You are now living and working in a tiny space (or at least it seems like everything got smaller) to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, rarely going out except for essentials and medical care. Spending 24×7 with your spouse, significant other or roommate. In many cases, you are helping to homeschool your children or at the very least keep them entertained to keep the melt downs to a minimum. Your seeming large house just got a whole lot smaller in an instant!
How do you manage to live and work in the same space when your home just got a lot smaller and especially if you aren’t the only one who has to work from home for an unknown length of time?
Don’t panic! Veteran nomads, like myself, have been living and working in tiny spaces since before it was cool. You WILL get through this and I am here to help! I have lived, worked and traveled full-time in an RV for the last 3 years BY CHOICE. Yes, you heard me, I decided to live in under 400 square feet with my husband and 2 cats EVERY DAY for 3 years. I’m not gonna lie, it’s going be a challenge. It was for us initially as we worked through defining our rhythm and routines. Because we have experience living this way on the daily, I, along with some of my fellow full-time RVers, am going to share with you our “survival” tips. Because, let’s face it, at times it IS gonna be about surviving aka not killing each other or going out of your mind so let’s jump right in. And even for us who are used to this type of living, not being able to go out to eat, go to a concert or go shopping at this time makes our space feel even smaller!
Tip #1: Find Your Space
Whether you are in 100 or 2000 square feet, the walls can feel like they are caving in when more than one person shares the space for a long period of time. Here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful since both my husband and I have been working full-time in 400 square feet:
- Designate a space to call your own. Whether this is a bedroom, basement, dining room, outdoor space (we use the picnic table a lot) or a closet (yes, in RVs we turn them into offices sometimes), it’s important to have a place to get away. Get away from your spouse, your kids, your pets, the news or just need
quiet time to work or read to escape. Even in a tiny space, this IS possible. Having a door to close is ideal. In our situation, the only door is between the living area and bedroom so one of us will retreat upstairs to the bedroom when privacy is needed or we will go outside.
- Personalize your space. Even if that’s only temporary for the next few weeks or more. Set up your computer (if it’s for remote working) and if you are able to bring your monitor & keyboard from your office that is ideal to mimic a normal work day. Is there a favorite photo or item that gives you comfort at work or makes it easier to get through the day? If so, bring it home too. In our situation, Craig was recently going into an office while I continued to work from the RV. Now it is mandatory for him to work from home (like it was for us in the past) so he set up his monitor and keyboard on our dining table and I use the desk and we make the space suit our individual needs.
Tip #2: Establish a Routine
Right now your routine has been taken away! How do you take SOME control back? Our friend Denise from Does Size Matter RV, who is Canadian but travels in the US part-time, has some experience to share, “We think having a routine is probably the single most important thing we do to stay sane while we live, work and travel in our small space. Having a routine means getting up (around the same time) and then doing tasks in an organized way. By doing this we remove indecision and procrastination.”
- Create a daily schedule. A day by day list of activities and timing of those activities. You do this with your work calendar so now make a family one with all family members showing when and where they will perform certain activities. What if you have only one PC for your 4 kids to share? Assign them time slots. What if both you and your spouse have conference calls at the same time and you also have kids at home? Put both those times and most importantly the locations for these calls on the schedule and assign activities such as school work for the kids. I would use a dry erase board, electronic calendar or chalkboard that ALL parties can access so there is no confusion. Below is a sample schedule one family is using – I would take it one step further and put the locations of each activity in case your space is limited like mine:
- Don’t forget to take breaks to recharge your batteries. Our friend Barrett has some advice to share here. He and his wife Cindy, from Cinders Travels, travel full-time in an RV and had this to say, “schedule a time to go for a walk or go get a coffee or a snack or something together to break up a workday. Some days we are side by side at our workspaces for hours and a simple, quick break can make a big difference. It gives us an opportunity to change gears, get a refresh, as well as a check-in with one another. This also includes doing these things alone. It’s pretty inevitable, even in the best relationships, that you’ll get on one another’s nerves at some point. Whenever this happens, one of us usually steps away for a bit. Sometimes I’ll use that time to go run an errand or two. That way I get away, listen to some music, clear my head, do something productive, and then come back to our tiny space less annoyed or irritated.”
Tip #3 Keep Organized
There WILL be chaos. This includes tripping over Tommy’s shoes, the pile of work files or the cat. How do you keep the mess to a minimum to keep yourselves from going CRAZY??!!
- Create a space for everything. Whether you are choosing to live in a smaller space or you are now faced with living and working in the same space, now is the time to get organized and there are many items to help you with this. Baskets, bins, command hooks and so much many more items are just screaming buy me to make your life less stressful. In my RV living world I wouldn’t be able to manage daily life without so many organizational ideas I’ve learned from others to take advantage of every space. Check out some ways I’ve tried to create a space for everything – even the cat toys. And if you want more ideas follow my Pinterest Board by clicking here.
- Put your shit away! Denise shares her experience and what works for them. “Part of our morning routine includes PUTTING EVERYTHING AWAY into it’s spot (bonus it takes no time at all, we are in a small space). Once this is done we feel like we have jump started our day. Everything is clean and tidy, we know where to find stuff and our brains have had a little time (and coffee) and are ready to start making decisions.” I love Denise’s idea! Maybe you are not a morning person so do it every night before you go to bed if that helps you settle your mind for the night.
Tip #4 Compromise and then Compromise Again
Let’s face it, there is gonna be tension, hurt feelings and lack of personal space situations so compromise is key. How does that Rolling Stones song go? “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you’ll find you get what you need!” Love that and it’s never more true than when you are living in a tiny space for a period of time. Here are some great tips from the gang you’ve been hearing from already along with Craig, yeah he got the assignment also:
- Everyone is craving something different, how do you please them all? Barrett shares, “My wife and I have very different music tastes so its nice to switch it up routinely. We might listen to her station of choice for an hour or so and then mine for an hour or so. It helps keep the positive energy high.”
- Life doesn’t always go as planned and you need to adjust to make all parties comfortable especially when living in a tiny space. Another fellow nomad and friend, Glenda from The Status Foe, shares her experience with being flexible taking work phone calls. “One of the biggest challenges my husband and I had in our motorhome is when both people needed to talk on the phone for work. In such close quarters we end up talking over each other and it’s not comfortable for either of us or the people on the other line. We usually compromise by having one person move to our back bedroom with their laptop while the other is on the phone. We take turns doing this so no one feels like they are always stuck working on the bed. We’ve been doing this for a few years and it works for us.”
- Don’t take it personally. Compromise can make tempers flair and wear you out especially if one seems to be doing it more than another. Craig shares a way we get “our groove” back, “Realize everyone needs some alone time and to not take it personal when they want to go to the store alone. This means they want to be alone with their thoughts and they are not meeting their secret lover.” Of course store time is limited right now due to COVID-19 but you get it right? Take a drive or a walk, a really LONG walk when you feel like it’s all just too much.
- Sometimes a product enables compromise. Glenda also shares, “Investing in a good set of noise-canceling headphones is a must. My husband spends a lot more time on the phone than me. However, I struggle with focusing on my work when I hear his conversations in the background. I use Bose headphones and although they aren’t noise proof, they make a huge difference from Apple headphones. I joke around that Bose saved my marriage because this was such an issue when we first started full-timing in our RV.” Barrett seconds this product recommendation as being essential to his marriage to Cindy, “For us, headphones have been very important. We each have very good wireless headphones that allow us to connect to our phones, laptops and our apple tv. This way we can both be watching things or listening to music and we aren’t bothering one another. It’s especially helpful when one of us is an online student and the other is trying to run her own business. It has helped a lot. It took us a while to realize it but it helped a ton.”
Tip #5 Choose Your Attitude
“Well, we’ve always done it this way!” Living AND working AND doing school work in the same space is vastly differently than the traditional go to work, go to school, go to sports activities, go out with friends, go shopping then come home and sleep and do it all over again the next day. With these unexpected changes comes an opportunity to choose how you are going to react to it.
- Set the example. When we started this full-time RV life it was a HUGE adjustment even though WE made the choice! We each had to step up when the other was having a hard time adjusting. Do this not only for your children, if that’s the case, or your spouse but for yourself as well. How you react to this change will set the stage for the type of day you and others will have. Everyone is noticing who is being negative, who is complaining, who is being mean, who is being kind and compassionate and so on. What side of that equation do YOU want to land on? How do you YOU want to be remembered when it comes to handling one of the biggest health emergencies of multiple generations?
- Self-care is important now more than ever. Flight attendants always tell us that we have to use the oxygen ourselves before we take care of our loved ones. Take time to care for yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed because the walls are caving in on you. Breathe and do whatever makes you happiest. Going for a walk, taking a Yoga break, taking a bath (I sure miss mine right now) or calling a friend to vent to. You will be no good to those depending on you if you are feeling the stress of taking care of others. I remember when my Dad was dying and I was taking care of him around the clock. The hospice nurse took me outside and sat me down and explained the importance of self-care and I will never forget it. Even taking 5 minutes to “just be” or meditate outside gave me a new perspective and new energy.
- Laugh it out! I’m not talking about making fun of this very sad situation. I am talking about dancing in the kitchen because it’s so crowded you have to do a little dance to get around everyone. We do this quite a bit in the RV and it makes us laugh! I am also talking about watching a funny movie, telling fun stories, playing tag with the kids, doing bad Dad dancing or whatever makes you smile! The more you can laugh, the easier it will be to get through this situation and see the blessings you DO have.
- What are you grateful for? Even in this wonderful life of full-time travel with minimal chores, we get down and something that helps is to think about and verbalize out loud the many blessings we have. We have our health, we have our family and friends to rely on, we have a place to sleep, a roof over our heads (even if we take it with us everywhere) and we have each other. What are you grateful for even in your less than perfect situation?