When people ask me about my hobbies, I say this: I golf, I read, I sew, I blog and … I look at tiny houses. If I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent scouring the web to determine which floor plans I like, I could have built four tiny houses.

Two things have kept me from building or buying a tiny house: 1) the conundrum of finding a legal place to put one and 2) my husband does not aspire to live tiny and furthermore, has no interest in owning a second property.

One day it occurred to me that I should rent a tiny house and have a try-before-you-buy experience. And it’s a bloody good thing I did. After spending one night in a tiny house, I know much more about what would and wouldn’t work about tiny living and how to design space that works for us.

When I posted a picture of myself inside my tiny house rental, I realized how many of my friends are intrigued with the idea of tiny living. Some were disappointed to learn that it wasn’t ours! For those of you who are still pining away, I encourage you to try a rental and see how you like it. Here’s my experience at Live a Little Chatt, a tiny house hotel in the hills of northern Georgia.

Live a Little Chatt

The Live a Little Chatt website has awesome photographs, but none do justice to the location of these three tiny homes. If you’re an outdoors person, this is a vacation spot for you. Nearby you’ll find hiking, paddle boarding, hang gliding and well-known destinations such as Rock City, Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding.

Ten minutes after exiting Interstate 59 traveling south from Chattanooga, I found myself in Georgia’s wooded mountains, an area that felt as remote from the outside world as any place I’ve ever been. I drove a stretch of state highway, then county roads and finally turned onto a gravel path, wondering if the last stretch might be impassable. I needn’t have worried. Less than a mile later, I found a fork in the path and caught a glimpse of three tiny houses tucked into an orange hill above.

From the moment I set foot inside my tiny house, the Old Blue Chair, I was enchanted. As a welcome gift, owners Brian and Joe left a bottle of wine and the fixings for S’Mores on a covered cake plate. If you’re looking for a tiny house experience, they offer a delightful place to try it with three tiny alternatives.

Built by Tennessee Tiny Homes, my tiny rental was a chichi space with whitewashed pine, plenty of light and adorable feminine touches.  I walked back and forth admiring every nuance. To save space, I won’t describe them.

Scan my photo gallery at the end of this post and you’ll see the attention given to decorating.

It’s all about food

The kitchen was perfectly workable for daily cooking with a gas stove, a farmhouse sink and quartz countertops. A rustic table near the counter doubled as a table or a prep area. There was plenty of space to store cookware and dishes, all of which were supplied for guests. Another rustic table between the stove and sofa doubled as a table or desk. Dinner for two to four people was completely doable. I like to cook, so all of this mattered to me.

Other things I liked very much about the Old Blue Chair tiny house:
• A full shower in the bathroom made it feel very much like home.
• A long sofa in the living room could double as another bed.
• The height of this model gave a spacious feel.
• Beneath the stairs, a little reading nook with a porthole window provided a cozy place where a smallish person like myself could comfortably sit with a book.
• A split door at the front of the house added “curb appeal.”
• The lightweight Tuft and Needle mattress in the loft was designed for tiny spaces and was surprisingly comfortable. 
• A lovely deck provided beautiful views of the mountain vista.
• There was a small outdoor fire pit where you could stay warm and toast S’Mores.

Community building is not a myth

If you follow tiny house shows and blogs, you hear a lot of talk about community building. Before my stay, I imagined that phrase as an airy-fairy idea meant to glamorize tiny living to those of us who live more conventionally. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

As I traveled up the gravel drive to my tiny home, I could see two women lounging on the deck of the tiny home two doors down from mine. Lisa and Denise had just returned from a long hike in the mountains. They both recently relocated to Gulf Breeze, Florida and, although they love the weather there, they miss the mountains.

When I arrived at Live a Little Chatt, they had been there for a three-day break, enjoying a taste of tiny house living and hiking nearby trails. I liked them instantly. They offered to show me their rented house as well as two others that were uninhabited.

As soon as my car was unpacked, I joined them in a critical review of what worked and what didn’t about each house. We imagined ourselves trying to live in each space, what we would change and what would work for our individual needs. They helped me organize a convincing pitch to sway my husband’s thinking. (It sounded good at the time, but I haven’t used it. Jim is generally not susceptible to any argument that he did not conceive of first.)

Afterwards, they invited me to dinner. I said no twice. The third time, they insisted so earnestly that I could hardly resist. Six Cutie oranges and a jar of dry roasted peanuts was all the food I had in my possession. Like most Americans, I can afford to miss a few meals, but I was relieved not to go hungry. My tiny house experience was made all the better because it was shared with friends over food.

Lisa prepared a delicious chicken piccata over angel hair pasta. I later learned that when they shopped for groceries that day, they debated whether to get two or three chicken breasts. Denise pushed for three and won the debate. We laughed at her prescience about the possibility of a third diner. Over dinner, we began what I hope will be a lasting friendship, discussing everything from tiny house living and life after retirement to the state of our country. When I stepped outside the next morning, their little truck was at the bottom of the hill and they were headed home. They rolled down the windows and hollered a goodbye that echoed in the hillside. I went inside and shed unexplainable crocodile tears.

This beautiful dog was the last thing I saw as I drove away later that day.

The easiness of that new friendship hints at a possible explanation for the sense of community among tiny house dwellers: people who are willing to consider such an unconventional life are likely to have much in common. We may value simplicity, relationships and quality of life more than approval, material possessions and volume. The nature of tiny homes often puts people with similar values in close proximity. It’s just natural that they might build relationships and become interdependent.

Promoting these values and giving people a chance to see what it might be like to live tiny are part of what motivated Brian and Joe to start Live a Little Chatt. Brian built his first tiny house by living frugally and saving almost half of his income for a year.

He seems to regard himself as a personal ambassador for tiny living, meeting each guest personally, allowing himself to be pummeled with questions. “We’ve never had a guest we didn’t like,” Brian says. He joined us just as we were finishing dinner. Just a few days past a surgery to repair a rotator cuff injury from a hang gliding accident, this was no small effort.

Despite the lovely experience I had in this home, I have to admit that many romantic ideas I once had about tiny living disintegrated after just one night.

Design lessons from my tiny vacation experience

Limited space. I know—duh, right? Of course it had limited space. That’s why we call them tiny houses! Maybe you already “get” that, but trust me, there is no way you can really wrap your mind around how limited the space is until you try it. The minute I brought my duffel bag, my camera bag and purse into the house, I realized there was really nowhere to put them. I remember thinking, “Of course, I would need to carry a small purse.” I perched everything on the stairs while I sorted out that problem—but then the stairs were impassable.

In the bathroom, a single vanity was just wide enough for a sink. There were shelves and hooks, but no adequate space to put my cosmetics bag except on the lid of the toilet. I’m a high maintenance girl who carries a lot of toiletries, vitamins and cosmetics. If you’re the same, you would need to pare your beauty routine down to the very basics—no matter how cleverly the storage is designed.

Housekeeping. There was a doormat at the outside entrance of my tiny home. Practical, right? Yes, but it was totally inadequate for wet feet clad in red Georgian clay. In any conventional home, an exterior doormat is a common weapon against dirty floors. In my house, we keep another rug inside where we kick off our shoes or wipe our feet once again. Whatever steps you take to promote a clean house, you may have noticed that the flooring nearest the entrance to your home always shows wear earlier and needs more housekeeping. In a tiny home, the few feet of flooring nearest the entrance is essentially the footprint of your tiny house. To keep floors clean and in good condition, you need two things: 1) high-quality flooring and 2) immaculate housekeeping. What I’m saying is this: you probably need to clean your floors every single day.

Hot water. In many tiny houses, a propane tank, no bigger than the one on your gas grill, heats water. Whether you build or buy a tiny house, you need to think through possible alternatives such as on-demand systems, especially if you like to take lengthy showers. Imagine how often you would need to swap a propane tank and I think you’ll see my point.

Elevated beds. My tiny house had two sleeping lofts, one with stairs, one with a ladder. If I ever thought I could manage climbing a ladder every night, I was quickly relieved of that idea. For almost anyone over the age of 50, a laddered loft is not a viable option for permanent or even semi-permanent living. No, no and no again. Consider this: statistically speaking, falling off a ladder is one of the most common causes of accidental injury. If you’re very strong, limber as a monkey and have no back problems, maybe you could. I did not even attempt to use the laddered loft.

I’m in decent physical shape for my age, but climbing in and out of bed using the staircase also felt risky. There were no outer handrails, so you need excellent balance when you roll out of bed in the morning—very difficult from a crouched position. Getting into bed was a little easier. You sat in a crouched position, then swiveled your lower body into bed. This is still a challenge for people with back problems. One misstep and you could fall from a height I would estimate at eight feet. At one point during the night, I rolled over and banged my knees on the ceiling. If you are tall and lanky, you would need to take the limited headspace into consideration. For warm-natured people, loft space might give you another challenge: heat rises. That’s not just my observation; Lisa and Denise said the same thing about their lofted beds. It gets hot up there! Any lofted layout should have a ceiling fan to circulate the air. On the flip side, when it started to rain, I lay in bed reading my book, listening to the rain hit the roof a few inches above me and thought, “This is simply heaven.”

Storage. It probably goes without saying that use of space is critical in a tiny home. My tiny house used the space beneath the stairs as a reading nook. However charming it was, you would never use this space for anything but storage in real life. In fact, you would be looking everywhere for storage, no matter how few your possessions. And here’s the thing: anywhere you add storage—above or below—you will likely make your space feel more crowded.

Floor planning. When Brian built his first tiny home, he situated the bathroom adjacent to the kitchen—a mistake of galactic proportions, especially after his girlfriend moved in. Think about the distinct ways you use a bathroom and a kitchen. I’m sure you’ll see why most women would be turned off by the near proximity of these two rooms. In my tiny house rental, the bathroom and kitchen were on opposite ends—a much smarter layout, in my opinion. Brian says there are three tiny house building factors: speed, economy and quality. You can have two out of three factors, but you can’t have all three.

Another factor I hadn’t considered: building on a foundation is less expensive than building on a trailer substantial enough to support a tiny house, according to Brian. If you don’t expect to move your house, there is no need to build on a trailer. Brian also emphasized the special skills that tiny house builders bring to the table. They’ve noodled through many problems of scaling a traditional home into a small space and they know what works best.

After hearing all of this, what do you think? Could you live in a tiny house? Have you seen any floor plans that might be more appealing to people over 50? Know anyone who wants to rent their tiny house for others to use? I’d love to keep a running list of tiny house rental options on my site, so please share!

I’ve been interviewing people who build and live in tiny houses. If you know someone in either category, please send them my way. I would love to learn more and include them in future content.

Life is short. Enjoy the good stuff.