I once wanted a tiny house. I wanted one desperately! The reason I wanted one was because I needed a place to live. I had none. Big houses were out of my fiscal league. Why not a small one? No house is too small when the alternative is sleeping in your car. (Yes, I slept in my car among other oddball solutions… sometimes it’s nice but usually it sucks.)
Then came the “tiny house” movement. I was delighted! Except it all went wrong. Eager trustafarian pinheads made tiny homes into a “green” thing, a “political” thing, an “it’s not an off grid/straw bale/geodesic/yurt but it’s just as impractical” shining example of snobbery writ small. They managed to push the idea that a tiny house ought to cost a fortune and backed it up with photos of free standing closets that were as utilitarian and attainable as Faberge eggs. All I could think was “what’s the point”? I had a concrete need. They had an ethereal agenda. I never forgave them.
There’s room on this earth for someone who can’t or won’t float a mega-mortgage. Room for someone who doesn’t want fifty windows to wash. Tiny homes killed the most recent iteration of that idea. Killed it with delicately arranged spice racks mounted next to wicker seats beneath stained glass windows where plywood and benches might serve in good stead. All the good intentions in creation stink of bullshit when some hippie turns 180 square feet of “roof over your head” into the Whole Foods organic kale of the housing world.
I never got a tiny house and I never liked the way “a cheap place to sleep” became just another trendy way to signal “specialness”. Now I own a house. It’s huge. I have spare rooms. I have spare closets in the spare rooms. I have spare shelves in the spare closets in the spare rooms. We scarcely use any of it. Some areas I don’t heat. Who cares? It was cheaper than a tiny house! I’m a fat bloated American and my initial tiny home humility was defeated and gave way to a battleship sized atrocity where I repair whatever room I need and merely maintain a roof over the rest. Sometimes the cat gets lost. (That said, the cat’s an idiot.) I’ve got a basement big enough to create a bunker, and a secret lair, and a dungeon, and a mad scientist’s laboratory, or whatever else I could want; if I ever get around to it. My furnace, which I scarcely use, has more square footage in which to live it’s life than a Japanese apartment for a family of four. My house is huge enough to be practically unmanageable but it was cheap.
I also have a house for my truck; I call it a garage. I’ve got another house where I stack firewood; I call it a woodshed. There’s another house where the chickens live; I call it a coop. It all sits on a lawn measured in acres. If I watered it I’d uses more water than Fresno (and it’s my water so California can bite me); but I’m too damn lazy and if the grass dies it’s nobody’s business but mine. I have fields and forest and my own damn property extends as far as I can afford. I’ve got a giant driveway which is a bitch to plow and where where I park my truck (because the garages are filled with shit). I’ve got it all because a small cheap place never worked out and I went to the dark side. Hippies and real estate markets ruined Thoreau’s cabin so I went for a Redneck’s Homestead Empire. Fuck ’em!
I never mentioned my tiny home frustrations because who cares? A bunch of freaks in Seattle nibbling at the edges of zoning laws? Whatever. Plus, unless you’ve really scratched it out in a car or a van or a tent or creaky old RV or experience some other personal solution to the “not a regular house” dilemma, you can’t see the irony. I never heard anyone else call out the tiny home people either. Until now…
A grateful cheer to Joel and Clarie. YOU GO! Thanks for saying it like it is!
First, pure awesome from Claire:
“…c’mon, people. We’re dealing with reality here. Where are the Kleenex boxes, the alarm clocks, the bottles of ibuprofen, the glasses of water, the heaps of books, the midnight snack foods? Where are the bedside pistol or shotgun, the dog’s blankie and toys, the fuzzy slippers, and the laid-out clothes for tomorrow?”
“…when you go spending $50,000 on something the size of a small travel-trailer and thinking you’re doing Great Work for the environment … when you judge the worth of your possessions by whether or not they make your heart sing … you’re living in some dreamland of intellectual and financial privilege. You are not only having first-world problems; you may be a first-world problem.”
Brilliant and true!
Then comes Joel who has the same reaction I’ve had:
“Their precious interiors, architecturally-fashionable boxiness and clearly professional construction did not make me in any way hostile. No – I’m far above that. Bastards.”
“My main problem with all these tiny house articles involves the same question I have about every house or apartment ever featured in any fashion magazine anywhere: What’s with all the throw pillows? Do people really live in that? Because it looks more like it was built to be looked at.”
Joel included a link to a blog called Hipstercrite (awesome name!) that really knocks it out of the park:
“Dear People Who Live in Fancy Tiny Houses,
Do you actually love living in a fancy tiny house*?
You look so freakin’ happy in that Dwell Magazine article or Buzzfeed post, but c’mon, you can’t tell me that you don’t lie awake at night, your face four inches from the ceiling because the only place your bed fits is above the kitchen sink which also acts as your shower, and think, I’ve made a terrible mistake.“
“…where do you put your shit? You still have some clothing and shoes and towels and all that jazz, right? Or do you just wear overalls now? Overalls and Birkenstocks and one towel that you share with your entire family. Where do you wash that towel, hmm? Do you have a tiny river that runs behind your tiny house? I bet you do. I bet your whole Goddamn property is whimsical.”
I about died laughing. If you’ve ever lived in a “less than optimally sized dwelling”, or just like to laugh at hipsters, you absolutely must read it all.
Finally one last mention of my
misspent youth lifetime of experiences: For many years, when people asked “where do you live?” I’d channel Chris Farley and shout “I live in a van, down by the river!” One of the best performances in our lifetimes.
While I’m at it I’d like to post a photo of the real hero of Tiny Homes; Bubbles!
The basic tiny home still exists…. Its just usually called a hunting cabin these days… I desperately want one (on another piece of land from where the house sits) for exactly that reason and so the kids can learn what a cabin/cottage is really supposed to be!
My dog and I have lived in a 10×14 plywood cabin (with a woodstove salvaged from a full size house, it was nearly impossible to close the door if there was a fire lit) in the woods above Missoula, and in a slide in camper in my truck. Both of these served a specific need at a specific time, and served it well. Now, after marriage to My Lovely Wife, and the arrival of Danger (Offspring #1) with OS#2 impending, we are living in a modest home on a modest lot- and living to the full extent of our property. We could probably downsize and survive, but we haven’t clawed our way back from the brinks of economic disaster to engage in that sort of self-congratulatory nonsense. I’ve been called a hipster- I like bow-ties and craftsmanship, and esoteric stuff. I still know how to run a chainsaw and build a house. Its kind of like what happened to the hippies. I few weirdos want to do some fairly non-invasive drugs and feel good about nature? Sure, why not? Then it was overrun by the locusts of ‘cool kids with daddy’s money’ who seem to ruin every good thing. Those guys ruin EVERYTHING.
So what your saying is….
You were a hipster before it was cool?
Ha ha ha. That sounds better than the guy who lived in “a van down by the river”.
Long ramble here…
Back when we were still married a wheat farmer out in the sticks parceled out his worn out fields into five-acre lots and we purchased two (ten acres) that back up to a pretty little lake. We had big plans to raise our kids out in the country but the marriage failed and we never did build a house out there and for fifteen years it was all I could do to keep it mowed so that the HOA wouldn’t gripe. Damn it, yes, we have a HOA. Now it’s pretty build up (twice now, as a tornado swept through and leveled most of it a few years ago) but my (always mowed!) acreage remains without a home.
When we first got the land I built a nice two-story barn out back; it was one of the few structures out there spared by the tornado. It’s not very functional (being full of boxes of books and such) so I built a wood shop so I could actually access and use my tools. I actually lived out there for a few years in a FEMA trailer behind that barn (with no plumbing or running water) while between kids. Not a problem, 10 Gym is only $10 per month and they have perfectly serviceable showers. Yes I need to get a well or two down but apparently everyone who can drill holes in the ground packed up and went to North Dakota. In a few years (timed such that it’s completed when Youngest Daughter heads out to college) I’ll put a two-story three-bay garage + office + greenhouse up front with an RV shed behind. As soon as she spreads her wings and flies from the nest I’ll put a little RV back there and move back out to The Land for good, where I plan to stay put until the kids finally ship me off to the Old Folks Home.
For a long time now I’ve thought that the barn out back could be fairly easily remodeled into a little “lake house” – much too small to satisfy the HOA’s 2600 sf minimum but I’ll deal with them later. As a single guy I don’t need much so (to get to the point) I DO intend to live in a fairly small home – about a thousand square feet of living space. Why, yes, that is small by Fly Over Land standards. That’s actually quite a bit of room for one fellow and includes a large bedroom (all of the upstairs) and a nice bathroom and a big kitchen and a living room with a fireplace so I can burn all that wood I’ve already got cut and stacked. There’s not room for much else. But unlike city folks I’m not constrained to just living in the house: on top of that I’ve got the garage portion of the barn (just big enough for my compact commuter car or a motorcycle) and the woodshop plus that planned garage (where the pickup and not-yet-acquired tractor will live) and upstairs office, so I will have PLENTY of indoor space for books and computers and printers and office stuff and aquariums (I probably have a dozen in storage, none set up) and tools and hobbies and such – plus ten acres and a lake to play on. I expect the small home + outbuildings on ten acres will prove to be very well suited for the lifestyle I desire.
I fancy living in a shipping container. I am quite attached to plumbing and electricity though, and I suspect the government would find a way of stopping me.
I hold Thoreau at least partially responsible for the hippies, so fuck him and his wood cabin.
Tiny homes exist, they just aren’t being BUILT. When and if the housing industry gets over the mental shock of the bubble, maybe we’ll see them again. They are all over my part of PA; tiny little brick boxes I couldn’t fit my BOOKS into.
The Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressives have just done SO MUCH to screw up the housing market. Modern Architecture is their fault (see FROM BAUHAUS TO OUR HOUSE by Tom Wolfe for details). They LOVE them some rent control, and there just is no better way to destroy low rent housing. And they have put the stink on just about every interesting looking alternative housing option in my lifetime; Dome houses, underground houses, tiny houses. About the only one I’ve run into that they don’t seem to have screwed up is the idea of adapting disused ICBM bunkers.
I’ve been around builders enough to know their Golden Rule: build the largest house that will fit on the lot. My first “starter” home was 1000 sf on a average sized (in town) lot; there was plenty of room to throw a ball in the back yard and it took me a good hour to mow it. Our next home (after fourteen years in the little house) was a brand new 3400 sf “mini mansion” was on a lot that was about the same size as the first one but that house went right up to the five-foot easement on both sides. My twelve year old could mow the front and back in ten minutes and the side strips in two. They don’t build ’em they way the used to, for a very good reason: having purchased the lot, you can build a small house and sell it for X, or a large house and sell it for 2X. Or (even worse) having purchased the acreage, how do you subdivide? The calculus is simple: you make the most money by building homes that sell at just above the median price for the area and you lay out the lots to suit. Building more, smaller, cheaper homes in the same space means less money. And what does that do to the price of starter homes? I sold the little house for triple the purchase price. What young couple can afford even a small home today?
“Tiny homes killed the most recent iteration of that idea. Killed it with delicately arranged spice racks mounted next to wicker seats beneath stained glass windows where plywood and benches might serve in good stead.”
Oh, I wouldn’t worry so much about how that all played out. It’s very human to take a basically good idea and run with it till it makes no sense any more. Think of guys who start out lifting weights just to get a little extra strength, and end up looking like Conan the Barbarian. Or starting with more aggressive tires on a pickup, and ending up with Monster trucks. Or starting with a little fishing boat and ending up with cigarette boats. We’d be a pretty boring species if we didn’t go overboard with everything.
The basic idea is still out there, still useful. You just have to call it something other than “tiny home”, that’s all. Shack, maybe. Hunting cabin, line shack, etc.
All kinds of interesting.
I’ve liked the minimalist cabin and tiny house thing for a long time. Always longed for ‘efficincy’ over the builders special tract home. But the smaller ‘starter’ homes never seemed right, too cramped, too cheap materials, too apartment like. Too dammed expensive. And often on crappy lots.
I moved this winter (f%×+ Illinois), and lucked into a dream. It’s 1960s modern home, nicely made, ambitious design, but 1500 sq-ft instead of 2000+. Feels like a great compromise. Feels efficient, not terribly wasteful, plywood kitchen cabinets after all, but has a glass wall and skylights. It’s a kind of thing that might sell with an extra zero on the end of the price in California.
But here, it’s just at that deep tipping point where is considered old and outdated but not cool and vintage.
Cheap and practical can be found in all kinds of places.