep our relationship healthy,” she said. They of course try to push into our time and fight bedtime, but we are honest that ‘mom and dad need some time together so we can make sure we still like each other’.”
4. The Kids Have to Downsize, Too
The math usually goes like this: kids + toys = mess. Throw in a tiny house, and the math becomes kids + toys + tiny house = hell on earth. And you’re not entirely wrong. Things can get messy in a tiny house, but with a little intentionality and a lot of downsizing, the mess can be managed.
Every family who spoke to The Spruce for this article said they gave their kids parameters, aka a box, for their things.
“If it didn’t fit, it didn’t go in the tiny house,” Breanne said. They also made sure to plan out their storage solutions as they built their tiny house.
Monkhouse keeps her toddler’s toys in a 3-drawer bin from Walmart, except for her stuffed animals. She said that’s plenty for her daughter, and whatever doesn’t fit gets tossed. “I think people make it seem like kids need way more toys and space than they actually need,” she said.
And when gracious grandparents and benevolent neighbors offer gifts, each family has their own process for deciding what stays and what goes.
Miller’s rule for gifts is “If it doesn’t fit in our house it stays at yours.”
5. You Don’t Have to Homeschool Your Kids
Homeschool is the most common option for people raising kids in the tiny or nomadic lifestyle. But if the thought of being both parent and teacher freaks you out, then you can find other options.
Rambo homeschools her son, Liam, but her teenage daughter prefers traditional school because of the different activities it offers. Because of that, her daughter lives with her dad during the school year and travels with her mom and brother in the summer.
Miller homeschools her young kids, something she never thought she’d do. She says it works for them, but agrees that there’s no reason it has to be the only way. She’s paying attention to the way her kids learn and staying open to whatever works best for them.
“For us, classrooms consist of rivers, oceans, national parks, hiking, and enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer,” Jacq said about educating her three kids.
Like lots of families, they believe that school isn’t the only way to learn. A combination of play, travel, seeing how their parents handle situations and hands-on experiences are what they hope will grow their kids into well-rounded adults.
6. Some Days You're Sick of It, and That's Okay
Raising kids in a tiny house isn’t all adorable Instagram photos and family hikes through national parks. Sometimes raising kids in a tiny house downright sucks, Monkhouse says.
“There’s always a mess, they always want to climb on you, there’s literally zero place to escape in the house. But I absolutely love it,” she said about her tiny house.
She loves to travel and wants to show her daughter the world. Living in a tiny house allows her to afford to do that.
When Rambo and her kids start to feel overwhelmed, they call a meeting to figure out what’s next. This has helped their communication as a family. “They feel safe talking out their feelings, and I’ve gotten better at not getting my feelings hurt when they speak their truth,” she said.
7. The Kids Might Love Living Tiny as Much as You Do
“To say they love it is an understatement,” Jacq said. “And every time when asked if they want to live in a home or bus, the answer is always, ‘bus’.”
And no wonder. When there’s not enough room to play indoors, it’s like the world becomes your playground.
Miller has only raised her kids in tiny homes. Even though they don’t know any different, she says they enjoy the attention they get from living in a tiny house.
“They like that our house is somewhat famous and for now they still like being introduced with ‘they live in a tiny house’ attached to the end,” Miller said. They’re also looking forward to helping with the family’s next tiny house build.
No one seems to know what they’ll do if or when their kids decide they don’t want to live tiny anymore, but for now they’re just enjoying it while it lasts.