When my husband, Dale, and I made the decision in 2007 to move from Kansas City to our cabin on nearly 10 acres on Bull Shoals Lake in the scenic Ozark Mountains, my dream was to rescue as many dogs as we could afford. At six, we hit (or maybe exceeded) our financial comfort zone, but we all fit snugly into our 480-square-foot space, which was what mattered.
We’re accidental tiny-house dwellers. When we moved to our cozy cabin, our plan was to build another home of approximately 1,000 square feet and use the cabin as my office and guest quarters for visiting friends and family.
When the recession hit in 2008, my husband was laid off from his new job in our adopted town. However, we weren’t too disappointed about having to downsize our plans. The longer we lived in our little cabin, the more we realized that we had serendipitously found a better way of life. Living small isn’t for everyone, but we were at a point where downsizing was a good thing. We had moved in part to enjoy the outdoor life, not to maintain a home with space we never used. Living tiny allows us to spend more time doing what we love, such as boating and hiking, and less time keeping house.
Living small has so many benefits. Not only do we have a small maintenance commitment, we spend much less on a mortgage, utilities and homeowner’s insurance. We also don’t spend money on things we likely don’t need (and sometimes never used) at big-box warehouse stores. No point in buying a five-gallon bottle of ketchup when there’s no place to store it.
I’ve long been conscious of the planet and our environmental footprint—I tell people that I was using cloth bags long before they were cool. Building and maintaining a tiny house requires the consumption of fewer resources, and most of the other benefits, including saving money on utilities and material goods, have environmental advantages as well.
When people learn that we have multiple dogs, they typically ask, “Are they all inside dogs?” My reply is, “Of course! They’re a part of the family.” Their next question is likely, “Are they small?” The answer to that one is no, not all of them, and we’ve lived with as many as seven if you count the stray black Lab we fostered for about a week while we found her a good situation.
Dakota, a Beagle/Dachshund rescue, made the move from Kansas City with us. Sade, a Pit Bull, (or “Pibble,” as we like to call her), was dumped on the side of the road right in front of us during our move. Chloe, a black Lab mix, and Abbi, a Husky/German Shepherd mix, were both rescued from a high-kill shelter minutes before they were scheduled to be put to death. Dale found Dexter, our Beagle/Hound mix, running down the middle of a very rural road on the way home from work one evening. (Molly, the little red Dachshund rescue who also came with us from Kansas City, passed away of old age in 2014.)
I often describe getting up from the couch in the living room or from the bed in the middle of the night like the old game of Twister, in which you must twist and turn to hit the right spot. In our game, however, hitting the wrong spot might mean accidentally stepping on a tail.
The key to living with dogs— one or several—in a small home is to plan. We are very lucky in that although all our dogs come from different backgrounds, they get along well. I don’t have scientific evidence for this, but believe it’s due in part to the fact that while we live so closely together, we’re still able to carve out space for each individual dog.
When we feed, each dog has their own space for their bowl. Two are in separate places in the living area, two are in the kitchen and one is in the bedroom doorway. When they’re done eating, the bowls are tucked away under chairs and tables.
They also have their particular spaces when we go to bed in our 10-by-10-foot bedroom, which they all want to share. The three bigger dogs and Dexter each have a blanket on the floor on either side of the bed and at its foot, and the smaller dog sleeps on the bed. When we’re watching television in the living area, the floor is covered with a sea of blankets and dogs, but they each make their own space.
One aesthetic element I am so glad I incorporated into our little house was the heavy-duty laminate wood flooring. It has withstood muddy dog paws for over a decade and still looks new. Our “Fearless Five,” as I call them, bring so much joy to our lives, whether in going for long walks on our dirt country road, nudging us for a pat while we’re sitting on the deck or gathering in our small kitchen waiting for evening treats.
Many people wonder how we could live in such a tiny house with so many dogs. After living this way for a decade, I wonder how we could bear to do otherwise.
Photos by Kevin Pieper, from the upcoming Reader’s Digest book Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband and One Remote—Plus More Stories of How You Can Too. Used by permission of Trusted Media Brands, Inc.