CSO Blog: What We Can Take Away from the Tiny House Trend

The Documentary Tiny: A Story About Living Small & Learning to Live with Less

As I was perusing my Netflix options the other night, I stumbled upon a documentary about tiny houses called Tiny: A Story About Living Small. As I watched, I was fascinated by the choice to live in these seemingly unlivable, and yet completely functional and efficient spaces. For those of you who haven’t heard about the tiny house movement, it is a lifestyle trend of living in a very small home that usually has to be on wheels to avoid restrictions of minimum housing sizes that most states impose. Beyond just living in a small space, tiny houses are really about the kind of life that they offer including the potential for financial stability, the low impact they have on the environment, and the freedom of a simpler life.

You might be wondering how tiny is a tiny house? Well, pretty darn tiny. TheTinyLife.com is one resource for this growing movement, and they explain that the typical American home is around 2,600 square feet, but the typical tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. Since these houses are smaller, and many tiny homeowners actually build the houses themselves, they are much smaller financial burden than larger homes. Utility bills, maintenance costs, and mortgages are all significantly reduced. The documentary profiles a few owners of tiny homes who have actually been able to get out of debt, since owning a tiny home. It is a much more manageable commitment for many, and also discourages spending on other excessive items, since there simply isn’t any room for anything but the essentials.

A tiny house is a fraction of the size, and therefore only holds a fraction of the amount of stuff. Francine Jay’s book The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide, which if you check back will be featured on the blog later this month for CSO Book Club, is not about the tiny house movement specifically, but is also about teaching us to live with less. Jay says: “If you don’t have a big house, you can’t have a big houseful of stuff. Imagine moving from a studio apartment into a house with an attic, basement, and two-car garage – those storage spaces will undoubtedly fill up just because they’re there… Smaller digs put a natural limit on the number of things you can own—making it that much easier to live a minimalist lifestyle,” (79-80). Tiny houses and minimalism are unavoidably linked. It would be simply impossible to live in such a small space without reducing what you own.

Tiny House Tour

Tiny House Tour

The tiny house serves as a pretty extreme way to limit possessions, so if a tiny house isn’t right for you, you can still apply the idea of reducing and restricting your space to help you evaluate your accumulation of possessions. This might be much more appealing than living in a 100 square foot home for many. For example, you could say you only have one drawer for sweaters, so you cannot own more than will fit in that single drawer. If you buy a new sweater, you need to get rid of an old one to make room, or just stick with the ones you already own. Or if you only have one medicine cabinet in the bathroom and it is already full, you need to use up or throw away a product before you buy another to ensure they don’t end up spilling over onto the counter top. Although this seems simple, in big homes it is easy to tuck more things away, add storage in more obscure places, and still feel like you have more space to keep accumulating.

Many seem to be drawn to tiny house living because of the smaller impact on the environment. Tiny homes, since they are mobile, are not built into the ground, and have low impact on the land. The documentary also highlighted green choices many tiny homeowners made such as having solar panels and using recycled building materials. A smaller home also uses fewer materials to build, uses less energy to heat and light, and simply has a smaller footprint. Again, we can take from this even if we are not tiny homeowners, because we often don’t think about the impacts of our consumerism. If we thought about every item’s full lifecycle, that includes what it took to make it, to get it to the store where you are purchasing it, the cost to purchase it, the work to get it home, the use of it, the maintenance of it, the cleaning of it, and eventually the disposal of it, it makes the impact of each thing seem pretty significant. Perhaps if we thought through the weight each item adds to our lives before we make the purchase, we might be less inclined to buy and to keep accumulating.

Tiny houses probably seem like an unrealistic living situation for most of us. As I flip through images of tiny houses online I can’t help but think about what darling playhouses they would make, but probably not a real home in my future. So even if this lifestyle is not an option most of us will choose, we can incorporate tiny or smaller living into our lives in lots of different and beneficial ways. If we live in even slightly smaller spaces, and learn to live with fewer things, our financial, environmental, and personal impact will be and will feel much lighter. Perhaps we can use the desire to have the freedom and mobility that comes with tiny living to encourage us to learn to live with less. The less we have, the more space we create for the meaningful pursuits in our lives, and there is nothing tiny about that.