I learned a lot from my night in a Tiny House. I know; that seems like hardly enough experience to form a reliable impression. Bear with me.
My son Jesse likes to give experiences as gifts. Thus my wife Barbara and I just spent the night in a tiny house in the New Hampshire woods; our Christmas present from him. This “tiny house” is one of several being very successfully marketed as urban getaways via the aptly branded Getaway House (an object lesson in the power of a good story). There is something fundamentally compelling about the idea of a tiny house that has captured the public imagination. Having spent my entire career contemplating domestic bliss with hundreds of clients, I was eager to experience how my very satisfying domestic life in a home of about 1800SF would fit into about 10% of that space. Here is what I learned.
One could certainly meet the requirements for shelter in this small space. Here is what that requires:
- Just about no storage (so expect to wear about 2, maybe 3 changes of clothes – and shoes)
- I guess you could have a small fridge and oven. We had a cooler and a two burner cooktop.
- Do you like eating at a diner? Good. We ate at stools along a single counter on one side of the space.
- Do you love your partner? Even better. You will be spending a lot of time side by side (this would be a fine space to conceive the first member of your family – but definitely not to raise them).
- Do you have stuff? By coincidence we saw a large number of storage unit companies in all the towns we passed thru on our way there and back. You’ll probably need one.
- Who doesn’t find it compelling to read that the tiny house is solar powered. What is not mentioned is the grid connection and the fact that anything requiring heat (cooking, comfort, showers, etc.) was fueled by propane.
- I guess you do your laundry at the laundromat (or by hand in the sink since you can’t store many clothes) and do your shopping nearly daily.
OK. You get my drift. It was a nice place to visit… My guess is you don’t live in a tiny house. What the tiny house reveals is that we all live in relative luxury. We have kitchens with appliances. We have bedrooms with closets. We have places to entertain and gather with people when they visit. We even have rooms just to cozy up and stream Netflix movies. We might even have a room to practice a craft, work at home, or keep fit in. That does not even get into laundries, mudrooms, garages, porches – the many domestic amenities that one either seeks or ends up adding on to a home.
The tiny house advocates correctly point out that all this comes at a cost. And while a mortgage to spread that cost out over time may have become harder to qualify for, it remains an accessible on ramp to the features of home that satisfy qualities of life that the tiny house is poorly equipped to fulfill. That said, a very limited income remains a reasonable rationale for this scale of living (if you can buy the property and install the infrastructure it requires). As with any experience of scarcity, it shines a revealing light on the value of relative scales of abundance (I’m willing to work and pay for more space).
I guess the shit could hit the fan. When I played that scenario in my mind the tiny house looked like a luxury. Dire straits (and many in the world live in them) distill what is most certainly nice and desirable from what could become bare necessity. That’s why I came home grateful for the good fortune so many of us enjoy. That’s what I learned from my brief tiny house experience. Gratitude. That and a strong desire to assure we are able to sustain a just and sustainable economy that won’t require it to come to that!
So when it comes to tiny houses, everyone would benefit from at least a visit!