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What Is This "Tiny House" Thing Anyway?

This is Part 3 of a 6 part series by Andrew Odom on his transition from conventional living to the Tiny House movement. Be sure to check out the rest of his journey to learn how he made the shift.

A Tiny House kitchen and article on the Tiny House movement by Andrew Odom, via SustainableBabySteps.com

The tiny house movement is an anti-establishment movement that examines the anti-American Dream wherein need overshadows want and relationship is valued over consumption.

Anyone who has hung around tiny houses, small houses, alternative houses, etc long enough has heard someone speak or write just like the above. In fact, if you're like me you are even guilty of using some of the buzz phrasing.

But make no mistake. There is a lot of contempt for folks who talk this way. In my opinion, such buzz words and phrases actually serve to mask ones own misunderstanding or lack of knowledge in the first place. For those on the "outside" looking in it can seem like fluff wording used to obscure simple concepts from them.

Whatever the case. buzz words kill! They go beyond insecurity or exclusion. They also serve to stifle creativity, innovation, and even acceptance.

So what - they (and you) may be asking - is the tiny house movement then? What are tiny houses? What is tiny living? Great question.

I don't know.

  • Social movement? Check.
  • Anti-consumerism? Check.
  • Need -vs- Want? Check.
  • Backlash? Check.

How to Decorate a Tiny House

The tiny house movement, as I have come to understand it, is really just about people - normal people - downsizing the space they live in. Some choose to do so by building on a trailer. Some build accessory dwellings. Some develop communal spaces. But at the very root of the movement (and I use that word while cringing, mind you) it is about people not wanting as much. Not wanting the overhead of a big house. Not wanting all the possessions. Not wanting the responsibility. And the list goes on.

The tiny housing community stands for scaling back in protest to the convention that "bigger is better"; challenging the old ideas of housing, especially in light of the economic downturn and real estate crash, as it were. The movement raises a question for many people, not just tiny housing advocates. What do we really need to be comfortable in our living environment?

Have you ever asked yourself that question?

Did you know the typical American home is around 2600 square feet? 'Tis true. Just ask our friends at the United States Census Bureau. The typical small or tiny home is roughly 100-400 square feet. Like their larger counterparts they too come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. In fact, check out these links for a subtle example of the differences found within the community:

The difference though is that these houses focus on smaller spaces and simplified living. And people are joining this movement for a host of reasons including environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the general pursuit of more time and freedom. For most Americans 1/3 to 1/2 of their income is dedicated to the roof over their heads. This translates to 15 years of working in a life time just to service a mortgage and because of such 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

So what is the alternative? Live smaller.

While I certainly don't think tiny houses are for everyone (in fact, some days I think we need a few more feet for our growing family), there are lessons to be learned and applied to escape the cycle of debt almost 70% of Americans are trapped in right now.

The cost of buying a home of 30 years

And if the outcropping of blog sites, Facebook interest groups, fan pages, periodicals, TV shows, and the like, are to be taken as gospel, this is a growing movement! With international attention coming from CNN, AP, Guardian, Huffington Post, NBC, Oprah, PBS and more, it is safe to say that the general populace is learning about tiny houses as much for their design as their ability to serve as a sustainable lifestyle.

For a good cross section of who inhabits tiny houses or tiny spaces have a look at the infographic below (courtesy of TheTinyLife.com).


Click to see larger.

So the question sort of remains. What is the tiny house movement? Who is the tiny housing community? What does the community stand for?

The answer changes each day. The more we rid ourselves of the buzz phrases and allow innovation to overcome us the more we find out.

So perhaps the answer is probably more of what it isn't. It isn't bigger. It isn't better. It isn't more expensive. It isn't cheaper. It isn't novel. It isn't a fad. It isn't defined yet because it isn't finished.

Author's Note: If you want to see film of tiny houses across the country check out this video below by filmmaker Kirsten Dirksen.

Andrew Odom is a content contributor, author, designer, community manager, neo-homesteader, and dreamer. In his spare time he typically dons a tin foil hat and sets out to reveal the real culprit behind the Scooby Doo mystery. Read more from his sustainable housing chronicles here or find him on Google.

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