A few weeks back, I posted a thread on Facebook for #funfactFriday asking people to share something interesting about themselves. Some were funny, some were a little bit sad, but one in particular stuck out to me. Alysha St Germain wrote: “I lived in a tiny house for six months with my two kids. It was only 260 sq. feet.”
I’d heard of the tiny house revolution and could never quite wrap my brain around intentionally living in such a small space–our last apartment before we moved was in the 900 sq. foot ballpark and it felt positively suffocating at times. “Where do you hide from your kids?!” I wrote back.
“You don’t!” Alysha said. ” It was very purposeful for us. A way to reconnect as a family after a tragedy.” I had to hear more of her story.
In 2013, Alysha lost her beloved husband, Peter, to cancer at just 32 years of age. At the time, Alysha’s children were 4 and 2, and she was faced with a decision as a woman and mother: let the weight of her grief drag her under or turn their crushing loss into an opportunity to bond as a family of three. Alysha chose the latter and I am privileged to bring her unique story of coping with grief to you as the first in a new series on the blog called Share Our Stories. I hope you love her and her beautiful story as much as I do.
Q: Name and age
A: Alysha St Germain, 30
Q: How many kids do you have/what are their names/ages?
A: 3 children total. Isabella, 6 and Lucas, 4. Ethan is our new addition and he is 9 weeks.
Q: What is your husband’s name and how long have you been together? Does he have children as well/do you have any together?
A: My husband is Dave. We have been together since October 2013. He did not have any children when we met, but now has three!
Q: Please share the story behind why you decided to build and live in your tiny house.
A: When my husband, Peter, was losing his battle with cancer we began discussing what we were going to do when he was no longer able to be with us. I came across the tiny house idea on Pinterest. We lived a very adventurous lifestyle together — lived overseas and did a fair bit of traveling both together and separately. I knew living in a “full size” home would prevent us from seeking experiences because of the upkeep they require. I also knew that the upkeep would take time away from the time I spent with our two young children who were then 2 and 4. I also feared that we would lose each other while steeped in our grief if we did not make a concerted effort to be near one another. The tiny house seemed like a perfect fit for the lifestyle and desires I had for our family once I was pushed into the driver’s seat.
Peter claimed he wanted something better for his family than just a “glorified mobile home” which is how he referred to tiny houses, but he reluctantly gave me his blessing.
Q: What did you/your children gain from living there together?
A: We gained a huge sense of togetherness. Before living in the tiny house we were ruled by doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, surgeries, and hospice care. In the last five months of Peter’s life he required consistent help which meant I became his primary caregiver. It was a tough job to maintain while still caring for two little ones. This meant they spent a significant amount of time with babysitters, grandparents, and other helpers so that I could tend to my husband’s needs.
When all was said and done, living in the tiny house allowed us to reconnect. All three of us cuddled up in the loft at night and woke to each other in the morning. It allowed me to confront my reality as there aren’t many places to escape in a tiny house. And, it allowed us to be present in the moment. When I cried, my children saw it, and when I was happy they witnessed that too. It allowed me to be very transparent with my grieving process and gave me the opportunity to talk about my feelings if and when I felt it was appropriate to share with them. After loss, it is very tempting to go on as if nothing ever happened, but living in the tiny house did not afford me that privilege. We did have the privilege of parking the tiny house in my parent’s backyard, which meant my children were given double the stability by living in such close proximity to their grandparents. Due to the small square footage of the tiny house, we spent a lot of time outside exploring, which is something Peter and I really enjoyed doing together as well. I am a firm believer that being in nature helps us process our emotions in a very unique way — and for me, it did just that.
Q: What sort of living situation did you have before the tiny house?
A: Before the tiny house we lived in a home that was approximately 1400 sq ft. When my husband passed away we yearned for security and togetherness so we all promptly moved into one bedroom to be near one another, therefore the transition to the tiny house was made that much easier.
Q: How did the house actually get built? And how much did it cost to build it?
A: The tiny house was built by Todd Miller or the Oregon Cottage Company in Bend, OR. The model I have has a base price of approximately $38,000 dollars which varies depending on customization. It took 3 months to build.
Q: How did it work logistically with things like dishes, laundry, bathing, meal prep, sleeping, entertaining, etc? Did you ever find that you missed your prior living accommodations?
A: We were able to do most everything in the tiny house that we would have done in a standard home. It has the space to have a combination washing machine and dryer if I choose to, but I did not because I had access to a full size washing machine and dryer. The house also has a mini-bathtub. Most nights I bathed the kids together, which was not a problem, however the hot water tank only held enough water for one bath, but it always worked out well. The sleeping arrangements consisted of a full size bed in the loft and a pull out sofa on the main level in case we ever had company, which happened on a few occasions. We were lucky enough to live in a warm climate so if people came over to visit we usually just hung out outside, depending on the number of people who were visiting at any given time. As for meals, we didn’t always cook or eat in the tiny house because we lived near family and enjoyed eating together.
Q: What, if any, were the detriments of living in such a small space?
A: When the weather is bad and you can’t go outside, its easy to feel confined in such a small space. Also, our sleeping arrangement wouldn’t have worked for the long-term as my children grew and needed their own space.
Q: How did others react to your decision to live in a tiny house? Any specific comments or reactions that stuck out to you?
A: At first, people laughed it off, but when they realized I was actually going to do it they became really supportive and intrigued. It became a great conversation starter at parties and gatherings too. People were also very interested in the downsizing process we went through in order to move into the tiny house.
Q: You’re now remarried. How did you meet your husband? How do you balance honoring your late husband’s memory with moving on and starting over?
A: Dave and I met online. It was truly meant to be as we were not looking to date anyone, but a good friend introduced us through a forum for widows and widowers. He also lost his wife Becky a few years ago, therefore he understands and accepts my desire to make sure my late husband’s memory lives on, especially when it comes to our children. Dave’s late wife and my Pete are as much a part of our family as anyone else. They constantly come up in conversation and although we have never met them, we both have a deep respect for who they were and the roles they played in each other’s lives.
As for moving on, its not a matter of moving on, but moving forward. I still grieve the loss of my husband and wish things were different. Its not that I’m not happy with where I am now, because I am extremely happy, but its difficult to make sense of such beauty and joy coming out of such deep suffering and sorrow. But, we take it one day at a time and try to accept what is without wondering why it is, if that makes sense.
We are both very blessed to have extremely supportive in-laws and extended family who have always accepted and welcomed us with open arms. We all live in the same state and see each other frequently. For example, we just spent Easter with my late husband, Pete’s, family. They have always welcomed Dave and for that I am extremely grateful. We also see Becky’s parents frequently, in fact, they watched our children while I was in labor with our newest addition. They have never shown us anything but love and support despite the fact that they continue to grieve the loss of their beloved daughter Becky.
Q: You still own your tiny house, but have since stopped living there. Why did you choose to relocate and what is your plan for the house now?
A: Yes, we still own our tiny house and it remains in California, however we now live in Massachusetts. We decided to relocate to the East Coast when I met Dave and we chose to pursue a future together. We did not feel that living in a tiny house would be the best fit for our newly formed family so we now live in a much bigger house (it’s too big for me!).
My brother currently lives in the tiny house and we have discussed multiple plans for how to proceed once he is no longer living there. I have envisioned us bringing it here and parking it on a piece of property to use as a local vacation getaway or I may just use it as an office. Although we are still unsure of how it will be utilized in the future, the experience remains close to our hearts. We will always look back on the time we spent together in the tiny house as a beautiful experience and a pivotal time in our grieving process.
Alysha’s story was also captured in a documentary by Respectful Revolution, which you can view below.