The Joys and Trials of Tiny-House Living


From capsule wardrobes to miniature smart cars to teensy yet impeccably designed living spaces, minimalism is having a moment.

But Tove and Gwen Papenfuse have news for you: It ain’t easy going tiny.


In fact, says this Vancouver family, every single aspect of tiny living is trickier than you think it’ll be.

Yeah, it’s cozy.

Sure, it’s satisfying.

But you might end up sharing a bedtime with your baby. Certainly, you’ll have to adjust your definition of “personal time.” And going to the bathroom? Even that could take some doing.

Dare to downsize, though, and you’ll reap profound lessons, they promise, on having less, sharing more and loving what you’ve got.


The Papenfuse family’s minimalist adventure began in 2015 when Tove and Gwen cast off most of their belongings and relocated themselves and their toddler son, Iver, into a 300-square-foot home parked on family property near downtown Vancouver.

It had been a difficult year. The couple had lost twin girls, born prematurely at 21 weeks, and in that season of transition, going tiny provided a gentle space for starting fresh.

“It was kind of a whirlwind,” recalls Tove. “We were ready to do something new, and we were kind of looking around. We saw the tiny house on Craigslist and went and looked at it and just bought it.”

Downscaling from an 1100-square-foot rental meant parting with clothes and kitchen gadgets and a lifetime of mementos. It also meant scrutinizing every item that came in the front door — not easy in a culture so flush with stuff, says Gwen: “[Tiny living] is cute, and it’s nice to be close to your family, but there are also times when it’s hard. You have to change your mindset.”

But they adapted, even as their family grew: Shortly after the relocation, Tove got pregnant again, and a daughter, Dagney, was born right in the tiny bathtub.

The house was a steal at $36,000, and that low price tag has allowed them to live comfortably on a single income (Tove’s a teacher) while Gwen stays home with the kids. Again, that’s not to say it’s been easy. Take, for example, the bathroom situation: Iver started out sleeping in a Pack ’n Play in the (surprisingly large) bathroom, and when he moved into his own loft bedroom, baby Dagney took his place in the crib. If nature calls at naptime or at night, Tove and Gwen have two options: Hold it, or scamper across the yard to a cousin’s neighboring home.

Consider, also, downtime, or lack thereof: “Normally [a kid’s bedtime] is when a mom would clean up the house and do whatever you want to do,” say Tove. “But Iver can see us, and he’s asking, ‘What you are doing Mommy?’ To get him to sleep, we have to be in bed, too.”

Going tiny has helped the Papenfuse family live simpler, closer and more authentically, but it won’t work forever. The kids are getting bigger, the space is feeling smaller, and Gwen soon hopes to rejoin the workforce. When she does, they’ll likely purchase something more spacious.

Not too spacious, though, and not too cluttered, either, vows Tove: “I hope that we don’t feel like we have to fill it up with stuff again. I hope we can keep in mind we don’t need something just because we like it or we want it. And I hope we keep this sense of closeness, even when we get into a larger house.”

To read more about the Papenfuse family’s tiny house adventures, visit their blog at:

Erin J Bernard
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