The world is changing, that is no secret. Sure, it has always been changing but the rate of change is becoming faster with each passing year. The most visible change is technology but there is also dramatic and radical social change taking place. An interesting example of this is the tiny house movement.
Tiny life — Tiny house
What exactly is the tiny house movement? Despite the average family size decreasing over the years, the size of the average house has steadily increased over recent decades. In 1978, houses were already pretty large at an average of 1,780 square feet (165 m2.) This jumped to 2,479 square feet (230.3 m2) in 2007. By 2013, despite most families being smaller, the average house size was 2,662 square feet (247.3 m2). As we made more money, we simply built bigger and bigger houses.
As we supersized our fries and soda with our Big Macs, so our houses got bigger. Incomes grew, more women went to work, working hours became longer and the space between the members of the household grew. Some people realized that this is not the ideal life.
The tiny house movement, quite simply, is a growing trend towards smaller houses. It is a greater social movement towards a more intimate, less consumer-driven lifestyle of downsizing one's house and possessions, living a “smaller life” and a more peaceful existence. It is about less debt, less stress and more time. It is about more enjoyment, more family and better relationships.
While the small house is the most visible and significant representation of the small house movement, it is about way more than just the house.
Sure there has always been a small minority that chose to live in small houses but they were few and far between. Society usually labelled them hippies, bums, or worse.
Time & money
The average American spends roughly 27% of their net income on their house. That is just the house before you add in maintenance, insurance, utilities and the many other costs that come with a house. That means that at least 2 out of every 5 days at work is just to pay for the house. All that for something you spend around 5 or 6 waking hours in a day.
The rest of the world is not much different. Some have slightly larger houses, some a bit smaller. Some spend more of their net income on their house, some spend a bit less. What is pretty much the same everywhere is a trend towards the “bigger is better” mentality.
Why the change?
Not everyone has seen the light, so to speak, but the numbers are certainly growing. The movement has been bubbling under since the early seventies but has recently started to gain real momentum and is now growing significantly. It has come under the spotlight online and in mainstream media and many books have been published on the subject.
The housing market collapse and depression that hit in 2008 only served to reinforce the concept and fuel the understanding and acceptance of the concept.
What exactly is a tiny house?
There is generally no hard and fast rule. The important part is to minimize your living space, reduce your debt or spending on your house and live more simply. Having said that, it would not be America if someone did not have a rule and the American Tiny House Association defines a small house as being no more than 400 square feet.
The average house in America is still roughly 2,600 square feet. The typical tiny house ranges from 100 to 400 square feet. The trend is towards owning them, often building it yourself, but they can also be rented. Very often they are built on trailers in order to be mobile but this is not always the case. Some are independent whereas others are grouped or clustered together and they can be land that is owned or rented.
The emphasis is on design and simplicity. All floor space and indeed all space is maximized for convenience, efficiency and utility. The maintenance costs and other associated costs are very low. They do not cost a fortune to furnish and a quick and inexpensive to keep clean.
But why would you want to live in a tiny house?
There are numerous reasons this movement is growing. Each individual or family has their own reasons for wanting to make this lifestyle change but these are the main reasons people are attracted to the idea:
As we mentioned above, traditional home ownership consumes a large portion of your income. This means that a significant part of your life is spent simply paying for the house you live in.
Many Americans and indeed people all over the world live in a constant debt cycle. A lot of this has to do with the high cost of large homes. The typical tiny home can be purchased for less than the average down payment people put on traditional houses. This means that your monthly costs will be significantly lower and you will be able to pay off other debts, save and enjoy a better quality of life.
Other costs such as taxes, insurance, maintenance and others are also a lot less with a tiny house. This reduced financial burden takes away a lot of stress and opens a world of opportunities. People can start to realize many of their dreams instead of being chained to their house and dragged down by the monthly mortgage payments.
Another major reason many people are attracted to the tiny house movement is environmental factors. Tiny living and tiny houses, in particular, are designed to be efficient in many ways and are especially energy efficient. They consume less energy to cool or heat and require less lighting. Many have solar panels. Tiny houses leave a smaller carbon footprint and are a more sustainable way of living. This is important to a growing number of people.
While it is not always the case, many tine houses are built on wheel meaning they are mobile. This gives enormous freedom to the tiny house dweller as they can simply pick up and move if and when they want. It is a huge perk of the tiny home movement to not be tied down to one place and have the ability to move whenever one please.
Simplicity is probably one of the key underlying drivers of the tiny house movement. A large house is more than a financial burden it is a large responsibility. This can weigh heavy on people. A small house simplifies life in many ways.
There are simply fewer things to worry about, less to fix and less to do. A part of the movement includes simplifying life further by doing away with unnecessary possessions. You can still keep your favourite items but you are not going to get overwhelmed by more than is necessary. Simplicity is an amazing concept and those that have experienced it seldom regret the change.
As we mentioned before and as is obvious, a smaller house will require less maintenance. A large house is taxing on not only one’s money but also time. Quite simply, a house that is less than 400 square feet will take less time, effort and money to maintain. Think about the daily, weekly and monthly tasks needed to keep a house clean and hygienic. It is clearly easier in a smaller house.
Another advantage of a tiny house is that they do not have to be your only or primary dwelling space. In other words, you can have a few additional tiny houses that can serve as a guest house for family, friends and others. The low cost allows you to add on additional living space that is spate and private without too much cost.
The advantages and disadvantages of tiny houses
While many people are turning towards the idea of tiny houses, it is not for everyone. While most people want less financial burden, greater simplicity and the many other benefits of tiny houses, not everyone shares the same values or priorities.
Some people will need a larger space, particularly those with larger families and some people are so accustomed to more space that they will not adapt well to a smaller space.
On the downside, many communities are not open to the concept and some areas may have punitive penalties for people wanting to embrace the small house movement. There is still discrimination in some areas and building codes and other bylaws are used to discourage or prevent small living.
It is not all rainbows and butterflies with a tiny home. Obviously, some sacrifices have to be made. There are disadvantages.
You will have less living space and that may take some time to get used to. That is not to say that you cannot adapt but for many, it will take some time to adjust. One has to think of not only oneself but also the rest of the family. Teenagers, in particular, may have difficulty coping with such confined spaces.
Clearly, you will have less space to store things so one will have to reduce and minimize possessions to a point. Again, this is generally a relief and less clutter leads to more peace and simplicity.
Entertaining can be a challenge with most tiny houses as you cannot fit many people in your house but with little effort, you can create an amazing outdoor area. This can even be covered and enclosed of the weather is bad.
Zoning limitations are another challenge many tiny house dwellers face. Not all areas are as enlightened as you are so you may bump head in some places. There are ways around these zoning rules but it might take a bit of research and some clever boxing. There is normally a way to get it done legally that will allow the tiny house dweller to live in peace without too many issues.
Financing is another challenge that tiny home enthusiasts have to deal with. Despite the significantly lower costs it is still difficult to raise a loan or financing for such a home. Most financial institutions do not recognize them as assets so you will be asking for an unsecured loan. Given the low cost, most people should be able to afford them or save for one in a relatively short space of time.
The great thing about tiny houses is that you can start with the basics and build it up and improve as you go. This means that even with a very tight budget you can still get going. Not so easy with a large house.
The tiny house movement is not about saving a few dollars, it is way more than that. It is a massive shift from the way most people grew up, thinking that they wanted the best and biggest house on the block. Bigger is not always better. Often it is the complete opposite of better. For many people, a tiny house is a great solution.
It can give you relief from debt and the associated stress and way more freedom. It will give you more time with yourself as well as friends and family. It can improve your quality of life.
Many people are starting to reevaluate their lifestyle choices and a bigger home is often more hassle than it is worth. Give some thought to the tiny house movement. It may not be for everyone but for many, it is a great idea.
Header image courtesy of hiconsumption.com