The McMansion used to be all the rage: 3,000-plus square feet of cavernous space, lofty nine-foot ceilings, a sprawling master suite, spalike bathrooms, and a barn-sized garage. Once status symbols, these elements are now waning in popularity as homeowners embrace the less-is-more mantra.
Today’s buyers want practical simplicity, not opulence, reports Tara Lohan in the Hartford Advocate (Dec. 30, 2010). One-third of the people polled by the real estate website Trulia.com say they prefer a home smaller than 2,000 square feet.
Taking this desire to downsize to the extreme are members of the tiny-house movement. The group promotes small living, lauding homes built with a diminutive footprint—often less than 300 square feet—and minimal resources. Their focus is “how much space (and stuff) we actually need, instead of how much we want or think we want,” writes Lohan.
Led by individuals like Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Boyes Hot Springs, California, interest in the movement has increased since the start of the recession. Shafer’s yearly sales of tiny-house blueprints have risen from five a decade ago to fifty, and Gregory Paul Johnson of the Small House Society says his website receives as many as 70,000 hits in a single day.
People might think the amenities of mega-houses are required for domestic nirvana, but tiny homes offer clear benefits. Done right, these little jewel boxes are idylls of order and efficiency; they get rid of titanic monthly mortgages and utility bills; many incorporate green practices through materials or methods of energy production; and some, like Vancouver architect Michael Katz’s stylish L41, offer high design on a low budget.
That said, downsizing at this level requires gumption. Tumbleweed’s XS House, for example, measures just 65 square feet. The bedroom is a three-foot-two-inch-tall loft that accommodates a queen-size mattress, but only if it can be rolled up to fit through a small opening in the loft floor. There is no room for a washer and dryer or dishwasher. The toilet is in the shower.
While the XS House is tiny even by tiny-house standards, there is no doubt that leaving your Cape Cod for a micro home radically changes the way you live. Be ready for major adjustments, says Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell in Mother Earth News (Jan. 2010).
When Fivecoat-Campbell, her husband, and their four dogs moved to a 480-square-foot home in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains, it wasn’t easy. Life was “stressful at first, to put it mildly,” she writes. To ease the transition, rent a small house before you buy, Fivecoat-Campbell advises, and make use of outdoor spaces as much as possible. Most importantly, remember the bylaw of all vigilant tiny-house converts: a place for everything and everything in its place.
“The idea is to live better and smarter,” she says. And with your material goods pared down to only the things you need and those that are most precious to you, perhaps more soulfully too.
This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.