Tiny house owners share how they survived COVID-19 lockdown

Just weeks after the country shut down due to the coronavirus, cabin fever set in. After all, being confined to a small space can make anyone go nuts. But some were stuck in especially cozy confines: tiny house dwellers.

The median size of an American single-family home is roughly 1,600 square feet, according to listings sites Zillow and Redfin. But most tiny houses are well under 300 square feet. Living and working so close to partners, kids and pets — especially in bad weather — was a big deal.

Here, four tiny house owners share how they survived lockdown.

Shannon and Tim Soine, Rochester, New York

Sweet Liv Photography

Raising a baby in 210 square feet is already a challenge. Add a health crisis into the mix and it seems downright impossible. But that’s what happened to Tim, 35, and Shannon, 34, after they welcomed son Nico in January. “When Tim started to work from home, it created some unanticipated challenges,” Shannon says. A product line manager, Tim juggles frequent conference calls, which didn’t mix well with newborn naps. Shannon bought a sound machine to drown out the chatter.

Adding to the ruckus, one of their two dogs ended up in a cone after surgery. The pair used their non-home vehicles as refuges during the coldest months. “Tim started taking calls from his truck, and we used the cars as extra storage to stock up on groceries,” says Shannon.

They wouldn’t trade it. “So many people are struggling financially, and we’ve been saving money since paying off our debt last fall,” Shannon says. “It feels good to know that when something like this happens, we’re okay because we’ve chosen to live this way.”

Amy Garner and John McCarthy, New Haven, Connecticut

When two married Pilates instructors gave up their four-bedroom home in rural Connecticut for a 344-square-foot house on wheels, they never expected to be stuck inside it. The social couple, who chose New Haven for access to restaurants and nightlife, opted for tiny living to have the financial means to travel more. But going abroad isn’t an option anymore.

“We chose this life to travel at least once a month,” says McCarthy, 35. “Since we don’t have that to look forward to, it’s led to feelings of being cooped up. Also, not being able to see our friends is hard.”

The pair usually throws an annual tiny house party each June and often has international friends stay with them. That didn’t happen this year.

Luckily, the fitness buffs stayed busy hosting virtual workout sessions for their clients. “We still go to our studio at the same time every day. It’s just we don’t have in-person classes,” Garner, 33, says. “That’s helped me keep a sense of normalcy in this situation.”

Their riverfront location and access to nearby parks helped with feeling less claustrophobic. “We’re lucky we decided to park about 5 feet from a river,” says McCarthy. “It’s beautiful and relaxing. That view has made all the difference.” Their advice for others in close quarters is simple. “Keep your space tidy,” says McCarthy. “It helps keep you sane.” Plus, the internet, books and impromptu photo shoots of your dog help.

Tim Davidson and Sam Cosner, Sarasota, Florida

After living in a 270-square-foot tiny house on wheels dubbed “Tiffany” for its stained glass windows for three years, Davidson, a 30-year-old lighting salesman, and Cosner decided to upgrade during the pandemic. In June, they moved into a whopping 320-square-foot home on a foundation.

“We are both so attached to a smaller lifestyle,” says Cosner, 28.

Although when they started building the octagon-shaped, weather-proof house in August, they never envisioned they’d be living in it or Tiffany during a pandemic. “It’s been a big adjustment,” says Davidson. “I’m usually on the road for work, and now that I have to work from home, I’m not as comfortable [in the smaller space]. And we haven’t been able to see friends and get out like we used to.”

While those problems are shared by most Americans — albeit many who can retreat to larger houses — there was one issue they had to troubleshoot immediately: storage. “We couldn’t stock up on items at Costco like everyone else, but didn’t want to go to the grocery store all the time,” says Cosner. The solution? “We took all of the air out of any food bags to make them fit in the cabinet,” Davidson says. “Plus, we started storing things under the couch, in the ottoman, etc. There was a lot of rearranging to make it work. But we figured it out.”

Barbara and Bob Ienuso, Saugerties, New York

Barbara Ienuso

Florida residents Barbara and Bob Ienuso actually chose to live in a tiny backyard home during the pandemic. They swapped their more traditionally sized abode for a 240-square-foot house on wheels in the Hudson Valley to be closer to their four grandchildren.

“We figured it would be a great time to come visit family, help out with the kids and not be bored,” says Barbara, whose son Bob and daughter-in-law Esther build tiny houses for a living through their company Willowbee Tiny Homes.

For the retired pair, the tighter living quarters were actually a welcome change: less cleaning and more time outside with their (now much closer) loved ones. “We are very active here and created a small bird garden that we tend to with the kids,” Barbara says. “When you’re in a bigger house, you tend to stay inside.”

Bob agreed that having his parents live in one of his creations during a stressful time has boosted everyone’s moods. “Tiny homes give a unique opportunity, especially during this pandemic and quarantine,” Bob says. “They allow ‘home’ to be anywhere you choose.”

Of course, while they love spending time with their “grandbabies,” there are some little things that take getting used to. Their first-floor bedroom is a tight squeeze. “The hardest part is getting around the foot of my bed, which is about 18 inches,” Barbara says. “But it sure beats climbing into a loft!”

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