What’s the Big Deal About Tiny Houses?

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There’s no place like home, even if it's only 200 square feet. Find out why tiny houses are gaining in popularity and what makes these small spaces so special.

Could you live in a 250-square-foot house on wheels? Many people are doing just that as the tiny house movement gains steam and its proponents share their experiences in small and simple living.

Though the definition is somewhat loose, tiny houses live up to their name: Most range in size between 150 and 450 square feet. Sometimes built on an RV chassis for mobility, tiny houses are otherwise traditional-looking structures, often featuring gabled roofs, shutters and generous front porches.

Most are custom-built, extremely well-insulated, and designed to take full advantage of every square inch of space. You can find them on reclaimed urban lots, in suburban backyards, and on acreages in the country. And since most tiny houses are truly mobile, they can easily be hooked and unhooked from water and electric services and moved as their owners’ needs change.

But tiny houses can’t be thoroughly described without discussing the broader social phenomenon they’re a part of. The tiny house movement is a social and philosophical movement driven by people who choose to scale back their living space in order to be mortgage-free, reduce their environmental impact, and enjoy a more flexible and mobile lifestyle.

And the price tag for all that freedom? Costs vary widely based on size and design, DIY considerations, and materials used. But, according to the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., a leading builder of tiny houses, a 200-square-foot home will set you back about $21,000, not including labor.

When you consider that a traditional home is our single largest purchase — one we’ll likely be paying off for the bulk of our working years (and one that, according to Reuters, had a median price of $199,200 in September) — it’s a bit easier to see why the tiny house movement is getting attention and gaining traction.

But what else is driving this movement forward and making people question the commonly held assumption that more room means more happiness? What could entice someone away from all those walk-in closets, man caves, bonus rooms, media rooms and master suites? Here are just a few more benefits of going small:

Smaller can be smarter

Small well-designed and well-crafted homes mean less space to heat and cool and fewer rooms to furnish and clean. Besides the obvious financial and environmental benefits this offers, smaller houses challenge our priorities about time and energy and can help refocus our attention on relationships with the people around us.

Less space = less stuff

Clutter and small spaces don’t mix. To live in a tiny house successfully, you’ve got to be a master editor. Small spaces demand that we be vigilant in stemming the tide of junk that tends to accumulate in the garages, attics, basements and closets of larger homes.

And what a wonderful thing that is — to be free of stacks of stuff and surrounded instead only by those things we find to be useful, beautiful or dear to our hearts. It’s a “luxurious limit” not afforded by larger homes that have enough nooks and crannies to hold two or three households’ worth of gear and gadgets.

Small houses go where we go

Our society has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. Today, we’re more mobile, more likely to change jobs or even careers multiple times during our working years, and more likely to be moving from city to city or state to state in the process. But our housing options haven’t kept up. Are we really expected to take advantage of real estate the same way our parents did when the employment reality that finances it has been completely upended?

Tiny houses give us the novel option of taking our homes with us, avoiding the exhausting cycle of buy-sell-pack-store-move-repeat. Though tiny houses might not be the homes we choose to raise a family or retire in, they can offer a real logistical advantage, particularly for younger singles and couples.

Refined design

Designing a small space well requires an attention to detail that’s simply not as critical in a larger home. Built-in versatile furnishings, tables that fold up into walls, Murphy beds, vaulted ceilings with sleeping lofts, and pocket doors are just a few examples of space-saving and design-conscious elements that make tiny houses much more livable.

If you like good design and appreciate well-considered spaces built for maximum utility, it’s hard not to be a fan of tiny houses. They reflect the kind of innovative thinking that should go into everything we build.

Granted, living in a tiny house may not suit everyone. I have to confess that I’m not sure even I could do it (and I’ve lived in some pretty cramped apartments). But there’s a lesson that these little dwellings and the thinking behind them can teach us: In an era when the relentless pursuit of more is embraced without question, when “better” and “bigger” are practically synonymous, and when the resulting strain on our global resources is leading us all down an unfamiliar path, voluntarily choosing to live small may make perfect sense.

These houses and the lifestyles they reflect are an extreme that can teach us about a more reasonable middle. When you think of it that way, tiny houses are a very big deal indeed.

Can you see yourself downsizing to a tiny house? What do you think the greatest benefit or toughest challenge would be? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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