The Tiny House Movement and Privilege

These days, thanks to the recession, it’s “trendy” to downsize, when people living in shacks in India are not trendy in the least.

“Tiny Houses” are most famously from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

This bed is not for the claustrophobic, window or no… The ladder up to the bed is not for the broken-legged, the heavily-pregnant, or the faint of heart.  (Of course, the whole idea isn’t for you if you’re not a minimalist.)

This site has some demographics if you scroll down, but nothing about renters, race, or disability status.  It seems to say that tiny houses are for educated rich people (though stories abound of people with more time than money doing it themselves).  I guess these guys did it on the cheap, even if it took a long time.

Fat or tall people can’t live in those tiny houses, nor can people with many disabilities (these homes often involve climbing, reaching, and/or bending, limited use of a bathroom such as no tubs and composting toilets, etc.).  My partner and I could never physically fit ourselves into most of these places, especially the beds.  No, a queen-size mattress squished between 2 walls won’t do it, and we’re not the largest people.

A lot of these places have beds you can’t sit up in, and has anyone ever seen a person of color with one of these?  They seem like a certain kind of class marker.  (N.B.  Maybe I take it back:  here is a woman of color who lives in a tiny house with no electricity or running water.  #2 notes that in the South ancient tiny houses without electricity or running water are unfortunately not as uncommon as they should be, and the ones without sanitary services are almost entirely lived in by African Americans, but you don’t read about them in articles about tiny houses but instead in articles about racism and lack of city services.)  In apartments: more fit, white dudes who could afford to hire architects.  These white people paid a bunch of money to not be able to cook or store their clothes at home.

Let’s examine class stereotypes.  Custom-built tiny houses are “trendy, hip, environmentally friendly” but trailer parks are “trashy, low-class, full of meth users”.  Stuff on Apartment Therapy is tres cool, but cramming people into tiny spaces could also be called a tenement.  People who spend huge amounts of money designing a tiny apartment in a major city (if you have that kind of time and expertise) are “the next wave of design” but people who live in one rented room at the YMCA are “losers”.  Wagons are appropriated from the Roma, who are still widely stigmatized.

You could spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours engineering a cool, very flexible apartment in the city, but you have to own it ($$) or lose your security deposit to make all that engineering work.  (I love how the dude in the video opens a closet and calls it “a bit of a mess” but there is ALMOST NO STUFF in there.)  Good luck with the condo association.

Live wherever you want; we’re not judging your personal life choice.  The engineering can be pretty cool for those who can afford it, and you can run the numbers on environmental impact.  But the trendiness of the movement is highly class-based.  As with everything, there’s one rule for the rich/white/able and quite another for the poor/POC/disabled.

Who’s with me, Grumpy Nation?  Is there anyone out there who gets around a tiny house in a wheelchair?

77 Responses to “The Tiny House Movement and Privilege”

  1. eemusings Says:

    Definitely not for us. My husband is basically The Hulk so ain’t gonna happen. Not saying we need a McMansion; I grew up in a fairly small house by modern standards…but a tiny house would not work. We need a little bit of breathing room.

  2. Chelsea Says:

    DH and I lived in an apartment with one toilet for a number of years, I can say that you don’t often really need two toilets, but there were a few times that we really really really really wished we had that second toilet. That was also the apartment that had no air conditioning or dishwasher or control over when the heat went on and off and we had to drag the laundry to another building through the ice and snow during the winter in WI (but it was cheap and convenient – love student family housing). Anyway, I would never pay a premium to not have climate control, a dish washer, or my own washer and dryer. Modern conveniences are awesome.

  3. Chelsea Says:

    Would also be curious how many of the tiny house owners have small children. Those stairs are not for a toddler either.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve definitely seen tiny houses with kids. Little kids are surprisingly ok in a wide variety of situations if they’re used to them.

      • Chelsea Says:

        I could see a 1-story being okay – or a house with older kids say 2.5 or 3 years old + -, but I can’t imagine carrying a little baby or toddler (thinking here of my 26-lb 19-month-old who clearly has a death wish) up a ladder to a sleeping loft and keeping him in there (because his first order of business would be to figure out how to get it open and fall through) OR having to climb up and down the ladder in the middle of the night to attend to a small child.

      • Rosa Says:

        I knew people who lived in a very tiny cabin with a ladder loft bed, with more than one very small child. And I know several people raised by hippies who were the tiny children, 30 years ago. It’s definitely do-able.

  4. independentclause Says:

    My husband and I are way too grumpy (not to mention messy and have too many books and cook too much) to live in spaces like that. But I do love looking at them.

  5. The frugal ecologist Says:

    Totally agreed. You also didn’t mention but a lot of these houses are illegal / contrary to zoning laws. There have been several tiny house bloggers who have had to move and/or not live in their dwelling g because of zoning issues. Actually one place where they can usually legally live is a trailer park!

    Another blogger (rowdy kittens) injured her back last year and she ended up sleeping on a bench downstairs because she couldn’t climb into the sleeping loft. She was pretty frank about how difficult it was & how age/injury/disability is not easily accommodated in one of these dwellings.

    I generally like the design and the motivation of living with less stuff, but totally agree this is another example (what are others??) of rich, educated white people doing things that poor people have to do out of necessity and not choice.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes! Like how “low-class” things like trucker hats get appropriated (“ironically”) and now they cost $65. Both my partner and I are relatively young & healthy but we are reaching the age when we’re starting to have chronic injuries, which makes appropriate housing more important…

    • Rosa Says:

      My hope is that some of the design stuff will trickle down, though. It would be a real boon if there were more mass market options for small rooms & small apartments that worked well and were beautiful. There is a real market for small, affordable apartments that aren’t awful tenements.

      Our house is pretty big – 1600 sf – but it is old, the closets are tiny, the rooms are small. And we end up with Ikea furniture about 3/4 of the time we go looking for stuff that will fit into that, because most other furniture stores have stuff designed for MASSIVE rooms with MASSIVE closets. (Other stuff, we need the massive version – we have a huge dining room & a giant table, for example. But a tiny entryway that required a small-space shoe & coat storage unit.)

  6. gwinne Says:

    This is just…yeah. Your analysis is right on.

    And I wanted to tell you I read WILLPOWER over the weekend, as you guys keep mentioning it, and it’s awesome. They could probably bill it as “the only self-help book you will ever need.” Did not really give me ideas per se, other than every problem I’ve ever had with my daughter could be explained in this way and we are trying a new strategy she calls “kid bucks” to get her to work on the CONSTANT NOISE PRODUCTION. We’ll see how it goes, as I have long suspected that some of that need is related to sensory integration issues… I might blog about this. But in the meantime, thanks!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Heavy-duty ear protection has saved my sanity several times. I have the kind that’s designed for shooting ranges. Surprisingly comfy for about $21. Give it a shot. (ha)

  7. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    I’ve lived in a tiny apartment, about 800 sq feet with as many as 7 other people at one point (2 of them being chain smokers). I was still young at the time, but it wasn’t that big a deal to be squashed in like sardines. Most people were working a lot of hours or different shifts so there weren’t that many people there at any one given time. That being said, I do remember retreating to a little storage spot under the front stairs and creating a fort out of it that was just for me to get some privacy.

    Although I’m not a fan of McMansions, I now have a really big house because we want my 81 year old mom living with us. When someone is 81, they can’t live in rooms above the garage or in basements because they can’t climb stairs well.

    I guess I rebel more against wasted/unused spaces. I really have no use for grand foyers or great rooms or sitting rooms. Every room has to have some kind of purpose and get used (just like stuff). Having space for status alone is what irks me.

    I guess I don’t like the size of one’s home (either huge or tiny) being used as a status symbol and it sounds like this is what you’re really rebelling against.

    I can see this post being controversial because there are many good reasons to voluntarily choose a tiny space.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Only some people have the luxury of *voluntarily* choosing a tiny space, which I think was my point. I don’t want a McMansion either — for one thing, they’re so generic. Ugh.

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I had never heard of this before, but it does sound totally absurd for all of the reasons you enumerated.

  9. Liz Says:

    (1) I definitely like living in (ahem) cozy spaces, as a function of being too lazy to clean a huge place and being solo. If/when I move in with my SO I’m thinking a 3-bedroom place would be perfect. My current two-bedroom is treated as a one-bedroom with a huge, wasted ‘storage’ room. I totally want land of my own, but so that I can grow food and resist “development” as much as one possibly can on hir own.

    (2) I have seen some talk of using tiny houses to meet the needs of homeless populations. At first glance, this seems like a cool idea. However, my worries (reflecting yours above!) had to do with creating ghettos/slums, and other kinds of segregation. What I would love to see is more places that have honestly mixed housing. It’s not uncommon where I currently live to have McMansions (actually historic homes) next to intentional triplexes, and smaller apartment complexes, as well as mixing residential with commercial spaces… like a corner grocery store. It’s very convenient, but I’ve not seen this done many other places. And it’s only in the historic city core that this really happens, not in the sprawl.

    http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/tiny-house-villages-for-the-homeless-an-affordable-solution-catches-on
    http://crooksandliars.com/2013/12/occupy-madison-builds-home-homeless
    http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/2013/11/tiny-house-communities-a-solution-to-homelessness/

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Houses for the homeless are cool I guess, can’t speak against that. But again with the disabilities, etc. And the zoning.

      (Also I’m not sure how a 3BR for 2 people is “cozy”, can you explain more?)

      • Liz Says:

        My point was unclear. 3BR definitely seems extravagant or excessive to single me. While solo, I definitely tend toward cozy spaces – my favorite was a tiny room in a shared house. So small, but perfect for me. However, I recognize that when living with other people, my needs will change, hence opening up to the idea of a 3BR. I can’t* choose that kind of small space I love, because I will need my own space *within* our shared space. Plus, SO is a total pack-rat and thinks my over-sized (to me) 2BR is already too small.

        * lol word choice… can’t.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Oh, I see. Thanks for clarifying :-)

  10. Flavia Says:

    I’m with you on the privilege of much of this — and it goes for the DOWNSIZE! movement more generally; there’s a holier-than-thou attitude that really rubs me the wrong way — but I really liked this article about a communal-living situation for homeless people that involved giving them their own tiny houses. As an alternative to living in a tent, a tiny house seems sensible and humane.

  11. Flavia Says:

    Argh. Broken tag. Here’s the link

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Thanks! It seems to me that that design would really only work in mild climates. Olympia doesn’t get what I think of as “real winter”. But yay for them. Flush toilets are great!

  12. Cloud Says:

    This movement has always struck me as an overreaction. There has definitely been a trend towards larger houses, and I often moan about the fact that this means things are now designed for larger houses. Buying furniture for our 1300 or so square foot house (a 1950s house that hasn’t been expanded) is a bit of a struggle. We have to go Scandinavian and/or high end to get things that fit in our spaces. And don’t get me started on how toys have gotten bigger and less likely to compact down for storage (you can see this trend clearly by looking at Fisher Price Little People sets- our day care has the zoo from ~5 years ago, and it is half the size of the one we have, even though they have the same basic play area).

    So I can understand the instinct to react against that. But I think that the super minimalist houses are an overreaction. There should be a happy medium!

    • Rented life Says:

      I hadn’t though of that but things being designed for larger houses is a good point. LOs crib feels massive and there’s a lot of toys we just don’t allow in our place. (That’s what grandma’s is for!)

  13. CG Says:

    @Flavia, I was going to post the same article. Thank you. As an urban planner, I strongly support changing zoning codes to permit accessory dwelling units, a category which many of these tiny houses could fall into. ADUs are an affordable way for lower income people, elderly people, or anyone else who doesn’t need a ton of space, to live in what are usually great neighborhoods that are very accessible to jobs, transportation, amenities, etc. They are also a way to increase density in these desirable neighborhoods without dramatically changing their look and feel. I do understand what you mean about the smugness factor associated with the tiny house movement, but when I look at these dwellings I see a great opportunity to be creative about how we use our urban space. Here’s a linklink from the American Planning Association if anyone is interested in learning more.

    By the way, I also think this movement is appealing because it provides an (illusory) sense of control and simplicity in a world that, for many people, seems increasingly complicated and out of control. I admit to occasionally daydreaming about building a small cottage by a lake where everything would be simple. But my family would of course still need to be with me, because I would miss them if they weren’t. And it would be a second home, so I would have the stress of keeping up another house that was hours away, which would make my life more, not less, complicated. The irony!

    • Rosa Says:

      ADUs and alleyway houses – i live in an old city neighborhood where changing zoning laws have made replacing existing houses that burn down or are condemned impossible. So we have all these empty “half lots” and lots where there used to be a big streetside and a tiny alleyside house and now there is one or the other. But people want to live here – rents are high, housing prices are back up to about 2004 prices (pre-crash, not bubble-height). Allowing subdivision of really big old houses, allowing developent or rental or alleyside or carriage house spaces, and allowing pre-WWII setback rules for new houses on existing lots would really help our housing situation. We were *almost* there in 2007-2008 and then the market crashed and people quit trying.

      It’s the affluent trendy white people who have the power to get these laws changed – the existing mixed-income mixed-race neighborhood groups tried and failed in the ’90s and early ’00s already.

  14. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My cousin Mike recently quit his job to begin construction on a “tiny house.” They bought 17 acres a few years ago and paid it off. A tiny shed/old church sits on the property. I think they said it’s 10 by 15. Anyway, they’re turning it into a tiny house and building a loft up at the top for sleeping. They grow their own food already and he installed a septic system himself already. They plan to check out of society and use the funds he makes painting propane tanks during the summer to get by year-round. I worry about things like health insurance and taxes for them (they have one child and another on the way), but I like the concept and understand why they would want to do such a thing.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I guess if they really enjoy the insane grind of being farmers… more power to them. Hopefully the septic system is up to code.

      • Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

        Yeah, I think they do enjoy it. They have been camping at their property for years up until this point, and I suppose they pee in the woods. Not really sure about that!
        My main concern is the fact that they don’t feel the need to be insured or pay taxes. She’s pregnant and wasn’t even going to go to the doctor until I talked her into it. She was simply going to have the baby at home. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but I think it is a good idea to get checked out ahead of time to make sure everything is okay. I talked her into signing up for Medicaid and she went, but only because I convinced her it would be inconvenient to have no idea when her due date was. (She wasn’t sure when she got pregnant)

        They are really nice people, but very “against the system,” so it’s hard to get them to do anything mainstream. They are also smart, on the other hand, so I have no doubt they can survive in their tiny house in the woods.

  15. Debbie M Says:

    I’ve always seen it as a movement by young, fit people to save money. They have had to fight all the stereotypes about tiny houses being unfit for decent living. Yes, sometimes they are. But when you’re a single, fit college student or recent grad, it’s still fun to live in your own little fort while you’re saving money and paying off student loans.

    Yes, now that it’s cool, some rich (young, fit) people are spending loads of money to make it be more flexible and personal. I think that’s kind of crazy, but I do like looking at the pictures.

    My perspective is that I’m really sick to death of the idea that “affordable housing” is always subsidized housing for poor people. I think affordable housing should also include housing that just costs less–co-ops, tiny houses, houses with kitchenettes instead of full kitchens, etc. And I think rich people should be able to live in low-cost housing (though not be subsidized, of course).

    And I always like people going way farther than I would have ever imagined possible in some direction that I want to go. They have to think of millions of good ideas to make it work at all. I only have to use my favorite of those ideas to make my smallish house work.

  16. CK Says:

    you might find the effort by Rural Studio to build 20K houses for people with limited funds (often the elderly and/or those with disabilities) while taking into account their lifestyle and physical needs. They are small, but not insanely so.

    Minimalist living in a large or small house will always be from a place of privilege, since only people who know they can always afford to buy the things they need when they need it will be able to live like that, and those who don’t have that type of financial security will keep lots of stuff just in case. But as others pointed out, there may be some positives from this movement as it gets more people to consume less and consider living smaller (though maybe not tiny), which would be good for our environment.

  17. delagar Says:

    I’ve always kind of wanted a tiny house, just b/c it would mean less house to clean. I’d want it somewhere up a mountain, though. And of course I would have to convert all my books to digital first, SO.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If I were living up on a mountain (HA!) I’d want a house where I could get in the middle of it and be out of reach of a bear from every direction. Then again, I’m a city gal.

      • delagar Says:

        A member of our writing group who lives a mile or so up a gravel road on the edge of a cliff above the White River in Lamar, Arkansas looked out his window to see a black bear wandering by a few weeks ago. He just watched it go. The cat, he says, was much more alarmed that he was.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Black bears are not that scary. Grizzlies are.

  18. bogart Says:

    Yes, exactly this.

    Though I have seen this book: Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream and thought that it sounds like it might be an interesting read and someone (clearly a high SES white someone) who’s doing this in a sensible way and/or for some of the right reasons (in the context of helping others who might live with some similar living-space/-feature constraints but for different reasons). But I haven’t read it, so can’t say.

    I lived in a single-wide in grad school and it was WAY too big for one able-bodied person, or even one such person + 2 large dogs. And I traveled moderately extensively in Eastern Europe at a time when people of my background/education (i.e. middle class) there lived in a house (or apartment) that consisted of a living room/dining room that converted (sofa bed) at night into the parents’ bedroom, another bedroom typically shared by 2 kids, a small kitchen, and a bathroom. I think it’s pretty clear this wasn’t anyone’s actual preference, but it seemed to work. Oh! I loved the way the bathrooms consisted of an entirely tiled room that was its own shower (no separate stall). Not so much for utility (or cleanliness) but as an example (desirable or not) of rethinking how things are set up.

    We now live in a “small” house in an affluent community — meaning 1600 sq. ft. (3br/2ba) for 3 people (and 2 large dogs). I will say, my mind boggles that many “middle-class” homes in our community (not the really high-end stuff) are 3- or even 4,000 sq ft. But! We are adding on to our home now, a 16*16 addition. A big “issue” for us has been that our last remodel made the whole living/dining room one large (very) open space and this turns out to have downsides especially with a kid + a DH who watches lots of TV (and won’t wear headphones. And is hard of hearing). And while part of my agrees with @Sandyl FirstgenAmerican’s point about “unused space,” another part has realized that with small kid and shaggy dogs, a space that is not open for “daily” uses (or even that can easily be closed off from “daily” uses for a few days) would facilitate having people over.

    I am trying to put thought into zones in our home — it will be possible to shut off the heating/cooling entirely into our new space, and I wish the same were true e.g. of our extra bedroom. And I suspect that this kind of planning design would be more useful and more widely embraceable than the tiny homes of which some are enthusiasts.

    Our home is entirely on one level, though one must mount 2 steps to enter it (this could be easily modified) and I have put thought into increasing its (mostly decent, though the bathrooms are small and not great — certainly not wheelchair level) accessibility as we have modified it. In ~1.5 decades of marriage, between us we’ve had … bilateral hip replacement, appendix out + surgical site abscess (YUCK), broken shoulder, c-section. And funnily enough, I feel like some other stuff that I’m now forgetting (and I’m entirely ignoring the several joint-injury surgeries of the stepkids). And one of us is looking toward knee replacement. So, um, yeah: inaccessible home, tiny or otherwise, no thanks.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      NOISE POLLUTION! I *hate* open-plan designs so very much. Sounds like you’ve had a rough time on the surgery side, but at least now I guess you know how to plan for it. Hang in there!

      • bogart Says:

        Yeah — the open plan is a mixed blessing for us. It was divided before we remodeled and there’s much I like about the new setup, but there are definitely times and/or aspects of it that are aggravating (thus the addition). I did have the sense to keep the kitchen separate from the LR and to insist that it have closeable doors, so dogs and/or kids can be kept in, or out (this depends on older kids obliging by the rule not to open the door, obviously, but somehow a door is more imposing than a mere threshold, or, still less enforceable, no marked transition at all). And, right, on the surgeries, but certainly — we are not entirely inexperienced as to why and how accessibility matters.

    • Rosa Says:

      we have to sell this place and get out before either of us gets bad knees. Two story Victorian, upstairs bathroom. When I was on pregnancy bed rest I had to choose between the level with the bathroom & the level with the food. Which meant my poor husband working from home and bringing me food every 2 hours to manage my “morning” sickness.

      • bogart Says:

        Oof. My FIL’s house had no bathrooms on the ground floor — one on the upper (bedroom) level, and a utility sort of one downstairs in the basement. Very impractical as he and his wife aged, and they did have to move to a more accessible home.

  19. plantingourpennies Says:

    I read the Rowdy Kittens author’s tiny house memoir a while ago, and am actually in the middle of Dee Williams’ The Big Tiny right now, so these tiny places have definitely been on my mind lately.

    I think the greatest privilege about tiny houses is in the interdependence they necessitate. It seems like there’s a non-trivial reliance on community that seems to go hand-in-hand with living in most of these tiny dwellings that would be hard to replicate if your friends and family aren’t property owners. However, it seems as though the authors of these memoirs have found a balance of what they take from their community and what they give back – though it would also be interesting to read an afterward written by the friends whose backyard they live in for years to make sure it’s really felt to be in balance on both sides of the give/take equation.

    Would I ever live in a tiny house? I don’t know… it sounds like a great vacation cottage. But my own dream of a tiny living space is more akin to a 30-35 foot catamaran than a mini house you can attach to the back of a standard pickup truck.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Boats are something I didn’t mention but which are definitely tiny. Most people in the US can’t really do that though, and I’d hate to be on one through the winter. Lots of people in tiny houses (incl. apartments in big cities) use the outdoors as their recreation space.

    • Rosa Says:

      It’s pretty privileged to have someone who has and will let you live on a big piece of property for free, which is how some of these places are so “affordable” – like living in your mom’s spare room, or your celebrity friend’s guest cottage. My parents live full time in an RV and they spend a LOT of money on RV parks.

      I’ve been the storer of stuff for a few downsizers and the costs are not negligable – which you find out when you decide you want to downsize some yourself and have to get them to take responsiblity for all the stuff in your attic. It can be really hard on relationships, overall.

  20. chacha1 Says:

    I am a big non-fan of wasted space, such as two-story foyers and formal living/dining rooms, but my wasted space is somebody else’s bare minimum. This is one of those issues that is mostly “chacun a son gout” to me. Having lived in 1500+ square feet for most of my life, living in something one-third that size, for more than a week at a stretch, would feel like punishment. I certainly wouldn’t pay $200+ per square foot to build something that required compromising my personal space.

    That said, the one-size-fits-all nature of city zoning and HOAs are often counterproductive, and the fact that a homeowner would not be allowed to install an ADU in their backyard in many places (or that a homeowner may be forced to maintain a lawn, may not be able to hang clothes to dry, or may not be able to install greywater irrigation) is something prospective home builders (or buyers) should really think hard about. Zoning variances may be simpler to achieve than amending an HOA’s CCR.

    Our rural HOA (for the Sierra lot we plan to build on) states a minimum dwelling size of 800 square feet. I think it’s not so much that they don’t want a well-designed “tiny” house, but that in rural areas, a small dwelling tends to be self-built out of scrap and therefore A) typically not very nice to look at; B) seriously unsafe.

    And as to that, my own upbringing has fostered a certain bias. From personal observation, the really extreme DIY build-it-yourself live-in-a-shipping-container person is frequently also anti-government, pro-guns, and apt to have free-roaming dangerous dogs.

    So yeah, as an upper-middle-class person who wants a safe peaceful life in retirement, I’m glad there are some rules about this stuff. If the tiny house meets all the local building codes and shows respect for the neighbors, knock yourself out.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      HOAs are pretty evil, and yes, probably changing zoning laws is easier. HOAs seem designed to destroy the environment (lawns, etc.). And nobody should ever have free-roaming dogs that go off their own property, EVER.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I would also enter a big disclaimer here, which relates to bodies-per-household. As a single person I would feel the need for a lot less space than I feel I need with a semi-packratty Best Beloved. If my husband should fall off the perch before our projected move comes to pass, I will be re-evaluating my entire later-life design plan … because I wouldn’t necessarily choose to live up in the Sierra alone, no matter how much space I had.

  21. becca Says:

    Tiny houses make a lot of sense to me as a Hawaii beachfront rental thing. Or if it’s a treehouse. Given that I can’t live in Fallingwater, and it leaks anyway, I’d like to live in a treehouse.

    However, I think the best thing is to live in a treehouse that is attached to a general communal house (with hot tub, large commercial quality kitchen and boa constrictors named Sid and Nancy) that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. You know, if my family up and leaves me and I’ve got nothing else to do. http://www.bsc.coop/housing/houses/medium-houses/lothlorien-hall
    (plantingourpennies- based on my experiences with cooperative housing, I personally have conflicted feeling over viewing interdependence as a feature associated with privileged people mooching off property ownership. There are other, arguably more authentic, ways to get to interdependence)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Even reading Lothlorien’s welcome page makes me tired. I think I would have found it totally awesome in my 20s, but these days I don’t have that much energy to expend on other people. Maybe it’ll come back when I’ve been away from teaching long enough. I do like the large library part though– of course!

      • becca Says:

        Cooperative living is kind of emotionally draining if you are more introverted. I probably peaked at my extroversion when I was living in one, and between rosy-glow history effect and the genetic “wouldn’t live be perfect in San Francisco Bay Area” effect, I likely idealize Loth. Still, it’s a beautiful treehouse.

    • plantingourpennies Says:

      I think I don’t necessarily see all interdependence as “mooching” per se, I was just struck reading The Big Tiny by descriptions of showering in one of the “big houses” and running across the backyard in a bathrobe and knowing that I would feel like that was way too big of an intrusion into my personal space if it were my “big house”.

  22. Rented life Says:

    The people I know that have downsized when from 2000-3000 sq ft to 1300-1500 sq feet. After the kids move out. And they moved away from the country and closer to places with sidewalks, stores as public transportation. That I can understand. These extreme tiny homes drive me nuts simply because of the smug “we have everything we need” message that the rest of us are pathetic to want things (or space or both). One couple was like “we really didn’t need our books.” Wtf!?!? At the end of the day I suppose I don’t “need” my decorations, a desk, books, etc but the trade off seems pretty poor. (And with my ankle I could never climb to sleep on those beds. Not could I sleep when I’m afraid I’d fall off. And how do they….get it on?)

    I get downsizing. And I’m a big fan of clearing out clutter. And I can see some other commenters points at the advantages of small spaces. But I’m not sure it’s better or all they’re claiming it is.

    We lived in 800 sq ft with all our books and everything. We were always on top of each other and not in a good way. I can’t imagine doing that unnecessarily.

  23. SP Says:

    Wow, so many comments already! I haven’t heard this perspective shared, so, thank you for that perspective and so many good points.

    We don’t have kids, so it is easy for me to think I want a small house. But NOT a tiny house. Nope, not for me.

    Our last apartment was about 700 sq feet, and it was fine, really, except when we have company. But now we have 2 bedrooms, and it still feels so cramped when we have company, so maybe I just don’t like people underfoot in my space in general :)

    We’ll probably end up in something 1200 – 1600 sq feet, which is good. But then I imagine the possibility of having 2 teenage boys (completely hypothetical) share a 1500 sq ft. open-plan place with us, and wonder how comfortable that would be? Anyway, it is more out of necessity than choice, even with the copious privilege we already have.

    It is very hard to find a city that allows tiny houses. I do like this trend more than I like the “as much space as we can afford whether we need it or not” sort of trend (which is dying off anyway). But, if that is the type of thing for sale where you buy, then I guess it makes sense. Houses here are just so much smaller than where I grew up, and people seem to do fine in them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s all in what you’re used to.

    • chacha1 Says:

      My sister and I were teenagers living in a 1500 sf two-bedroom, two-bath doublewide mobile home. :-) We shared a room and we survived. I would recommend planning for a sleeping porch or other such Fortress of Solitude though. I think that one or the other of us slept out in the living room once in a while!

      • Rosa Says:

        the original high-end smaller house bible, Susanka’s Not So Big House, recommends an “away place” for every house.

        I actually really love her ideas even though the actual size of those “not so big” houses is pretty big.

      • chacha1 Says:

        I think that’s the main “problem” with the late-20th-century Open Plan – no away place except the bedroom, so if the bedroom is shared, it can be … fraught. Loved Susanka’s first book, definitely took a lot of ideas from it.

      • Rosa Says:

        Open Plan was designed that way, right? The whole point was family togetherness all the time?

        My SIL has a lovely open plan single floor ranch built sometime in the late ’60s and along with modern delights like “all the outlets are grounded” and “there are 2 bathrooms”, it was the absolutely perfect house to have infants and toddlers in. Teenagers will be a different case, I think. I did envy it when we both had little kids, though – given that our place is all steep stairs that couldn’t be baby-gated, and used to be heated with actual fire and lit with natural gas lamps, it’s amazing the original owners raised any children to adulthood. But it *does* have more private spaces.

  24. Savvy Says:

    Last weekend my husband’s 30 year old niece and husband were visiting from Calif. They relocated there in February. They pay $1700 a month for a tiny one-bedroom. She continued to work for her Wisconsin company remotely. He has his own graphic design company. He is terribly homesick, but she isn’t ready to move back yet. Instead, they’ve decided to live here in the summers in a tiny house. She said she’s really good at downsizing, since moving to the small apartment in CA. I can’t help but wonder if she’s gotten rid of the wedding gifts from her $40k wedding. BTW – both are white and private college educated. When she told me her tiny house would have wheels so they could move it if they didn’t like where it was located I immediately thought mobile home. The problem I see is no real plan or goal for the future. Plus, I think she will tire of this want a real home then have to repurchase all the things she’s downsized.

  25. becky Says:

    Owning a home of any size is a privilege, really. We happen to be living in a context where the market is insanely over-priced and so you are looking at between 1.5 – 2 million for a “regular” single family detached home in the city. So most middle-income families have no choice but to rent or live in small condos downtown if you opt not to move to the burbs. This is a planning nightmare because there simply aren’t enough school spots for kids in these “urban” areas where small condos were built to cater to childless single folks. It is to the point where I know many two-faculty families with kids that have to make the choice between mortgage or childcare costs. And anyone who does own a home has a tiny space (2 bedrooms, multiple kids) and tenants living on the ground floor.

  26. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    I live in a slightly-less-than-400-square-foot studio apartment (actually the proper term is now microapartment, I gather — http://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2014/07/18/micro-units-help-d-c-renters-live-to-the-max/ ; “studio” now refers to something larger). Even for one person (still admittedly very much immersed in dead-tree print culture,and cohabiting with numerous productions thereof, as well as various digital gizmos), it’s a bit on the small side; there are three good-sized closets, but storage is still a challenge, and the number of people I can entertain is pretty limited. If I could afford it, I’d definitely be living in something a bit larger, with some land (and an attic and/or basement), and I’m pretty sure that life in a slightly-larger space would also be more efficient, because I’d need to put less time and thought into getting things out and putting them away and moving them to make it possible to reach other things (the current situation is a bit like living in a 3-D version of one of those games where you move numbered tiles around to form a pattern).

    On the other hand, as an introvert, I prefer this “room of my own” arrangement to having more, but mostly shared, space (which would be the other option I could afford). I’m keenly aware that being able to make such choices is a privilege, especially since I live in a neighborhood where there are a number of homeless people living on the street, and on the fringes of highways and park land (in one case in a self-built “tiny house” that the authorities eventually removed), and I suspect that they and I may share some similarities of temperament (I can understand choosing uncomfortable privacy over being herded into some sort of group situation, and would probably find myself alternating between the two, as I suspect many of them do, were I to find myself in their situation). For someone with few to no possessions but a strong desire for privacy, my apartment, or even something 1/3 or so smaller, could well be ideal, and is probably a far smarter solution in an urban area than a stand-alone “tiny house.”

    I’ve also noted (because I occasionally contemplate buying land an hour or two away, the better to indulge my desires for space and privacy) that most “tiny houses” are in fact considerably more expensive than the most affordable form of housing available in most non-urban places: trailers/manufactured homes. Those may not be of the most durable construction (or the safest, especially in areas with various kinds of extreme weather), but they’re considerably larger than most “tiny houses” — even the older models, according to wikipedia, are c. 720 square feet, and most newer ones are considerably larger. There are all kinds of downsides to owning such a dwelling, especially if it is not on your own land, but I suspect it much better represents what most people looking for basic housing actually want than a “tiny house.” Trailers — at least newer ones — are also generally configurable for occupation/access by people with various disabilities, who probably represent a disproportionate share of people looking for affordable housing. I actually lived in manufactured housing during grad school (in a neighborhood originally built to house students attending college on the GI Bill), and would be willing to do so again, but I know some of my friends and relatives would be uncomfortable with that choice, since I actually considered the option a few years ago, and got as far as making an offer on a trailer and, more to the point, the nicely-located lot on which it sat (the transaction fell through, probably because I asked a lot of due-diligence questions about the lot, its boundaries, easements, etc.; while I intended to live in the trailer for a while, I wanted to have a clear idea of what I could build in its place). I don’t think the same relatives would have been equally distressed by my erecting, or buying, a “tiny house” in the same location/circumstances, even if it were considerably less practical. Yes, there’s definitely a class-identity dimension here.

  27. Link love (Powered by almond croissants and money talk) | NZ Muse Says:

    […] Nicole and Maggie tackle the other side of the tiny housing movement  […]

  28. Melanie MCCALLUM Says:

    Thank you for putting into words my unarticulated feelings about tiny homes and privilege!

  29. Sarah @ littlebusontheprairie.com Says:

    Found this post in the comments of the scalzi article. We live in a bus with four kids with a ladder to an upper story you can’t stand up in, sleep in a bed we can’t sit up in, my husband is 6’1″, I’ve spent an entire pregnancy in it and now have a 1 year old toddling around in it. We have no heat or ac, and have to store our fridge in a neighbor’s garage. It isn’t fun. It’s doable for a short amount of time, (maybe longer for a smaller family), but there had definitely been an over-sell of the tiny space movement, lemme tell ya.

  30. WheelieGirl Says:

    Well, I’m in a wheelchair and 3 months at least of last year, my boyfriend and I lived in a travel trailer chasing baseball :) it’s do-able, and I love it so much I want out of my 1800 square feet! Having tried it a bit, I was and am genuinely happier away from all the junk and stuff I thought I needed, with less & in less space, doing more. All the things I thought I needed when I built my current home have now changed into hassles.
    I waiver between wanting a permanent built bigger tiny home (600 sq ft) or a camper…cuz, campers are kinda of the original portable tiny homes and have real toilets and showers! The heavy weight tiny houses on wheels have some major downsides- like towing something so heavy for instance, or having a composting toilet, isn’t something I want to deal with! Until I decide for sure what I want, it’s fun reading different perspectives…
    By the way, I live in lower South Carolina, and yes, in my county there are lots of folks living in older tiny dwellings. Still dirt roads in a lot of non tourism places… but good grief, it’s not quite as bad as you make it sound!. ;) Even here, there is a builder in my town who did towable tiny homes homes for folks upstate, who had lost their houses due to Joaquim’s devastating floods.
    I think a great deal of the movement is still true to the soul of doing with less and needing less. I wish TV spent less time on the glampers, but it’s sponsored and therefore understandable. Let’s face it — these sponsors are still looking to stay alive in a housing market that is ever growing but shrinking in terms of what is spent on homes and things to fill them…and in a still bad economy, where “doing with less” has become more the norm because frankly, people don’t have the extra money to spend anymore and their dollar doesn’t have the same purchasing power.
    The banks and construction industries got greedy…the public back-lashed by getting into housing solutions that are unfinanced, or are basically the same amount as a car loan, and do not require fleets of undocumented workers to build. (Ha, take that, wall street!)
    When the scales tip too far one way, they swing wildly until balance is again achieved. It’s the natural rhythm of things, and why the movement seems to be losing its soul a little. It’s not, it just seems that way on tv….. ;)


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