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Tiny House, Big Love

Jen UbelakerThe person who said, “Absence makes a heart grow fonder,” never had to live in a tiny house.

My husband, Michael, and I have lived in a score of tiny homes during our marriage. My personal favorite was a 12x15-foot forest cabin in the Cascades. There was no official 'bathroom' or 'bedroom,' just a fold-out couch and a sheet drawn across where the toilet lived. When the bed was out, you couldn't open the fridge or the front door, and when company came over everyone just 'held it' until they went home rather than ask everyone else to go out on the porch and sing really loudly while they went to the bathroom. We were young. It was an adventure. As we've grown together, our homes really never got much bigger. That cabin did teach me that I need to have a door to slam, so every home we've found since has at least one official “room” where we (meaning “me”) can go to cool off if we need to.

Tiny House
Jen and Michael live in a 100-year-old fixer upper, and their Great Dane looks right at home.

Our newest home is a 100-year-old fixer-upper in an urban neighborhood. We've been working at developing our own self-reliance, and this plot of land makes sense for us. We can have our garden, our chickens, our cellar/pantry, and still be close enough that my husband has a short commute to work. The house is still small, and we trip over each other on a daily basis, but it's a constant reminder to us of the life we've chosen. You really have to work at harmony some days, but we've found some things that make it easier:

1. Be Kind, Even When The Other Person Is Obviously Nuts. My husband was born in Nome, Alaska. One of my favorite pictures of him is as a toddler, standing naked as a jaybird looking out the door of their house. He's a free spirit and doesn't sugarcoat anything. I was born in the U.S., but my family is British. This means that I can have the idea of reducing our energy use by putting up a clothesline, but under no circumstance can I ever hang my underwear on it. Outside. In public. To maintain harmony, you just shake your head, dig a hole and build your wife a clothesline.

Michael and I
Michael and I at home in our latest tiny house.

2. Laugh, And Don't Laugh. A sense of humor is the best tool you can have. It takes up no space, is nothing to carry around, and is more useful in a jam than anything else provided you know how to use it. As with any tool, used incorrectly someone could lose an eye. Mishaps and accidents always seem larger in a small space – that over-carbonated homebrew can literally re-paint your kitchen – but no matter how badly your sides are splitting, let the victim make the first move. Be supportive and laugh about it later.

3. Do One Thing, Every Day. My husband doesn't drink tea. Ever. Yet, he makes one of the best cups in the world, every morning, for me. I can't stand the sight or smell of food before the sun comes up, yet I make his lunch for work, every day, for him. It's a balance. In a small home, you are constantly in the other person's 'space.' Tread lightly and bring a gift.