Utne Blogs > Environment

Tiny Houses for Your Big Wallet

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: tiny house movement, sustainability, environment, The Smart Set, New Haven Advocate, Will Wlizlo,

tiny-houseChances are you know someone whose home has been foreclosed or is struggling to keep up with their mortgage. The sub-prime bubble dotted American suburbia with massive, empty husks—cookie-cutter houses infamously dubbed McMansions. It’s unsurprising that many, spurned by the American Dream, turned away from this grandiose model of domesticity and sought a smaller way of life. “A hundred feet of space may make some people claustrophobic, but so too can mountains of debt,” writes New Haven Advocate’s Tara Lohan. “For people struggling to pay expensive home loans, the idea of getting a house for only $20,000 or getting the plans for only a few hundred may seem like a breath of fresh air.” The tiny house movement was reborn.

Consumers have many options when downsizing from a Fortress of Solitude to a Bunker of Solitude. Consulting firm Rightsize by Design will help you transition to a space more gazebo-esque. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, established by Jay Shafer after he found his own 89-square-foot slice of heaven, builds and provides kits for homes with areas less than 500 square feet—and one as small as 65 square feet. Numerous blogs and online message boards are devoted to the movement.

Greg Beato sees a distinctly American moral underpinning to the tiny house movement as well. Not individuality, economic resilience, or frugality, as Shafer or Lohan might maintain, but gross consumerism. “Ever since Henry Thoreau built a 150-square-foot shack for himself at Walden Pond to escape the clutter and distractions of 19th-century America, small homes have been equated with economy and simplicity,” Beato writes for The Smart Set, and claims that they wrongly “seem to provide an escape from the hamster wheel of consumerism.” He’s got some shack-bashing stats to back up his argument, too.

Build [a Tumbleweed] XS-House yourself and it will cost you around $16,000 for the plans and necessary materials. Buy one ready-made, and the cost escalates to $38,997. That puts it at a luxury-priced $599 per square foot, or more than four times the cost of your average Vegas McMansion! Better yet, it’s an instant house, a house to go, and what’s more American than that? Like a 100-calorie snack pack, a tiny house encourages you to splurge.

But if you have less space, you’ll spend less on gizmos, tools, furniture, and cookware, right? Beato speculates that less space actually brings out our most decadent spending habits. “[I]n a tiny house,” he writes,

everything you own is on display and within reach. If you’re looking at your kitchen appliances all day, you have a legitimate need for the most gorgeous kitchen appliances known to man, and a legitimate rationale for purchasing new ones often. If space is at a premium, you can be forgiven for constantly upgrading to the flattest flat-screen TVs, the most compact washer/dryer combos.

So much for guilt-free, sustainable living.

Sources: New Haven Advocate, The Smart Set 

Image by nicolas.boullosa, licensed under Creative Commons.