I’ve been obsessed lately with tiny houses.
Not small houses, tiny houses.
Ask yourself: Could you downsize enough to live in 140 square feet?
Got an answer? OK, then take a look at this video, touring the Cypress tiny house from Tumbleweed:
Sure, it’s itty bitty (144 sq ft)–but isn’t it cute? There are a lot of tiny house variants out there. Here are links to some of my favorites (as built and lived in by real people–you can also explore the Tubleweed site for some fun pictures and plans):
- MiniMotives house, built by Macy Miller.
- Little Yellow, built by 23-year-old Ella. (Ella, incidentally, is about my height–5’10”.)
- Clothesline Tiny House, built by husband and wife team Carrie and Shane Caverly.
The key to these houses is (obviously) a smart use of space. That, and not having an overabundance of crap.
Why do people choose a tiny house?
There are a lot of reasons naturally, but these are the three biggies that are mentioned over and over:
- financial freedom
These are all inter-related but distinct ideas.
The benefits are multiple, but what it really boils down to for most people seems to be financial freedom. Even though these houses cost more to build per square foot than the typical American house, they are small enough that the total cost to have one built for you is generally somewhere between $40-$60K. If you build it yourself, that cost drops significantly. And, amazingly, many of the people living in tiny homes have built them themselves, more than one without previous construction experience (but all that I’ve found with the help of a generous and knowledgeable friend or two or many). Several companies, including Tumbleweed, Portland Alternative Dwellings, and Four Lights (a new venture by the same man who founded Tumbleweed), conduct regular workshops to teach interested people about building and living in tiny spaces. And really, there is a certain appeal to the thought of building a house myself, despite feeling completely incompetent and wondering about the eventual quality of the dwelling I’d be able to produce. (Nevertheless, I think for me building my own tiny house would be impractical. I just don’t have the where to build one that is geographically convenient to the knowledgeable who that could lend a hand now and then, and as a result I’d be lucky to ever finish a habitable dwelling.)
Anyway, back to the cost. I don’t know what the average rent in the US is these days, but in Denver you’re feeling pretty good if you can find a nice one-bedroom apartment for $1,000 a month. That would pay for one of these little houses in about 4-5 years. That simplifies things more than a little, of course, but what it comes down to is that many people manage to build these houses without taking any loans, and are then able to live debt-free. That’s pretty huge. And on that note, here’s a nice perspective post from the folks behind the Clothesline house, questioning the actual value of home-ownership when you have a large mortgage to pay off. (See the comments for some also-good contrasting perspective.)
Of course, the cost of the house itself is not everything: you also need to consider the cost to park your tiny house somewhere. And mentioning the cost of parking leads us to the next reason may people are attracted to these tiny houses:
Most of these tiny houses (and all the ones I’ve linked to here) are built on trailer beds, and are designed to meet the height and width requirements of RVs. That means several important things:
- They’re mobile, and you can tow them yourself. No special permits are required. You just have to have a vehicle with an appropriate towing capacity.
- You can park them almost anywhere. It depends on local laws and HOA rules, but for the most part these little homes can be parked in a yard or on land the same way that an RV can without requiring permits from the local authorities. Some people “rent” yard space from an accommodating homeowner, and even hook up to the house electric and water. Other people have mentioned finding a small “fixer-upper” with a large lot, park their tiny house on a pretty part of the lot, and then rent the fixer-upper out to cover the mortgage.
- They can generally be covered by RV loans and RV insurance.
In a way, all of these points tie back to the “financial freedom” point: it doesn’t cost much to park a tiny house. And it doesn’t cost much to move one. It’s not impossible to use one of these homes as an RV and travel all over the US. They can be configured for off-grid living, with solar panels, composting toilets, and fresh- and grey-water collection tanks.
There are two sides to the “simplicity” point that are connected, but which a person emphasizes depends on an individual’s perspective. The first is just the idea of simple, uncluttered living. You just cannot accumulate unnecessary belongings when you live in such a small space. This means that everything is considered, from the number of shoes you own to the number of electronic gadgets you buy to the amount of food you can buy with each trip to the store. Want a new shirt? Well, you may need to discard an old one to make room.
The result is a rather “green” lifestyle, which is the other side of the “simplicity” coin: tiny living means a smaller footprint, encourages connection to the outdoors (because outdoor space is more readily available than indoor space), and forces a person to consider every purchase. (See how this comes back to financial freedom, too?)
For me, I almost think this is the most attractive aspect of the tiny houses: forced simplicity. And for me it’s less about the environmental aspects (though those aren’t unimportant) so much as the appeal of an aware lifestyle. There are times in my life where I’ve lived closer to the basics, and those are the periods where I’ve felt more connected to myself and the world around me. I feel like I’ve lost that connection, and thus my obsession with the tiny house idea: I can’t imagine living in such a house without having that awareness of what’s really valuable to you always close to hand.
but could I really live that small?
All of this is really cool in theory, but it seriously glosses over some real challenges. Among them:
- I don’t want to sleep in a loft.
Ladders are tricky. And what if you’re injured? Also, no morning snuggles with the puppies. Unfortunately, the tiny house plans with downstairs sleeping AND enough space for a “home office” are hard to find.
- Can I downsize enough?
I mean, really. I just moved. I know how much I have. I know how much my dogs have. Can I really, really (realistically) give up enough to live comfortably in such a small space?
- Some things are hard to let go of.
A tiny house wouldn’t have room for all the artwork I’ve collected over the years. Not a lot of pieces for a regular house, and all of them important to me and representative of a particular memory. (The painting done by my grandmother. The painting I bought from a street artist in Madrid. The photo of a monastery that was purchased during a visit to Washington DC. The etch-print purchased in Kyiv, that I eyed for two years and finally bought just before I left Ukraine. And a few others with memories and stories just as tightly embedded.) How could I leave any of these? Or the secretary desk from my grandmother, or the little kitchen table from my mother’s grandfather? Those are connections that are bigger than just the space they occupy.
- I’m not a tiny person.
Most of the folks you see living in tiny houses look pretty tiny themselves. Would I just feel like an oaf living in a dollhouse?
- It’s one thing to live in a tiny house, but could I live and work in one?
I think the start for me is to try to get rid of as many things as I can and see how it feels. So I want to try to to follow some of these minimalist guidelines and see how it goes.