Browse photos of tiny homes online and you’ll see travel trailers, tree houses, cute cabins, cozy bed lofts, modern and sleek prefab units, and little houses in idyllic landscapes. If you’re anything like me, looking at these images will help you channel your inner Thoreau. “Yes!” you’ll say, “This is how we’re meant to live– deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life! Like the birds with their nests and the foxes with their holes. Except with inlaid pine cabinetry, a window seat, and Wi-Fi. Definitely Wi-Fi.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an odd fascination with small homes. After I graduated from college, I did a short stint working on a horse ranch outside Davis where I lived in a one-room shack across from a hay field. This was as close as I’ve gotten to my tiny dream home, and I loved it. My cat and I, sometimes joined by the nice boy I’d started dating, would sit by the open window in the evenings and enjoy the country breezes that would stir up the air in my small room. I relished the simplicity and peacefulness of my life, even though I didn’t realize yet just how rare and precious that way of life was.
Before long, the nice boy and I had moved in together, gotten ‘real’ jobs, and started building the grown-up lives we thought we were supposed to have. That included buying a two-story suburban home and working long, demanding hours. A few years passed and we faced stress, unhappiness, and ultimately illness. That was our wake up call. When we were in our late twenties, we made some big life changes.
Now we’ve pretty much figured out how to live: we have a fairly simple lifestyle, we do work we enjoy, we try to be good to each other and ourselves, and we live in a manageable 1,100 square foot home. But I still dream of living smaller, of having a tiny home on a piece of land, and of being able to pack up and go at a moment’s notice.
I know I’m not the only one with this odd attraction to tiny homes– this has become a global movement in recent years. There’s been coverage in the Huffington Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, Guardian, NBC, Oprah, PBS, and on and on. The followers of tiny home blogs and design companies are growing: Tiny House Design has over 170,000 likes on Facebook, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has over 99,000, and the Tiny House Blog has over 80,000.
There are some very tangible forces behind this trend, including recent disaster response efforts, the recession, the housing crisis, and impacted cities. But for those who can and do live in larger spaces, the fantasy of owning a small home is as fascinating as the small homes themselves. We hope, we believe, that living smaller can simplify our complicated lives and give us more freedom.
We dream of: the simplicity of having less stuff, less maintenance, less cleaning, and fewer bills; the security and stability of owning a home without a 30-year debt looming; the free time we’d have to do what we truly love if we were free of a big home’s burdens; the self-sufficiency and sustainability of being able to own and maintain our tiny-footprint home, with the possibility of creating our own food and power; the community that could be created by sharing communal living spaces with other small house dwellers; conversely, the isolation possible if we lived in a small home in the middle of nowhere; the intimacy that could be created by living in cozy proximity to our housemates; and the outdoor living and connection to a landscape we’d experience living in a small home on a few acres.
In reality, of course, these desires have more to do with our behaviors and perceptions than our external living conditions. While that stylish little prefab looking out over the ocean seems like it just might be the ticket to a simple and happy life, people can carry heavy burdens whether they live in travel trailers or mansions. Just as our parents thought they might find happiness in big homes and all the stuff needed to fill them, we think we’ll find ours in minimalism and simplicity. Ah, well. Perhaps it’s more about having the tiny dream in the first place, and I’m not quite ready to give up on mine yet.