Tiny Houses, BIG Movement: Sometimes More Isn’t Better, It’s a Burden.

By: | October 27th, 2014

Could this be the beginning of an end to the McMansions trend? For the last few decades, home sizes have increased enormously despite the downturn in size of the typical American family. Then came the housing crash and regular folks, who imagined that their future incomes had nowhere to go but up, found themselves stuck with a big burden instead of a dream home.

After Hurricane Katrina, survivors were housed in ugly, poorly constructed, and in some cases toxic, manufactured housing, set row upon row without landscaping. Many folks were prevented from returning to their neighborhoods to rebuild and others had no flood insurance, and so no possible means of reconstruction.

In a wave of re-assessment of what is REALLY “valuable” in life, many saw freedom in scaling down and possessing less. They reconsidered how bigger homes led to neighbors who didn’t even know each other. The loss of community spirit was painful. There had to be a better way to build.

As human ingenuity and creativity goes, some clever ideas for Tiny Houses emerged. They could be made portable or not, they could pack a lot of living into a small space, and they could be made to feel “homey” instead of institutional. But most importantly, they could be affordable and doable even for a determined novice, if need be.

There is no set definition of what constitutes a Tiny or Small House, but generally they fall somewhere between 200 – 1,000 sq. ft. “Upward mobility,” as in building up instead of out, is bound by whether the unit will be mobile or stationary.  But no matter the height of the house, all kinds of household goods are designed to pop up or fold under. Most have a sleeping loft. Many use on-demand water heating and skylights and LEDs. There’s often solar power, even when still using electric from a plug as back-up. Some have fancy electric fireplaces, some just propane heating; some use composting toilets, some “dump” into a septic tank or even into a “toss away compostable bag.” The wet stuff can just become nitrogen for the grass, especially since these tiny houses are usually located on a wooded space. It should be noted, however, that tiny apartments are taking off in big cities as well, where space is at a premium and rents are sky high.

Tiny mobile houses are built on a trailer bed designed to be towed behind a strong truck and they are generally less than 200 sq. ft. in size. Sometimes this can help to avoid zoning laws when parked, but may come with other motor vehicle laws when in motion. Houses on the move surely need to consider weight whereas stationary houses are sometimes even made from logs. Naturally, height is a major factor if mobility is the intention.

“The Movement” is not about making people feel guilty for living large, it’s about challenging oneself to scale down from just about any place we occupy. It’s about being a “living” example that less is sometimes more, and about demonstrating the “elegance of living simply.”

Obviously, deciding which “stuff” to part with is a tough decision for even the most frugal of us. For those who feel defined by their possessions, it can be downright painful. But those who have gone through the pain and come out with a minimalist mindset laud the freedom from mortgage and lousy jobs without meaning. They surround themselves ONLY with things that have special significance.

WHO THE HECK COULD LIVE THIS WAY?

Tiny Housers are an eclectic bunch of folks, including Generation Xers to Baby Boomers, nature lovers and environmentalists who seek to make only a small footprint, and artists and writers who seek solace and time to explore their creative imprint. These tiny houses are often used as guest houses or campers. Sometimes they accommodate retired parents looking to downsize and be close to the grandkids (but maybe not too close). Or, the graduate returning from college strapped with student debt.

SHEDDING THE EXTRAS

As with most landed properties, if you plan on settling down, you’ll likely want to have a shed or other out-buildings to house things like garden tools and saw horses. In fact, as with any other home, you might want to have a patio for bar-b-ques or even a Jacuzzi for dipping.

The cost usually starts around $25,000 for the smaller houses and can go up considerably, if the most modern amenities are desired. You can design and build your own, purchase the basic plans, or buy a completed model.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Lately, some of the McMansion owners are complaining that it is too hard to find family members in such an enormous expanse. Not a problem in a tiny house. If you’re thinking about living large by scaling down, there are videos and even a documentary to guide your decisions along the way.

There’s movement under foot, and traveling down the road, to find a way to appreciate more and crave less. Maybe this movement won’t move ecological mountains, but it can be a tiny example of the meaning on the bumper sticker that suggests, “Live Simply That Others May Simply Live.”

Carol Mosley is a social ecologist, freelance writer, human rights activist, mini-farmer, and educator.

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