The idea of a personal and quiet retreat away from the stress of our daily lives is one that entices all of us. You only have to look at what seems like every child’s fascination with treehouses for affirmation that there is something fascinating about the idea, and yet, what might appear to be the stuff of the long summer afternoons of our childhoods are quickly becoming an attractive alternative to traditional house dwelling.
The past few years have seen a fast-growing trend of Americans opting out of larger homes in favor of smaller options, the ‘tiny house’ movement being at the forefront of this trend. Many American’s established ideas of home are being questioned by a with an emphasis on cost efficiency and portability. Considering that the average American home measures 2600 square feet and costs roughly $190,000, the comfortable and attractive tiny homes epitomize simplicity at its best, with the most common house plans between 150 and 400 sq feet costing an average of $23,000. Is it then simply a shift in spending mentality that has driven the craze to live simpler?
As easy as it might be to draw a connection between the call for small and inexpensive housing with a post-recession craving for a more frugal way of life, the appeal goes deeper than that according to REED Major Carl Diethelm ’17.
“How cheap it is compared to a lot of houses and RV’s does play a big part, but doing it yourself is a very rewarding experience, knowing that you built the structure you live in is definitely a step up from what most people feel about their homes. As for the ‘tiny’ aspect, what sells isn’t only the efficiency and how much you’re spending but also the connection to nature and how it embodies that you’re not going to be spending most of your time indoors.”
An increase in the next generation of house owner’s environmental awareness has also contributed to many Americans wanting to build their houses smaller, with less demand for energy, and in many cases, using recycled materials. A shift to smaller dwellings therefore goes a long way in reducing an individual’s carbon footprint. According to ‘thetinylife.com’, the average American house that measures 2,500+ sq feet is responsible for almost 40% of total national energy consumption, 72% of electricity consumption, and 39% of the nation’s carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Downsizing our homes can therefore be a significant means to slash our impact on the planet as tiny houses require less resources to build and use a significantly smaller amount of energy to maintain.
The idea of living smaller and more frugally is becoming more and more fashionable; a great deal of the allure lies in how visually appealing tiny houses often are. Tiny houses now find themselves on the covers of magazines across the country and symbolize a reclamation of an alternative lifestyle. Is this simply a trend though? Can the craze last long enough to shape itself into long-term meaningful change?
Having worked extensively on the construction of GMC’s very own tiny houses Diethelm says, “I think the idea of a ‘tiny house’ can definitely be a trend for sure, but at the same time it’s more about the idea of building together and building a community, which is what we’re trying to do here. We don’t expect any single person to do this by themselves and the idea that we want to start working together more and start from the ground up with the design and build process is going to stick. That’s what is really going to make the connection between the person who is going to live in it and the person who is building it.”
Perhaps we can look beyond the magazine covers for a moment and think about the bigger picture. What can we all do to think like tiny house dwellers? The practicality of a simpler lifestyle is a large part of the allure for many people which means that beyond just 100- square-foot houses there is something that the majority can connect to. Rediscovering a simpler way of living, maybe a little closer to your family or in cooperation with a community of like-minded people, can make your dream a reality. In the midst of all these inspirational front page stories set against the backdrop of stunning vistas, you have to ask yourself: “Can I still embrace a lifestyle of less is more without living in a 100-square-foot house?”
The truth lies in thinking outside that 100-square-foot box. The idea of the tiny house may not be for everyone–for some it may seem short sighted, idealistic or simply too much of a departure from what they are used to. That being said, the main principles of the movement can easily be applied to our everyday lives. The tiny house movement can be taken as indicative of a larger shift in thinking. A more environmentally conscious way of living, with an emphasis on eliminating excess, has proven to be a incredibly positive change in many people’s lives. Why can’t we all start thinking like we live in a tiny house? Perhaps in the future, we don’t all live in stylish shed-sized homes but maybe there will be a widespread embrace of this positive ideology. Living with less and feeling better for it might just be the next new thing on everyone’s minds.
By William Cowling ’19