The concept of tiny living isn’t news. The very idea of living minimalistic – without being wasteful and excessive – has been living with us rent-free for quite some time now. But if we are to truly grasp its mainstream appeal, we need only turn to last year’s Best Picture Oscar Winner “Nomadland”.
Although it’s not the first movie to showcase this type of lifestyle, Frances McDormand’s performance as Fern embodies the portrait of resourceful living like no other. Heck, she did it so well it earned her a golden statue. But what I feel made the viewers put on their thinking caps was the fact that she and many others like her were not only surviving but thriving in this seemingly scarce setup. This goes way beyond feeling empathetic for her character.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and instead, ask the more based questions: What’s the reality like? For how long has the tiny living movement been around? What does it stand for anyway, and is it here to stay? Perhaps I might be able to help you there.
Quick History Lesson: What Is Tiny Living?
Some say a poet called Henry David Thoreau, then aged 27, started the trend by hitching a new life in the woods back in 1845. I can only imagine what his friends and family thought about his decision to move, but he wasn’t acting on a whim, though. This guy got into a fistfight with existentialism and went full guinea pig mode for something that would later become a thing.
So what does tiny living stand for? Well, Henry would probably debate that material wealth isn’t crucial to living fulfilled lives – and in a way, he’s right. Minimalistic or simple living may have emerged as a reaction to overt consumerism and materialism, but I can bet you my urine separator that Henry didn’t know that he was onto something bigger. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that the movement actually started taking shape.
In the radically groovy era of the 1970s, a guy called Allan Wexler started playing around with the concept of living in compact spaces. Who’s Allan? This guy’s into everything – nature, art, architecture, multimedia – everything! With decades of studying how the environment affects our daily rituals under his belt, he may have laid the foundation of what it means to live tiny.
But he didn’t do this singlehandedly. There are numerous designers, such as Loyd Kahn, Bob Easton, Matti Suuronen, and Micheal Jantzen, who jumped on the bandwagon and contributed to the cause. Just like all the other social movements, the tiny house movement advocates change – downsizing living spaces, simplifying life, focusing on the bigger picture. But does simpler inherently mean happier?
How tiny is tiny?
So how big (or small) is a tiny house anyway? The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet (around 240 square meters), whereas the European standard is significantly less. For example, the average residential floor space in Germany is 55 square meters, in France, it’s 43. A typical small or tiny house is defined as a home with square footage between 100 and 400 square feet (9 – 37 square meters). While of course there aren’t any rules to joining the tiny house movement, when people refer to “the tiny life,” their tiny house generally falls under the 400 square foot level. So the short answer would be any home between 9 and 37 square meters is just the right size for a tiny home.
The Tiny House Movement
Once it emerged, the movement gained both an architectural and social component: it encouraged people to live simpler lives in smaller spaces. This lifestyle came as a result of people realizing that large homes, with immense costs of living, won’t do anything good for their well-being. Large living spaces are both unnecessary and increase the financial and emotional burden of owning too much stuff.
When you take a closer look at people who are involved in the movement, it becomes obvious that many of them are DIY’ers, meaning they’re interested in building their homes from the ground up. Soon enough, as the movement grew, it became more mainstream, leading to companies trying to capitalize on the increased demand by offering custom-built and pre-built houses.
How does someone choose the smaller space over a big house? People join the movement for any number of reasons, but the most popular ones include environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the desire for leading a simpler life with more movement.
You might find yourself with significant financial advantages and the ability to live an adventurous lifestyle. For most people in the USA, 1/3 to 1/2 of the income goes to the roof over their heads! Buying a house often becomes a 15-year long job, and just to pay for it. The high cost of owning a “typical-sized” home, as well as the associated expenses (and culture of “buy now, pay later”), contribute to 76% of Americans living from paycheck to paycheck.
So what do we end up with? Working for years in order to afford a roof over our heads. Then we continue to work, so we can fill our houses with stuff… and those turn out to be items we may not need but buy anyway.
While doing my research for the article, I was interested in demographic info about who are the people that are looking to go tiny. The two groups emerging were pretty consistent, despite where they came from – millennials (single, or couples that do not have children), and those entering retirement. Interesting, I thought – because I had an impression that older people wouldn’t dabble in such risky adventures so late in their lives. The uncertainty of having a permanent spot for your home can be emotionally challenging for anyone, especially the elder population. This isn’t much of a concern for youngsters who are still more flexible and make faster lifestyle changes.
Millennials didn’t have much time (or money, but that’s another story) to acquire many belongings, so they don’t have a problem with a Marie Kondo kind of lifestyle. We tend to fill the space we live in, and those who have not yet lived in a home on their own, likely won’t have as much stuff as someone who has.
And what about older people? Wouldn’t this be too much of a hassle for them? I guess as we age and retire, our bills don’t change much. To pay the bills and all costs of living, we need savings or reduce our cost of living to a sustainable level. The biggest roadblock on the way of moving into a tiny house is the uncertainty of a permanent living location. Having a mobile tiny house has its perks when it comes to legal challenges (no tax you have to pay).
And what about families? While some families do indeed live in tiny houses, it is not as common as you might think. When you decide to scale down and reduce your living space, the challenge of it becomes bigger with kids in the picture. Privacy, personal space, storage, clutter – all this can be too much to bear.
Environmental benefits of living in a tiny home
A small house means you can make a lot of it out of recycled, re-purposed, and salvaged materials. While this sustainable way of building a house will definitely make it cool and unique, it also has a practical purpose: it saves that same number of new materials from being made.
If you’re really bold and adventurous, you might even set up your tiny home to live off the grid, although from personal experience, that’s an advanced level of scaling down. Off-grid means you’ll have to rely on solar or wind resources for electrical power, a rainwater catch, and filtration systems for water. These are all steps to enabling your tiny house to be functional anywhere in the world.
Smaller appliances work more efficiently and a smaller space uses less power to heat and cool the air.
If you need to connect to a power source, you’ll still have to pay your electric bill, but it can be a quarter or less of your traditional house’s bill. On top of everything you’re saving on your mortgage, think about all the trips you can take with that money you’ll be saving!
Last but not least, the composting toilet. Since there is no plumbing, your number one and twos kind of stick around for the ride with you. But with the proper composting toilet design, this won’t be an issue, since composting toilets with urine diverters are suitable for tiny houses. One of the most popular options and the one you’ll see in Nomadland is a bucket composting toilet.
To Wrap It Up
When I was doing research for this article, it was really important to me not to recycle things you can read all over the internet. I reached out to some of my customers who have been living in tiny homes for quite a time now because I wanted to share the real living experience that stems from this minimalistic lifestyle. Is there a golden rule for it? Well, no.
Some of the key take-aways I would like to share with you are:
More stuff means more effort. And everything takes time. Simple things you’re used to, like dishwashing, going to the toilet, heating the water now require planning ahead.
But the common thing? No one would go back to “old ways”.
Tiny living might seem scary once you finally commit to the change – but every change is scary.
And then you get used to it and start enjoying the things you didn’t know you could enjoy. You start learning things about yourself you didn’t know you’d ever be able to do.
So, if you think this will bring joy to your life – I say, go for it.
How much does it cost to live Tiny?
How much it will cost you to live tiny, mostly depends on where you live. Costs can vary depending on whether you’re in Europe, USA, UK, New Zealand, or anywhere on the planet for that matter. A few things to have in mind when putting the costs together: zoning laws, taxes, maintenance, insurance. And these are just to begin with. While tiny living can create some extra cash in your wallet, it might be a struggle to get there.
Where are tiny houses legal?
Again, this depends on where you live. The USA has some zoning regulations and rules, while Europe is a bit more flexible. In Europe, if your tiny home is on wheels, it gets the same legal status as an RV or a mobile home (trailer). The tiniest house-friendly states in the US include Florida, California, and New Mexico.
What are the challenges of living in a tiny house?
Well, whenever you make a significant life-changing decision like this, challenges will eventually rise. For tiny living, these include storage and cleaning (get those Tetris skills ready!), cooking (whether you have a stove or not, smells, etc), and going to the toilet (nothing to worry about if you have a bucket composting toilet with urine separator).
Finding the right place for your tiny home may be a challenge as well, so once again, make sure to get to know your local rules and regulations.