My idea of roughing it is a night in a Holiday Inn.
And one of the complaints I have about the home in which my wife and I raised our two children--in which we still live--is that there really is no place to which I can "get away."
Without the doors that used to subdivide the first floors of homes, there's no place on our home's first floor where I can read in silence if someone else wants to watch television.
So how to account for my fascination with the Tiny House movement? I mean, here I am lamenting not having more personal space, yet being drawn to the notion of living in a forty, sixty, or seventy-square foot place.
My interest in micro-homes began when I listened to an interview on NPR with Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, back in 2005. He described his tiny houses, one of which was his residence at the time, a small home set among the giant California Redwoods. Intrigued, I looked up the company web site and looked over the photos of the various models offered by Tumbleweed.
I suppose, in part, the homes appeal to the little boy in me. In my growing-up years, I loved building club houses and forts.
Once, I remember, going to a local appliance store and begging a clerk to give me several large cardboard crates in which refrigerators had been shipped. After he complied with my request, I went to a nearby lumberyard and convinced the people there to give me their wood scraps.
I used some of the lumber as the internal frame for one box. Then I cut a hole in the bottom of the other one--to act as the passageway to the second floor, nailed the larger pieces of wood to my frame, and stacked it onto the first. .
Later, I covered the whole thing with Saran Wrap I commandeered from the kitchen--unbeknownst to my Mom--in the hopes of saving my cardboard structure from the rain. That didn't work. But for several days, I had a little pad of my own out behind the garage where the garden used to be.
An only slightly more practical reason for my interest in micro-homes was the thought that while not living in such a house, it might be a great "place away" out in my backyard, somewhere that I could read and write.
I even made a half-hearted attempt to pitch the idea to my wife, who is much more conversant with the limitations of our family finances. "I could get all of my books out of here," I told her. "And that little house might add to the value of this house."
But I knew that I was getting nowhere with her, even when I suggested that we might be able to get two tiny houses, one for my study and one for an art studio for her, something of which I've always dreamed. She didn't even go for the idea when I leavened my presentation with a little humor: "They would cut down on how much yard I have to mow, too."
Truth be told, the primary market for tiny houses are probably not people trying to add to their possessions. Rather, I'd guess that their appeal is more to people with a well-developed social conscience who love being close to nature. Or people who want to right-size their lives.
Shafer, the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny Homes is probably among these kinds of people. He explains on his company's web site:
...since 1997 I have been living in a house smaller than some people's bathrooms. I call the first of my little hand built houses Tumbleweed...My decision to inhabit just 100 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment, and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space. My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury for which I am continually grateful.According to this article in today's New York Times, a growing number of people are opting for tiny homes. That includes people like those whose story leads the article:
John Friedman and Kristin Shepherd of Berkeley, Calif., purchased 160 acres in the mountains near Telluride, Colo., it was with the intent to build — just not right away. Before designing a small, ecologically sensitive second home they wanted to spend a year or two visiting the land to determine the most suitable building site. But at an elevation of 9,600 feet, living in tents was out.According to the article, even families are buying these places:
So, early last summer, Mr. Friedman, 69, an industrial photographer, rented a truck and trailered a pre-built 65-square-foot Tumbleweed Tiny House up mountain roads, into a meadow and parked. To compensate for the lack of interior space, the couple cook, entertain and, for the most part, live outdoors. “We live in our view rather than look at it,” said Ms. Shepherd, 58, a retired youth counselor and an avid hiker. At night the two nestle in a sleeping loft with three feet of clearance, gazing at stars through a skylight. “It’s shelter, pure and simple,” Ms. Shepherd said.
Stephanie Arado, a Minnesota Orchestra violinist, said that it took living in a tiny house to learn how little space she really needed. For about $45,000, she bought a 392-square-foot weeHouse with no electricity and no bathroom as the solution to a siting problem on her 32 acres in western Wisconsin. Ms. Arado, who has two children, planned to use the tiny house as a springboard to building something bigger.And, the article points out:
But four years have passed, and she now has no intention of supersizing. “Something happened,” Ms. Arado said. “I started to see the beauty in how it works.” There is a queen-size bed for her and a bunk for her two children. When friends visit, sleeping pads and cots are pulled out. “The glass walls make the house feel much bigger than it is,” she said. “People are surprised to hear it’s only 14 feet wide.”
The tiny-house movement complements another vacation-home trend: buying land with an eye to conservation. John Friedman and Kristin Shepherd will return to their Tumbleweed Tiny House in Telluride this spring, not only to hike, but also to observe wildlife patterns and work to ensure that the land, which they purchased with the express purpose of conservation, remains protected.Of course, these folks are bucking an ongoing trend toward bigger and bigger new homes. A November, 2005 article in Demographia.com noted that a US Census Bureau report showed that in the preceding year:
...house sizes continued to increase. The median single unit (detached and semi-I wonder if we Christians might not eventually get caught up in the tiny house movement. Jesus once told a story that would seem to say that we ought to at least cast a wary eye on getting caught up in the McMansion trend:
detached) housing start was on course for a record 2,461 square feet (229 square meters) in 2005. The median multiple unit size was also on course for a record in 2005, at 1,262 square feet (117 square meters).
By international standards, Americans live in larger housing and receive superior value for their money. For example, the average new house in the United Kingdom is just 76 square meters, two-thirds smaller than the median US new multiple unit. The median new single unit house in the United States was nearly three times as large as the average new house size in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the increase (more than 80 square meters) in median new single unit house size since 1973 exceeds the size of a new house in the United Kingdom. Australian new house sizes are almost identical to the United States figure.
Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)Maybe I should begin thinking about a tiny home not as a place to get away, but as a countercultural way to follow Jesus. A way to downsize and rightsize, remembering that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person--and all white middle class Americans are wealthy people by world and historical standards--to enter the Kingdom of God.
I don't know if I have the guts to try moving into a tiny house. But I wish that I did!
(UPDATE: In response to one person's question: Yes, the bathroom does have a door. But the bathroom isn't a very comfortable place to read for long stretches of time.)
[THANKS TO: Andrew Jackson of SmartChristian.com for linking to this post.]
[THANKS ALSO TO: TeachingMom.com for linking here.]
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