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How do couples live in tiny homes without killing each other?

By: Rachel Raczka The Washington Post
May 19, 2017 Updated: May 19, 2017 at 4:15 am
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Alexis Stephens and Christian Parsons have taken their tiny home across 27 states while working on a documentary about the tiny-home movement. MUST CREDIT: Photo courtesy Tiny House Expedition

Most couples wouldn't consider sharing a studio apartment. When my partner and I decided to move in together, we weighed my studio vs. his one-bedroom. We chose the latter, thinking the lack of walls and personal space would be a deal breaker.

"What if we're in a fight? What if you get food poisoning?!" Other cohabitating city couples find comfort in having a wall.

Yet Instagram and Pinterest have dreamy depictions of couples who - by choice! - live in quirky dwellings gone miniature: house boats, #vanlife and tiny houses. The tiny-house movement has boomed - not only for HGTV-happy hipsters anymore, but 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.

What if the relationship doesn't work out?

Filmmakers Merete Mueller and Christopher Carson Smith built a 124-square-foot house in Colorado in 2011 and made a documentary, "Tiny: A Story About Living Small." The film hit the indie circuit, 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, 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. I wasn't one of the people who was drawn to it because I was so excited about the lifestyle. It was something I fell into through him."

Smith then moved his house to a permanent plot in Boulder, as the couple tried to make the distance work. He eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue a full-time film career. But Mueller said the tiny-house experience helped them maintain a friendship after the moves.

"Even though Christopher and I didn't stay together, it was going through those challenges that informed our 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."

Other couples said you lose private space, possessions, separate bathrooms and full-size appliances but gain time and closeness. The financial freedom they found benefited their relationships.

"We've been able to have a balance, of that time alone and together," said Emily Gerde, 32, who shares a 325-square-foot home with husband Justin, 32, 3-year-old son Ryan, a dog and four cats. The family traded a four-bedroom home for their tiny house in southern Minnesota and now spend more time together.

"(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 of days back. It's been a huge blessing. We have both self-care and together time now," Emily said.

But everyone needs 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," said Alexis Stephens, 33, who lives in a 130-square-foot house with partner Christian Parsons, 41. "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 traveled with their house across 27 states working on their documentary, "Tiny House Expedition," with the constant change of scenery a help in conflict resolution. That kind of anger "doesn't happen a ton," Parsonssaid. "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.

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