Recently, I spent a week with my husband in a tiny holiday cottage in the Lake District. The cottage was a dovecot in its previous incarnation, so not really built with human-size living in mind! We had the downstairs, which consisted of a kitchenette and seating area, and upstairs had a bedroom and bathroom. It was furnished simply, but with character (hard not to have character in a stone cottage of that age and providence, but the awesome rocket-ship shaped wood burning stove definitely helped!) and certainly had everything that we needed to live for the week.
I’ve always been fascinated by the people who choose to live in ‘Tiny Houses’, as it seems to me to be a very uncompromising way of minimising clutter – you simply can’t have excess stuff if your home won’t accommodate it – so staying in this little cottage felt like a taster session of that life for me.
What struck me within about 24 hours of being in the cottage is how little stuff we really need to be happy and at ease. Now, my own home is not exactly overflowing, and I think most of my friends would consider it uncluttered, even if we don’t quite reach Pinterest-esque levels of minimalist beauty (I love looking at those pictures for inspiration, by the way, but can ‘real’ functionable homes exist in such a state of white simplicity and beauty? I suspect not! Perhaps that is another blog post… ). However, my own home does have a lot more physical space than our holiday cottage: we have 2 living rooms, a kitchen diner, home office, garage, spare bedrooms, bathrooms, storage closets and so on. With that space comes a certain amount of stuff, which I thought I had got down to a fairly minimal level. However, spending a week in a tiny cottage gave me a kind of mental reset when I realised that actually two living areas equals two large sofas, plus chairs, footrest, side tables, shelves, lighting, and so on. The tiny cottage had a two-person love seat and a small armchair. Did having smaller seating and less seating choices make me any less happy than I would be at home? Of course not. In fact, it was really nice reading my books snuggled up to my husband! In truth, I did miss my padded footrest, but when I really wanted to put my feet up, I lay on the bed instead. I don’t need all the furniture we have at home to be happy.
In some senses, the smaller dimensions of the cottage made it easier to have less stuff: at home, we have several rooms in which we have a radio, whereas the tiny cottage was so small that one would suffice for the whole house as you could hear it everywhere. There was a tiny TV in the living area – which we didn’t actually watch as reading and going hiking is much more relaxing – but had we watched it, the small screen would have been perfectly adequate as the small space meant the seating was much closer. A smaller space meant much less heating and lighting was required to make it cosy and comfortable – definite financial benefits!
The only area that we struggled with was space to store our clothes. There wasn’t much floor space for our cases upstairs, and the wardrobe space was very small. We ended up using the stairway bannister to drape our things, which is neither ideal storage nor pleasing to the eye! It wasn’t that we had bought a particularly large amount of stuff, the space was simply too small and too fiddly. The bannister-storage-solution also meant that our clothes smelt of cooking and woodsmoke from the fire due to the open plan nature of the cottage. This is something I’ve often wondered about people living in tiny houses, as they are usually open plan-ish – how do they prevent cooking smells permeating everything? I wouldn’t enjoy a duvet cover which smells like frying onions.
Overall, however, the mental reset button that I pressed by spending time in a tiny home has remotivated me to continue minimising at home, and to question the difference between needing something and wanting something, and how much is really needed to be comfortable and happy.