Wednesday, March 16, 2016

‘Tiny House = Big Life’ is the mantra behind the Tiny House Movement. Could you do it?

How much of your house do you use regularly?

If you’re like most people, you sleep in the bed in your master bedroom, stand in front of the closet for a few moments every day, but don’t use the rest of that room much at all. Of course you use the bathroom, but you probably use the same bathroom most of the time even though your house may have 2, 3, or even 4 baths. The kitchen is probably the most universally used room in the house, and I know there is a favorite spot on your favorite couch in front of the TV that you inhabit as often as possible for much-needed down time. Other than, that, how much do you really use the rest of the square footage and rooms in your home?

Yet you wake up way too early every morning, sit in traffic on your long commute, work way to many hours, shake your head at how much is taken out of your check every payday, commute back home, and still stress about bills and money. But you do get to come home to your beautiful home every day to recharge your batteries and remind yourself that you do it all for your family – the most important thing in your life.

Now let me paint you another picture. What if we kept that most important thing (the family!) but this time you’d get to spend all the time you wanted with them; you’d get to see every baseball game, ever dance recital, and enjoy every moment and milestone of their childhoods. You’d also have to work a whole lot less. In fact, you could probably just work part time or from home or run your own business if you wanted. You could take your time, do what you wanted more, relax more, enjoy nature, get in better shape, laugh more, stress less, live with purpose, and pursue more of your hobbies, interests, and passions outside of work.

All of that would all be possible of course because your bills would be cut down dramatically – easily in half or way more. Does that sound enticing?

Oh, but there is a catch. Instead of living in your current big house (which we established you only used a few areas of a few rooms anyway) you’d have to live in a tiny space, designed to provide everything you needed with no excess. That means you’d probably have to (or want to!) get rid of a good amount of the stuff and material possessions you’ve been accumulating over the decades. That’s a small price to pay, right? So are you in?

Welcome to the Tiny House Movement, where people are downsizing to diminutive dwellings in exchange for the freedom, chance to reprioritize their lives, and financial flexibility it provides. In fact, you can turn on your TV (which is way too big since half the time you just watch on your iPad or phone anyway) and see plenty of reality television shows about folks who are choosing to live the Tiny House lifestyle all over the globe.

This can definitely be described as the pendulum swinging back in the other direction since Americans, in particular, are known for big homes, big lawns, big cars, wide open spaces, and the social acceptance of abundance. (The average size of a new home built in 2014 was 2,453 square feet, up from 1,660 square feet in 1973, and only 8% of Americans live in homes smaller than 1,400 square feet.)

But more people are realizing the overwhelming benefits to leaving all of that behind in favor for a tiny house – and the lifestyle it affords. In fact, the mantra for the Tiny House Movement may very well be “Tiny House = Big Life.”

The most apt similarity I can come up with is how people were choosing cute, colorful, and tiny Volkswagen Beetles to drive when others paraded their gas-guzzling and brand new Hummers and other SUVs.

Make no mistake, this is no novelty. The Tiny House Movement is definitely an attractive lifestyle choice in the U.S. at this time because people are finding it harder and harder to make sense of their over-worked, over-stressed, budget-imbalanced lives – yet alone keep with the Jones’s. Right now, 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck with little or no safety net, on the brink of falling off a financial cliff if they lost their job, had a medical disability, or some other setback.

In fact, the number one reasons Millenials are not buying homes (they have a severely disproportionally lower home ownership rate compared with past generations) is that they usually are trying to navigate the working world saddled with record student loans – now about one trillion dollars for our nation.

They have also absorbed some of the painful lessons their parents learned through the real estate crash, mortgage meltdown, and Great Recession.

Some, like Baby Boomers, retirees, and seniors, are opting to downsize their lives significantly to account for the burdens of healthcare costs, home maintenance, and their changing lifestyles.

Others opt to live in a tiny house for a hybrid of their own reasons, including the lightened environmental impact, getting closer to nature, saving money, the mobility and freedom some tiny homes provide, the chance to live simply and get back to basics, to focus on their art, their health, and to achieve self-actualization in their lives far past non-stop work.

So what are Tiny Homes all about?

There is no strict definition, although tiny homes are usually anywhere between 100 and 300 square feet – about the size of a room or great room in a regular home. That’s about where the uniformity stops, as tiny homes are as huge on personalization, charm, and uniqueness as they are small on square footage. Many owners opt to build their tiny homes themselves, or enlist semi-custom pods, cabins, kits, etc. that they can finish off themselves. Many owners use repurposed and antique building and design elements to seamlessly integrate into their new surroundings.

But almost all of them utilize space brilliantly, maximizing every nook and cranny for storage, multi-function use, and comfort – just like RVs. There are a lot of similarities with recreational vehicles that can house the whole family, though tiny homes often make it permanent (though there are tiny vacation homes).

Some tiny homes are affixed to a plot of land the homeowner purchased, while others sit on rented land, eco-friendly tiny home communities, RV parks, or even sit on wheels or trailers so they can be moved to new locations easily.

And even though most tiny house residents own their home outright – or pay a fraction of the rent, maintenance, and expenses they did in a conventional dwelling - it’s definitely not perfect. There are still considerations for utilities (on or off the grid?), building and municipal codes still need to be followed, storage is and sometimes finding a suitable and available property for their tiny home can be a huge hassle.

But despite the challenges, tiny homes are less about giving up square footage and more about creating space in their lives, which they can fill with whatever they choose – family, memories, nature, and the chance to finally take a deep breath.

Looks for part two of this blog where we highlight some of the coolest, funkiest, and most eclectic tiny homes, and interesting statistics on the Tiny Home Movement and their owners.

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