I’ve lately been fascinated by the Tiny House movement regularly popularized by TV shows on the HGTV and DIY networks. It’s basic living, taken to an extreme: Compared to the average American home, about 3,000 square, a tiny house is smaller than 300 square feet… about the size of the travel trailers you see being pulled behind pickup trucks and parked in campsites. They encourage the occupants to simplify, shed possessions and live more outside your home than in.
That, of course, is the American viewpoint. There are countries where many people live in 100 square foot spaces, essentially a one room home. For them, a 300 square foot space with individual rooms would be a luxury accommodation… exactly the opposite for those used to ten times the space and plenty of possessions to fill it. This is where the fascination sets in: How tiny houses represent such different things to different people; it all depends on your point of view.
Speaking, then, from the American point of view, I enjoy seeing these programs that not only show complete homes, as small as 150 square foot (they rarely get smaller than that), built by professionals and by amateur tool-swingers, male and female… but also provide guidance from the show’s hosts to the prospective tiny home owner in how to pare down their typically property-rich lifestyle to a much simpler, less wasteful, efficient use of space that tiny homes demand.
Most of these homes teach the homeowners the idea that their homes are essentially just a small part of the environment around them… a private den in which you can rest and rejuvenate before you venture back out into the world. In some cases, that means a back-to-nature perspective, the confines of the small home forcing them outside to enjoy their natural environment (or opening up the tiny home to allow nature in). But the same applies in urban areas, wherein the small home forces the homeowners out among their peers in a very pro-social environment.
Both of these reasons—pro-social and pro-nature—seem to be two of the primary reasons why tiny homes appeal to Millennials more than any other segment of the American population. The third: Price. Some tiny homes have been self-built by their occupants for as little as $500 of materials. Other tiny homes, built by professionals, can cost from $6,000 to $80,000, average $35,000.
When compared with the cost of average homes, which can run from a few hundred thousand to the millions, and it’s easy to see why millennials are willing to try downsizing and saving a few hundred thousand bucks off the cost of a home. It also forces occupants to use less of almost everything, another possible change in American lifestyles from our credit-based, job-dependent, heavy-consumerist past. The tiny house movement heralds an American choice to be less wasteful, less desirous of tons of stuff, more flexible, more willing to move around as needs arise. And who knows? This smaller, cheaper and often fully mobile home footprint may be a lot more common in our future.
Some day, my wife and I expect to leave our 25,000 square foot home in Maryland for a place better suited for retirement… our main reason for watching networks like HGTV and DIY, mentally preparing ourselves for the rigors of such a change of lifestyle. (It could happen sooner, if the cost of living in this area shoots up too fast… but that’s another story.)
When we do leave, we expect to move into a home noticeably smaller than our present place. For myself, I could imagine living in a tiny home… but only if I was alone (which hopefully won’t be the case). My wife and I tend to agree that, as a couple, we wouldn’t want to live in anything smaller than about 600 square feet; we’d probably prefer 1000-1,200 square feet. This is, perhaps, our failing… a resistance to compressing and simplifying our lives too much.
Fortunately, many manufactured and modular homes would work for our needs. Though they still tend to carry the stigma of “double-wide trailers,” manufactured homes are of very high-quality construction, a great variety of designs (including energy efficient), assembled by professionals (often in sheltered warehouses) and shipped to your location, and can save you tens of thousands compared to building a home on-site. If you’re considering a new home and haven’t looked into this option, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
We watch the tiny house programs mainly to get tips on more efficient storage methods, which can be applied to any size home. And we like the idea that a smaller place, being less to take care of, may allow us a bit of recreational mobility, to wit: If our new home is small and inexpensive enough, maybe we’ll have enough to buy a trailer—the tiniest of houses—and travel around a bit in our portable home.
Whatever we do, there’s no doubt that living on a smaller scale is likely for us, for Millennials, and for a lot of Americans in the future. And why not? If you can live comfortably on a smaller footprint, you’re making it easier for yourself, and doing better for the planet. And for some of you, it might be good practice for your future living in spaceships and on other planets… best start prepping for the downsizing now, while you have the time.