Recently, a local newspaper – Sandpoint Reader – http://sandpointreader.com/ – published an article I wrote about some of the issues that tiny house dwellers face when they choose to live tiny. The Reader is a free publication that serves the greater Sandpoint area, here in North Idaho. I wrote this piece on the cusp of finding a new host for my little household, and here it is.
The tiny house movement has captured the imagination of millions of people from around the world, with several TV shows in the States and abroad, tiny house building companies popping up in every state, and a massive online presence, with conferences, forums, and independent blogs. It’s no longer an exaggeration to say that the movement is becoming an industry.
There are many reasons why people are attracted to tiny houses. I think the primary reason is financial. Small buildings are more affordable, so whether is it the young professional, whose income is being swallowed by student debt, the green-conscious dweller, who wants to leave a small footprint, the established home owner who is interested in adding a guest house on the property, the rootless creative type who wants to live life on her own terms, or a combination of all of the above, tiny house enthusiasts can bring their dreams into the real world with help from the internet, a few friends, and a tiny fortune.
Secondly, tiny houses encourage an awareness of space and consumption. I think most tiny dwellers are interested in a low waste habitat, mostly because there is only enough room for the essentials, with the rest of the space allotted for movement or repose. And since building materials are dear, one is more willing to recycle and reuse.
Then there are reasons like independence, lower expenses, accessible off-grid possibilities, more outdoor time, etc. Every tiny dweller has a different combination of desires that pushed them to choose to live tiny, and each one inhabits their home differently.
I, for example, am the creative type who thinks dwelling is an art form, and that one’s home is sacred space. I built my tiny house as an art/research project that explores belonging, connection to space and the community around it. I knew that I wanted to live the artist life, so buying a big foundation house was never going to be in the cards, unless lottery winnings were involved. I had no reason to live anywhere in particular since I have no family in the States, so it made sense to build on wheels.
Living in a tiny house enables me to do that American thing, that thing that is almost completely gone from the array of options currently available to people in my generation, the pursuit of happiness. Well, with the current political agenda, life and liberty are in dire jeopardy as well, but the access to the pursuit of happiness has been slowly eroded over the last few decades with increasing costs for quality education, fewer employment options, and stagnating income levels. Tiny living lowers my expenses enough that I can create my own employment as needed and otherwise work in the studio for upcoming exhibitions.
I am in awe with how much I can get away with living in a tiny house. But tiny living is not easy. Apart from the natural restriction that limited space and resources impose on the inhabitant, there are external forces that inhabit the tiny dweller’s worries in a big way.
Space to park is the most important. The tiny dweller may own their house, but they often have to use someone else’s property on which to live. That often works great in the case of friends parking in the backyards of friends, but what if your friends don’t have back yards? When it comes to paying rent, the question then arises, how much do you pay for the dirt under your wheels? What is the price of space to park? 300 square feet on someone’s land may be just dirt for the landowner, but for the tiny house dweller who needs that space, it means so much more.
That space is room to grow and learn. What is the value of that? How much does it cost to be yourself? How much is your place in the community worth? Is there a dollar amount attached to having options every day? If so, what is it? The very thing that enables me to live a simple, mindful life, can become a life altering burden overnight, all because of the arbitrary price of space. Because space is never given. Space is earned, gained, bought, and paid for. A generous host can offer a small piece of land, but it is earned by trust, and generosity in return. A place in the community is vouched for by an existing member, then earned with time and commitment. An equal place among friends is gained by understanding and connection. And a mobile-home lot costs $30,000, a little less but on par with the house itself, and they might not be available for purchase in the area of your choice.
Tiny houses can be about saving money or saving the planet, but for me, my house is the space I carved for myself inside this world, among strangers who became friends, in a town inhabited by people from elsewhere. It is the space I need to feel alive, the adventure, and the familiar, the taproot that grounds me (though it’s built on wheels), and a physical reminder of recent achievements as I strive to make a name for myself in the art world. It is the affirmation to my doubt, the home when I feel lost, the embrace when I feel lonely. And I couldn’t think of a dollar amount all of that is worth.
So, to those of you who have enough room to lend to tiny house people, think twice about what that space means to them, and why they need it. And to those of you who are hosting small dwellings on your land, you’ve done a good deed. Chances are that my story is not unique.