Do cou­ples in tiny homes drive each other nuts?

Pri­vacy goes out the win­dow, and pa­tience is key

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - RACHEL RACZKA

Most cou­ples I know wouldn’t con­sider shar­ing a stu­dio apart­ment.

When my part­ner and I de­cided to move in to­gether, we weighed the op­tions of my cen­trally lo­cated stu­dio ver­sus his slightly dis­tant one-bed­room. We ul­ti­mately de­cided on the lat­ter, think­ing that the lack of walls and per­sonal space would be a deal­breaker.

Other co­hab­it­ing city cou­ples have sim­i­lar concerns. “What if we’re in a fight? What if you get food poi­son­ing?!” They find com­fort in hav­ing a wall.

But then, In­sta­gram and Pin­ter­est are full of the dreamy depic­tions of happy cou­ples who — by choice! — live in quirky dwellings gone minia­ture: house boats, #van­life and tiny houses. In par­tic­u­lar, the tiny-house move­ment has stretched its legs since its ini­tial boom. Not just for HGTV-happy hip­sters any­more, cou­ples and fam­i­lies who have made th­ese tight quar­ters work.

So what can the in­ti­macy-fear­ing and space-ob­sessed learn from cou­ples who em­brace a tiny-house life­style? I wasn’t sure. So I asked some.

You lose pri­vate space, ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions, sep­a­rate bath­rooms and full-size ap­pli­ances. But what do you gain?

For the most part, the tiny­house own­ers I spoke to found that the financial free­dom they found from mov­ing into smaller quar­ters di­rectly ben­e­fited their re­la­tion­ships. And for the lack of sec­tioned space and stair­ways, they seemed pretty happy.

“I re­ally think the big­gest thing is that we’ve found that we’ve been able to have a bal­ance, of that time of alone and to­gether,” said Emily Gerde, 32, who lives in a 325square-foot home with her hus­band, Justin, 32, and their 3-yearold son Ryan, a dog and four cats.

About a year ago, the fam­ily traded a four-bed­room home for their tiny house in south­ern Min­nesota. In re­turn, they now have more time to spend with each other rather than spend­ing it on clean­ing and main­tain­ing their larger home.

“In the big house, (we were) fran­ti­cally try­ing to get by. I never had alone time, be­cause there al­ways was some­thing to do,” Emily said. “The tiny house has given us free­dom and has helped our re­la­tion­ship get closer. ( Justin’s) com­mute was 45 min­utes one way. You dou­ble that, times it by five days, four weeks a month, and you get a cou­ple days back. It’s been a huge bless­ing. We have both self-care and to­gether time now.”

In the past year, they’ve moved their tiny house twice to plots of land closer to Justin’s work­place. “To fol­low our dream jobs, it would take us lit­er­ally a day to move,” Gerde ex­plained. “You don’t even have to pack up.”

OK, but what if you need alone time?

“I think there have been those oc­ca­sions where I’m so an­gry that it frus­trates me to hear him do­ing stuff in the house,” ad­mit­ted Alexis Stephens, 33, who lives in a 130square-foot tiny house with her ro­man­tic and film­mak­ing part­ner, 41-year-old Chris­tian Par­sons. “Some sulk­ing has hap­pened, but it’s a good time to en­cour­age go­ing out­side the house for a walk. The out­doors is the big­gest room avail­able.”

Stephens and Par­sons trav­elled with their tiny house across 27 states work­ing on their doc­u­men­tary, “Tiny House Ex­pe­di­tion,” adding a con­stant change of scenery to the mix, which has also aided in con­flict res­o­lu­tion. That kind of anger “doesn’t hap­pen a ton,” Par­sons added. “But it feels like we talk it out more be­cause you can’t hide in this house.”

“Quicker con­flict res­o­lu­tion through less stew­ing,” Stephens agreed.

In the tiny house “you can get away from each other a lit­tle bit — you could go in a loft or out­side — but for me, it af­fects the en­ergy of the whole house. We’ve got­ten to a point where we know some­thing is up and it’s bet­ter for us to talk about it to re­solve quickly.”

How do you make the space con­ducive to you as a cou­ple?

Gerde, who is work­ing on a book about min­i­mal­ist liv­ing and home-schools their son, says cus­tom workspace and stor­age were built in to tuck school sup­plies away af­ter-hours. A length-span­ning bench was also cus­tom-made to in­spire fam­ily time.

The cou­ple’s tiny house is de­signed based on their life plans — a fac­tor that she said is very telling.

“A lot of cou­ples have trou­ble (with tiny-house liv­ing) be­cause they didn’t think about the fu­ture. But we de­signed ours with a fam­ily in mind,” Gerde ex­plained. “We wanted it to ac­com­mo­date pets and an­other kid, and meet our needs specif­i­cally.”

For AJ Zamora, 43, who lives in a Napa, Cal­i­for­nia, tiny house with her wife, China Rose, 38, keep­ing spare time rit­u­als alive was im­per­a­tive to their de­sign. Rather than loft­ing their Euro­pean queen-size bed, they built a me­chan­i­cal bed that low­ers from the ceil­ing and rests on top of kitchen coun­ters for week­end loung­ing.

“We knew we loved re­lax­ing to­gether and we felt (a loft bed) could mean feel­ing cramped in your own space and not want­ing to spend time in it,” China Rose ex­plained.

What about not-so-alone time? You know what I mean.

“We al­ways get the ques­tion, and we just gig­gle,” Gerde laughed. “You just find space like any other house. The lofts we have use black­out shades. It’s not just to (block) light (from get­ting) in, but it also pro­vides pri­vacy.”

But what if the re­la­tion­ship doesn’t work out?

Tiny houses aren’t ex­empt from breakups. Film­mak­ers Merete Mueller and Christo­pher Car­son Smith de­cided to build a 124square-foot house in Colorado in 2011 and made a doc­u­men­tary about it called, “Tiny: A Story About Liv­ing Small.”

The film and tiny house were both rel­a­tive suc­cesses — the doc­u­men­tary hit the in­die cir­cuit, the house still stands strong to­day — but Mueller moved to New York af­ter a month, and the cou­ple broke up a year later.

“We started work­ing on the film, and we both were su­per in­vested in and it oc­cu­pied both of our lives,” said Mueller, now 32. “And for me, I was just ex­cited by the prospect of see­ing a house come to­gether from scratch. I was cu­ri­ous about his process: his fig­ur­ing out where he wanted to be, set­tling down in a home for both of us, talk­ing about our re­la­tion­ship. It wasn’t un­til the house was al­most done that I was like: I don’t know if I can live in this space with an­other per­son. ”

Af­ter Mueller moved to New York, Smith moved his tiny house to Boul­der, Colorado, as the cou­ple at­tempted to make the dis­tance work. He even­tu­ally moved to Los An­ge­les, where he pur­sued a full­time ca­reer in film.

But af­ter it all, Mueller said the ex­pe­ri­ence helped them to main­tain their friend­ship.

“I can’t imag­ine not hav­ing him as part of my life af­ter those ex­pe­ri­ences. Even if you’re ul­ti­mately not the right peo­ple, those (ex­pe­ri­ences) are re­ally im­por­tant to draw on. No one else can re­ally re­late to those things of­ten.”

TINY HOUSE EX­PE­DI­TION

Alexis Stephens and Chris­tian Par­sons have taken their tiny home across 27 states while work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary about the tiny-home move­ment.

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