How We Downsized From 2000 to 200 Square Feet As A Family of Four

Downsizing to live tiny!

Two years ago, while eating ice cream, nursing my newborn daughter, and binge-watching episodes of Tiny House Revolution, I had an epiphany. Tiny living could be the answer to dreams unreached and overwhelming debt.

We spent over a year researching tiny living, minimalism, and downsizing. As it turns out, the simplistic way of life had additional benefits for our son who has multiple behavioral diagnoses. Reducing his stimulation and options for everything has been an incredible help to his sensory-emotional needs.

Over the course of the next year, we began to purge. It took us three large sessions of selling, donating, and trashing items large and small — appliances, furniture, electronics, clothes, and shoes — before we were ready to announce our move. Within four weeks, we quit our jobs; sold our 2,000-square-foot farmhouse with 15 acres, a barn, and a workshop; bought a 36-foot tiny, met a family through Airbnb, and parked on their land three states away. Our family has always lived the “Go big or go home” philosophy well, but this time the “big” and the “home” parts were a little subjective.

Now, two years later, I teach at a second-chance high school in an inner city while my rockstar husband slays being a stay-at-home dad and “road schools” our 6-year-old son. (The term “homeschool” didn’t seem to fit our lifestyle, so we adjusted.) Our one 1/2-year-old daughter climbs everything, rides bikes, and tags along on daily adventures while our son can use his best gifts for hands-on learning.

Brynns children in bed in a tiny homeWhat once overflowed two kids’ bedrooms and a playroom is now confined to a bedroom with bunk beds. Our kids chose what toys were important to them, and they now have two fabric bins each, plus books and dress-up clothes that make up their shelves of “stuff.” They were able to choose what stayed and what went, which proved harder on us than on them.

We each have about 50 pieces of clothing and accessories — yes, that includes shoes (gasp!). Now, what we are left with are quality pieces that we sincerely love!

We took what used to bubble over countertops and cabinets in a kitchen twice the size of our entire home now and pared it down to three pots, two pans, four plates, four glasses, four kids’ cups, four sets of silverware, and a few random kitchen utensils. You haven’t lived until you can wash all of your dishes, clean your entire house — including sanitizing bathrooms, scrubbing the shower, vacuuming, and laundry — all in the span of 45 minutes. It is the glamorous life.

What used to take us an entire weekend to clean, only to be destroyed in seconds by the tiny humans we are raising, now takes under an hour, and we are then free: free to play, to climb, to run, to hike, to do anything we want. I have taken more naps in our hammock in the last two months than in my entire adult life. There just aren’t the excuses anymore of “I can’t. I have to clean up,” or “Count me out. The yard work needs to be done.” We choose what we want to do, and we are able to do what we love. There is unbelievable power, freedom, and joy in this lifestyle.

Even with only one income, we have been able to pay off almost all of our previous debt and build savings. We are currently planning our dream trip out West this summer to see significant monuments and hike in national parks — and all of those hours will count toward roadschool!

Tiny living has permitted us to say yes to what matters to us and to say no to what we just no longer have space for any longer.

“Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, friend I haven’t seen since college.”

“No, Mom, I won’t actually use grandma’s old knickknacks from pre-colonial times.”

Living tiny had given us the freedom to pursue our dreams and to live our lives with purpose; to be examples of sacrifice, determination, and kindness to our children.

Brynn and child smiling at camera

Tiny living is not for everyone, but it is the best decision we have ever made. I don’t sit in carpool lanes, pickup, and drop-off lines, or take my kids to five different practices a week.

We take our kids to meet residents, to serve their community (even if it changes as we travel), and to recognize the faces of hurting people. Raising kids in our current world where cruelty has become the national economy, we want them to feel safe striving in the face of fear-driven hate. Living tiny takes the focus off of self and stuff and puts the spotlight on service and freedom — liberation from that which we were once held, prisoner.

My kids take survival skills classes, befriend whoever is at the park when they are, and wash tables at a local restaurant that feeds the hungry. It is a messy, dirt-covered lifestyle with minimal room for “things” but plenty of space for what really matters, and we happen to love that. So yeah, I guess we are those people.

5 Things Tiny Life Is Teaching Me

Things I’ve learned while on our tiny adventure

Traveling back to our old house for our final clean out after going tiny, my perspective changed…again. The first few minutes back in the old house were surreal. Did we really live here? Was this place always so ginormous!? Oh, and the memories; my heart broke.

Just as I was settling into the discomfort of our twin-sized air mattress, the thoughts began to flood in of all that we had left to do. To the onlooker, the new home buyer, our house looked like a home. In my anxiety-ridden mind, I was writing the never-ending to-do list of unpacking, organizing, making trash, donation, and storage piles, cleaning things out and scrubbing clean—ceiling to floors—the life we were leaving behind. Sleepless nights and endless hours of cleaning—I don’t miss them.

It brought to life five things that tiny life is teaching me.

1. Deciding is Difficult: When you downsize you have to make decisions…a lot! We had to take 12 years of life’s “stuff” and decide which things were important enough to take with us. That is harder than you think.

I am not the materialistic type, but I am the sentimental things type—or as my husband affectionally calls me, “hoardie”. So reducing my clothes and shoes was a freedom I enjoyed. I didn’t wear most of it anyway. However, I have amassed a collection half a file cabinet drawer deep of old birthday cards, notes from former students, campers, and friends, pictures from life before marriage and kids. It all seemed so important to me at one time.

I’m learning that, while deciding is difficult, it isn’t impossible. I kept a few things from family members that have passed on or pictures that our kids drew so I have tiny reminders, but the memories of what I left behind are still there. I don’t have to keep it squirreled away somewhere for me to maybe never actually look at again until we move or I need to empty a cabinet. Deciding is difficult, but rewarding.

2. Presence Over Presents:  While we teach our kids to serve and give back, it just seemed like we were continually giving away things.

We realized this had to be our kids’ decision and not ours. I was surprised by the freedom with which he cut things loose.

What we are experiencing is freedom from things we thought we needed. I thought I needed to hold on to mementos from my past and our kids thought they needed every little trinket and toy. My husband and I thought we needed time to unwind after work with a mindless TV show, but now we rarely even turn on the TV, and we don’t have satellite or cable.

We are, however, making our own memories. Every evening and weekend we are experiencing our community, visiting new places, being active together every chance we get. We are getting dirty, building things, learning things, and enjoying building our tiny lives together in a big way. It is pretty incredible and costs next to nothing.

3. Intentionally Be Intentional: Since going tiny, we have freed ourselves from the mundane but necessary parts of everyday life. We no longer have a yard to mow, fence to fix, barn to clean, house to sanitize from a week of baby goo, mountains of laundry to wash, forget about, rewash, smell to make sure we didn’t leave it too long, and then forget about in baskets for the upcoming week.

All of that is gone. What we are left with is ourselves and each other.

Our job now—our primary goal—is to be together and enjoy life. Now we can let ourselves have time to feel things, discuss things, and experience things we just couldn’t or didn’t make a priority before.

We are intentional about what we choose to eat, where we choose to visit, what we teach our kids; every decision is intentional because we have freed ourselves up to have the time to make those choices on purpose. It is eye-opening to look at your budget and see how many times you opted for drive-thru and take out over homecooked meals because you didn’t have time.

I still don’t do it perfectly, but now we read bedtime stories and kiss boo-boos and remind our son who struggles with his emotions that we do too and that’s okay. It is a change I may never have experienced otherwise.

4. Simplicity is Bliss: Full transparency, I wear my jeans at least three times before washing them. And honestly, if you are the type of person who washes every item of clothing or bath towel each time you use them, I don’t understand your life.

Now that we live tiny, we own about 50 pieces of clothing. Yes, that includes undergarments.  So from work clothes to comfy, shoes and accessories, I have about 50 things. Do you know how much easier it is to get dressed in the mornings!?

So now, not only with clothes but with everything, we choose to keep things we sincerely love and get joy out of having. Each dish, each decoration, every picture, and blanket were chosen on purpose, and that simplicity is a gift.

5. In Everything Be Thankful: I am coming to learn that having the mental space to breathe and to be thankful when our daughter does something new, our son learns a lesson he is excited about, or we just have a campfire on a weeknight to unwind is something I never knew I was missing until I did.

 

Moving on is never easy, but it isn’t the place we miss. We miss the relationships—the people. There are so many memories of warmth, laughter, cookouts, birthday parties, and late nights up rocking our babies. The thing is, no one can take the memories from us. We are choosing our new lifestyle. We are trading in the feelings of being overwhelmed with debt and never-ending to-do lists for a life of freedom to enjoy the things we love and to have the time to be intentional—to be able to afford to make the memories we have always wanted for ourselves and our children.

A transition is never easy, but the liberation that is being born from this type of simplicity is indescribably beautiful.

Surviving Winter in a THOW-4 Tips To Keep Things Toasty

Tips for Winter Tiny Living!

Spending our first winter living tiny in Ohio has taught us some hard and fast lessons about surviving the snow and negative temps when your house is on wheels. This winter has had record breaking negative wind chills that were set back in the 1800’s. This is not a drill. We found ourselves in real-life survival mode.

In hopes that others will be better prepared for their wintry life on the road, here are four tips to staying toasty in the winter in a tiny house on wheels [THOW].

Heat Your Hoses

In the first two weeks of winter alone, we suffered frozen pipes, a frozen spigot, and frozen drainage hoses. This resulted in having no water at all for two weeks. Friends, we have two kids and a dog living with us, so this posed an incredible challenge with daily temps hovering around -15.

We carried our water in, kept bottled water and gallon jugs on hand, made bath time fun after heating water on the stove, and learned to save even more water than we had been before. While this was an inconvenience, we did appreciate the lesson in conservation.

Black insulation around copper pipe for keeping tiny home pipes from freezing

The frozen drainage hose resulted in an explosion that was a less than savory situation. This is where investing in quality equipment up front is worth the money. We only use THIS type of hose since then, and they are our number one recommendation.

Before you have the same issues, be sure to keep water on hand and plan ahead. We bought a heated hose which was a total game changer. We tried to avoid the investment, but since making this purchase, we have had beautiful flowing water every day. They are available in 25, 50 and 100-foot lengths and arguably one of the best investments for winter on the road.

Insulate, Insulate, and Then Insulate Again

When building your THOW, you should consider insulation as a valuable expense during the planning stages. You can use everything from spray foam to fiberglass, wool to denim. Be sure to check the R rating on whatever you decide to go with because this will tell you what temperatures your house will be able to handle. You need also to ensure that the undercarriage is insulated or you will suffer from cold feet and freezing floors.

 

After you’ve chosen the right insulation in the walls, or if you are buying used, your pipes should be the next thing you protect. We went with a sturdy foam pipe insulation with a silver R-rated heat tape for our pipes. This allowed our water to flow freely.

The most terrible thing to tackle is underbelly insulation. If you are on the road, the best investment is skirting because it goes on quickly for when you park and comes off when you’re ready to ride again. However, if you are going to stay stationary for the winter months, using a more structured form of insulation is best. Many recommend hay bails or wood, but we were worried about the fire hazard involved. We used 1 1/2″ insulated foam board like THESE and measured around the bottom of our rig. These cut easily and can be affixed to your THOW or simply wedged underneath.Rolls of insulation for the underside of a tiny house

No Matter What, Stay Dry

Many THOW owners find a learning curve involved when it comes to proper ventilation and windows. If your tiny isn’t vented properly, condensation can build up inside single-paned windows or in between panels of double-paned. We ended up having to scrape frost and ice from the inside of our tiny before we learned how to prevent this.

Do not leave anything up against windows because that tends to attract more moisture. Additionally, be sure if your windows are not well-insulated, that you use insulated bubble paper to cover them (we did this on the inside and outside of windows that wouldn’t dramatically reduce our sunlight). This will drastically improve your ability to keep heat inside.

Once your windows are covered, you need to be sure your fridge isn’t working overtime. Whether your THOW runs from propane, electric, or solar, the winter can take its toll. So be sure you pay special attention to set temps correctly and not overfill a small fridge.

We ended up losing a freezer full of food to ours defrosting because of this very thing. We ended up storing our frozen goods in a cooler full of snow (because we’re classy) until it was fixed. This is easily preventable trouble so avoid it if you can.

Optimize Your Heat Sources

When planning your build, consider your heat sources with the larger expenses. A heat/ac split can be costly, but it may make a difference over time. We went with propane as our primary heat source but ended up with a slow leak that could have been very dangerous had we not caught it in time.

We also use small space heaters that are safe and efficient to not overwork our heating system. These heaters, paired with heating blankets (30% off HERE) on our bed and our kids’, have proved to keep us tucked in and toasty throughout the snow-covered nights. Click HERE to get the one we use for over 75% off!

Have A Plan B

Whether your alternative route includes showering at your gym or having an outhouse and a wood stove, you need to consider these things if you plan to live full time in a THOW during winter.

We didn’t have anything lined up, so we had to come up with a plan B on the fly when we had frozen pipes and no heat. We did laundry at my folks’, showered at the gym, and bought extra space heaters while our propane was being fixed.

Welcome To The NEW Blog – Where Brynn Talks Tiny Houses!

Logo for brynns tiny adventure blog

Who Is Brynn and what does she have to do with Tiny Houses?!

Please help us to welcome Brynn Burger as our NEW blogger for Titan Tiny Homes. Brynn will be contributing to our new blog titled “Brynn’s Tiny Adventure” in which she will give real-world advice on everything about tiny houses from homeschooling to keeping warm in the winter, to picking the right toilet for your tiny house! You can read more about her below!Picture of brynn burger reading a book

Brynn Burger

I am a wife, a mama, a teacher, and a lover of all things outdoors. I live tiny, love big, and laugh always. I write because it is cheaper than therapy and everyone needs that one funny girlfriend to cut up with at 3 am when your yoga pants are covered in spit up, and you just found your coffee in the microwave from yesterday.

Picture of brynn and her family

My husband and I decided to go tiny after having lived for over ten years in a life shackled by debt, surviving paycheck to paycheck. After researching tiny living for over a year, we knew it was our journey to a life of thriving. So, we sold about 80% of our belongings, listed our 15-acre farm, and bought a 36-foot house on wheels, and we haven’t looked back.

Our two kiddos and our dog couldn’t be happier with this life. We park for eight months of the year while I teach at an inner-city second-chance high school for student’s who’ve been expelled or incarcerated. The other months, we are on the road soaking up every second of what nature has to offer. My husband ‘Roadschools’ our six-year-old son who has several emotional and behavioral diagnosis. Our daughter, who is almost two, runs and climbs everything in sight. We pretty much flip the traditional family roles on their heads.photo of brynn reading

This life is not for the faint of heart, but it has afforded us the freedom to live the life we’ve always dreamed of. Sure, people look at us like we have two heads when they find out our choice of lifestyle, but we’ve learned to laugh it off because we know we are crazy—crazy awesome!
Check out more at The Mama On The Rocks. You’re welcome.