Five Unexpected Realities of Parenting in a Tiny House

Our story is perhaps different from a lot of small-living families' stories. I'm sure there are a number of families that started their parenting journey while living tiny just like we did, but the majority of stories I see are those of households that chose to downsize with kids already in tow. Not only were we shocked by just how big of an adjustment parenthood is (as I'm sure most parents are!), but we were also caught off-guard by some of the realities of learning to parent in a small space.

Honestly, we're still figuring it out as we go, and I'm sure we'll discover more surprises along the way. For now, though, here are five of the unexpected realities of tiny-house family life that we have discovered since we brought our firstborn home more than five years ago.

1. Babies (and kids) really do have a lot of stuff

I always thought that we would avoid becoming those parents who need all of the things for their babies. We certainly wouldn't need half of that stuff!

Well, to some degree, we managed to skip a lot of things that so many stores and websites (and well meaning friends) will insist are necessary. We didn't need a wipe warmer or bottle sanitizer or changing table (the couch and the floor and the bed have always worked just fine for diaper changes). We even skipped the baby bath (at least at first) in favor of taking the baby into the shower with us.

To some degree, though, we did give in on a few things. With a poorly sleeping infant who always wanted to be held, the swing turned out to be a life saver (briefly). We caved and bought an exersaucer when Sunshine was about six months old, and that was life changing as well. (Suddenly we could both sit and eat dinner at the same time. Say what?!) We thought we could skip the crib, and while we mostly bedshared for the first year or more with each child, we did end up getting a mini crib to contain Sunshine (our mover and shaker!) while we were trying to sort out diaper changes. Both girls eventually slept in it as toddlers, so it got a good amount of use in the end. We also had booster chairs and a high chair to find room for somewhere.

It all takes up space, and while we've passed along nearly all of the baby items now, we've traded them in for dollhouses and toy cars and play tents and pretend kitchens. Is all of that stuff necessary? Not at all. But these items contribute to our daughters' imaginative play in ways that make living with them worthwhile to us personally. We could certainly stand to purge a little, but in the end, kids just come with stuff, like most people do, and getting away from that completely is a lot harder than I ever imagined.

2. Kids are their own little people

Chris and I were just starting our fifth year in our park model when we learned that we were expecting Sunshine. After a history of infertility and loss, we were guarded in our hopes of actually bringing home a baby, but as we all know, this part of our story had a happy ending (beginning?). At the same time, we had already had years to imagine what it would be like to raise kids in a small home.

Almost everything we thought we knew turned out to be wrong.

A lot of those faulty expectations were built around the idea that our children would be just like us. I pictured small-home family life featuring a lot of cuddling and reading together and quietly enjoying our own and each other's company. Chris and I are quiet people who love a good evening at home. We were quiet and mostly obedient as children, eager to please and quick to learn. Sure, we had moments that probably made our respective parents want to tear their hair out, but overall I think we were both fairly easy kids to raise. It seemed reasonable that our children would be similar.

We quickly learned that our firstborn was not like us. I've written before about our daughters' personalities, and while they change all the time as they grow and learn and move from one stage to the next, one thing has always been true of our oldest daughter: she is incredibly active and incredibly social (and an incredible person!). She loves to cuddle and read together, but it's so rarely quiet and relaxing because that's just not her personality. There's bouncing and jumping and interrupting and running around and a general lack of anything remotely resembling focus. Every morning she wakes up and asks us where we're going today. Her life is an adventure to be lived every moment of the day, and those quiet afternoons I imagined at home in our tiny house just don't exist.

In case it seems like we think our lively child ruined our plans, I just want to emphasize that we don't feel that way at all! We feel blessed to get to parent this amazing child. My world feels so much bigger because she's in it. She stretches us and makes us grow and invites us to see the world in a whole new way. She is larger than life and lights up whatever room she happens to be in, and sometimes that makes the walls of our small home feel like they can barely contain her. I'd give up this tiny home in a heartbeat before I changed one thing about her exuberant personality. Making this lifestyle work for her, though, has been one of the most challenging parts of parenting in a tiny house, and that was not a challenge I ever expected.

3. The noise is neverending

Kids are loud. Let me say it again. Kids are LOUD. At least our kids are! Sunshine is a chatterbox.(Seriously, we are really working hard on learning what "it's time to stop talking" means when it's time to read or pray or go to sleep. She talks about deep stuff, too, so it's hard to cut her off sometimes.) Sweetheart loves to sing, and she also has a wail that even the nurses commented on when she was a newborn. Between the two of them and their constant banter and giggling (and occasionally frequent tears), it's never quiet in our tiny house if they're both awake and at home. (And if it is, you better go see why because that usually means trouble is brewing!) After years of infertility and loss, I treasure the little voices filling our home with laughter and joy, but there are times when I need to go shut myself in the bathroom and breathe for five minutes to regain my sanity.

It's easier during the summer when Sunshine goes outside to play a lot, and hopefully Sweetheart will join her more this year. Most of the time, though, our home is a continuous hub of noise in a way that I never anticipated.

4. Winter is unbearably long

Speaking of summer, is it almost here? I honestly had no idea that winter could be so long until we had kids in this little house. We live in the rainy pacific northwest, and while we try to compensate as best as we can, sometimes we all end up with cabin fever. The worst part is when everyone gets sick and we end up homebound and crankier by the day. With little kids and lots of germs, it's not unusual for our girls to bring something home half the time we are able to venture out, either. It's a constant question of whether it's worth it to go hang out at the library or the science museum knowing that we may very well be paying the price next week. I am hopeful that as our girls get older, this constant influx of germs will lesson, but for the time being a lot of our winter is punctuated by colds and sniffles and various maladies. How I long for summer when we are all healthy and able to run around outside without worrying about rain or mud or cold or germs everywhere!

5. Being so close to our kids has been one of the most crazy, exhilarating, overwhelming, frustrating, and rewarding things I've ever done

Just the other day I saw someone on Twitter ask why anyone would ever choose to live in a tiny house with kids. I didn't respond to the question because the truth is that if you don't get it already, I'm not sure you ever will. Just like most parents, I need regular time without my kids in order to be a better person and a better mother to them and wife to my husband. But beyond that, I truly love being with my family. Maybe the reality of our time together has made me blind to the fact that not all families enjoy being together as much as ours does. Maybe something magical happens when you are forced to live together in close quarters and get along. Maybe my kids and my husband are just magical creatures. (I'm not ruling that one out!) Whatever it is, this life fosters our family unity in a way that makes me sit and wonder why we would ever do it any other way. Someday our kids will be bigger and older and probably even more difficult to live with at times, and someday we may find ourselves making a different choice for our family when this one no longer works for us. But so far it's been worth every unexpected bump in the road, and I can't imagine doing it differently.