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 AmericanProfile.com, 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