When Tiny Turns Small And Life Gets Bigger

Since 2009 Tiny r(E)volution has undergone a couple of facelifts. Why the changes? In short, because life changes. With each season comes new adventure, new trial, new circumstances, new opportunities, and the like. Imagine how the Indiana Jones series would have been if he had just been content battling a group of Soviets in the mid-1950s over a telepathic crystal skull rather than continuing on into a professorship and ultimately rescuing the Holy Grail from a crumbling temple? Pretty boring and certainly not worth of a film franchise. Well, the same goes for the r(E)volution. In just six years we have gone from backpacks and the mission field to a converted woodworking shop to a tiny house on wheels to a travel trailer and now on to a small farmette “sticks n bricks.” Each step of the way has been dictated by necessity, opportunity, and growth. But with each step we continually ask ourselves if our life is staying simple and allowing us to live with more purpose. That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes wonder if 900 sq.ft. is too big or if 240 sq.ft. was unrealistically small. We do. But what we realize over and over is that the tiny house movement ignores convention and serves to work against a simple definition. It is a movement that is dictated by personal growth and recognition.

The past 3-4 years have been explosive for the tiny house movement. Every online journal from Treehugger.com to The New York Times, HuffPo to foreign news sources, have covered the, ahem *cough cough*, trend! No less than three documentaries have been made (with TINY: A story about small living being available on DVD and on Netflix). There are now at least two television shows covering building and buying a tiny house. Even home and garden shows have gotten in on the act regularly including a tiny house on wheels and accompanying landscape as a showcase around the nation.

When compared to the bungalow or cottage of just five years ago (around 1600 sq.ft.) a typical tiny house on wheels seems like tight quarters. But just how tight are they and what fuels the desire to build tiny or *gasp* micro, even.

Throughout our adventures we have moved fluidly from 30o0 cubic inches to our current 900 sq. ft. Along the way we have picked up a little human, some possessions that mean a great deal to us, a desire to host others as they pass through our area, and more. Sometimes our space seems to big, sometimes it seems too tiny, but more often than not it feels just right. It feels like who we are at that moment in time. We have arranged, decorated, and appropriated each space to fit our life right then. This current iteration of “home” is no different. A 2 bedroom/2 bathroom farmette, the just over 900 sq.ft. house sits on just at 1.5 acres and allows us plenty of opportunity to homestead and breathe. It sits on the outskirts of town and has magnificent sunrises and sunsets.

Sunrise

With a small barn on site as well as an enclosed “lean to” we have ample room for growth should our family need it as well as room to explore our hobbies and interests. The openness of the space (only the two bedrooms and bathrooms feature walls) lets us stay in community during the day in addition to homeschooling, working, and just living in general. When we were in backpacks we relied on Internet cafes, coffee shops, public libraries, truck stops, and the generosity of those willing to host us. As we moved into our converted woodshop we gained a small bathroom with shower stall, a kitchenette for home-cooked meals, and a corner that doubled as our closet and nursery. The design of our tiny house gave us a feeling of great space as we had a “bedroom” in the back, a full kitchen (with full-sized appliances) in the front, room for a toddler bed and small play space, and large windows from which to see the world!

One thing we have noted time and time again though is that it is all about the design; the layout of the space. Thoughtful design is far more important than size. That idea is one that Sarah Susanka – author of The Not So Big Househas expressed for years. Credited by Wikipedia with “initiating the small house movement”, her focus is actually on smart design. A smaller house if oftentimes a product of smart design but is never the motivation.

What I have noticed is that the Wikipedia page on tiny houses treats small houses and tiny houses as one idea. And while the two do have a number of similarities, they are esoterically different. Small homes, when designed and scaled intuitively and creatively, can teach the traditional sticks ‘n bricks set quite a bit. Tiny houses (and by this I specifically mean tiny houses on wheels, sheepherders wagons, teepees, and the like) offer up lessons regarding the value of intentional living, relationship, and need -vs- want. Small houses (less than 1,000 square feet) have the ability to again transform the American landscape. Tiny houses seem to be representative only on a niche scale.

I could have sworn that after about 2007 the housing market would look vastly different. Seems I was wrong though as according to the latest U.S. Census data, the average new home is still a McMansion, if you will. The Census Bureau reports that the average single-family house in 2014 was 2,453 sq. ft.; an all-time high. Of the 620,000 single-family homes completed in 2014:

  • 565,000 had air-conditioning.
  • 64,000 had two bedrooms or less and 282,000 had four bedrooms or more.
  • 25,000 had one and one-half bathrooms or less, whereas 221,000 homes had three or more bathrooms.

But what I have come to look beyond is statistics such as those. While 900 sq.ft. may be perfect for the Tiny r(E)volution family of 3 any number of the following would drastically change our needs and thusly our desires for a home.

  • Another child
  • The desire to do indoor entertaining
  • A large dog or multiple pets
  • A sizable collection of anything (sports memorabilia, tin signs, Nutcrackers, pinball machines, etc)

Small is relative. End of conversation. Tiny is in many ways, a fad. At least it is to those looking from the outside in. Think about this. You can’t find room for all of your Christmas decorations. My house is too small. You have a party and don’t have enough room for all of your guests to sit for supper. My house is too small. And what does small call for? Bigger! The theory can repeat ad nauseam. How many people who LIKE the latest tiny house Facebook page will actually ever live in a tiny house? What about you? Do you enjoy looking at tiny houses and their cuteness but could never imagine putting your life into one? That is the issue at hand. That is where tiny becomes small and small becomes big. It is a crossroads of intelligence, practicality, and functionality, and I propose, one we all need to stop (or least yield at) in order to avoid a very devastating collision.

What do you think? What is your take on tiny houses, small houses, and the intersection of the two? Do you have a personal theory on the subject?

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

 

Join Our eMail List and download the Tiny House Directory

Simply enter your name and email below to learn more about tiny houses and stay up to date with the movement.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Miranda - November 11, 2015 Reply

A big difference is the legal issue. I would love to live in a tiny house but it’s illegal in most areas. So that leaves small as my only option. Once I get old enough I can move to a senior community with park models, but unless the laws change tiny is out for me.

    Andrew M. Odom - November 11, 2015 Reply

    I’ve been wanting to live in a senior community since I was about 21. Friends all around. Van trips to Wal-Mart. Maybe a pool. Sound perfect!

Keri Gailloux - November 11, 2015 Reply

Great article. I shared it with Tiny House Village Bay Area, a group that I’m working with to find space to place an eco village or tiny house community. I met you at the Jamboree. you had a great presentation. Next year in COS.
Keri

    Andrew M. Odom - November 11, 2015 Reply

    Thank you so much Keri. Yes, I am currently scheduled to be at the Jam v.2.0!

Sandra Ashmore - November 11, 2015 Reply

I had been looking forward to building a 320 sq. ft. THOW to put on 10 acres I own in North Carolina, but my husband could never get used to the idea of living in a home that small. We have compromised and agreed to put a 600 sq. ft. small prefab cabin on the land instead. It’s bigger than I wanted, but a compromise I can live with for now. I still hold the dream of living in a THOW in my twilight years.

John Whitbeck - November 11, 2015 Reply

Good article … I built a 250 square foot cabin That is really comfortable, and can accommodate two people, a parrot and a dog. It is basically one open room, 20 feet by 10 feet. The 20 foot wall with a view has two 8 foot wide sliding glass doors that open onto an 8 foot deep deck. This works well for me as retiree. If I think of life having 4 quarters like a football game, then 1st quarter is 1-20, 2nd quarter is 20-40, 3rd quarter is 40-60 and after 60 is the last quarter. A tiny house works best for the 2nd and 4th quarter, I think. The average home in the 50’s was 1.5 stories, about 1100 square feet, had the half story as two bedrooms for the kids, the bedroom, bath, kitchen and living room on the first floor.

Lindsay - November 11, 2015 Reply

How on earth did you live in 300 cubic INCHES? That’s literally the average size of a shoebox: 5 inches by 6 inches by 10 inches!

    Andrew M. Odom - November 11, 2015 Reply

    I never said we lived IN that size. The context of the sentence is that our life went from that size to a larger size. We were both missionaries living out of backpacks that averaged right at 3,000 cubic inches.

alice h - November 11, 2015 Reply

I want my house to fit my life, without having to eliminate parts of my life I value just to fit into a particular sized house because of some imagined virtue in a specific house size. If financial or physical circumstances require such a setup that’s one thing but deliberately setting out to fit into a predetermined size regardless of what it means doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. That said, I’ve lived in tiny and small spaces most of my life and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

My ideal space, taking into consideration various pursuits and inclinations, is probably between 500 and 600 square feet. Very carefully planned yet flexible square feet. Might change, might not. It would also be nice to have an extra space to offer long term guests.

Sarah - November 11, 2015 Reply

For me the whole point of tiny houses is living with intent. Paring to the bones and then determining what matters most -and accomadating it. I love the functionality of many of the tiny homes I see. Unfortunately they are not functional for me. I am in a chair, I am an artist. I can no longer climb to a loft bedroom. What I can take from the movement is to make the most functionality from the smallest space possible. At the moment my dream home is a tweaked southern living pool house plan – complete with pool for lifetime therapy – sans the attachment of the big house……

Jessika - November 11, 2015 Reply

Our home is right at about 1500 square feet, but we use only about 1100 of it. I’ve noticed that whenever I say “my house is too small,” it has to do with material things. And upon analysis, I DON’T NEED MOST OF THOSE THINGS. It keeps my life and my materialism in perspective.

Also helping me keep things in perspective are my neighbors who used to live in our house 45 years ago…. where they raised FIVE children! They are wonderful children too– I’ve met them. STUFF doesn’t make a good childhood. We only have one child, but our home doesn’t feel any smaller than it did before he arrived. And we three dogs and two cats.

We are so driven to own things and have things. Don’t get me wrong, some things are important and sentimental… but an awful lot are things that we don’t really need.

Peter ODwyer - November 11, 2015 Reply

The key is living very simply and well below your means. Developing patience and contentment with your present circumstances is equally important. Putting the needs of others (aging parents / young children) above your own wants can be satisfying and rewarding as well.

Enjoy the new digs.

However, if I see you and Crystal lending photos of yourselves to any SmallHouseDating.com sites, I’m calling you all out.

JJ - November 11, 2015 Reply

Like you, I’ve been pondering the concept of small living since I left my one room apartment in college. I loved the simplicity and lack of duplication of that space. One pair of scissors, one skillet, one tissue box; all those little things that add up to “organizing your stuff” instead of living your life. I’ve always thought the difference between tiny and small living was that everyone “could” live small but not everyone can live tiny. If you think about developing countries, most dwellings would fall more into the small category as opposed to the tiny (or at least what I think of as tiny) but house more people per sq ft. I know I could live by myself in tiny but with my husband we’d have to go small and that would seem tiny to him. However, we have a lot of overnight guests. Some are visiting and some are staying because we live close to the airport or hospital. I love that we can do this for them. I realize there is a cost to us in providing these extra rooms that we don’t use.
I think either way it is good to have the discussion because everyone should be aware that many people are making choices about their space and therefore their time whether they realize it or not. If it isn’t discussed, it isn’t recognized.

karen dewillers - November 11, 2015 Reply

I live in a 850 square foot house in a small to middle sized city. I have a garage but I also live in the NE and shoveling a car out each day would be too much for me. I do shovel the short driveway, when necessary. But the car is harder for me.

When I bought this house I knew I wanted it to be small. Not tiny, in 1992 I had never heard of tiny house. But now I face a dilemma. It is becoming harder for me to climb the steps in my house. I have looked at trailers, mobile homes, and even apartments. But I like my home and love my area. How do I find a way to live small but keep the bedroom on the main floor and be, if necessary, handicapped accessible.

That is my major concern about tiny houses. The ideal demographic group for such downsizing are the baby boomers. And since baby boomers are aging, we need one story living. No way on earth can I do a loft ladder and stay safe.

Does anyone know of single story tiny houses? Maybe even passive energy houses?

karen

LC - November 11, 2015 Reply

Five months ago our family of four plus two pets embarked on our tiny living journey. We began by downsizing from 1400sf to 120sf. We’ve learned some amazing things. First, our thinking had to change exponentially. We could only buy food for a couple of days at a time. But at the same time we learned how little our lives changed. We still eat dinner, watch TV, work etc as before. But this one thing rang true….. We have become so much more content! A couple of weeks ago, we purchased a 4-season travel trailer because the one we were in wasn’t suitable for the winter. It’s about 175sf and we feel that we are living in luxury. We are building our THOW. When complete it will be about 200sf 100sf of loft. It will feel like a mansion! I know this, though, I LOVE living compactly. It feels RIGHT and wish others the courage to eliminate excess and try it.

Jack - November 12, 2015 Reply

I always enjoy reading about house sizes. In the UK the size of average 3 bed houses (new) is apparently around 800 sq ft. As this is ‘normal’ here, no special thought goes into how ‘we’ do it. I’m also sure that most people would happily move to a larger house, I’m not trying to suggest that we’re all embracing the Tiny Home concept! Us? We live in 100 sq ft caravan plus canvas awning. I could do with a bit more dry space.

Kim - November 12, 2015 Reply

When my kids were younger we lived in 3000 sq.ft that felt small when they were teens and we hosted every family gathering. I’m retired now and live out of our rv on 4 1/2 acres and will be moving into a small cabin next year on our property. At this point in our life we are happy minimalist but if I had to live with all the kids again I would need more space for sanity reasons. Live and let live, I’m happy for you.

Sheila - November 12, 2015 Reply

If we look at this in a way of age brackets, your desire to gain more space is spot on. A couple grows into a family. The family requires room to crawl, room to learn to walk and of course, just more stuff, for the littlest family member. But, when the child has grown and gone, (and it happens too fast, enjoy every minute!) a new age bracket is created. When our son joined the Army, my husband and I moved into a professionally converted Greyhound bus. A cat came along on the downsizing and we are very lucky to share life with a motorcycle riding, life jacket wearing, 17 pound dog, Squirt. And yes, we have picked up things along the way. Two motorcycles, a trike and, so many monoskis I have lost count. What to do? A storage shed! Does it go against the living small movement? Maybe. But we are all about living happily, right? These ‘things’ bring us happiness. We are lucky enough to live on a small farm that belongs to my in laws. So although stationary for the most part, we have also lived in three other states. All because our tiny home is ready to roll at any time. Different ages have different requirements. 11 years in 244 sq. feet and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

JoanE - November 12, 2015 Reply

I live in a 1400 sq ft house it is too small because of it’s design. Design and storage are the most important factors not sq ft.

Margy - November 13, 2015 Reply

I live in a 675 square foot floating cabin. It’s the perfect size for two, and enough space to have two guests, but not much more than that. It was smaller until we added the 8X10 bathroom with a compost toilet and tub. We are off the grid but use propane, solar, wind, wood, and the occasional generator for power. It’s not luxury living but is perfect and simple for us. – Margy

Jim - November 15, 2015 Reply

Happily living in 264 sq. ft. (plus loft) since 1988. Could use some more storage, who doesn’t? Wood heat, cheap utilities, what could be better in this (and future) economy! Recovery?

Sara Brankaer - December 2, 2015 Reply

We are a family of six, with 4 young children. We live in house of 1000sqft functional space, which will become 1600 sqft after we finished our renovation. This feels right for us. Originally we planned to build an extension, but after living in the house for a few years and reading about the tiny houses, we decided we didn’t really need or want that! The smallest we lived in with four children was 650 sqft, which was a bit of a squeeze, so we’re glad to have a bit more room now. We have ‘only’ one bathroom, which seems unusual for American homes, but is quite normal in Belgium. Although you do see more houses with more bathrooms now, when I was a child, even the ‘high class’ luxury houses typically had one family bathroom. In my student house we comfortably shared 2 showers with 20 students, so I really don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to cope with a family of six and one shower!

Leave a Reply: