Thanksgiving is coming. In the flurry of preparations, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important: spending time with friends and family, some of whom we only see during these special holidays. Here are some tips from tiny house dwellers on how to create a successful and meaningful holiday, without the stress.
Simplify is the mantra for those who live in small spaces.
“The kitchen is streamlined,” says Amanda Evey, who lives with her husband Garth in a 40-foot RV on the Oregon coast. “You only have what you use.” That may mean you don’t have that special bundt pan come the holidays, or even the oven space for a whole turkey. Counter space is at a premium. It’s perfectly okay to let go of the classic turkey with all the trimmings in favor of something simpler but equally delicious. Take advantage of the crockpot and Instant Pot for satisfying main dishes, and think about creating a meal that reflects your family’s culture or the foods of the region.
Bionca Smith lives with her son Carter, an experience she chronicles on Instagram, Youtube, and her blog, Off the Grid with a Kid. Smith makes favorite southern dishes when she and her family get together for Thanksgiving.
2. Move Outside
Most tiny home dwellers simply can’t accommodate a dozen friends and families inside, no matter how much furniture you rearrange. Weather allowing, you might consider holding your feast out of doors.
Paul M. lives in a custom-built tiny house on wheels in northern California. His THOW (tiny home on wheels) is parked on land that includes a three-acre garden, and he grows much of his own produce. He likes to host outside where a flagstone patio offers many place to sit, and two picnic tables in the adjacent field.
“On a nice day, it’s perfect,” he says.
In some cases, the outdoor spaces many people created during the pandemic will serve nicely, especially if they are partially or completely protected from the weather. Evey likes to entertain either on her patio or covered outdoor “living room,” a space which includes a pond, water feature, and live plants.
All of the tiny home dwellers we spoke to cook outside frequently, too. Smith cooks on a cast iron skillet right over the campfire. Paul likes to grill whole salmon or serve his signature curried dal and walnut lentil patties.
3. Have a Potluck
Many tiny homes have undersized ovens and ranges, and many don’t have dishwashers. A potluck-style Thanksgiving makes the meal easier on everyone, and spreads the cooking and cleaning among all of the guests. (By the way, while we don’t advocate disposable dishware, if you absolutely must, be sure to choose biodegradable and compostable plates and utensils—and make sure to actually compost them.)
The ideal potluck dish is self-contained, easy to reheat, and holds up well during travel. You can make it really easy on yourself by picking up a side dish from a restaurant or gourmet grocery store, though you will have to order well in advance.
4. Go Casual
Tiny house dwellers know that the big formal dining table usually doesn’t work in a small space.
“We can fit a lot of people in our RV” says Evey. “But half are on the couch and half are at the table.” Consider setting up a buffet and letting people sit where they want. Just make sure to place enough end tables so people have places for their drinks.
If you really want everyone at the same table, you might have to do some rearranging. You might even consider renting tables, chairs, and dishware from a party supply company; the table may stretch from one end of the space to the other, but that’s okay. Use your dining table for a buffet and stow guests’ coats on the bed. No dishwasher? No problem: have guests take shifts at the sink for easy clean-up.
5. Decorate Minimally But Elegantly
It’s easy for small spaces to look cluttered, so pare down the decorations to a few accents. Even small flourishes can make a big difference. Fall gourds are perfect here: a tidy arrangement of delicata squash and a couple of miniature pumpkins make a lovely centerpiece, as do small baskets of fruit and mason jars filled with fall flowers. A few candles and a string of lights can bring cheer to any space.
6. Have a Plan
Once people are finished eating, a small space can feel crowded quickly. It’s important to have activities prepared, especially if kids are present. Card and board games are crowd pleasers, but Smith recommends moving outside, where guests can gather around a campfire for charades and s’mores.
One factor that hinders some tiny home dwellers from hosting is a lack of facilities. Being on the road adds logistical challenges, says Smith. When she and Carter host from the road, they choose family-friendly RV resorts with “tons of amenities.”
"One of the reasons why we love RV resorts is because they offer a variety of things to do that can accommodate an entire family in numerous ways if guests and family members aren’t used to camping,” she explains. These resorts often have a club house that can be accessed at no extra cost, along with public showers, hot tubs, and laundry facilities.
7. Create Something New
Don’t be afraid to break out of the (cranberry) mold and try something new. Chances are, your guests will be delighted. Paul M. is planning a combination birthday party/Thanksgiving party this year. If the weather cooperates, he won’t host from his tiny home, but will instead head for the beach where he and his friends will celebrate with a potluck around the campfire.
Subverting the huge formal meal altogether will save you stress and calories. Volunteer at a food bank; go on a group hike or paddle; or take a picnic to your favorite park or scenic viewpoint. You may find that your “nontraditional” celebration becomes one of your favorite and distinctive holiday memories.