I will be the first to admit that I am an enthusiastic follower of the tiny house movement, a corollary of the rise of relevant segments on Home & Garden TV. At the center of this trend is the tiny house, a compact 100-400 sq. ft home that can be self-built and is often constructed on a trailer. Moving into a tiny house, or “home downsizing,” has been offered as a means to reduce housing costs; lead a less wasteful, energy efficient lifestyle; gain more time and freedom; and simplify one’s life. Yet I recently began to contemplate the concerns associated with what I once considered the cutest panacea to a disorganized life.
Beneath the facade of cheap housing costs and satisfied new homeowners are the problems of local land laws and neighborhood land use covenants. In many cases, local zoning laws state that homes must exceed a particular size in order to qualify for registration; other neighborhoods prohibit parking of large vehicles or ancillary home units on one’s property. Frequently, tiny houses require residents to pay for and install power separately. Depending on the homeowner, the cost of power hook ups and energy generators inflates the deceptively manageable upfront cost. Tiny houses also pose a unique challenge in the real estate market; these miniature abodes attract a very specific demographic of buyers, and selling a tiny house can take a considerable amount of time.
Regardless of these inherent concerns, widespread media coverage of and rising (albeit passive) interest in the tiny house movement offer important insight into our society.
First, reality television and social media–unsurprisingly–play a major role in shaping modern lifestyles. Shows such as Tiny House, Big Living, Tiny Nation, and Tiny House Builders have caused many people to make adjustments to one of the significant economic decisions in modern life. Traditional advertising techniques continue to have a strong impact on American consumers: the bandwagon phenomenon motivates buyers to join the seeming flood of tiny home-owning families that are paraded across television screens. Similarly, the exclusive portrayal of designer-style homes associates the miniature houses with an ideal of cleanliness and order rarely achieved in daily life. Even the “3-months after moving in” photo shoots bear a suspicious resemblance to the model homes on display in IKEA stores.
The tiny house movement also captures a common desire to escape life’s burdens. Thus, the physical act of eliminating nonessential furniture and material possessions appeals to a generation of homeowners eager to shed the strictures imposed by previous generations, established social norms, and past mistakes.
Finally, many homeowners have expressed environmental concerns as their primary motivation for choosing a tiny house. These abodes require fewer raw materials and less energy input for day-to-day activity; coupled with energy-efficient household appliances, tiny living is a lifestyle change with vast appeal for any environmentally conscious soul. Though tiny house transactions make up less than 1% of the current real estate market, it’s clear that they’ve “rolled” over deeply ingrained sentiments in contemporary society.