Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Houses in Which We Live No. 3: Tiny Homes

This 125 square foot home utilizes a
tiny house design staple – the loft bed.

Read this post as well as new content on the completely redesigned Of Houses and Trees!

I've been infatuated with the "tiny house movement" since the moment I heard about it, which isn't surprising since I've always had a love-on for the little. From the plastic toy toilet I used to hide from my sister as a child (I didn't want to share), to the miniature potbelly pig I desperately wanted for a pet as a teenager, I've been cultivating my weird obsession with tiny versions of full-sized things my whole life. And now, here is a movement that not only bolsters one of my many eccentricities – it also validates it – because tiny houses aren't just adorable, they could save the planet too.

A tiny home is 500 square feet or less, although I've read about people building homes as itsy bitsy as 96 square feet (about the size of a smallish bedroom). Did I mention the average Canadian home currently sits at around 1,900? So… what are we doing with the extra 1,400 square feet? Why, filling it with stuff, of course!

According to website The Tiny Life, having less stuff ("Life Simplification") is one of the core principles of tiny house living, along with "Environmental Consciousness" (tiny houses have smaller footprints – literally and metaphorically), "Self Sufficiency" (68 per cent of tiny house owners have no mortgage), "Sound Fiscal Plans" (32 per cent of tiny house owners have more than $10,000 saved for retirement) and "Life Adventures" (what could be more adventurous than raising three kids under the age of seven in a 400 square foot home?).

With only 1 per cent of American home buyers purchasing a residence that is 1,000 square feet or less (1,000 square feet is the cutoff for a house to be considered "small"), it's clear that extreme downsizing isn't for everyone. But I think there are a few things the tiny house movement can teach us all.

"The Little House in Little Rock," is just a
hair bigger than a tiny house, but it's so
flippin' beautiful I think we can forgive
the extra 57 square feet.
Build Better, Not Bigger

Back in my favourite decade – the good ol' 90s – English-born, American-based architect Sarah Susanka published her design ideas, based on the principle of quality over quantity, in The Not So Big House, which served as a launchpad for the tiny house movement. According to the book's website, "Not So Big doesn't necessarily mean small. It means not as big as you thought you needed, but designed and built to perfectly suit the way you live." Essentially, think before you build! A bigger house not only isn't better, it also leads to a higher upfront construction cost, a higher overall cost to maintain the home and, as mentioned above, just a whole lot of wasted space to fill with wasteful things.

The Simple Life

When you permanently live in a home the same size as some people's recreational vehicles, you have to make simplification a priority. And it's within this task that tiny house owners shine. My favourite example (and one I'm currently implementing in my own not-so-tiny, but also not-so-big residence) I watched a video about a couple who lived in a tiny home. Their office was about the size of a regular home's linen closet. To maximize their space, they scanned all their officey-type documents into their computer and then shredded the paper copy. Well, let me tell you, this blew my mind. Before I began my own shredding extravaganza I would say a good 3 feet by 2 feet of the closet floor in my office was dedicated to those clunky plastic filing boxes. Not only am I now saving space, I'm saving something even more precious – time – because all I do after I open a piece of important mail is scan, shred, done.

Tiny homes can even come with wheels, an idea
popularized by Jay Shafer, owner of Tumbleweed
Tiny House Company.
Less Truly Does Equal More

Although I already briefly touched on the decreased environmental impact of a tiny house, it is – by and far – the most important facet of this movement. Statements similar to the following currently echo throughout our daily lives – if we want to continue to live on a planet that doesn't resemble The Day After Tomorrow, something has to change (but don't worry, Jake Gyllenhaal can stay). Website Planet Forward calls tiny house living "one of the rare instances in which cheap and green go hand in hand." For everyone who has ever wanted to "go green" only to gasp at the price of organic foods, eco-friendly cleaning supplies, clothing made of natural materials and alternative energy sources like solar panels, here is a price that is truly startling: $23,000. As in, the average cost to build a tiny home, if built by the owners. Plus, a smaller home means lower heating and electricity costs, and a lot more money available to invest in all the cool, new eco-inventions for the home – like an incinerating toilet (which is small, but not small enough to hide from your sibling).

So maybe a tiny home isn't in your future, but a tinier, simpler life? Now, doesn't that sound nice…

Want to learn more about tiny life living? Watch this video! As for your comments, which I'm always dying to receive, please post them below. Would you live in a 500 square foot house? If not, are there ways you'd like to incorporate the tiny house principles into your life?


Unknown said...

I think there is a lot to be said about less space, or just enough space to meet your needs. I have never seen a reason to justify a house that is occupied by one or two people but has 1900 sq feet of space or more. But the mentality of the common person is 'bigger is better', when really its clear that it is not.

My old place was small, but it had enough room for the necessary stuff and the family. But I opted to move to a larger place and all I have found is I have accumulated more stuff to fill thay space. If only I had the option of a tiny home, with one of those awesome loft bedrooms for serenity, when it was time to move.

Unknown said...

I could totally see you doing the tiny (or just little) home thing. And if you ever do get your loft bed you can climb up, hide the ladder, and then your kids won't be able to get to you! Yes… I am evil.

Unknown said...

I have to admit that the house in Little rock is pretty darn cute. I've always found that the hardest part of downsizing is getting rid of the stuff with sentimental value. The funny thing is though the only time that I look at this stuff is each time I consider purging my personal inventory. Which probably means I don't need it.

Unknown said...

You know I'm the worst with the sentimental keepsakes, but really how much space do they take up vs the stuff we really and truly don't need? Like clothes we don't wear, books we don't read, toys we don't play with and the list goes on and on.

Anonymous said...

As you know, you yourself grew up in a "small" home. Living with a brother, sister, Dad, Mom and a dog. We had only one bathroom and you did have to share the toilet:-) & a bedroom. We made it work. I'm not saying that we would have liked to raise you and your siblings in a tiny house, but am glad to hear that smaller homes, with a good use of space in their design, are becoming an option for those who want them.

Unknown said...

It never felt overly small to me - except when there was a bathroom situation and someone was in the shower while another had to do a number two. Or the time Jesse's foot was bleeding profusely on the bathroom floor and I had to pee in the front yard behind a bush...