I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that members of the Small Home Movement are nonconformists. If they weren’t, odds are they wouldn’t be so attracted to an idea so radically outside the norms of mainstream America. Starting with Thoreau and his $28.12 and 1/2 cent house, small housers have all marched to the beat of their own highly-individualistic drummer.
Even knowing that, however, it still catches me off-guard to discover how different the motivations and exact solutions are of various members of the community. For that reason, I thought it might be worth the SLJ writers taking some time to discuss the personal appeal and perceived advantages of tiny homes.
Also, this issue welcomes a new regular writer: Lellewynn from Project Rolling Freedom. We also have a guest post from Betsy McCullen who is becoming a regular on the “premises”.
We hope you enjoy our latest issue…
Friends and family always inquire about our tiny house obsession. Usually they ask: “Why a tiny house?” Living a tiny lifestyle appeals to us on a number of levels. Below are the top 10 reasons for choosing a tiny solution:
1. Exiting the Consumer Lifestyle
Living in a tiny house is one way for us to exit the consumer lifestyle and decrease our consumption of stuff. (Watching the The Story of Stuff drastically changed how I view my own consumption patterns).
For instance, there is no reason to go shopping for more stuff when you don’t have a place to put it. I don’t need 20 pairs of shoes or 50 different outfits to wear to the office. Earlier this year, I downsized my wardrobe and personal items. For me that meant donating an incredible amount of books and clothing to the thrift store.
My policy is 1 in, 1 out. Every time I buy something new, one of my personal things must go.
2. Saving Money
The cost estimate for our tiny house is about $25,000 (about 2 years worth of rent). The low cost of the tiny house will enable us to save money for future expenses and help friends and family members in need. Our tiny house will be about 200 square feet. Our heating and cooling bills will be so tiny! Right now we live in a 400 square foot apartment and our PG & E bill ranges from $4.00 to $25.00 a month. I can’t wait to see what our power bill will look like in a tiny house.
Downscaling from a suburban, 2 bedroom apartment, and 2 car life to an urban, 1 bedroom apartment, and no car has given me a sense of freedom and lightness. Our stuff doesn’t own us anymore. As long as we have each other and our cats, we will be good to go.
4. More Free Time
Last summer one of our family members became suddenly ill and almost died. Since then, I’ve changed my life dramatically and have chosen a simpler lifestyle that allows me to spend more time with family.
Downscaling to a smaller apartment (and eventually a tiny home) enabled us to devote more time to outdoor activities, writing and the important things in life like friends and family.
5. Debt Free
Within the last year we sold our car, paid off our student loans and moved into a smaller apartment. These changes have allowed us more flexibility in our finances. If all goes according to plan we will either build or purchase our own tiny house in 2010.
6. Working Less
Eventually, I want to work part time. The United States is notorious for a workaholic culture. So owning a small home will enable us to work less and pursue career goals that didn’t seem possible a few years ago. Eventually, I want to get out of my cubicle and telecommute. Telecommuting is a feasible alternative to the cubicle forest because it allows people to do their job from any location.
I’d love to look at this view everyday…
7. Less Cleaning
A tiny house requires significantly less cleaning and maintenance and that make me very happy. I didn’t realize how much time we spent cleaning our large apartment until we moved to our new home in Sacramento. Instead of cleaning we spent more time riding our bikes outdoors. Yay for less scrubbing, vacuuming and sweeping!
8. Ease of Movement
Ease of movement to a new location is a great feature. Being tied down to a traditional home doesn’t appeal to me because they can’t be moved. But with a tiny home, if we decide to move we are free to bring our tiny house with us.
9. Going Off-Grid
We plan to take the tiny house off-grid. Hopefully, this will allow us to learn how to live more self sufficiently and insulate ourselves from a system we believe to be unsustainable. The looming peak oil energy crisis is scary.
10. Economic, Environmental and Social Merits of Compact Housing
Last year, I read a few books on tiny tiny homes. Two of my favorites were: The Small House Book and Little House on a Small Planet. After reading these books I realized there are enormous economic, environmental, and social merits of compact housing.
Here are some interesting facts from the books:
- The average American house, which is about 2,200 square feet, emits more green house gases than the average American car;
- The average American house, produces 7 tons of construction waste and;
- The size of New Jersey is lost each decade as a result of urban sprawl.
I see over-sized homes as a debtors prison rather than a source of enjoyment. The average American has a 20 to 30 year mortgage. By going small, we will have our tiny tiny house paid off in less than 1 year.
For the sake of the environment and economic sanity (ex. sub-prime mortgage fiasco), it is clear that we must change our attitudes about house size, building codes and the basic home financing structure.
I hardly ever watch TV, so I had never heard of a tiny house. One day last summer my friend made a joke about how a tiny house would be perfect for me because I don’t have alot of ‘things’. The most common comment I get when someone walks into my apartment is – “No television!!?” It always reminds me of that movie “Secondhand Lions”!!
Most people I know are heavily into the ‘stuff’ culture so they are not only amazed that I have so little, but they look at me like they almost feel sorry for me. Actually, it’s the other way around…I feel sorry for them! I think all their clutter is mostly what weighs them down…i mean, besides some of the people they often hang around or are in a relationship with!!
Let’s get back on track though. After my friend mentioned this to me I got online and Googled “tiny house”. The first place I found (and seemingly the most popular) was Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed website. This is where I formed my very first opinions of what a Tiny House is and what I think it will likely be for me.
Whatever size or model of Tiny House I do finally build will be from Tumbleweed. In the very near future, whether I take both of Jay’s Workshops and design my own, hire Jay to customize my plans, or, if money prevails, have Jay build it for me, I hope to be living in one within the next 5 years.
So, this is what I will base the rest of this article about. If you haven’t seen a Tumbleweed, it might help to check out a few of them so you will have some sort of idea what I am talking about. Then click the link below to watch a tour:
With all that said, I have several reasons why the Tiny House appeals to me. Here they are:
- It’s just plain CUTE!!
- I absolutely LOVE the wood!!
- I love how the porch makes the place look so inviting
- It has windows on all 4 sides for ample cross ventilation & lighting. These are things I always look for in any apartment I move into. Living in something as small as a Tiny House would get pretty claustrophobic if it didn’t have lots of airflow and light
- The cozy bunk
- The fact that the ceiling (roughly 6.5′) is low enough to reach everything
- The efficient layout of space
- The built-in shelves & desk
- The simplicity of the whole design
- It will be easy & inexpensive to heat and cool
- It is virtually impossible to accumulate any clutter
- It keeps life very simple and focused
- I won’t have a mortgage
- I won’t have to spend half my time or money on maintenance and repairs
- It will be easy to clean
- It’s portable! Having my Tiny House on wheels appeals to me because:
- If I decide to buy a piece of land in which to put my Tiny House, I can move it around each season to add more sunlight in winter and less in summer
- I probably won’t have to pay real estate taxes on it because it’s considered mobile
- I can spend a year watching nature (sun paths, rain/flooding, high winds, snowdrifts) and move it accordingly
- If I get bored with one view, I can change it
- If I end up hating the land altogether, I can move it somewhere else
- It makes moving almost anywhere pretty easy
I’m such a total proponent of small housing that it would be simpler for me to discuss the things that turn me off about tiny houses. Nevertheless, here is my “Benefits of Tiny Housing” blitz.
In a society built so heavily on self-aggrandizement and the display of material status symbols, (a condition that leaves me in a state of virtually perpetual disgust), the tiny house is a modest house. And it’s nice to imagine that modesty still has admirers in America.
Affordability – The tiny house is an affordable house. While the price of prefab tiny houses ranges considerably, the vast majority of tiny house options run a fraction of the price of a conventional house. In fact, the tiny house averages in the new car price range.
Accessibility – I am not a man of means. I live in one of the most expensive regions in the world on a rather pitiful income. The likelihood of home ownership, (something I’ve dreamt about from a very young age), has, for my whole life, seemed on the same order as space travel. But then, I was imagining a conventional house. The comparative affordability of the tiny house renders it far more psychologically accessible than the conventional house to a chronically destitute individual like myself.
The tiny house, in every incarnation I have come across, is highly customized to the needs and desires of the people who call it home. Customization is essential to turning a dwelling into a home, and the tiny house lends itself uniquely to customization.
Tiny houses, even the ones that don’t come with integrated wheels, are vastly more mobile than their conventional counterparts.
The tiny house, because of the simplicity of its engineering and construction, invites owner design and building, (or at the very least, much greater participation in these activities). Participation in the design and construction of one’s own home is not only deeply fulfilling, but also an unsurpassed opportunity for practical education and confidence building.
Minimalism – The tiny house demands the discipline of minimalism, which can promote increased focus on the individual activities and material objects that make up our lives.
Ease of Maintenance – The tiny house requires less work in cleaning and maintenance. The less there is, the less there is to care for.
Conscience – The tiny house, whose construction and operation consume far fewer resources than a conventional house, should assuage the conscience of the individual who considers consumption a vice and conservation a virtue.
Less Energy to Heat and Cool – With obvious financial and conservation benefits.
Historically and Globally Appropriate
Housing for virtually all people throughout human history, and today for most people throughout the world, is and has always been tiny. The conventional house is a disruptive anomaly.
The tiny house enjoys character compression. Tiny houses have easily as much personality as conventional houses, but distilled into a much smaller frame. This distillation produces a more potent product.
Embraces the Outdoors – The tiny house encourages forays out of doors. This is good.
Higher Quality Product – Because construction of a tiny house requires a fraction of the materials of a conventional house, it encourages an investment in higher quality materials.
The cozy factor of the tiny house is off the charts.
The Small House Community
Tiny housers are fun, interesting, and unique! (At least that’s my general evaluation). Becoming involved in the small house community is a great perk of tiny housing. And we haven’t even witnessed the arrival of the prophesied Intentional Tiny House Community yet! Think how cool that would hypothetically be if it ever, you know, happened!
The Salvage Factor
Tiny Texas Houses owner Brad Kittel has demonstrated that the tiny house can be built out of approximately 95% reclaimed materials. Once again, the financial and conservation benefits should be self-evident.
Lower Visual Profile
The tiny house takes up less space visually! That means it’s not messing up your neighbor’s view. And if your neighbor is a tiny houser, her house isn’t messing yours up either.
Decreased Impact on Immediate Surroundings
The tiny house has a tiny footprint, and the negligible engineering requirements mean that the site preparation work is insignificant compared to that required for a conventional house. This means less impact on the immediate natural surroundings, which is good for all the other things that happen to be living there.
Site Specific Design
The tiny house’s reduced impact on the immediate surroundings, coupled with the customization and owner participation to which it lends itself, encourages a degree of site specific design that the conventional house simply cannot offer.
Decreases Consumption by Necessity – Life in the tiny house enforces a consumption pattern radically diminished from the lifestyle encouraged by the conventional house; you are simply forced to consume less.
Relieves Wage Slavery – The lessened financial burden of life in a tiny house should presumably empower the owner with greater financial independence.
Strength – Consider the ant. Proportionate to it’s size the ant is mighty! This is a general physical phenomenon – relative strength is inversely proportionate to size – i.e., small stuff is inherently stronger, big stuff is inherently weaker. That’s why, given a fixed set of materials, engineering small stuff is easier and engineering big stuff is harder. (This explains why there are loads of tiny flying creatures and not many giant ones).
What does this mean for the tiny house? My house endured being dragged 600+ feet up a 30+ degree slope with a winch hooked to the framing, and suffered only minor cosmetic damage. Imagine trying this with a conventional house.
And last, but certainly not least, the tiny house is the house that has allowed me to build my home in my favorite place in the world.
Thank you, tiny house.
*Special photography credits to Amanda Abel
The first time i saw a tiny house was in an edition of This Old House. I think. I looked at that glossy photo of freedom and, like most people I’m sure, I thought, “Oh how cute! That would make a neat playhouse!” But on the raw edge of my mind I could feel the pull of the tiny house movement.
I bought my house in 2005; a small 1100 square foot bungalow, tucked into a beautiful neighborhood in the Idaho Falls Historic numbered streets. It was such a rush! I was so proud of myself for reaching out and grabbing that ultimate goal of the American Dream. I gave no thought as to how I would pay for it; only that it was mine. I was the only 20 year old I knew who owned her own home.
The rush of home ownership swiftly wore off as I struggled to make the mortgage payment, fix things that were broken, and clean that 11oo sq ft. Not to mention taking care of the huge yard that went with it. It soon became the norm to not have any cash to myself. I could no longer go and do the things that I wanted, like watch my father play with his blues band because I couldn’t afford a $3 beer. As the walls of my dream home closed in on me, I began to feel suffocated and crushed by the weight of my mortgage. I sought a way out. How was I going to find a way out of my claustrophobic seclusion if I couldn’t afford distraction? I found freedom within my self-created prison walls by designing spaces that would allow me to do what really mattered to me. I remembered that photo and I dreamed that home was mine.
An enticing part of the tiny house movement is the sheer and almost utter freedom that could accompany it. Freedom from debt, from life sucking time wasters like tv. Freedom to be able to spend your money on what you want instead of on what you must. As I continue to struggle to maintain my big house and get it ready to sell, tiny home living becomes even more important to me.
I think though, the thing that lures me in the most, especially in the case of tiny mobile homes, is the ability to hitch my house to my truck and hit the road. I’d be at home everywhere I go! After being tied down and feeling like a cornered animal these last three and a half years, I think it would be almost sensual to be so free! Sometimes I think it would be so fun to learn to read palms and just up and leave and become a gypsy. Kind of like joining the circus, even to be sideshow entertainment would be preferable to being cloistered all the time. To be able to just pack up and go visit my family in Washington or my best friend in Nevada, or go see every national park in the USA if I wanted, would feel something like a good stretch after a nap.