As we saw in class today, Mr. Blanding’s dream house is one that takes him away from his “cramped cracker box” of a Manhattan apartment and into the freedom of 35 acres. However, many Americans’ dream homes have been downsized as part of the social movement surrounding tiny houses. At approximately 100-400 square feet, a regular house is roughly 11 times larger! Families are cramming themselves into these shoebox homes in hopes of combatting the pressures of environmental (the houses use less power) and financial (68% of tiny home owners have no mortgage) issues. In addition to these benefits, there is also the Thoreauvian hope of finding peace and understanding in the separation from the pressures of modern society. In addition to pursuing the intriguing life of a hermit, the desire that tiny home owners all share is to eliminate waste. By cutting back, they may find what is truly important.
These home owners know what is important. For many, this is family. Tiny houses keep families a lot closer than their regular home-sized counterparts. Andrew Morrison, a tiny house conference attendee, celebrates that his “family’s level of communication and family relationships are so much closer and deeper than they’re ever been” (X). Families being cramped together in a tiny space brings to mind The Turner House. The Turner children were eager to have their own space, as the oldest children took turns in claiming own room when they were the oldest. Though family bonding is incentive for parents who chose this cramped lifestyle, it is not ideal for the children. A family with teens actually had tiny houses built for each child because they needed their own space!
The fact that many people are experimenting with this lifestyle is intriguing to me. Based on the endless benefits and obvious challenges of downsizing, this movement has also fascinated a larger population and has become a central focus of bloggers, conferences and, of course, HGTV. Google search “Tiny House TV shows” and you’ll have multiple results, from Tiny House, Big Living to Tiny House Builders and Tiny House Hunters. This movement has hit the mainstream, and in a big way.
Though tiny houses have recently blown up, many argue that the original human dwelling of “caves, yurts, tents, wigwams, igloos, grass huts, and so forth” are only natural for humans (X). Though idealizing getting in touch with early human nature is a pull to tiny homes, tragedy is truly what is at the root of the tiny housing boom. After Katrina in 2005, small houses stood in for trailers. (Take a look at these Katrina Cottages!) After the housing crash in 2008, the aforementioned financial benefits of living tiny brought about more attention to these homes. Despite their tendency to cost more than a regular house per square foot, they do generally cut down on waste.
I am very fascinated by the portrayal of tiny homes due to the omission of their tragic origin story. While researching for this blog post, however, I found countless blogs teaching potential tiny home owners how to build their own tiny house and go about finding materials and land. I found interviews from conferences and statistics about the benefits of this tiny lifestyle. TV shows and media glamorize families looking to become closer with one another, nature, and their passions. These benefits and dreams stem from a desire to gain a more fulfilling life, not survive one where almost everything you know has been lost.
These shows and this lifestyle frustrates me because the people on them have the privilege of choosing to downsize their homes and live a “simpler” life. The definition of the tiny house movement is a “social movement where people are choosing to downsize the space they live in” (X). Though they are a great choice for the 1% of the population that voluntarily lives in less than 1,000 square foot homes (X), overly romanticizing tiny homes and their ability to “free” people is a way of overlooking people who are confined to smaller housing without a choice.