Thanks to the magic of Instagram, I’ve been able to connect with more and more amazing people who have chosen to live small. One of my personal faves is Melanie Gnau of A Small Life. Not only is Melanie such a genuine, lovely person, but her charming home is vibrant and full of color! Win win. I’m also totally blown away by the number of years she spent living small in an Airstream. Let’s step inside her charming home and take a peek around…
Home Tour: Inside The Bold and Bright Home of A Small Life
Who: Melanie Gnau of A Small Life
Where: Asheville, NC
Years spent living small: 6 years (almost 4 in the Airstream, 2 in our small house)
To start, tell me your story about how you ultimately ended up choosing a small space?
In 2013, my husband George and I were recently married and I had a job offer in a bigger city closer to our family. We started looking for apartments there, but it was incredibly discouraging. At the time, George was an art teacher and I was a librarian. We were spending almost our entire paychecks on rent and we couldn’t figure out how to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
One day I saw a Featured Seller interview on Etsy for PollenArts. They were a couple that lived in a Winnebago. I casually mentioned this to George, not thinking much of it, but he took the idea and ran with it. He convinced me that we could do the same thing. To make a long story short, we bought a run-down Airstream on Craigslist, fixed it up and lived in it for almost 4 years. During that time, George was able to pursue his art full-time and we saved enough for a down payment on a house.
Then, two years ago, I was able to quit my job to join the small business George had created and we bought a small, fixer upper. We’ve been working on our ‘50s, 888 square foot home ever since.
What is your biggest challenge in your small space?
George and I run our small business out of our home. It can be challenging because there’s very little separation between work and home life. Sometimes the business takes over the rest of the house!
What is your favorite part about living small?
My favorite part about living small is the opportunities that it has given me. Living small has allowed me to save money, live debt-free (except for our mortgage), invest a little, buy a home, and quit my traditional job. It’s completely changed my life for the better.
What is your number one hack for living small?
Learn how to make your own furniture or get creative and customize pre-made furniture! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve measured a piece of furniture and was disappointed to see that it wouldn’t fit in our space. But by making our own pieces, we’re able to customize it to fit perfectly.
Do you ever feel pressure to be “minimalistic” or feel guilty about buying things you don’t “need” for your home?
At this point, I’ve been living in a small space for quite some time now, so I think minimalism has become a lifestyle. I don’t feel the need to buy many things anymore, but I do think that’s something that I had to work on.
What have you learned about yourself by living small?
It might sound cliche, but I’ve learned that I don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy. I’m basically living my dream life now and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And that wouldn’t have happened with a big house, a big mortgage and living above my means.
What’s your number one storage hack?
I, personally, try to just own less stuff so I don’t have to store it. But George is not a minimalist and he loves having “stuff” around. For him, I have baskets and wooden boxes around the house to store things and keep down the visual clutter.
Who is your biggest small space inspiration?
My initial inspiration for living in the Airstream was Peter and Juwels of PollenArts, if I hadn’t seen their story, my life might have had a totally different trajectory. When I started living in the Airstream, I really didn’t know anyone else living in a tiny house or a bus or any kind of alternative dwelling. There’s much more inspiration out there now!
If I were to recommend any resources to people interested in the small space lifestyle, I would recommend Dee Williams’ memoir, “The Big Tiny.” Dee was one of the first people to popularize tiny houses. I would also recommend the book, “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown. “Essentialism” explains how to declutter our lives, which I believe is a crucial part to living small.
What do your friends and family say about your choice to live small?
When we lived in the Airstream, some people definitely thought we were nuts. A friend of my in-laws actually sent us money because they thought we were homeless! (I gave the money back.) During that time, some of our family and friends were also very supportive. They understood that we were doing what we needed to do to get ahead. Now that we live in a more traditional home, I don’t hear as much about our “unusual” living situation. I usually just hear that our house is “cute” — which is probably a euphemism for small. Haha!
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