I never really considered living in a large house; large houses were for people unlike me—people with either a lot of time to clean and fill it up with expensive goods, or who had enough money to hire help to clean and fill it up with expensive goods. I’m perfectly happy with my smallish house, my simplistic style, my clean-lined décor, my natural lighting and my little, yet manageable, yard in the New Jersey suburbs. (My yard is small enough so that my husband can mow the lawn with an electric mower while dragging an extension cord attached to our house behind him.) But there is a growing movement of folks searching for more than just a little house in the burbs… or should I say less?
The tiny house movement is not exactly a widespread trend, but for those dedicated to living it, they give the rest of us minimalists a bad name. An article in a July issue of The New Yorker details the tiny house movement and the movements’ dedication to simplicity. Okay, so what defines a tiny house? A “tiny” house is typically between 100 and 130 square feet. According to The New Yorker, there are between 100 and 1000 tiny houses in the United States. Why live in such a small place, you ask? Simplicity, environmental and financial reasons are typically the reasons people live in tiny homes—the concrete reasons, at least. In the end, they’re committed to an alternative way of life—one that doesn’t entail much stuff.
But it’s more than just about material possessions or the “stuff” you own, says Greg Johnson, the publisher of resourcesforlife.com, who from 2003 to 2009 lived in a tiny house called The Mobile Hermatige, a freestanding house that operates solely from battery power. “Mainly we promote discussion about the ecological, economic and psychological toll that excessive housing takes on our lives, and what some of us are doing to live better,” Johnson says. “It’s not a movement about people claiming to be “tinier than thou” but rather people making their own choices toward simpler and smaller living however they feel best fits their life.”
Blogs run by tiny house devotees have an active community. On his blog tinyhouseblog.com, Kent Griswold covers a range of how-to’s for tiny houses including “how to wash dishes in the tiny house” and “how to find and use reclaimed materials in your tiny house.” Collin and Joanna, a young married couple from Canada, even documented their move to their newly built 130 square foot house on their blog Our Wee House. When answering the often-asked question: “Can you have people over?” Collin and Joanna write: “We have a couch, and two Ikea sofa chairs. Also, we live on two acres of beautiful land and have outdoor bbq’s, campfires, and hangouts outside. As for sleeping over, our couch converts to a bed that can sleep two.”
But if finding space to do dishes or deciding if you have enough room for company is the drawback of living in a tiny house, then the plus side is about its lack of impact on the environment. “My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return,” Shafter states on his website, tumbleweedhouses.com. “The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury for which I am continually grateful,” says Jay Shafter, who runs the plans and building operation, Tumbleweed House Company. Shafter, who has been living in his 89 square foot tiny house since 1997, is known for his simple yet sleek designs that are similar to the Airstream. He runs workshops that entail how to build your own tiny home with, surprise, the minimal amount of tools. To get an idea of cost: Their “Fencl” model (which the aforementioned Collin and Joanna live in) runs $53,997 ready-made. Build it yourself for a price tag of $23,000.
Michael Janzen, editor of the website, Tiny House Design, says tiny homes do the obvious: They’re less expensive to run, clean, heat and cool. But he takes his interest in tiny houses a step further, as do most devotees. “The less money you spend on your home, the less you have to earn or the more you keep in the bank. The less time you spend cleaning and maintaining your house the more time you have to for the things you like to do.”
Image: Jack Journey for the Tiny Tumbleweed House Company