Could you live in a less than 300 square feet?
The tiny house movement is the extreme of housing and possession austerity. Would anyone with the means to live with more chose to live that way?
When builders and developers create new projects, they generally produce a variety of floorplans to meet a market niche where they can reasonably expect to sell their inventory in a short period of time. In a typical residential subdivision, condos will range from 900-1,600 square feet, and detached homes can range from about 1,600 square feet all the way up to the monster McMansions 4,000 square feet or larger.
In higher density projects, small studio apartments as little as 450 square feet are sometimes offered, but rarely do builders and developers make product any smaller because they have limited appeal, and they are difficult to sell, mostly because people don’t want to live in a shoebox without any possessions.
But some activists are trying to change that.
In America, size matters — but not for dwellers at the forefront of the latest housing trend.
The U.S. is in the throes of a boom in specialty housing, a trend euphemistically referred to as the “tiny house movement.” Spurred in part by the high cost of renting and owning, a number of homeowners are literally downsizing their residences to houses that are often a fraction of the size of a typical house. …
Realistically, most people consider this because they can’t afford anything else. Is it really a choice if they lack other options?
For 26-year-old Alicia Kathleen Mathias, living tiny gave her the chance to pay off student loans and travel. She hitched up her self-built 24-square-foot home to her truck to inspire others to live small.
Growing up with hoarders made her realize what’s important, “stuff doesn’t make your life happy and for me, happiness is the freedom to go where I want and do what I want because I’m not attached.”
Those that chose to live in such a small house probably do so out of reaction to some negative experience with possessions or larger houses in the past. As I will describe later, I could probably fit into such a home, but I wouldn’t want to.
Do you ever wake up wondering, “I’ve made a huge mistake?
Dear People Who Live in Fancy Tiny Houses…
You look so freakin’ happy in that Dwell Magazine article or Buzzfeed post, but c’mon, you can’t tell me that you don’t lie awake at night, your face four inches from the ceiling because the only place your bed fits is above the kitchen sink which also acts as your shower, and think, I’ve made a terrible mistake.
Look, I’m not criticizing you. I commend you for making this giant leap. Since we humans seem comfortable with pillaging Mother Earth of all her resources, I believe more people should think like you. But 250 square feet? What the hell happens when your tiny house partner farts Mexican food farts, huh? Where do you escape to? Nowhere.
You have nowhere to run. All you can do is walk three feet to the other end of the house and pray.
Or maybe you can run out into the tiny forest surrounding your tiny house.
I f’ing love the idea of downsizing and living a “simple life,” but seriously, where do you put your shit?
A life with few possessions
In 2014 I moved into a 1,500 SF house, embracing many of the ideals of the tiny house movement. I didn’t have many possessions, so storing the few items I did value wasn’t a major concern. Although I wasn’t suffering for lack of storage space, I moved to a larger house after my lease ran out.
I like space. I don’t use it to fill it up with stuff, but I like large rooms in a large house—a particularly inconvenient preference in costly California. Below is a picture of my home office, actually a converted living room. My computer is the center of my universe. To my left, I can watch TV, or I can sit down and relax and play video games with my son. To my right I can see what my son is looking at on his computer, or I can look out the windows. It’s an efficient and comfortable layout.
Even though it takes up a fair amount of space, I have almost nothing in it. Those filing cabinets are empty, and as vestiges of a past I left behind, I may get rid of them when I move again.
A few months ago I was killing time in Costco (looking at stuff to buy), when I came across Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Scanning the book stirred something in me, so I bought it on impulse along with Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I read both books and set out to purge what few possessions I had down to the barest essentials. It was amazingly liberating.
I was never a hoarder, but I still had papers from my youth, old photographs, a bookcase full of books and knick-knacks, office supplies, housewares, and a variety of other possessions I rarely if ever used and that I mostly kept because I had some emotional attachment to them.
I threw it all out—and I mean all of it.
Marie Kondo proposes a simple test: if an object doesn’t bring you joy, discard it. Apparently, not many of my possessions filled me with joy because I threw it all out.
My office has a printer and a scanner so I can convert from paper to digital and back again if necessary. I have a computer, a TV, a Wii U, a DVD player, a few essential papers (checkbooks), and a few essential office supplies (pens, highlighters, scissors, tape), and that’s it. I scanned and shredded any essential documents, and I trashed thousands of pages of non-essential papers. If I ever need anything, I live less than a mile from an office supplies store, and so far I haven’t needed anything. I like writing with pen and paper on occasion, otherwise I would probably get rid of paper entirely.
My garage holds my car, a small toolbox (although I thought about trashing it too), and my golf equipment (plus a few boxes of Christmas ornaments). I used to have a large toolbox with screws, nuts, bolts and assorted items, but since I also live less than a mile from a Lowes, I just go buy anything I need when I need it, which hasn’t happened yet. Why store anything in my garage?
The only other category of items I own is clothes and toiletries, and I got rid of much of that. I only kept the clothes I liked, and that didn’t leave much.
What fascinated me about going through this process was how freeing it was. The more I discarded, the more energized I became. I felt like Kwai Chang Caine from Kung Fu who carried everything he owned in a small pack. I have no desire to fill my space with stuff. I’m not a monastic or a renunciant; if I find something I really enjoy (like the Buddha painting behind my desk), I’ll buy it.
In fact, the few purchases since purging were all more expensive and higher quality goods than I otherwise would have bought. Since my criteria is joy instead of inexpensive functionality, my buying habits changed radically. I don’t spend any more than I used to because I don’t buy much, but I get a great deal more pleasure out of the things I do buy.
The joy and happiness in life doesn’t come from possessions. If it did, I would probably have more of them, but since they don’t, and since joy was my criteria for what I kept versus what I discarded, I discarded almost everything.
I could live in a tiny house. As the author of the satirical piece noted, “but seriously, where do you put your shit?” Well, I don’t have any, so that’s not a problem.
The tiny home has its virtues, but the opulence of space has its appeal and its rewards. Perhaps my last attachment is to space itself, and when I’m ready to give that up, perhaps a tiny home would work for me.
However, the path I’ve chosen is not the norm, and since most people accumulate possessions like teeth accumulate plaque, the McMansion isn’t going away any time soon.