8 Survival Tips For Your Tiny House Build

8 Survival Tips For Your Tiny House Build

survival tips for your tiny house buildHaving been involved in several construction projects over the last 20 years, I am deeply familiar with the physical and emotional process that happens when building. I liken it to the process of being in labor, something I have experienced twice being a mother of two. As it is with labor, just because I have been through it before doesn’t mean that I have figured it out and that I won’t go through many of the same challenges and frustrations that I have experienced before. When a process is intense, it is easy to forget and draw upon the learnings previously received which is why it is so helpful to have a variety of emotional tools to deal with challenges as they arise. Below are 8 survival tips for your tiny house build.

The “Just Do It’ principle 

I would say this one is at the top of my list. I just had an experience the other day in which I was installing what seemed to be an endless amount of rigid insulation in the walls. This project was tedious to say the least as we had to install the rigid material around electrical wires and plumbing, requiring a lot of custom cuts in each bay. On day three of this, at one point I felt so tired, overwhelmed and gripped by the monotony of the task that I wanted to throw my hands up in despair in a massive temper tantrum. I felt I couldn’t do another sheet that day, or the next day, or the one after that. I was done.

Taking a deep breath and reminding myself of the transition period of a house build I pulled up the Just Do It principle. It allowed me to see that there was a job before me to be done. The sooner I finished it, the sooner I could be done with the whole insulation project (which sounded extremely appealing). One way or another I was going to keep on installing insulation. So my choices were to a) do it kicking and screaming and whining all the way or b) do it with purpose and grace and enjoy it as much as possible. When we commit to getting something done, it becomes clear that we have two choices, to suffer through it or to enjoy it. I personally prefer, always, to enjoy it.

To-Do List

Break up your project into a step by step list. This will not only help you stay on task making sure you aren’t forgetting anything but will also give you a sense of accomplishment as you scratch off each step along the way. It’s easy to lose sight of how much has already been done when stuck in that uncomfortable stage where it feels like something is never going to end. Looking back at what’s already been done is a reality check of how far I’ve already come. If you are really stuck in transition, you can break down your to do list into even smaller tasks. Ideally, these are tasks that can be accomplished in an hour or two. Small, nibble sized jobs.

Visualize the completed build

Generally, right around the time I am feeling most frustrated and bored with a build is when I go online and create a folder on my computer for inspiring images that resemble the image I have of my completed project. I can then take these mental images to the build and imagine the house complete in as much detail as possible while working. I become inspired and motivated to bring these images to life. This visualization puts a huge amount of fuel into my energy tanks and often keeps me going for days.

Taking the day off

Let’s face it, there are days that just really need to be taken off. Playing hooky and doing something totally just for fun is sometimes the best remedy for getting over a tough hump. The trick is to really give yourself permission to go and totally let go of the project. If you take the day off and in the back of your mind you are worrying about next steps or trying to figure out what to do with some technical aspect of your build, your mind is still at the job site and you are not actually getting a day off. The key is to give yourself permission to go play and to recognize that you will increase your ability to focus and be productive if you take the time to recharge your inner battery by having fun.

Inviting friends over

One very effective tool we use is to have close friends over at various stages of the build. Seeing the project through new eyes and hearing their perspective can give new life to a build. Plus, if you are really lucky you may even have friends who are willing and able to come over and help, and that typically makes a long day go by very quickly.


I almost always forget this one because it’s not my inclination to put music on in general, but man, good music can make even the most torturous tasks fun. Take the time one evening to create a playlist of your favorite music and play it while working.

Self care 

Building a house is physically and emotionally a big stretch for most people. Commit to taking excellent care of yourself. Get those 8 hours of sleep in. Stay hydrated. Support your body with healthy food so it can fuel you through the day. Take some time out each day for quiet introspection. If you aren’t well rested and taking good care of yourself, you will suffer needlessly and things will feel a whole lot harder than they need to.

Grin and bear it 

Sometimes the truth is that a build just sucks. And there is nothing that can be done to make it feel better. Exhaustion, both physical and emotional, just takes its toll and none of the things above seem to help. And you know what? That’s OK. No one ever said that building a house was going to be easy (not even a tiny one). It will try your patience, endurance, and mindset in many many ways. But at the end you will be a stronger and more resilient person and you will know that you have a deeper tenacity than you ever could have imagined. The sense of appreciation you will feel when sleeping in your own hand built home for the first time will literally be indescribable. This house you have built will have become your baby. Where there was nothing, a void in space, there will suddenly be a homeโ€ฆwhat a trip! So have compassion for yourself on those really hard days and recognize that you are going through a major life event.

For me, the process of building a house is like riding through a series of emotional peaks and lows. In the beginning, there is a sense of sheer excitement and possibility. Out of thin air, a home begins to emerge and form before my very eyes and at the end of a long day, I’m excited about waking up the next morning to start again. Stage two comes after that and I recognize it when my body starts to feel tired and drained at the end of the day and all I want to do is to put my feet up and rest for hours. Most of my creative energy is zapped and I don’t have much interest in socializing, writing, or coming up with new ideas. Though it’s pretty easy to get to work emotionally and physically the next day, I don’t have a ton of natural enthusiasm for the work I am doing and it feels more like a job.

The third emotional stage can sometimes feel as intense as transition in labor. The whole build suddenly feels overwhelming. I may feel defeated and utterly convinced that the house will never be completed. At the end of the day, all I want to do is sleep for weeks on end, or better yet, hire someone to finish up the build. Fortunately this stage doesn’t last very long in relation to the other stages and just as suddenly as it has started, it can change. And then something miraculous happens. A significant shift takes place and major parts of the project come to completion. Big tasks get scratched off the to-do list and the end is in sight. At the end, looking back, I can hardly remember that there was a time when things felt overwhelming.

What about you? What strategies do you have for dealing with those days where everything just feels like too much?


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15 Responses to 8 Survival Tips For Your Tiny House Build

  1. Elaine October 22, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    Terrific advice! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Earl October 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Well said. I’m a project manager at my real job and I have to remind myself and others of these things all the time. Problem is sometimes I don’t remember them all. Thanks for distilling it down into this concise article!


    • Gabriella October 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      Earl, I totally get it. I essentially “had” to write this article because I was in a slump with this build. It happens each and every time. Amazing how easy it is to forget isn’t it?? ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. bob henry October 23, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    In the midst of a 20 x 30 tiny house build at the moment I find myself stopping at odd moments or just tacking things in place for “temporary installation”. At the end of the day I take 15 minutes and actually pull up a camping chair and just think and plan for the next attack. I have a white board and use it to scribble notes to remind myself that something is simply tacked in place and needs to be revisited to complete the installation correctly. I also plan on what step is next and the order it need to progress. It is easy to find yourself installing interior wall board only to remember that an electrical outlet should have been in that wall. So to your list I would add, stop and plan for the next steps while the project is fresh in your mind.

    • Gabriella October 23, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      I really like your whiteboard idea. We’ll go out and get one. Up to now we’ve been writing everything in a notebook but there is something satisfying about a white board!

  4. Mike Troy October 23, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    Wow this really hit home with me right now. Number one especially because like your insulation I’m almost to the end of my siding pieces. It’s one at a time “just do it”. All of this advice I have used so far and will continue to do so. Enjoyed reading this, thank you!

    • Gabriella October 23, 2013 at 11:28 am #

      Thanks Mike! Keep us posted on your build. We are hanging interior paneling today and it feels great to be starting another part of the build. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Toni Callander October 31, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Land land land how to find land that will allow a tiny house …
    I am currently living on section 8 … Due to fibromyalgia … This is the 1st time in my life I have had to surcumb to the system and not be able to work and have MY LIFE bs mine!
    I am a single mom of four wonderful young men all of whom I adopted prior to living on disability … I hate it … I owned my on little home I worked for living and I raised two Marines one 23 and on 19 ( going to his graduation next week in San Diego … Soon to be 17 and one soon to be 16 … I have used up everything $ I order to just stay afloat although I do have a plan and I am not the destitute type … I refuse to continue to pay Pg&E (electric) 200 to 400 dollars @month forever … My credit is decent although banks are not jumping for tiny homes (yet?)
    Any suggestions ?
    I want to be in the southern part of California because that is where I adopted my great life (sons… All bio brothers all at birth or close to)
    I wish for my empty nest to be full of fruits vegetables a few chickens milk goat … Nothing elaborate … I am not to picky when I live in Southern California (just no major city)
    I only wish to be close to my sons and the families they will have one day ! Plus I would like to leave them a little reminder of home ( since we had to sell our family home ) my boys would be great at helping me build in fact they would love it … It is just the land thing that baffles me … I need to be close to some city due to health issues … Yet chose not live in one again at least not a major one …. I love the land in rural America the smell the freedom the ability not to hear your neighbors flush their toilets lol … I am not unrealistic I realise $ is a factor … Yet I am ready to down size start selling off un nessasary stuff and start my move… I have three years to aquire land ( I want it paid off BEFORE my boys graduate high school!
    I feel confident that we are so capable of doing this … I just feel like I need the experience of those who were not able to have all the. $ they needed to get everything they needed from the beginning ( bless those you do though) I have researched and I feel for me that recycling products that others are done with or have no need for any longer is the way to go …. Even if I could afford to straight out buy a tiny home ready to go … I wouldn’t … I like the feeling of making it my own and working it myself with my sons … I have some good days and am capable of handling a few tools I need to be a part of this home. ( that is if it comes to be ) I am so SCARED of living in a rented room somewhere or worse yet having to be a burden to my children …
    If any one out there has had a similar experience or advice on how I could pull this miracle off pls let me hear it … You know the hardest thing I did was finding the ability to accept something like section 8 a program where the state pays a percentage of your rent … The most confusing part is they will do this for the rest of my life … Now would it be more $ wise to help me use those $ to be self sufficient within a few years and never have to pay out one red cent to me or others like me? Then within three years is would free of this rat race of paying bills I could own my own no mortgage no pg&e and the star could then possibly make a payment plan for me to pay back a reasonable amount of $ that they would never see otherwise and use it to do the same with like minded responsible people who have become forced to use a program like this?
    Then again please be kind in using your words … Tell me am I dreaming and just forget it … It is just a dream and I am not capable of all that is needed to be self sufficient once again … I really need to know if I am dreaming down a path that is unrealistic … I am good person and I need to hear from others with the ability to tell me the truth good or bad … I will appreciate your taking your time to help inform me if your experiences that may have been similar to mine and if and how you succeeded or not .
    Thank you sincerely ,

    • Gabriella November 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

      Oh Toni you are amazing! I feel your passion for a life that is filled with dignity and kindness. And the love for your boys is amazing and you deserve a special place in heaven. Now…to get you a place to create this beautiful vision. I literally just spoke with a woman is going to be building a straw bale tiny house. It’s her dream home. She is like you though in that she doesn’t have land or the financial resources to buy land. What is amazing about her story is that she is building it on someone else’s land. She has been working at a horse facility helping to care for all the animals and has established a meaningful friendship with the woman that owns the land. They have come up with an arrangement in which our friend will build her house using her own money. The land owner is enthusiastically allowing this because it creates a dream residence for our friend and solidifies her commitment to staying on the land and working there. Also, this structure will increase the value of her property. They are writing up a contract stating that if/when the property gets sold, our friend will get the cost of her materials paid back to her. So she will just be out the sweat equity that she will be putting into it. I bet there is someone in your area that would love to have you living on their land and who would be willing to set up something similar. What I love is that you don’t have to own your own land, if that is the primary limiting factor. And last time I checked, land down there cost a mint. I hope you’ll stay in touch and let us know how it goes! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Timmie Ballard March 21, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

      Dear Toni,
      I am so sorry you are having a tough time finding a place to build your home and staying somewhere with it. It just so happens my husband and I have about 10 acres in 29 Palms just down the street from the Marine Corps Base. It is empty and there is nothing on the land. If you don’t mind the heat and where it is you and yours are welcome to build your tiny home there. I’m a 100% disabled veteran. I hate to hear off anyone related to the military having a tough time, especially a Marine’s Mom. I’m Army. But, I have a great respect for you and I was raised by my mother. There were 3 of us. My sister, me and my mother. I had to help. Because it was hard for her. I never minded. So if you are interested please contact me

      • Gabriella March 24, 2016 at 11:12 am #

        Wow Timmie…you are an angel. So much care and compassion. Thank you for sharing that with others.

  6. Stephen Clarke November 7, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    I’m on day 46 (I think!) of building my cabin on wheels and found your survival tips really useful. I’ve only built a kitchen cabinet before so can feel a bit overwhelmed at times! I can really relate to the ‘just do it’ approach as there have been many times when I’ve found myself just standing looking at the cabin thinking I’ve no idea how to solve this problem. Or more often, I can’t face putting up any more insulation! So I just get on with it; cut some board, hammer a nail in, put up another piece of cladding, drill another hole in the 10mm thick chassis. Etc etc.

    I love it.

    • Gabriella November 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      Great to hear your input Stephen! I hope you’ll share photos when you are done (or even in progress!). You can email them to [email protected] or share them on our facebook tinyhousebuilddotcom page. Sounds like we are fighting a similar battle with insulation! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Rena joseph March 3, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    Wonderful tips to survive in building new home. I usually get frustrated with some improper planning. I hope your advice will definitely make some good sense.

  8. Sarah Vaughan September 30, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

    I’m going through the same thing. I’m no where near any construction knowledge except helping with renovations this summer which has given me some confidence and the right brain mindset to have for my tiny house project. Today, I’m having A bad day with My house. The main problem…knowing which part to take as level. It was a pre built shell built badly but didn’t know until after I bought it. It’s been a struggle. Today was one of those rip down was I just installed because I failed to look until after i did it. I had my temper tantrum and went back to it. I re did my mistake and stopped everything. That’s enough. No more. And I walked away.

    I have been making lists of all the little jobs, big jobs. Crossing them off. It’s amazing what has been done but to most people, can’t see it.

    It’s tried my patience but a good nights sleep and some time away I get re charged and i always say that it looks more clear in the morning when one is fresh in mind and body.

    Great read.

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