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How to live tiny without killing your partner

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The other day, I was cooking in the galley of our sailboat, most likely making a terrific mess. I am a recovering (sort-of) slob, and Tom is a neat-freak, which makes our lives…let’s say….interesting….doing this small space living thing together on the sailboat.

I noticed Tom staring at me while I stirred.

“What?” I asked.

“Did you know you just spilled on the floor when you tasted that dish?”

I looked down around my foot zone, and sure enough, there were a couple globs of food stuck to the teak boards. Oops.  The stove had also fallen victim to my cooking spree, with little pieces of diced onion littered across the stainless steel, and another globule stuck to the railing nearby. Shoot. I’d been trying so hard to be a neater person, but sometimes, I failed.

This has been our biggest challenge living on a sailboat together. Tom has learned not to freak out quite as much about messes, and I’ve learned to dial it in. It helps that I hardly own any stuff, and keep what I do have on the boat neatly stored away in a locker. Small space living together tests your relationship, finds the weaknesses and forces you to ferret them out.

Luckily, Tom and I do really well living small, having first lived in a Toyota Prius and a tent together when we’d only known each other for six months. That alone could make or break a relationship.

So, I started to wonder, how do other couples live in a tiny space with their partner? What are their tips and techniques to staying sane and getting along? Here is what they told me.

Communication is essential in a small space

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
Photo by: Derek Diedricksen showing Macy Miller and her family, who live in a 12×7 travel trailer.

All the couples I talked to said communication is key to getting along in a living space that’s the size of some people’s master bedroom.

“I feel like we jumped into a twenty-year marriage,” said Macy Miller, who first lived with her partner James in a tiny home before they moved into a 12×7 travel trailer with their two children. “I’ve dated people for years and didn’t know as much about them as I did about James after just a month of living tiny together. I feel like it will make or break a couple. You get personal really fast and you either still like them or you don’t! For us, it led to deep conversations right from the get-go. We talked about money, kids, future plans right at the beginning stages.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Living tiny will make or break a couple,’ Macy Miller, lives in 12×7 trailer. #tinyhome” quote=”‘Living tiny will make or break a couple,’ Macy Miller, lives in 12×7 trailer.”]

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
C: Melody DiCroce and her husband, Chris. They lived together on a sailboat for six years.

Melody DiCroce, who lived on a sailboat with her husband for six years, said they learned a lot about how to handle disagreements.

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“Arguments in a small space suck,” she said. “You can’t really go in another room and count to 10 to cool down, and if you’re really pissed, you have to awkwardly dodge each other when moving throughout the boat. We laugh about it sometimes, because it’s almost comical how awkward and annoying it is when you’re in that state of mind and can’t get away from each other. So we learn not to sweat the small stuff, and when it comes to bigger issues, we try to sit down and resolve them as quickly as possible so we can both get back to enjoying the day.”

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Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
By: www.tinyhouseexpedition.com

Alexis Stephens of Tiny House Expedition and her partner, Christian, have been small space living in a tiny home on wheels for 2.5 years, and said it made them realize their communication styles are different.

“Our increased communication has made us more intimately aware of each other’s quirks and preferences. I can often identify what his different sighs mean. Basically, we have fine-tuned our perception of each other’s signal and needs,” she said.

Getting alone time when small space living

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
C: Macy Miller. The inside of the 12×7 travel trailer where Macy lives with her family of four.

In the travel trailer, Macy and her husband take time to themselves every day.

“I think we would both like more space but that has everything to do with having a 2 and 3-year-old and nothing to do with how well we work it out together,” she said. “We love the kids’ bedtime because its the only time we just get to be a couple together, which is so needed!”

Melody is an introvert and said she didn’t have a separate room on the sailboat where she could go for alone time. She often took time to herself after her husband went to sleep. It was then when she would blog, read and decompress.

“The most important thing is to communicate your need for space/alone time with your partner and set up those needs and expectations in the beginning,” she said. “When Chris and I decided to move onto a boat, we had a very frank discussion about this so that when the time came where one of us needed some space, the other didn’t take it personally or get hurt feelings. We even made a game of it and came up with code phrases. If he needed space, he’d say something like, ‘Hey babe – why don’t you go have lunch with so and so?’ or I’d say, ‘Oh – it’s such a beautiful day – why don’t you go for a run?’ Rather than saying, ‘You’re driving me crazy and I just need some time alone,’ we’d phrase in a way that made it beneficial for both of us.”

“The most important thing is to communicate your need for space/alone time with your partner and set up those needs and expectations in the beginning”

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
By: www.tinyhouseexpedition.com

Alexis said it is possible to get alone time in a 130-square foot tiny home.

“Reading a book nestled back in our loft feels like a separate room, and the mattress helps muffle sound transfer from downstairs.  Headphones go a long way in creating privacy bubbles, even if you’re only five feet from your partner.  If that’s not enough, get outside! Healthy encouragement to stay fit and take in some fresh air. Hang out on the porch or go for a bike ride,” she said.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Getting out and exercising is a great way to get away from your partner in a tiny home. ” quote=”Getting out and exercising is a great way to get away from your partner in a tiny home. “]

“You really have to accept that maybe the other person’s need for space and alone time isn’t a personal jab,” added Macy.

The benefits of living together in a small space

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
Me and Tom have lived together on a sailboat for 18 months now.

I’ve gotten so used to small space living in a sailboat with Tom that I feel lost when I housesit in a large place. I lose things in the various rooms of the house and feel very far away from him. Sometimes, when I’m cooking in the kitchen, it seems like he’s a world away sitting in the living room.

I love the intimacy that living small brings to our relationship.

Alexis said she loves how much time she and Christian are out filming and exp0loring the world, and also loves coming home.

“When we come home, it’s our sanctuary. I love how cozy it is—well suited for cuddling! It’s so refreshing to live in space that we created together, made to suit our needs and reflect our style,” she said. “But the best part of living tiny with Christian is how its helped us improve our conflict/resolution skills. There’s no room for sulking in our house; we now confront issues as they arise. In a larger house, it can be too easy to avoid conflict. Better communication creates more trust. Our relationship is stronger than ever.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”There’s no room for sulking in a tiny house. You have to resolve your conflicts. #tiny” quote=”There’s no room for sulking in a tiny house. You have to resolve your conflicts.”]

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
C: Melody DiCroce

Melody loves that small space living on a sailboat helped her and her husband become a better team.

“We’ve learned to work together in ways that we didn’t before we lived on a boat,” she said. “We’ve grown to respect one another a lot more. He sees and appreciates how hard I work, and vice versa.”

And Macy adores the adventurous life she leads with her family as they travel from place to place.

The worst things about small space living

Small space living: How to live tiny without killing your partner
C: www.tinyhouseexpedition.com This is the inside of Alexis and Christian’s tiny home.

The couples I talked to didn’t have huge issues with each other when it comes to tiny home living, with makes sense, because they are still together! But I loved what Alexis said about bumping into each other.

“We have gotten really good at the tiny house choreography but sometimes we get in each other’s way,” she said. “Christian might really want to go to the bathroom, while I’m in the middle of picking out something to wear from the closet which blocks access to the bathroom. He has to wait for me to move. This is can be frustrating for both of us.”

Not bad if that’s you’re main relationship complaint.

I also have found that Tom and I sometimes get in each other’s way. Sometimes I’ll ask him p0litely to leave my cooking zone while I’m the middle of dinner, since there’s not enough room for two people in the sailboat galley. Then, I hope he becomes engrossed in some boat research or a book so he doesn’t watch me flail food this way and that when I cook.

Then, I can quickly wipe away the carnage from the teak, and we eat together in peace.

Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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15 thoughts on “How to live tiny without killing your partner”

  1. One of the reasons we chose our 46’ bridge deck cruiser to live aboard is the galley and saloon are forward, then we go up 3 steps to the pilothouse, and down 3 steps to the utility/workroom, head and stateroom. We also have a tiny aft deck, and space on the foredeck. This allows for alone time and space without having to leave the boat.

    In terms of communication, he is the ssilor and I have always gone along for the ride, but now I am determined to learn to handle her as he does. Part of the learning curve is talking through, say, coming into a tight space between 2 vessels on a dock with people all around. He knows what I’m going to do. I know what he’s going to do. Each time. Changes are determined by wind and weather, so we talk it through EVERY time.

    Reply
    • Hi Pamela! Your sailboat sounds really nice 🙂 I think if I needed alone time I could shut myself in our stateroom. I am in the same boat with sailing…my boyfriend is the sailor and I am the slow learner, haha! I hope one day I’ll be good at it.

      Reply
  2. Hi Kristen
    A great article! We had been married for over 30 years before we moved onto our 44’ yacht and have learnt so much more about each other in the last year than we did before. After 30 odd years you would think you know the person pretty well?
    We are very different personalities so it’ can be interesting at times. We have created a new word for an argument between us – we call it having a ‘Parfonay’ – Partners Fighting On A Yacht. It certainly helps if you try keep things humorous.

    We find that we both need our own space so I will usually tell him he needs to take the dinghy and go fishing and he knows then that I need a couple of hours alone or I will go to a beach or for a kayak to give him space.

    We actually sleep in separate cabins which some people find a bit strange but for us, it works. He is a night owl and sleeps in later in the morning. I go to bed early and rise at dawn so to be in the same cabin is restrictive and we disturb each other’s sleep, especially if he wants to read late into the night. At first it seemed strange and we weren’t sure about it but now we love it. It gives us both more alone time and better quality sleep which is important. As another couple who have a similar arrangement said, ‘you can have your fun all over the boat but when you need to sleep, you need to good quality sleep’.

    One more ‘rule’ we have on the boat is that when we are playing music or watching television/movies and the other person is sleeping or doesn’t feel like listening or watching then headphones must be worn. That has made a big difference too, especially with our different sleeping patterns.

    Finally, we have learnt to sort out our ‘parfonays’ pretty quickly because there is just no point in trying to avoid each other in such a small space.

    Reply
    • We sometimes sleep separately too, especially when its hot outside. I used to be a night owl but have gotten on my boyfriend’s schedule…having the same sleep schedule is helpful for us but sometimes I miss the nighttime 🙂

      Reply
  3. It’s nice to see someone posting about this very important aspect of living in small spaces. My wife and I have lived for 2 months traveling in a small van. You hit the nail on the head.

    Reply
  4. I once read an interesting tip on a sailing blog. When one of the couple needed alone time, they would wear an “alone” hat. It sent the message that they wanted to be alone.

    Personally, I find the introvert (my husband) extrovert (me) thing hardest to manage. The poor introvert in a partnership has a lot to put up with when their partner wants to always have company.

    Reply
    • hahah totally! I can relate because we are also an introvert/extrovert team, but I think my extroverted bf is getting a little more introverted with time, so that is good for me! haha.

      Reply
  5. Haha, ahhh, this reminds me of the many times that Jen and I struggled with finding “alone time” while we were living in the camper. At the end of the day, i think we are def better now than we were. At least we know each other’s limits! Great article!

    Reply
    • That’s so true! You really get to know each other well as a couple when you live in a small, enclosed space together. What’s funny is my bf doesn’t seem to need alone time since he is an extrovert, but I do! What’s nice is he lets me read in silence and doesn’t bug me.

      Reply

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