Tiny Home under the Big Sky 14

Bitterroot couple goes tiny to live big in their retirement

One hundred ninety-six square feet. Four walls, six wheels, one 8- by 26-foot frame. One big adventure.

A lot goes into a livable space—somewhere to sleep, somewhere to stow food, a place to cook that food, a bathroom, a place to play, and maybe somewhere to do laundry if we’re really living, but in truth, these are the essentials. As Americans, the size of the room in which we keep or do these things varies, often tipping the scale toward larger, grander, or (dare we mention) more toward the overused open floor plan concept. Our designs are vast and accommodating, towering and overwhelming when our homes aren’t at maximum capacity.

Stepping into Kathleen Lankford and Andrew Reilly’s tiny home is a much different portrait. Its first impression is a big one, despite its size. There’s little left to the imagination since nearly every nook is visible from the entrance. It’s their home in all the ways they know it to be. Just tiny.

You wanted to give tiny home living a try. How’d you make it happen?

Kathleen: We got ourselves mentally adjusted to tiny living. “Think tiny,” we kept telling ourselves. Once we adjusted to that, the physical part is a little bit easier. We were hooked on HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters and I remember saying, “That’s how we should retire. We’ll start living tiny. And Andrew took it and ran with it.

Andrew: I did, and we found a company that would comply with RV codes according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. That would give us the liberty of parking it in RV parks all over the country and have a better chance of finding places that would allow us to be there.

What did you have to give up or sacrifice along the way?

K: We were coming from a 2,100-square-foot home, so it was a lot of selling off personal items, selling off furniture, trying to downsize as much as possible and it actually felt very freeing to know that we weren’t tied down by all of these possessions. It was difficult. It’s difficult to part with things that you think are important, but after you live without them you realize that you don’t really miss them. The important things are things like family and each other, and you don’t think about the things that you’ve sold or given away.

What’s been the most convenient thing about tiny home living thus far?

K: Cleaning. Under an hour and with a dust-buster!

What’s been the most inconvenient or frustrating?

K: Like any new house, there’s always going to be things that aren’t working properly or don’t fit properly.

A: Kathleen says to put things back where they go because it’s a tiny space. If a few things get left out, it’ll start to look messy.

K: The uncertainty of things, maybe, not working or malfunctioning is always there because it’s so new to us, and this has been somewhat of a major transition for us. For instance, the vibration of the washer-dryer combo made me feel like the whole place was going to fold up and collapse. And, of course, our location. Temperatures plunging into the negatives [like it did in December and January] can wreak havoc on our water system. The tiny homes still fall into a grey area because they’re such a new concept, so we often aren’t sure if we should call a plumber or someone else who might be familiar with their mini systems, which is hard to find!

A: The tiny home has definitely been put to the test with this year’s winter weather, and it’s holding its heat really well.

What’s been the funniest?

A: (Laughs) She keeps bumping her head going upstairs.

K: Yes! You have to duck a lot more than in a regular house. Also, now that it’s been taken care of, there was this one…incident. The incident of the frozen waste. There was chiseling involved, hot water, and perseverance. Thank God for hairdryers and pipes not bursting! This was a product of our water issues when the temperatures dropped into the negatives.

A: But that’s water under the bridge now, or down the pipe.

What’s your favorite thing about your new home?

K: It’s just quaint. It’s tiny and adorable. It has a nice feel about it. You feel very comfy and cozy when you’re in here.

A: We got our little tiny dish for the TV that matches our tiny home.

How tiny is too tiny? Do you find this livable space to be actually livable?

K: I do. I think a person can adapt to any space that they live in. It’s not difficult; you just have to be accepting of it.

A: As long as we have each other, there’s no place like a tiny home.

You have a dog. How’s he been adjusting?

K: He’s a golden retriever. He had no problem going up the steps, and we have this narrow hallway leading back to our “great room” and since he can’t turn around in it he’s learned to just back all the way up to the kitchen. He’s just always happy to be with us anywhere we go.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to downsize?

K: Do your research.

A: Pick one thing you want to keep and throw the rest out!

K: Find something that adapts to your lifestyle. Don’t get bogged down with material things because you only need what you’re going to use. You don’t need all of the extras. We have two bowls and two plates because we’re two people. Keep what you need.

Who would you recommend tiny home living for?

K: Anyone who’s single, maybe someone who doesn’t want permanency. I’d recommend it to people like us—retirees, empty nesters. I wouldn’t raise a family in one, but that’s just me.

Out of all the time you’ve spent in your tiny home, do you have a favorite spot that you like to relax and just enjoy that space?

K: Yes, it’s my cozy spot upstairs in the loft. I always dreamed of having a spot just for myself, and during the day that’s where I like to hang out. I painted a little bed for my granddaughter and filled it with a dozen pillows back at our old house and I always envied that little cozy spot. Now I have my own!