Dreaming in Small Dimension

Today’s post comes from Clyde of Mankato.

I was born too late. Just too late. Too late for the “Tiny House” craze. It all starts with my childhood and ends with my daughter.

My childhood had two tiny houses in it, more like cabins, but they could have been homes. Even then I dreamed that one day I would live in a small one-room house. I did not think that I would meet a wonderful big city girl who had no such dream.

The first of the cabins in my childhood was along the otherwise uninhabited road to our farm. It belonged to an old man who lived in town. His outhouse did not bother me; our house, at that time, had only an outhouse. What happened to it, you ask? His grandson tore it down and built a large 1970’s era split-level house. I cannot blame him. It has a view of Lake Superior from its higher floors. (The header drawing is of that cabin.)

The second of the cabins had only one twelve-by-fifteen room. “The Shack” we called it, built by my brother and a friend on the edge of our fields 600 yards from our house. My brother and his friend went off to the Navy, thus ceding use of the cabin to me and my best friend, the younger brother of the man who helped my brother build The Shack. Dennis and I often slept there, after peddling into town to buy a load of sugar for our night’s pleasure. It had no outhouse, simply lots of nearby brush. What happened to it, you ask? In reality nothing, by which I mean it has melted itself into the ground. In my imagination it is the primary setting of my second novel. However, for the demands of the fiction, I tore it down and replaced it with a modern small home, but not a tiny house.

Our house on the North Shore was small, barely 1400 square feet. We did not find it lacking, in part because of our view over Lake Superior. Today we live in an apartment of 650 square feet, which we find cozy and perfect. When Sandy and I watch the TV shows on tiny houses, she always exclaims how small they are and how she could not live in one. I always dream the tiny house is mine. My daughter and her husband have plans to build a tiny house as their only home when they retire.

The tiny house fad, it seems to me, says something about our culture. We rush to the extremes: 4000 square feet or 400 square feet. Why not something of 900 to 1200 square feet, for example?

Could you live in a tiny house, say 400-500 square feet?

57 thoughts on “Dreaming in Small Dimension”

  1. it might be a good exercise but i am not sure it wold be good for the soul. disapline is required and while it is rewarding to know where the thing you toll out of your pocket is going it is not familiar. i wored wth a guy who knew where everything he had was ll the time which pocket his keys were in. his change his pen his things in his briefcase. he was amazing at being able to retrieve things and he was also good at getting things doen. he was methodical to the max and the style fit him perfectly. maybe my style could be tweaked with the inclusion of 4 tightening walls to restrain the random theme currently in place. i love the tiny house idea but my 10,000 sq ft warehouse makes it feel like cheating

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  2. I probably could if I lived alone and lived in a more temperate climate. Being wedged into 400 s.f. during a brutal MN winter would probably drive me crazy.

    And, although my wife LOVES cozy, she still requires too many things around her to be willing to strip down to the essentials in a tiny house. But we’ve enjoyed the heck out of the few times we rented cozy little cabins up in the mountains or up North and speculated on what a wonderfully simple life we’d have if we only had two rooms, a kitchen, and a bath.

    Chris in Owatonna

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  3. I don’t think I could, It would be lovely in spring and summer, when you’re spending much of your time outdoors. In winter, though, I think I’d get tiny house fever.

    I still have a lot of vinyl records and CD’s, and many shelves of books. I suppose if you are a twenty-something, your e-reader and laptop hard drive contain your books and music, so you have the advantage there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is nothing like starting off a guest blog with a big glaring error. ERRRR!!

      I did in those years in my teens when we think we will never marry dream of building and living in a small house on scrub land, thus cheap land, in NE MN. I easily could have done it, and perhaps should have, not being all that comfortable in the social arena. My daughter and her husband I hope get to do it. They could easily live that way.

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  4. I don’t know exactly how big my studio apartment, was, but I think it was about 500 sf. So sure, I did it for 4 years, and it was fine (except for the noisy neighbors). My roommate and I sometimes dream of buying land and putting 3 tiny buildings on it–a house for each of us, and a communal library, with kitty habitrails between them all.

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  5. We are doing things backwards, I think. Our current house is small and unassuming, about 1800 square feet. We bought it 27 years ago with the intention of living modestly so that we would have it paid for by the time our son started college. We succeeded doing that, and put whatever we would have spent on a larger home and mortgage toward both our children’s educations. Neither husband nor I thought it necessary to achieve some elusive sense of social position with increasingly fancier homes.

    Now that I am looking at retirement in 5 years, I see that our small house is filled to the rafters with stuff we treasure. Some of it is my parents’ stuff, some we will eventually be able to bestow on our children when they settle down in their own homes, but much of it we want to have around us. Since we intend to share a home with my best friend when she retires, I think that our next home will have to be larger than our current home.

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  6. Nice header drawing, Clyde. I could see myself living there.

    Our current house isn’t very large, 960 sq. ft. on the lower level, and another 400 sq. ft. upstairs. But it’s an old house, and the space is not used very efficiently. Our kitchen, for instance, has four doors, leaving precious little space for cabinets and counter tops.

    I’d love to have a go at a smaller, efficient, modern house, although 400-500 sq. ft. does seem a bit stingy. I like Crow Girl’s concept of separate dwellings with a communal center. And while I’m at it, I’d build it in a place where weather extremes aren’t quite as pronounced as in Minnesota.

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  7. As I often do, I find the question troublesome because so much depends on what stage of life is involved. We did well living in a thousand square foot home when our family was two adults, two dogs and a teen daughter. A smaller house would have been a tight fit then.

    Now, an old guy living alone, I do reasonably well in 750 square feet. But to fit here I gave away a huge amount of stuff, abandoned hundreds of books and CDs.

    So much depends on design. My apartment features a huge glass sliding door that looks out over a woodsy clearing. My bird feeder is out there, attracting my new pals: juncos, towhees, chickadees, fox sparrows, varied thrushes and other pretty neighbors. That view makes my small apartment vastly more spacious. Take away that glass door and I’d be a prisoner in a cell.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have a niece, Shauna, and her husband, Justin, down in Charleston SC. They were featured on one of those Tiny House TV episodes because they decided to live on a boat for a while. The lease was up on the condo they were in and Justin is all about boats so he fixed one up and they moved in there. Yeah, had to purge a lot of stuff and get a different mindset, but they did well. They’re traveling now (been in New Zealand and Australia for 6 weeks; due back in SC tomorrow) and I’m not sure where they’re living next. But they both agree’d it was time to get off the boat.

    In June, Kelly, Amelia and I are headed down there. Spending a few days living in one of their boats and a few days in one of the regular condos.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. always wondered about living on a boat. saw robert goulet on johnny carson after he divorced carol lawrence and was living on a boat

      johnny couldnt believe it. i thought it would be great.

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  9. Mildly related… a friend and mentor passed over yesterday. He was the best scenic designer I’d ever met and he constantly inspired me and made me think harder about my designs.
    He was also a pack-rat. I had to dig out the shop at the college when I started after him. And last fall, when he moved from his 2 bedroom apartment into an assisted living apartment he struggled with what to give up. The battle was not over when the time came to move and I’m not sure what became of the rest of his former apartment.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m fascinated by the tiny house movement but not sure I could live in what is a typical tiny house. I definitely could not do it with the number of people with whom I share a household currently (which is okay by me, the less the merrier in my view). I also don’t want a loft bed – for one thing, I’m not getting younger, and for another, I wouldn’t want to get sick and be stuck up a ladder when I need to get to the bathroom quickly. And, of course, I’ve wondered about the climate thing, too. I’ve read about people who love living in a tiny house but they live in a moderate climate where they can spend a lot of time outdoors and where the extremes of a Minnesota winter are unknown.

    Am I correct in thinking that 400-500 sq. ft are some of the bigger tiny houses? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen many (seen online, that is) that are much smaller, 200-300 sq. ft. or smaller. 400-500 sq. ft sounds more do-able than those really tiny places. I’m sure I would feel claustophobic – or close to it – in 140 sq. feet.

    All in all, the whole downsizing/minimalism thing is very appealing to me. And the tiny houses are often very aesthetically pleasing inside. I think I’d like to try it!

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    1. If I had done it as I dreamed, it would have been on a 15 by 15 foot footprint (225 sq, ft.) with a sloped roof and clerestory windows facing south, a separate front porch (unheated) at 4 by 6, which would have been the closet as well. Because of “The Shack” I knew exactly what that space would have been like.

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    2. There are three or four shows about tiny houses, the best one is on a channel we do not get, which builds the most interesting houses. The ones on HGTV almost always builds them on wheels, which is rather opposite of the purpose, it seems to me. But yes, most on the shows we see run well under 600 feet. The forget how a square is the best interior footprint for such a home.

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      1. Sometimes i think an outhouse would be preferable to scrubbing the toilet(s), but there is the matter of having to go out there in pouring rain, in the middle of the night, when feeling under the weather, etc. I think I prefer indoor plumbing, too.

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  11. Will read later… Once when at a weekend spiritual seminar, the leader told us to go inside ourselves and create our “sanctuary” – an imaginary dwelling where we could go at any time – and furnish it however we wished. Mine was a large round space, I imagine something around 400 sq. ft., with windows all around to the outside, and one inner room for sleeping. I say ‘was” rather than “is” because I promptly forgot about it after that weekend, but I f I ever get around to doing a regular meditation, I think I could go there again.

    Meanwhile, like others above, I could probably live in a tiny house in the warm seasons. I’d be willing to try it one year for all seasons. But not this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meant to add that when we were in California in 1999 (first time visiting my stepson in Ukiah),we visited a Mario’s friend who lived in a house almost identical to my imagined “inner dwelling”; only major difference was bedroom was on the level an octagonal room very much like my workshop place. It was even in the woods like mine…

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  12. It seems typical of our culture that we lurch from one extreme to another. I’d expect most readers of this blog to be put off by the excesses of the trend to huge houses. It is interesting to calculate how much of the room in your dwelling you actually use. Most of us spend almost all our time in a few key places. But 400 square feet? Wow, that doesn’t leave much room for anything.

    I keep coming back to the issue of what view your dwelling offers. A tiny cabin on the shores of Superior looking out over that changing view is larger than a big house with small windows.

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    1. Agreed, Steve. I currently live in a big house, but it is in a ugly neighborhood. It’s especially ugly in the winter when the snow is black and during those weeks or months when everything outside is gray or brown or beige – no snow, no green leaves, no autumn leaves, lots of trash thrown around the streets and front yards. If I lived in a tiny house on this same lot, it would be depressing indeed. But if I lived where there was a view, ah then I would not care how small the house was.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I could live in a tiny house in the summer when I could do some of the things I like to do outside. In the winter I would have to give up doing some things due to lack of space and I wouldn’t like that.

    One of my favorite books is Harlan Hubbard’s account of traveling down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in a shanty boat. In that book there are interesting descriptions covering how he and his wife managed to live in their boat’s small cabin during their river trip which took more than a year or it might have been more than 2 years.

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  14. Contrary to most of you, I guess, I would have most enjoyed my dreamed tiny house up north in the winter. the warmth inside contrasted to outside would have been a sanctuary for me. I would have had it fully wired but capable of fully functioning without electricity.

    I am off to a non-tiny waiting room.

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  15. I can think of several small cabins that I found extremely livable – despite being located in the northernmost part of Minnesota. Will Steger’s cabin is such a place. It’s a small log cabin built on a huge rock outcropping overlooking Pickett’s Lake twenty feet below. It has a tiny kitchen, a small eating nook/front room, and a larger living area. Above the front room is a cozy sleeping loft. I’m guessing he has no more than 400 sq. ft. of living space. Of course, the homestead has all kinds of communal space where most activities go on. The lodge houses the main kitchen and dining area; the sauna and outdoor hot tub serve as the bathing facilities, plus assorted storage and work areas. Oh, I almost forgot what at this point must be a main focal point, the humongous Wilderness Center. It’s been thirty years in the making, and isn’t finished yet, but it’s getting there.

    Another even tinier cabin at the homestead is Suki’s cabin. Suki is a professional ski instructor who works in Japan during the winter months teaching skiing. During the summer months he works at Will’s place. Suki has been coming to the homestead for many, many years, and has constructed his own tiny cabin. It’s nestled among the treetops, elevated about ten feet over the ground; you look out his windows or sit on his tiny balcony, and you’re looking into the treetops. Suki’s sparsely furnished cabin has the esthetics of an uncluttered and serene Japanese sensibility. Deep in the woods, it’s beautiful.

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  16. Baboons are readers. For those who haven’t yet read her, Sarah Susanka is someone you want to get to know. Curl up in a comfortable place with her first book, The Not So Big House. Her background is appealing. She was bor in Kent, in England. She graduated from the University of Oregon, then settled in Minneapolis. Her first book was based on her U of MN master’s degree thesis. Susanka is generally credited with having launched a trend in home design. I think she is not considered the originator of the tiny house phenomenon, although her theories might have influenced it. I’m more at home with “not so big” than with “tiny.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll grant you that Susanka has designed some lovely and innovative homes. I do think, however, that “the not so big” is a matter of perspective. Many of the “not so big” houses are in the neighborhood of 2,500 sq. ft, maybe not a McMansion, but to my way of thinking, still a pretty sizeable home. Certainly a far cry from the tiny home.

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      1. I’m guessing it is the roughly one thousand sq. ft. house Steve was referring to above. Which, by the way, has been replaced by a 2,804 sq. ft., two story house with four bedrooms and three full baths.

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        1. PJ is right.

          If you discount the basement (and you should) it was 1,000 square feet. I agree the total space seemed good for a small family. The space was divided somewhat oddly. The bedrooms were tiny. The living room was a pleasant and useful size, but then there was the sun room, which in many ways was a second living room. The dining room was right-sized, although we didn’t use it much. I would have liked a larger kitchen and larger bedrooms.

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    2. I read that book several years ago, and like PJ mentioned, some of the examples were kinda big to be called Not So Big…but she was comparing them to the McMansions, not to small bungalows, etc. She did have several examples of houses that were small (not tiny). I think where the similarity comes in is the mindset: Think through what you need, not just what is the norm; Craft the house for how you really live, not how some architect has decided you should live; Function is important, but so is form; Well-crafted details.

      If I remember correctly, she also emphasized the importance of each person having their own space…not necessarily their own room, but some space of their own. I wonder how the Tiny House people address that need (for those people who have more than one person in the house). This morning I read an article about a Minnesota family of four (mom, dad, boy, girl) who live in a tiny house of a little over 200 sq. feet. They say they’re happy, but no matter how much I like somebody, if I was living with them in that small a space, I would probably hate them before too long – just because I need to be away from people sometimes, and where do you go in that small a space? The bathroom? A closet?

      I think Susanka’s principles could definitely be used in designing a house that is much smaller than what we might think we need. Maybe even a tiny house.

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      1. I recognize, of course, that different families have different needs. I can understand why a family with three or four kids, or who do a lot of entertaining, or have frequent out-of-town visitors, have different needs than we do. I suppose four bedrooms, and three full baths may not seem excessive to a large family. In our small house we have two bedrooms and two full baths, and frankly, it’s a luxury that I appreciate. I didn’t grow up in a family where I had my own bedroom or bathroom, but it sure is nice.

        When I first bought our house, before we were married, the upstairs was rented out. I inherited Gladys as a renter. Having a renter for the first ten years we owned the house helped pay the bills. Nowadays, I can’t imagine having someone else living upstairs. We have both evolved to stake out our own territory, and to accommodate our various pets. Blending that in a small space would definitely require some sacrifices. If I had to rethink my life as a single person, there would be some serious changes – I think.

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  17. When I first moved to this 1800 sq foot cottage, I’d lived in a 1100 sq foot home. I lived there for 30 years and reared my three kids. One bathroom, single car garage. Then I moved here with two full bathrooms, a 2.5 car garage, a huge kitchen and living room. It took me a few years to feel at home with all this space – not to mention a lake right outside my home.

    I’m now fully ensconced and have filled every room with my own spirit and loving care. In the Strib article called “Requiem for the Cottage” quoted me saying, “They’ll have to take me out feet first”

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  18. im a space pig. i love space. i would like to try a weekend a month in a dwelling like we are talikng about here. a retreat where the bed and the book is the main thing. outdoors and nature a bigger part of the experience. i have afriend who is moving on to the shut down portion of his life. he is an artist and a chef and a collector. he is selling his studio, his art his furnature his stuff and trying to figure which one piece f art he wants to keep, which two shirts etc… not for me, not yet.

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    1. its just stuff but my guitar piano and records would fill the double garage we are talking about here.
      just saw a show about living in a place whhere its 130 in the summer so they live underground, interesting and maybe good prep for the coming attractions of climate change. i always wondered about underground. i cant believe how underused it is. how about if the space you live in had all te storage underground set up on a series of dumbwaiters or little pushbutton beckoned closets. or a simple set of stairs that went down. if you needed to go further just dig deeper. easy peasy sun room up above and the rest down below. ill see if i can find it. it was interesting.

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  19. i saw a guy years ago. a flamboyant arichetect designer who had a wonderful simple idea.
    a single room with a spinner on the end. the spinner housed the kitchen bathroom and bedroom stuff. may be it was a kitchen bedroom living room with tehbathroom in a seperate area. i like that better. it was wonderful . instead of leaving to go down the hall you just spun the rotor and you moved from the kitchen to the living room. i think the main room was made of a shipping container in his instance but the switch for 8x8x40 to 25×25 may be all it takes to make it livable.

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