February 21, 2011 in Housing
I very nearly fell down the same rabbit hole that so much of America has. When I applied for a mortgage for my first home, the bank approved me for much more than I wanted. In my favor at least, I didn’t see the sanity in putting more of my salary into monthly payments. But as time passed and my salary improved, I did start window shopping for a bigger house.
To put this into perspective, I had a nearly 1,600 square foot town house to myself. If I hadn’t had my computer in the second bedroom I would rarely have entered it and there were one and a half baths that I rarely needed to more than dust as they received no use. Luckily before I got further than window shopping, I took stock of that very situation. Why did I need more house than I had? More space for more stuff in exchange for a larger mortgage and more maintenance?
It was at this point that I started cleaning out closets and giving away or tossing stuff I had no reason to keep. I entertained the thought for a short time of taking on a room-mate but that idea was jettisoned when I worked at home for a brief time due to a change in roles at work. At that point, an office (spare room) I could shut the door on in the evening was more valuable and I was also considering selling and using my new found mobility to change the view out my windows.
It was also along this time that I discovered the Tiny House movement and Jay Shafer. Jay is probably one of the most known names when it comes to Tiny Houses and certainly his trademark tiny houses having been in the news quite a bit are well recognized.
I would love to see a Tumbleweed home in person but have not had the chance yet. They have been extensively shown online, though. Jay’s story is that he actually started out living in an Airstream travel trailer that he finally came to believe couldn’t be as efficiently insulated as a stick built home but, if memory serves, he liked the ability to be mobile. His small home being mobile also allowed him to edge around some zoning ordinances. Hence a new generation of small mobile dwellings was born. There are a lot of people either building using his plans or building quite similar homes on wheels now.
I’m not sure that I will ever purchase or build one but it’s a tempting thought. I’m just not sure I’m enough of a minimalist to go quite so small, but I really admire those who are! If you check out Jay’s website, he has a group of homes that fit into the small category (rather than tiny – we humans love to categorize). Those are not mobile but remind me a lot of the small cottage I lived in during grad school. That might be more up my alley! Or maybe in time, I’ll learn to truly shed the material and become a veritable monk!
Is this new movement a backlash for the McMansions, i.e. the extreme other end of the spectrum at last? There are certainly those who think so. When you consider the average American home grew from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 in 2004, it’s hard to imagine why the trend towards larger would continue. Not only does a space that large allow us to continue gathering material possessions past what we really need, the cost to heat, cool, and otherwise maintain rooms we barely use seems a little extreme.
I find the general arguments against Jay’s home that I’ve read online interesting. There are those of course who simply say these tiny houses are too small. I think that really does depend on the individual, the size of a family, if any, etc. Still I think we should all assess our size needs more closely. Were people in 1950 that much unhappier with more family in smaller houses? I don’t think we need house police to decide someone is living with too much, but I do think we should all take stock more often. Much as I did when I considered getting a larger house. Why do I need this and will it really make me happier should be a question we all ask more often.
Another point often raised against is often the price of the houses (Tumbleweed Tiny Houses will build you the house or sell you just plans). The prices on the site for mobile cottages range from a little under $40k to just over $50k. Now, some people point out you can get a used travel trailer for much less. This is true, but an argument against that is those travel trailers weren’t built by the manufacture to be lived in daily. In fact, I’ve heard on a new one you can void your warranty for repairs if it’s lived in daily. They weren’t intended for or often insulated for daily living. That said, plenty do that and I say go for it! I’ve played a lot with the idea of gutting and re-building a small trailer or travel trailer to suit my needs!
Another point on cost that I find interesting is, however, a lot of people are paying as much for a new car without batting an eyelash! Imagine if you could have a small house for the price of a new car. And to top it off, that small house will last much longer. That is really one of the dreams of the Tiny House Movement, not just the smaller environmental impact but that if you don’t spend a lifetime paying for and maintaining a house, you have more options with what to do with your time and money right now.
There are, of course, a whole host of other issues for the Tiny House Movement chiefly in the area of locating them, but if you are going for a mobile version, it opens up your possibilities a bit. Maybe it’s the wannabee-uber-minimalist in me, but I think Tiny Houses are a sensible solution for many people. What do you think?
More to read:
- A Great FAQ at the Tiny House Design site is here.
- A recent article on some zoning challenges in Oregon is here.
- My own list of links to sites is growing here.
- Coincidentally an interview with Jay I just watched is here.