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Tiny house life: what it’s like for a couple to get really, really cozy

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A man on the left and a woman on the right looking at each other lovingly in front of a wood-shingled house
Davie and Ann
Courtesy of Ann Armstrong

What’s it like to build and live in a 230-square-foot home on wheels with your romantic partner? For some, it’s a nightmarish concept under any circumstances. In reality—for Ann Armstrong and her boyfriend, Davie, anyway—it can be pretty great.

Last month, we took a video tour of Armstrong’s tiny house, which she designed (she’s an architect) and built (she’s also a metal fabricator and posses many other construction skills) with Davie.

The house measures 20 by 8.5 feet and, in addition to its many ingenious space-saving elements, features a gray-water collection tank (collected from sink and shower water and used on the garden), an on-demand hot-water heater, a composting toilet, and an air-conditioning/heating unit. It’s also lovely looking and modern, with well-placed windows that bring in lots of light while maintaining privacy. Armstrong noted during the tour that she chose materials carefully to make sure the home was as light—and therefore as movable—as possible (it weighs 8,000 pounds).

During our recent Micro Week, we decided to check in with Ann and find out more about the experience of tiny-house living—she and Davie lived have now been there for nine months—and in particular what it’s like day-to-day for a couple taking the small road.

Did you live together before you moved to the tiny house? If so, how is it different? What specific challenges do you think living together in a tiny house poses?

We lived together in a one-bedroom apartment for about a year and half before moving into the house. We do have to actively stay on top of house-cleaning and keeping everything in its place-—a little mess that lingers in the kitchen or shoes piled up by the front door can make you feel like the entire house is untidy. That wasn't so much an issue living in the apartment-—things could be a little unkempt for much longer periods. But if you do keep up with things, cleaning up is quick--—as there are few things to put away, and much less surface area than a regular house or apartment.

And it I suppose it goes without saying, but it helps if both parties lend a hand. Along with tidiness, there is also daily/weekly/monthly maintenance that you don't have with a traditional house, emptying the graywater tanks, cleaning the filter in the AC/heater, emptying the compost toilet, and occasionally replacing the propane tank. It helps to share in those tasks as well.

How many hours, average, do you spend together in the house together each week?

We each have studio space outside the house for creative work, and Davie is in a band that rehearses one night a week--mix in socializing and we only end up spending 2-3 nights at home each week. We have full time jobs outside the house...so that just leaves weekend days. It often feels like a cabin/retreat of sorts--one we happen to live in full time.

What great lessons (or just lessons, if any) about yourselves, each other, and relationships in general has living together in the tiny house taught you?

Building a house together—piece by piece—is a great test of the relationship. You need patience and tenacity. You really have to be partners and equally on board. You navigate a ton of questions/decisions. You have to get through long days of physical labor—on blazing hot days and freezing cold days—when you'd rather be sleeping in or hanging out with friends. You can spend hours on a project and then make a mistake, and have to start from scratch. You're often pushed to your physical limit. If you can invest all that time together, and make it through those hurdles, I think that bodes well for your ability to live in the house and continue to stay happy together. But that would apply to any house, I think. However, the amount of personal space in a tiny house is small, so if you're not getting along, I suppose the small space could amplify that.

What do you wish you could fit in your house that you can't?

Davie would say a drum kit. We can't fit all the art we own on the walls, so sometimes I miss that.

What's the most unexpected thing about living there?

Falling in love with the compost toilet. And how easy it is to find something you're looking for—because there are only a couple places it could actually be.

Is there anything you wish you'd done differently?

I'd consider a building on a 24-foot trailer as opposed to a 20-foot. Moving/parking it would be harder with the extra weight/length, but the extra four feet could give a little more breathing room for the living space and the stairway up.

All images ©Ann-Made, via Start Small, courtesy of Ann Armstrong.

Watch the video tour: