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How I survived a tiny home vacation—with two kids

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How a family of four tackled 178 square feet in Oregon

Three tiny homes in a campground in Mt. Hood, Oregon.
The tiny home village near Mt. Hood, Oregon.
Courtesy of Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

I'm not a tiny person. I have a big laugh, a tall frame, and a passion for adventure. I don't do anything small; I throw dinner parties for twenty-five of my closest friends, I overdo it on my kids' Christmas presents, and I research and plan big-time trips. If you told me I could survive—hell, live happily—in less than 250 square feet, I would have scoffed. That's impossible for someone like me: an adventurer, a writer, a mom to two kids and two dogs, all of whom need constant attention, a ton of gear, a room of our own, and (I thought) plenty of space.

But two weeks ago, my family and I trekked from our 1,600-square-foot home in Denver, Colorado, to Mt. Hood, Oregon, about one hour east of Portland. Up a windy, forested highway lies the Mt. Hood Tiny House Village, an RV campground that has installed five tiny homes available for nightly rentals.

micro-week

Instead of staying in a cabin or camping out in a tent, now the micro-home minded can rent tiny homes for around $129 per night. Each unit—designed by the largest tiny home manufacturer in the country, Tumbleweed—is different in style and layout. Some sleep three people in lofted beds and a smaller bed on the main floor, while others (rather ambitiously) sleep five. What the tiny homes lack in space they make up for in novelty. I aimed to discover whether they were actually livable.

Upon arrival at the tiny home village, I couldn’t stop exclaiming, "they're just so cute!" And cute they are. Cute in stature—with miniature porches, shutters, and windows. Cute in color schemes—ranging from a farmhouse red and white to handsome cedar with black trim. Cute because they allowed a grown woman with kids to play out a childhood dollhouse fantasy.

A young girl sits on the porch of a tiny home called Atticus.
My four-year-old daughter in front of Atticus.
Photo by Megan Barber

A pint-sized porch welcomed us into the 178-square-foot "Atticus" model. Opening the door to the tiny home was like Christmas morning, everyone jockeying for the best position near the tree, eager for presents. The front door bumped into a small, two-person dining set, but I didn’t notice. I was too busy gawking at the sleek interior, the chevron throw pillow, the compact kitchen reminiscent of a Container Store catalogue. My kids—14 months and 4 years old—swarmed in behind me as I tried to take it all in, my first steps into tiny living.

Like many 30-something working moms, I’m guilty of a longtime addiction to home shows. While my own barely-decorated house suffers from toy-i-tus (a dangerous affliction wherein toys appear anywhere and everywhere, most notably on the floor) and a serious lack of style, I find comfort in the manicured organization of HGTV. Renovation problems are always solved in 60 minutes or less, the handsome couples always have three homes to choose from, and missionaries of the tiny home movement wax poetic about the importance of downsizing.

The inside of a tiny home, with a small kitchen, lofted bed, and chair.
The inside of the Atticus.
Courtesy of Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

From the get-go, Atticus made me want to convert. Plentiful windows with adorable drapes and well-placed lights made the tiny house seem much larger on the inside. A small, twin-sized bedroom on the main floor was less claustrophobic and more a quaint nook, filled with three different electrical outlets to conveniently charge your electronics. Compared to the rest of the home, the lofted bedroom felt downright spacious, with a side table, plenty of overhead space to sit upright, and ample room for a raucous session of wrestling with my two kiddos.

We ate outdoors that night, using the shared campfire ring to cook foil-packet dinners and to toast all things tiny over the provided picnic table. Later, I had my first moment of frustration as I tried to climb up the steep ladder to the loft. Several stubbed toes and muffled exclamations of profanity later, I flopped onto the bed and rolled over. "That," I thought, "would take some getting used to."

A lofted bed in a tiny home.
The lofted bed in the Atticus.
Courtesy of Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

The next day, breakfast prep went smoothly, as I deftly juggled cooking eggs, sausage, and store-bought croissants in the micro kitchen. A bigger problem emerged when my husband told me it was raining outside (hello, Oregon), so the large picnic table wasn’t an option. Our family of four huddled around the two-person table uncomfortably, causing me to wonder if tiny home living was really feasible with kids. I didn’t have much time for contemplation, however, as we rushed through breakfast in anticipation of our upcoming bike ride.

Dish cleanup wasn’t as easy as cooking. Although the rental came equipped with a handy drying rack, water splashed everywhere as I scrubbed off pieces of egg and butter. By the end, I was half covered in soapy suds and had to use a towel to clean everything up. While on the floor wiping things down, I noticed just how much dirt we had tracked into the tiny home in our less than twenty-four hours of use. Without a mudroom or garage to keep things tidy, our small space already looked trashed. A quick glance into the tiny home’s single—but surprisingly large—closet revealed a handy broom and dustpan. My initial frustration over dirt quickly transformed into glee: in under 60 seconds I had swept up the rocks and crumbs and the composite flooring looked new. If cleaning was always this quick, maybe I would do it more often.

A red and white tiny home in Mt. Hood, Oregon.
The Scarlett tiny home.
Courtesy of Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

We spent the day exploring Mt. Hood’s gorgeous scenery and returned to the tiny home village mid-afternoon for some down time. Eager to try out a different model, we moved our things to the Scarlett, a slightly larger tiny home with 233 square feet and two lofted beds. While the kids napped, I enjoyed the Scarlett’s larger living room, complete with a mini couch and a TV. I flipped through the channels, hoping to find a tiny home show to watch in my tiny home rental.

Disappointed, I instead braced myself for the one tiny home experience I feared: the shower. Earlier, I had been surprised to discover that though my knees didn’t touch the walls while using the toilet, the shower still looked awfully tight. Bracing for claustrophobia and lukewarm water, I stepped in. Once inside, it wasn’t bad. Hot water flowed liberally from the (albeit short) shower head and all in all it was a surprisingly pleasant experience.

A shower, toilet, and micro sink in a tiny home.
The Scarlett’s shower, toilet, and (very small) sink.
Courtesy of Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

A trip to a nearby BBQ joint solved dinner, then we headed back to lil’ Scarlett to watch football. Tiny home or no tiny home, this Denver native never misses a Bronco game. Back home I host giant parties with dozens of friends, sometimes on our sizable patio. The events are moments of organized chaos, with kids running to and fro and adults yelling at the referees for bad calls.

Sitting in the tiny home with my Broncos on the screen, the room felt cozy but not crowded. My oldest climbed up and down the loft stairs while my baby played happily with pillows on the floor. In between managing the constant kid needs, my husband and I contentedly held hands. There was no way our normal football crew could fit in the tiny home, but I was surprised to discover that, for one game at least, I didn’t miss them.

There is a laundry list of reasons my life would be difficult in a micro home, should I decide to follow the gospel of tiny living and downsize. The tiny bathroom sink makes washing your face at night almost impossible. I don’t know if my bruised toes could take the evening treks up the ladder. And trying to fit my entire family around a minuscule, high-top dinner table just wouldn’t work.

A kitchen, dining room, and small couch in a tiny home.
The Scarlett’s living room, dining table, and kitchen.
Courtesy of Mt. Hood Tiny House Village

But then I remember that feeling I had with all of us huddled around the television. Forced to make a smaller space work, we enjoyed each other’s company. The close proximity resulted in more belly laughs, snuggles, and tickles with my kids than I’ve had in awhile. They were unfazed by it all, content to play in their new surroundings and happy to spend time together.

I won’t be buying a tiny home anytime soon. But, unlike before, I understand the appeal. For me, it wouldn’t be about a smaller mortgage, or purging our materialistic attachments, or conserving energy, although those are all admirable, worthy goals. It would be to recapture that sense of closeness as a family. Despite renting a strange tiny house thousands of miles from Denver, I felt at home.

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My four-year-old daughter in front of Atticus.