Thursday, June 14, 2007

Small House, Big Benefits?

Most of us who are fortunate to have enough to be considered at least "middle class" are aware of the fact that we can live with less than we own. In fact, many of us did just that prior to reaching our current level of comfort. Usually we got where we are by working hard, working long hours, sometimes working two jobs (or our parents or grandparents did so on our behalf).

But we believed that we needed "more" and we were willing to do whatever was necessary to achieve "more." A bigger place to live was often at the top of the list. We wanted more space so that we could . . . what? Fill it up with more stuff? That's the way it's worked out for many of us, and it hasn't been a particularly satisfying experience. Often, it's backfired big time and now we're trapped by our possessions, figuratively and sometimes even literally, in homes that function as emotional and financial prisons rather than the havens they are meant to be.

What if we decided instead that we wanted more free time and more cash in the bank? Would we be willing to give up more house? Obviously, not everyone can scrunch down comfortably into a minuscule living space, but for some intrepid avant garde members of the small house revolution, a tiny living space is their ticket to freedom.

The Small House Society is not kidding when they say "small." Jay Shafer, one of the co-founders, is featured in, chatting about how happy he is in his one hundred square foot home in Sebastopol, California. One hundred square feet is the equivalent of a ten-by-ten bedroom in a typical bungalow. That's definitely not a whole lot of space. Jay is a designer, writer and professor specializing in sustainable housing and urban architecture. He runs Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, the source of general information, building plans and books about his "compact" houses.

John Edmunds lives in a six hundred square foot house in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, a result of quitting his corporate job and deciding to live a more economical life. His website, DreamSmall, shares interesting stories and comments from contented owners of small living spaces.

An NPR "All Things Considered" story by Cheryl Corley features not only Greg Johnson, President of the Small House Society, but also Mississippian Julie Martin. Ms. Martin's home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the housing situation throughout the entire gulf area is still abysmal. But Ms. Martin worked with Schafer to develop and license a Gulf Coast Model small house especially designed to withstand hurricanes. She calls it an "anti-FEMA trailer." It's a unique and practical solution to an incredibly difficult situation. (Check out this related article by Craig Le Moult for Columbia News Service not only for its small house information but also for a great photograph of the tiny houses built in San Francisco after the disastrous 1906 earthquake.)

The NY Times has an article by Bethany Lyttle which also touts the merits of a small house as a second home. The use of pre-fabricated or even completely pre-built models makes "choosing a house start to resemble buying a car." Well, let's hope it's not as traumatic as that can be!

The Small House Society website makes clear that small is relative: "The Small House Society is a voice for the Small House Movement. That movement includes movie stars who have proudly downsized into 3000 square feet, families of five happy in an arts and crafts bungalow, multifamily housing in a variety of forms, and more extreme examples, such as people on houseboats and in trailers with just a few hundred square feet around them. Size is relative, and mainly we promote discussion about the ecological, economic and psychological toll that excessive housing takes on our lives, and what some of us are doing to live better. It's not a movement about people claiming to be 'tinier than thou' but rather people making their own choices toward simpler and smaller living however they feel best fits their life."

So, even if you are quite certain that there's no way you would choose to live in truly diminutive housing, it's an interesting exercise to try to figure out just how small your home could be and still contain everything of importance to you. Is it possible that a relatively pint-sized house could pay off in enormous benefits to you and your family? Would you feel confined or liberated? One thing is certain: you'd have absolutely no room to accumulate excess stuff, but you'd definitely accumulate plenty of interesting memories.

(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob


dB said...

And I thought living in a 1500 sq. ft. townhouse was tight!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Yes, those very tiny places look pretty claustrophobic to me -- but that little gypsy cart on wheels is sure cute!

Ariane Benefit said...

Great article! We live in a small house speicfically because we feel it has "big benefits" (and I don't mean me LOL)

I wrote about a blurb about it on my blog in my post titled "25 ways I Save Money"

We also feel it makes our relationship stronger as we have to communicate and negotiate how we use our space and we are always in close proximity to each other.

Ariane Benefit

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks for your comment, Ariane. Glad you enjoyed the article.

Your list of 25 ways to save money is excellent. I knew you were organized, but obviously you're also a thoughtful consumer!

Robert Platt Bell said...

I hate to bust these "small house movment" people's bubble, but their GRANDPARENTS already know about this. They have re-invented the wheel.

In Florida, these are called "Park Model" homes, and like the "small house movement" homes, they qualify as RV's, even though they are constructed more like a regular house.

These are not the MOBILE HOMES that you are familiar with, but about 1000 sq. ft. trailers that are about 30-35 feet long.

Communites throughout Florida cater to "park model" residents, who own or rent small lots for these "small homes". Some are located on the water, and some even on golf courses.

You can buy these in many configurations - some look like little log cabins or wood-sided homes. See for example, the 'lil Lodges webstite at:

So, you don't need to be a "small home" pioneer or anything. Just go down to your local dealer and just BUY ONE and then find a nice piece of land or park to put it in.

I am not sure why whenver a baby boomer does something that has been done 1000 times before, we all have to ooh and aaah about how clever they are.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I appreciate the link to Lil' Lodges, another good site for people looking for small houses.

I know we Boomers can get tedious at times, but I don't think "oohs" and "aahs" for cleverness are necessarily expected by the people who have chosen to live in small homes, whether Boomers or any other generation. I do think that small house enthusiasts are quite eager to share information about their experiences.

Small houses may have been reinvented, as you stated, but a look around the websites mentioned in this post and elsewhere demonstrates that their reinvention resulted in many more options than those available in the past. That's pretty exciting and I hope will result in many more people considering living a smaller home (not necessarily a miniscule one!).

Thanks for your comment, Robert.

Anonymous said...

I have been enamored with the Small House Movement since I heard about it last year. Now I'm not with the TINY house thing, but certainly a compact home for me (and even a husband) would do fine. I also find that society seems to be moving away from the all-inclusive home that keeps people from socializing. I don't care to have a mini-theater in my house. I'd like to take a walk after dinner, commune with my neighbors and feel like I'm part of my neighborhood, not just living IN it.

I know it will take a bit of time to get things in order, but I'm already researching the details of where and how to build what I want. If you do a search on a book called Compact Houses, the home on the cover is right up my alley, although I'd add a deck on top. Lots of natural light and a small, well appointed energy efficient dwelling? I'm getting warm just thinking about it. Mega-mansions are so yesterday.

Anonymous said...


I'm a Comcast subscriber. What do you mean you get 25 music downloads free every month? Pray tell!

I visited your site and saw no way to reach you.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

The book, Compact Houses, looks very interesting and the house on the cover, while not for everyone, appeals to my appreciation of modernist design.

I agree that mega-mansions are "so yesterday!" Thanks to the collapse of the housing market, I think people will be less inclined to buy more space than they need.

Well, maybe I'm just being optimistic, but I hope something positive will come out of this mess!

Thanks for your comment and good luck with your plans, *Lovely* 5FF!

Cynthia Friedlob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia Friedlob said...

(One more try!)

The *Lovely* 5FF:

In case Ariane doesn't get back here to comment again, here's a link to her organizing website where you'll find the contact link for her.

Philippines properties for sale said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Forex Trader said...

Living in a small home has the benefits of lower insurance rates, less hassle, and less overall cost to own. A small home packs plenty of perks, and generally means a lower asking price.

Larry Gittens said...

Living in a small home has the benefits of lower insurance rates, less hassle, and less overall cost to own. A small home packs plenty of perks, and generally means a lower asking price.